Too much information?

Did my reading at the Malady Poetry Night at Tauranga Art Gallery last week – hard to know how the haiku went over in amongst all the other wordy poetry that was flying about. Image piling up upon image, countless adjectives and adverbs … and some haiku, stripped back and simple. Glittering ornaments and sea glass.

Did the audience know how to listen to haiku? I did a wee intro but didn’t want to seem like the demanding madam – pin your ears back! – when everyone else had just got up and spouted their wordy poetry, sometimes with wordy introductions. I did consider introducing each haiku, but that seemed like a hiding to nothing, given that most of the introductions would be longer than the poem!

Maybe, by way of introduction, I should have read Introduction to Poetry by the fabulous Billy Collins, but I would have avoided his hilarious The Introduction as it would have been so much better than anything I might have uttered.

I did however, heed the advice of Michelle of the Resistance and read the haiku only once. I came across this, to me, bold move at Haiku North America last year – it makes the listeners, well, listen. Better than twice? Not sure.

Dave Robertson, who was on before me, read some haiku too, sprinkling them in among his lovely poems, one dedicated to each of his three daughters. He read his twice each “as is the tradition”. Huh, I’m not often a non-conformist, but hey!

I tried to read them as slowly as I could and asking for critical feedback from Haiku Husband later, got the comment that maybe I could have paused more between each one. Fair comment and something I will try and remember.

I gave this one a big pause between the end of the second line and the third line and got a murmur from the audience. Yes!

spring morning –
my face breaks into
a cobweb

– Sandra Simpson, Kokako 16, 2012


Soaping Fabulously 3

My year of beautiful soaps continues …

Mailelani Mango Fragrance with Papaya soap was bought while on holiday in Samoa in 2006 and was found recently in the back of a wardrobe (not mine!). I am thrilled the company is still going strong and intrigued to read on the website that because the soaps are made using (organic) coconut oil, they lather in salt water so are useful for boaties, etc. The soap was attractively presented in cellophane with a pandanus tie but the website shows new packaging. What I hope hasn’t changed is the lovely stylised frangipani flower pressed into the top of the soap, took me straight back to the islands and made the bar something decorative to have in the bathroom. The fragrance was pleasant, the soap did leave my skin feeling nice (as per the label) and the bar, considering its size, lasted well. If you can’t get to Samoa, the website offers shopping sites in New Zealand, Australia and Switzerland. Note that the soap is now labelled Fresh Papaya with Mango.

Cost: $7 for 110g. Rating 3.5 stars.

Another one from the back of the wardrobe is The Body Shop’s Spiced Vanilla Soap described on the packet as “a soap sensation, scented with vanilla and a hint of spice”. If you know me then you know that I am a vanilla fiend – I’ve made my feelings known when The Body Shop has twice (twice!) in the past done away with its vanilla range – and if something says it smells of vanilla, it jolly well better smell of vanilla. This didn’t smell of vanilla and had only a vague aroma of spice. Now, that might be because the soap is older (there’s a 2011 copyright notice on the package and it appears to have been a Christmas line for that year) but it’s been stored in a cool, dark environment and its opaque packaging was intact. There was no great whiff of the promised scents when it was opened. The ingredients are what you’d expect from The Body Shop and some include the “Fair Trade” appellation. Completely underwhelming.

Cost: Unavailable for 100g. Rating 1 star (pleasant enough soap but not what it said on the packet).

Read Part 2
Read Part 1

Haiku calendar 2015

Thrilled to announce that I have created my first calendar – combining my own images with my haiku. So without further ado … ta-dah …


The cover image is also the image used for December – the calendar is full colour and another amazing print job from Jane and her team at Kale Print in Tauranga.

Now then, if you think you might like one of these for your own wall or to give away I have some copies available for sale.

Within New Zealand: $15 each + $2.50 P&P = $17.50. You can order up to 4 calendars for the same P&P (ie, 4 calendars come in one envelope so 2 calendars would be $32.50, etc).

Australia: Add $3.50 for P&P = $18.50.

Rest of the World: Add $4 for P&P = $19.

If you would like to purchase by PayPal, please let me know. If you would like to send cash in your local currency let me know and I’ll convert it to that day’s rate. Email me for further details.

I’ve had so much fun putting the calendar together (including identifying some notable dates) that I hope you will enjoy it too.

I’ll leave you with the image from February.


Katikati Haiku Contest

Yes, folks, the Katikati Haiku Contest is back on this year – and you have to be in it to win it! (I’m sure there’s a rugby analogy I should be using as per our Prime Minister’s example but, no.)

