Haiku North America 2021

Whew, what a weekend that was! For the first time in its 30-year history the biennial Haiku North America conference was entirely online – and with free registration – so anyone, anywhere in the world could attend in these Covid-affected times.

And although that meant rising at 4.30am so I could be logged on for the first session at 5am (9am in Vancouver/Seattle where the event was being hosted), it was an effort I was happy to make.

Taking the conference online had pluses and minuses, the biggest drawback for me being the lack of social interaction, something that’s so much easier face-to-face. But the organisers are to be thoroughly commended for the way they moved from a conference planned for Victoria (Vancouver Island) in British Columbia, Canada to something that was so dependent on technology but which worked almost perfectly all the time.

Lynne Jambor (Vancouver, co-chair), Terry Ann Carter (Victoria, co-chair) and Michael Dylan Welch (Seattle, HNA board member) were the public faces of the volunteer team, but when the credits rolled up at the end, there were a large number of people involved. Hat tip to them all.

The conference theme was ‘Ma’ (roughly translated as ‘the space between’) with presenters coming at the topic from myriad angles to cover haiku, haibun and haiga. Speakers also included people from around the world, such as Adjei Agyeh-Baa (New Zealand/Ghana), Alan Summers (UK), Kala Ramesh (India), Kazuhaki Tanahasi (Germany) and Kris Moon Kondo and Kit Nakamura (Japan).

Some presentations included brief writing workshops – I was introduced to tan-renga and had a try at haibun – but all of them were well worth seeing and listening to. The organisers intend to post YouTube videos (each presentation was recorded) as they have time, so keep an eye out for that.

The Memorial Reading is a lovely part of HNA, honouring those poets who have died since the previous conference. Each gets a slide including a photo and a poem, while the narrators share a little bit about each life.

Hand-overs between those introducing the next speakers, as well as the unseen tech boffins keeping it all running, were smooth and everything ran to time. Audience numbers varied (and I didn’t keep a close eye on them) but for some sessions were more than 180. Questions were generally handled through the ‘chat’ function and relayed to the speaker by the moderator, although for the final panel, Alan Summers allowed live questions, which worked pretty well.

The ‘chat’ function was also where website and email addresses could be posted, as well as comments on talks and thanks to presenters. From what I heard and saw, people were participating on everything from phones to PCs.

The HNA board announced that the next event will go back to being in-person and will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio towards the end of June, 2023. That immediately drew a big ‘chat’ response to make an online option available. No promises were made.

After it was all over, I had the chance to talk to HNA founder Garry Gay for a little bit. After the first conference in California, did he have any inkling the event would still be going 30 years later? “After the first one was over, I thought, ‘I’m never doing that again’,” he said. Garry is rightly proud that his baby is now so well-established and enjoyed by so many people.

When we met at my first HNA conference in 2013 (Long Beach, California), Garry gave me a brass coin, one of a limited set he’d had made to give away at the event. It contains three of his haiku, the name of the event and the date. It’s a very special souvenir. I keep it on my desk so could hold it up to the camera to show him I still had it.

Garry said he’d originally had pens printed with his haiku and gave those away, but he wanted something a bit more unique. Knowing someone who made coins and medals, he decided to try that and was very pleased with the result. Not cheap though, hence the limited numbers.

While we were talking, Roberta Beary in Ireland put a note in chat to say she still had one of his pens; Mimi Ahearn in the US said she uses her coin as a template for circles in her art; another poet said she kept hers on a shelf in her study; Bryan Rickert in the US zipped off and retrieved his coin to show Garry who, I think, was quite touched that we all valued them so much.

He said he’d heard about someone who had traded his coin for a beer in a bar. “Just the one beer?,” was the query. “Yeah,” said Garry. “Ripped off.”

