In Coversation with Diane Mayr

Are you interested in the craft of writing haiku? Diane Mayr offers up some thoughts about the practice. She has four blogs. She’s been on the CYBILS’ Poetry Panel in past years. We are talking today about haiku and her practice.
Jone: I’ve been reading Random Noodling and am wondering what made you decide to have a blog that featured haiku and haiku?

Diane: By April 2009, I had been posting for about 2 1/2 years on my library blog, Kurious Kitty’s Kurio Kabinet , a year and a half on my quote blog, KK’s Kwotes , and a little less than that with The Write Sisters on our joint blog project . As you may have figured out, I’m quite opinionated, and didn’t feel I had complete freedom to write about what I wanted to write about (I can’t imagine library users wanting to read my rants on poetic forms). I was into haiku in 2009 and only just beginning to think of myself as a poet; I wanted to share my work. In the beginning I was not completely focused on haiku–I would comment or share other things (for example: http://randomnoodling.blogspot.com/2009/12/another-time-sucking-suggestion.html)

I tried to “enlighten” people who think haiku is only 5-7-5–it didn’t always go down well (see “Poetry Friday–What Is Haiku? And Who Decides on the Definition?” ). I’ve backed off a little over the years, however, I will never back off the idea that haiku SHOULD NOT be a “let’s learn about syllables” lesson. Teachers, please explore syllables using some other poetic form. (Like a cinquain or an Etheree, or better yet, make one up.)

Eventually I got into the three posts a week routine. Sunday = Happy Haiga Day! Tuesday = Haiku Sticky Friday = Poetry Friday. It works well for me, although, some of the haiku I post on Tuesdays probably shouldn’t have been posted! Not everything done in a hurry should be published!

For those who don’t know, haiga is, for lack of a better term, illustrated haiku. I really enjoy illustrating my poems. I had been a picture book writer, and I believe that the words and pictures must work together. Either could be read/viewed separately, but together, they form a complete work. Haiga allows me to be both writer and artist (I use that term loosely).

I started with haiga in January 2010, after I had gotten a little digital camera, and, I discovered the free photo editing program, Picnik (since bought out by Google and eliminated). I now use Picmonkey.com. It is free, but I pay for added features. After 4 years, I think I’m getting pretty good at manipulating photos and what-have-you, and, I’m still discovering things I hadn’t known were available.

I purchased Photoshop Elements a while back, because I wanted to do more. Elements didn’t cost the big bucks like Photoshop does, and didn’t require a class to learn how to use it! Or so I thought. I haven’t devoted the time to learn Elements, but it’s on my “to-do” list.

I still remain a haiku poet, but, currently I’m venturing into free-verse poetry, almost all of it very short. I have a special love for ekphrasis (art, in this case poems, about art). Actually, back at a conference in 2001, I heard someone speak on ekphrastic haiku, and I was intrigued by it, so, I guess it’s no surprise that I’m writing ekphrastic poetry now.

I don’t know that any of this has answered your question. In one sentence: I started the blog because I wanted a place to share. And, it’s way easier than the torture of the submission process!

Jone: I read your post regarding the haiku definition. Everyone certainly has different view on the matter.
I’ve been writing haiku most of my life. I was taught the 5-7-5 and it’s only in the last couple of years that I have been until training myself.
What’s your haiku history?

Diane: I think it was back in the mid 1990s that I found haiku. I had heard about it earlier, in school, and was taught the 5-7-5 in three lines rule. I’m not sure what sparked the re-interest, but I soon learned out about the Haiku Society of America. I also read that they were holding a quarterly meeting at Smith College in September 1998, which, as the crows flies, is only about 1 1/2 hours from me. I attended, and although I was definitely not on the same level as the other attendees, I felt welcomed and had a pleasant experience. Also, in September of 1998, my first haiku was published in the Christian Science Monitor. Beginner’s luck! (It was a 5-7-5 poem, which I have since revised to eliminate 2 totally unnecessary syllables.) Over the next few years I read a LOT of haiku. I had to buy a lot of books, because the libraries around here didn’t have much in the way of haiku books. I wrote quite a bit too. I had some haiku published in the anthology, Stories from Where We Live: The North Atlantic Coast (Milkweed Editions, 2000). That too, I believed was a fluke.