Katikati Haiku Contest winners for 2021

A total of 404 entries from throughout New Zealand and 32 other countries were received in the 2021 Katikati Haiku Contest to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Katikati Haiku Pathway. We were delighted to have some schoolchildren enter even though there was no special category for them this year – we wish you many years of haiku enjoyment. Our grateful thanks to Kings Seeds, a Katikati company, for sponsoring the cash prizes.

Judge’s Comments

It has been an honour to judge the 2021 Katikati Haiku Contest, which is judged blind (no names attached to poems). The overall standard was pleasingly high and made short-listing and ranking the poems a pleasurably difficult task.

A few general comments to the beginners who entered. Haiku is a rich and rewarding art form so don’t be disappointed if you haven’t succeeded this time. I would recommend that newer writers read further about haiku, ensuring you use reputable sources. Educating yourself about haiku will eliminate the errors that included putting titles on haiku, rhyming them, and using personification. Haiku NewZ, part of the NZ Poetry Society website, offers many good essays and articles about the craft of haiku.

One of the things to keep in mind as you read the winning poems below is that the very best haiku are about things, but are also, if you’re inclined to think more deeply, also about other things. These tiny poems can hold worlds. Thank you to all the writers who shared their work with me.

– Sandra Simpson, October 2021

First place

autumn rain…
the desire to become
his urn                                                                      

– Cristina Apetrei, Romania

This powerful haiku suffused with longing is a fitting winner of the 2021 Katikati Haiku Contest. My reading of it, and so the commentary that follows, is of a mother mourning her son – others may see it as a wife grief-stricken for her husband and that is equally valid. One of the marks of an exceptional haiku is that it remains ‘open’ enough for the reader to bring their own experiences and interpretations to the poem.

Initially, the first line seems simple, a scene setting only, but as we read the rest of the haiku, it’s worth circling back to line one to appreciate the heft it brings to the rest of the poem. In autumn leaves lose their ability to photosynthesise, so colour up and fall (die); it is the season of harvest (in this case of a human); the season when the verdant growth of spring and summer withers and decays. From all this, we might deduce we are mourning a man in his prime. And we can certainly read ‘rain’ as literal rain and metaphorical tears. The ellipses, meanwhile, has the effect of slowing us down as we enter the main part of the haiku, as well as graphically representing raindrops/tears.

The body that grew inside the poet’s for nine months, that relied on hers for nourishment and oxygen, is now ashes. And she fervently wishes she could protect and hold him again, as she did before he was born and many times after. It’s not possible to ‘reanimate’ a dead body and the poet has accepted this – she is not longing for her son to come back to life. Instead, her thoughts have led her to a particular desire, the sort we might find in a Greek myth that is as much curse as solution. She would turn herself into a stone womb for her child and be his protector for evermore.

Second Place

pottery class
i remember what
i am made of                                                          

– Alvin B. Cruz, The Philippines 

Abrahamic tradition (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) relates that God created Adam, the first human, from ‘the dust of the ground’. After the disobedience of Adam and Eve, who was formed from one of Adam’s ribs, God curses Adam, and all of humanity, to die and return to the earth from which he was formed.

Here our narrator – who is in the act of creation – is considering the malleable wet clay beneath his fingers, his mind apparently turning, just as his pottery wheel is spinning or as the layers of a hand-built piece of pottery grow, and making the link between the vessel he is building and the vessel of his own body. The hum of several wheels working in the studio-classroom, and the concentration required to make a plate, mug or bowl, may be adding to his meditative state.

There is an echo of ‘feet of clay’ to be enjoyed too – the pot being made, depending upon the skill of the potter, may end up with a fundamental flaw, perhaps reflecting something the potter feels about himself.

The ancient craft of pottery is a humble one, as are many hand-made vessels. The poet acknowledges his place in the web of life with the lower-case repeating ‘i’ emphasising his own humility – he is not placing himself (and his ego) above the clay he is using. The poem’s words have been chosen carefully and the repeating soft ‘m’ sounds support an overall effect of quietude.

A deeply satisfying haiku on many levels.

Third Place

rattling wind chimes
a breath of sea air
begins its journey                                                 

– Barrie Levine, USA

A lovely sensory haiku using sound and touch with ‘rattling’ a grand onomatopoeic start, and with lots of hard and soft sounds within the poem to imitate both the rattling and the gentle puff of air. The poet invites us to make this moment our own by not offering detail about the wind chimes. Are they metal or wood? In a verandah or a tree? We are allowed to hear whatever melodious sound we like before we move on to discover we’re at the beach (so the wind chimes may be home-made from beach finds).

We can intuit that it’s been a hot, still day, ‘not a breath of wind’, and now the merest hint of briny air is ruffling through the chimes and across our skin, signalling the start of a welcome sea breeze. Anyone who has visited or lived in tropical climes will know well the delicious moment when a late afternoon / evening breeze begins – in Western Australia the phenomenon even has its own name, ‘The Doctor’, for the relief it brings.

The science of a sea breeze is that it is caused by the uneven rates at which land and sea heat and cool – during the day a cool breeze flows from the ocean to the land; at night cool air flows from the land offshore. The poetry of this particular sea breeze is that we witness the moment of its birth – able to see it and hear it, thanks to the wind chimes, before it rolls out towards the ocean, gathering strength as it goes, continuing the cycle that is as old as the planet itself.

Highly Commended

blue sky 
you know the rest                                                 

– Tony Beyer, New Plymouth

when sunlight
becomes moonlight
an owl’s echo                                                         

– Brad Bennett, USA

gust of wind I am grass                                        

– Stefanie Bucifal, Germany

in my shadow
a soundless flock
of shadows                                                              

– Scott Wiggerman, USA

ravens on snow
it’s not all
black and white                                                     

– Jay Friedenberg, USA


the birthmark
that grew with me
plum blossoms                   

– Engin Gülez, Turkey

twilight . . .
a heron soars
to the first star                                                       

– Barrie Levine, USA

autumn breeze
ruffles the reeds…
almost birdsong                                                    

– Neena Singh, India

night pond
a buck hooks
the moon                                                                


tree house
the old oak remembers
Matilda by heart                                                    

– Vandana Parashar, India

sun shower passing
a hillside shimmers
into birdsong

– Marietta McGregor, Australia

skipping a chapter
now and then 
summer breeze                                                     

– Helge Harle, Sweden

Best Local Haiku

spring sun      swallows                 and

– Cathie Bullock, Waihi

This haiku delighted me from the moment I read it, with the poet ably translating the darting, skimming movements of the swallows on to paper to create a visual poem, as well as a word poem. The spring sun is welcome after a long winter – I can imagine its warmth on my face as I watch, with the narrator, these delightful birds enjoying a feast on the wing. Haiku are sometimes described as ‘wordless poems’, that is, the words fall away and we, as readers, share (experience) the moment being described. This is a fine example of a ‘wordless poem’.

Highly Commended

Almost spring
Three young sparrows sitting in a line
On a line

– Pat Watson, Katikati

breaking my journey

breaking my journey (Red Moon Press, 87 pages) is the first solo collection from award-winning Australian poet Gregory Piko, and a volume I’m glad to have added to my bookcase.

Cover art by Ron C. Moss.

For me, Greg is a poet on whom I can rely – if I see his name on a haiku, I know it will be worth reading and that a moment of beauty (whether sad, joyous or wistful) will be added to my day.

he drops his marshmallow
into her hot chocolate
pregnant at last

The ambition of a haiku poet is to capture moments of meaning, which can come in many different guises, and which somehow help us grope towards an understanding of life, ours and all those that surround us. In the ordinariness of daily life we try and find the extraordinary.

after my confession
even the galahs
sit quietly

Haiku are sensual poems and poems of observation and Greg has a deft touch with the telling detail and with choosing the right word – novice writers are advised to stay away from adverbs and adjectives but consider how much poorer the following respective haiku would be without ‘softly’ and ‘deeper’.

her cotton skirt
falls softly to the ground
steady rain

a crow at dusk
ink seeps deeper
into the page

Understanding the ‘rules’ of haiku, mastering them and then breaking them to good effect is a sure sign of a poet at the top of his game.