I attended the Haiku North America conference when it was held in Boston in the summer of 2001. I was way out of my element there, and didn’t participate as I should have, but by that time, I knew how unschooled I was! So, I continued to read and write. I wrote a haiku book for kids, which made it as far as acquisitions at one publisher. It was ultimately turned down because it wasn’t 5-7-5, and that was “what is being taught in the schools.” Ah, well. I had too much respect for my haiku to rewrite them, so the book remains somewhere in my files. I even had an article published in 2002 in The Writer, a now-defunct magazine, titled, “Too Busy to Write? Keep in Writing Shape with Rhymes, Limericks and Haiku.” I thought I was a pretty good haiku writer, however, I never submitted to a legitimate haiku journal. I never had the confidence to face “real haiku poets.” (It’s amazing, what we do to ourselves!) It was when I hit 60 that I decided it was now or never. I started submitting to haiku journals. It was much easier to submit, since most were now online! I always hated to send something off by mail and wait, sometimes forever, for it to be rejected, or, accepted. Several of my haiku and haiga, and even a few tanka, were accepted and published, so I met that goal.

I’ve decided, however, that it is too much work keeping track of things, so I now publish my poetry on my blog, and other people’s blogs. I will admit to wanting to have a non-haiku/tanka poem published in a legitimate journal for “real poets,” but, I’m not going out of my way to explore that avenue. I’m especially interested in getting something accepted for a children’s poetry anthology, so if you hear of a call for poetry, please, let me know! (Where does one find these calls?)

Jone: Good question about the call for anthologies, I wonder that myself. But I will let you know if I hear something and you do the same, okay?

Diane: Will do!

Jone: It’s difficult breaking the 5-7-5. I’m attempting to teach students that haiku is more about capturing nature in three lines than counting syllables. Any tips for them?

Diane: I think the best tip is to have them read contemporary English language haiku–lots of it. Print out a page of haiku you have selected. (You can probably fit 20 poems on a page, but more white space is better). Have students read the poems at least twice. Or, you can read each one aloud while the students keep their eyes closed; read it twice. Then talk about the poem. Can they see a picture? Can they relate to it at all? How does the poem make them feel? If the kids think a poem is “stupid” or “doesn’t make any sense,” discuss why they think this is so. (Believe, me, there are many haiku that I’ve read that have left me scratching my head!) Which poem is their favorite? Why? This poem, by Raymond Roseliep, is my favorite for illustrating that an image can be produced with an absolute minimum of syllables:

snow
all’s
new

(If you have a single kid who doesn’t understand this, let me know, and I’ll stop promoting it!)

As for writing: you might begin with a quick lesson in the concept of “show, don’t tell.” Tell the students the ultimate goal should be to end up with 17 syllables, or, preferably fewer, but to forget that for now. Start by using as many words as it takes to present a picture–a complete picture in a sentence or two. From there, turn it into a game–how many words can be eliminated and still have it make sense? Explain how “freezing cold” is redundant!

It’s a good way to study vocab, too! Ask the kids to find substitute words. For example, “freezing cold” (3 syllables): words like “frigid,” “chilly,” or ” icy” have one less syllable and their substitution may present a stronger/different image. Give them a list of junk words that can be eliminated: very, some, so, only, really, even, still. (Actually, this is what they should do in regular writing, too! Junk words are my big bugaboo and the hardest thing for me to eliminate in my own writing.)

Explain the use of “kigo,” which are seasonal words that those of us with a common background immediately understand. Pumpkin implies autumn, snow = winter, nest = spring. If they’re writing “the spring” and “nest” in the same sentence, then “the spring” can be removed.

When they’ve got a sentence as tight as they can get it, then try to format it into three lines (the middle line may be longer). Now count the syllables. If there are 15 or more, have them look at it again. Collaboration is good at this point. A new set of eyes often sees what is unnecessary or what may be missing. Strong language is primary. Counting syllables is secondary. (Suggestion: find a published 17 syllable haiku and, as a group, try to eliminate syllables. I found that Richard Wright’s book of haiku, Haiku: The Last Poetry of Richard Wright, published a few years ago, has haiku that would lend themselves to this exercise.)

Explain that the writer has to give the reader the opportunity to make leaps. If a poem uses “pumpkin,” the writer doesn’t have to also include October, cooler weather, Halloween, falling leaves. The reader can supply all this from his/her own experience.