What we ‘see and ‘hear’ in the following haiku adds up to a sunny cheerfulness. But also measure what has been unwritten and we begin to see the strengths that Greg has brought to this collection.

she skips a little
on cresting the hill
beep of a Vespa

He exhibits the same playfulness in referencing other works, which he does with the lightest of touches. The following haiku tips its hat to William Carlos Williams and his 1938 poem, ‘This is Just to Say’.

summer’s end
I take another plum
from the fridge

The haibun ‘Near a Station of the Metro (after Ezra Pound)’ anchors us in the present, and a common dilemma for tourists remember them?), but is rich with the echoes of Pound’s 1913 poem ‘In a Station of the Metro’, which some argue may be the first haiku in English.

my journey
this pine

breaking my journey comprises 98 haiku, two haibun, and two linked verses. The book, produced to the usual high standard of Red Moon Press, can be purchased there or, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, direct from the author .

Note: This book was purchased.

Katikati Haiku Contest 2021

After a Covid hiatus last year, the Katikati Haiku Contest returns, just in time to celebrate the 21st birthday of the Katikati Haiku Pathway.

King’s Seeds, a Katikati business, is kindly sponsoring the cash prizes which will see the first-place haiku receive a generous $200, second $100 and third $50 (overseas winners will receive their prize via PayPal). The best haiku by a local writer will receive a nice book prize.

The pathway committee has decided to waive the entry fee this year, both in recognition of the pathway’s milestone and to acknowledge last year’s postponed contest. However, there will be a limit of 2 haiku per entrant to try and keep things manageable for the person receiving the entries and the judge. Enter by email or see above for a postal address. Typed entries much preferred, but otherwise please write clearly.

The contest closes at 5pm on September 19 (New Zealand time). Please see the flyer above for further details.

For beginners, there is a good guide to writing haiku, complete with lesson plans, here.

Haiku Workshop with me!

Consider this your invitation to come along to a workshop and flex your haiku muscles by, hopefully, learning something new and doing some writing exercises. I’m still forming up exactly how it will run but topics touched on will include a brief history of haiku, the joy of close observation, structuring haiku as a poet, and how to read haiku.

When: Saturday, July 24, 1-4pm.
Where: Wesley Church Hall, 13th Ave, Tauranga.
Cost: $10 as a share of hall hire.
Register: By email or phone 07 577 6676.

If you want to make a day of it, Margaret Beverland, co-editor of Kokako haiku journal, is holding a workshop in Katikati that morning. Our nefarious plan is to also to drum up interest for this year’s Katikati Haiku Contest (details here soon).

When: Saturday, July 24, 10am-noon.
Where: Katikati Information Centre, Main Road, Katikati.
Cost: Free.
Register: By email or ph/txt 0275 897 676.

Wasp on the Prayer Flag

Wasp on the Prayer Flag (Alba Publishing, 60 pages) is a selection of the writing of Irish poet Maeve O’Sullivan from 2018-2021, momentous years, as it turned out. The first section of the book is divided into Seasons, with autumn leading the way and including this outstanding haiku:

first autumn storm
my balcony flags
still releasing prayers

The Haiku Sequences offers us the chance to travel with the author as she explores Ireland, a country that was on my to-do list – and with luck and science hopefully may still be.

estuary swim
on a rare sunny day –
this beach’s name means mouth

(from the sequence Kerry Dreamtime)

O’Sullivan’s quiet descriptions give me a good ‘feel’ for her places, which sound much like many I know in New Zealand. Like her, I have been rediscovering my own country and feel richer for it. One silver lining of restricted travel has undoubtedly been that we’ve all looked harder and thought more deeply about ‘near’, rather than rushing to tick off the next exotic surrounding of ‘far’. O’Sullivan is an experienced traveller – as detailed in her 2017 collection Elsewhere – and even manages a sweetly wry senryu about her ‘old life’.

bored with lockdown
I wear the sandals in which
I travelled the world

Finally, there’s a decent-sized selection of senryu, arranged under topic headings including ‘RIP’, ‘Home Sweet Home’ and, inevitably, ‘Pandemic’, the topic that’s had us all in its grasp for the past 18 months.

no human hugs
for seven weeks –
this silver birch will do

I’m glad the senryu were separated out as it allows the humour for which the Irish are famed to sparkle through here and there, even when addressing the bleakest of subjects.

after three funerals
hoping the tiramisù
lives up to its name

Throughout the collection, which is the right size to enjoy at one sitting (if that’s how you take your haiku) are, if you’ll excuse the pun given the following, poems that are breath-taking in their observation and depth of perception.

piper’s in-breath
released in a series of notes –

Many of the poems have been published, or broadcast, previously. Pulling them together in this collection is a valuable, and sensible, exercise as O’Sullivan’s publishing credits show that her work finds a home in many and varied outlets, a surprising number of them print-only.

this little moorhen
navigating alone
canal walk

(from the sequence Holy Week Blessings)

Wasp on the Prayer Flag may be ordered through Maeve O’Sullivan’s own website, or from the publisher with whom she’s had a long and fruitful association.

Catching up

Delighted to be notified that my haiku was placed Third in this year’s Robert Spiess Memorial Haiku Award, a contest run by the Modern Haiku journal. You can see all the winning poems on the MH Facebook page, scroll down to June 1.

no headstone –
the rosemary finds
its shape

Sandra Simpson

Two senryu appear in the latest edition of Failed Haiku (#66) – this issue’s contents comprise poems that had been rejected by another journal/editor. Cute theme. Read the issue here (opens as a pdf).

abortion clinic —
red tulips
in reception

Helen Ogden

morning coffee
we listen to a robin
instead of each other

Kristen Lindquist

walking group –
someone new puts
their foot in it

Sandra Simpson

And it’s a fond farewell to much-loved The Heron’s Nest associate editor Scott Mason, being replaced by Tom Painting. The Nest has impeccable taste in its editors! Scott has a rich writing life of his own so hopefully his decision to step away means he has more wonderful work in the wings.

Haiku in the Garden

Honoured to have a haiku selected for Chicago Botanic Garden’s delightful year-long project, Words in Bloom. Nine poem signs were put in the Japanese Garden for winter and now the spring haiku have sprouted in the English Walled Garden and Rose Garden. Read all the spring haiku here.

Photo: Tia Haynes

Thanks to Julie Warther of the Midwest Region of the Haiku Society of America who facilitated this project and selected the poems from thousands of submissions.

One from the earlier crop for Southern Hemisphere readers. Photo: Chicago Botanic Garden

Recent publications

This year is all about co-ordinating and completing a large family history, as well as undertaking any paid work that comes my way over and above the ‘regulars’, so haiku is having to take a bit of a back seat, sadly. Some days I feel like I’ve puffed my way through a marathon, only to look at my to-do list and see I’m not really much further ahead. However, there are a few haiku-related things to report …

Delighted to hear that I’d won Second in the Sharpening the Green Pencil Haiku Contest with:

longest night –
the clay bowl’s
whorls and ridges

Sandra Simpson

Judge Julie Warther said: “Working a tactile sensation into haiku can be a difficult task, but here we can almost feel a lump of clay spinning on a wheel, taking shape in the potter’s hands. It is a slow process and one that requires patience. “Whorls and ridges” could describe the design of the bowl itself or contours of the artist’s fingertips. When fingerprints are found in a finished piece, there is no mistaking its individual nature and the care with which it was created. This alone is a striking image, but a resonance emerges when this image is paired with ‘longest night’ – a time when the seasons themselves turn, taking on more and more light – in the unique nature of time itself.” Click on the link above to see all the winning haiku.