You may explain about the lack of capitals and punctuation, and introduce the idea of symbols that indicate a pause (ellipses, dashes, etc.). However, it’s difficult to get across the idea of three lines composed of a phrase and a fragment, so I wouldn’t get into that initially (the astute ones will probably pick it up as they read more haiku). The same goes with the celebrated “twist;” forget it for now. Concentrate on presenting a strong image, if they can do that, then you’ve been successful.

What grade students are you working with? The complexity of a lesson, as I have outlined above, will probably be too much for 5th grade or younger. The older the student, the better. I think the best exposure for the younger grades is simply reading haiku. I don’t believe kids have to imitate every form of writing! Read widely! Read widely–then write.

Jone: Have you considered culling a collection of your haiga and then self publishing? Or putting some of your haigas on cards?

Diane: Many of my haiga can only be reproduced clearly on a computer because of the low resolution of the images! So, I could possibly look at an ebook. But, no.

Jone: I am out of my practice of writing a haiku a day. I don’t know if it’s the school or the weather but I am out of synch. What’s your haiku practice?

Diane: No practice. I write on the weekends, and days off, almost exclusively. I don’t do much on the weekends except write. If I think of something at work, or while I’m out somewhere, I’ll write it on a sticky note, stash it in a pocket, and hope that it’ll all make sense later! For two or three years I wrote a haiku or poem a day. I have 4 online files corresponding to each quarter of a year. They’re labeled, for instance, “2010 challenge first quarter.” I continue to set up the challenge files for myself, but I no longer force myself to add a poem each day. I like challenges, so if a blogger, like Laura Salas or Laura Shovan issues one, I try to participate. Laura Shovan’s holding a “Pantone Poetry Project” this month and I’m loving it!

Jone: Yes, I really like challenges to push me. I haven’t tried Laura Shovan’s yet. Looks intriguing. I like participating in the Shiki Kukai Monthly because I get feedback through voting.

Diane: I’ve been participating in the Shiki Kukai since at least 2009. Most times I get one or two points, sometimes no points. It doesn’t matter, really. I know when I’ve sent in something that doesn’t deserve anyone’s vote! Most times my entries are thrown together at the last moment.

I’ve only “won” once, back in June 2010, when I tied for first with this:

stifling heat –
his mother finally sees
the tattoo

The kigo was “nakedness”! This was sort of based on experience. My son got a tattoo in high school and didn’t tell anyone. He left it up to chance for us to discover it, which we did!

Jone: What are your favorite haiku books?

Diane: My all-time favorite haiku book, and one that everyone interested in haiku should read is The Haiku Anthology edited by Cor van den Heuvel. Any edition is worth reading! I also like Baseball Haiku: American and Japanese Haiku and Senryu on Baseball, also edited by van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura.

My favorite haiku how-to book is by Jane Reichhold, Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-on Guide. A good how-to volume for kids is Haiku: Asian Arts and Crafts for Creative Kids by Patricia Donegan.

Something a bit out of the ordinary is Haiku: The Art of the Short Poem: A Film by Tazuo Yamaguchi. It comes packed as a set with an anthology and a DVD. (http://brooksbookshaiku.com/)

Jone: I have both Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-On Guide and Haiku: Asian Arts and Crafts for Creative Kids. Such great books. Will look into the other titles you suggested.Thank you for this conversation, Diane. Too bad we live on opposite coasts and couldn’t have discussed mor over tea or coffee.

Diane will be back on Friday with a haiku or haiga.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “In Coversation with Diane Mayr

  1. We love our opinionated Diane, don’t we? Thank you for this lesson in contemporary haiku, Diane. And to Jone, thank you for spotlighting this wonderful word artist, who, IMO, is worthy of any “legitimate” poetry journal out there.

  2. I loved reading all this, Jone & Diane! I learned and know I’m a little bit wiser, I think! Thanks also for the book ideas. I recently discovered the picture book Wabi Sabi, & along with what you do each week, Diane, I’m getting more interested in learning to craft my words more carefully. Thanks much!

  3. Thank you, Jone, for the discussion, and Michelle and Linda for your kind comments! I promise, Jone, I’ll be sending a new haiga. Look for it to arrive shortly.

  4. Pingback: Poetry Friday: A Haiga by Diane Mayr | Check It Out

Comments are closed.