The latest issue of Kokako (34) has arrived featuring an eclectic mix of poets and their work, including three pages of pandemic-theme haiku. The link takes you to submission / subscription details.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

eucalypt breeze
the rattle
of a cicada’s husk

Gavin Austin

eddies of dust
the rooster’s comb blends
into sunrise

Debbie Strange

winter sun –
a pair of waxeyes
chest to chest in mid air

Sandra Simpson

haunted house
the carnie flicks his butt
and waves us in

Greg Schwartz

Gilles Fabre, the editor of seashores journal, sent me a copy of the latest issue (6) as thanks for my essay ‘Cracks in the Pavement’ about urban haiku that appears in the volume. I’ll post the piece here towards the end of the year.

hill walking
whether to get a dog
at our age

John Hawkhead

to accept my baldness
dandelion flight

Adej Agyei-Baah

the silence
of the blinking cursor
winter stars

Jackie Chou

Earlier this year I judged the British Haiku Society’s David Cobb Haiku Award, renamed this year to honour one of the BHS founders (1926-2020). The award has two judges, my colleague being Charles Trumbull in Sante Fe, New Mexico, and we were under strict instructions (which we followed!) not to talk to one another until given the go-ahead by the contest secretary (ie, when she’d received both of our reports).

We did correspond by email once allowed and were delighted to find that we’d each chosen different haiku, although our short lists were pretty near identical. Subjective, much! Read all the winning haiku and our judge’s comments. A useful byproduct of the work was thinking about what I seek in a poem, which also informed my writing for seashores as the two were almost concurrent.

carrying the drift
of rain into dusk

Joanna Ashwell (Sandra’s choice for First)

wind in the tamaracks
the sound of a screen door
sixty years past

Earl R Keener (Charlie’s choice for First)

Finally, a delve into the latest copy of the always-readable Presence journal (issue 69).

ebb tide
a limpet returned
to its home scar

Thomas Powell

dry leaves
scattering across the path
quail chicks

Margaret Beverland

woodsmoke –
I am that child
kicking leaves

Susan King

westering sun
a skein of geese banks
into a glide path

Sandra Simpson

Bridge to the past

One of the things I have loved about living in and visiting Britain over the past 40 years has been the many, many layers of man-made history that are still part of the fabric of everyday life. Standing with my hand on the outside wall of Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon was a total buzz for a young woman from the other side of the world.

I’ve been fascinated by the ancient Romans since childhood, hooked by reading Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, so being able to walk where the legions did through England, visit the cities and towns they founded and even, on my last visit to London in 2018, explore the Mithraeum have been extraordinary opportunities.

But being able to turn these experiences into haiku that evoke either the ancient world or have a timeless air, now that’s a different – and more difficult – enterprise. Here are some poets who have done it well (with one of mine thrown in).

old Roman bridge
we stand mid-span
and listen

Scott Mason
Highly Commended, Martin Lucas Haiku Award 2019

year’s end
crossing the stone bridge
into shadow

Andrew Tracy
Creatrix 28, 2015

stacking a dry stone wall the curve of tomorrow

Ron C Moss
Presence 52, 2015

prolonged heat …
a clapper bridge sinks
into the pasture

Sandra Simpson
 Presence 68, 2020

The clapper bridge I walked across on a summer’s afternoon was in Gloucestershire, not far from the border with Oxfordshire. One of the earliest form of bridges, the name ‘clapper’ comes from the Latin claperius (pile of stones) – and that’s exactly they are, with the deck made from long, thin slabs of stone with large rocks or piles of stone for the supports.

river bridge the distance of my prayer

Paul Chambers
Frogpond 39.2, 2016