Kings Seeds, a great Katikati company that has recently gained BioGro certification and stocks New Zealand’s largest range of organic seed, sponsors the cash prizes – $175 for the senior section (18 and over) and $85 for the junior section (17 and under).

To enter:

  • Send two copies of each haiku, with one only including your name, address, phone number (not mobile), e-mail address and age, if entering the junior section.
  • Poems should be typewritten or clearly handwritten. Junior entrants should avoid decorating or illustrating their entry.
  • Entry fees are: Senior: $5 for every 3 haiku or $2 for 1. Junior: $1 for every 2 haiku.
  • Post haiku to Katikati Haiku Contest, PO Box 183, Katikati 3166, New Zealand. If you are entering from overseas, email the competition secretary for details on using PayPal for the entry fee.

Entries close on September 26. The judge for the senior section is … me!

Proceeds from the contest go towards the pathway project so please do think about entering.

If you haven’t tackled a haiku before, maybe these notes will be helpful.

An Introduction to Haiku

  • Haiku are one to three lines long; three is a good place for beginners to start
  • Haiku are written in the present tense – a haiku is what is happening now, it captures this moment
  • They contain at least one of the five senses – haiku that include more than just a visual picture, think about taste, sound, feel and smell, are often stronger
  • Try to write about a real moment, something you have experienced
  • Haiku should focus on the particular, not the general (ie, not the wide, sandy beach but a shell on the beach) – be a camera zooming in
  • Haiku are about nature, at least partly (including human nature)
  • They should be able to be said in one breath (about 20 syllables)*
  • They are written in two parts (see next note) with a pause between the ideas/images
  • They can contrast 2 images; surprise readers with the link (don’t write a “list” of 3 images, this is not a haiku)
  • Show, don’t tell – write just enough to make the reader want to know more; haiku are not an explanation
  • Avoid descriptions of emotion
  • Use everyday language, but avoid cliché or “poetic” words (ie, tranquil, o’er)
  •  Avoid simile or metaphor; use few, if any, adjectives and adverbs
  • Haiku are unrhymed
  • There is no need to use punctuation or capital letters; keep articles to a minimum.

*The 5-7-5 construction of haiku is now generally not used in English.

Further reading:

Ask at your local library for books on haiku, especially the taste of nashi, the 2008 anthology of New Zealand haiku.

Visit the Katikati Haiku Pathway. Buy a copy of the pathway guidebook (available at Katikati Information Centre, Katikati Craft Shop, and Books A Plenty, Tauranga).

Visit Haiku NewZ and read the archived articles (left-hand menu), especially Guidelines for Editing Haiku by Lee Gurga (May 2006), The Secret of Writing Haiku by Paul Miller (February 2014), although there are many useful essays there.

Plum blossom season

“Blossom” is synonymous with spring but, traditionally, “plum blossom” in Japanese haiku is a signifier for late winter and, as that’s where my part of the world is at, it’s timely to shine a small spotlight on this flower.

Probably my best effort at plum blossom. Artwork: Sandra Simpson

Several years ago I joined a Chinese brush-painting class where we worked through the “four gentlemen”, starting with bamboo before moving on to orchid, chrysanthemum  and finishing with  plum blossom.

Our teacher, Sally, had a magnificent scroll painting of plum blossom she had bought in Hong Kong. It was enormous and masterfully done. Painted images of plum blossom often show snow on the branches too, reinforcing the late winter season.

billingtonplum - Copy

Billington is the first plum variety to crop and these blossoms were out with the magnolias in a Tauranga garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

home village
all the potholes
patched with plum blossoms

– Ernest Wit, Asahi Haikuist network, February 1, 2013

sute ôgi ume nusubito ni modoshi keri

abandoned fan –
I return it
to the plum blossom thief

– Kobayashi Issa (tr David Lanoue)

Read more of Issa’s plum blossom haiku.

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Plum blossom in Japan. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I visited Japan in April 2012 and while the cherry blossom was opening in the lower areas, in the higher country we were still in late winter. This photo was taken in the Fuji Five Lakes national park (Fuji-Goko).

Gabi Greve, writing about plum blossom on her World Kigo Database website, says plum blossom viewing was a popular pastime, particularly in the Heian period (794-1185), but was done more on an individual basis than by the big groups who undertake cherry blossom viewing – red plum blossoms  remind the viewer of the coming spring, while white blossoms are a reminder of the snow that may still be about or still to fall.

plum blossoms everywhere …
I should go south,
I should go north

– Yosa Buson

While looking for haiku for this post, I came across this one in Haiku Before Haiku by Steven D Carter (Columbia University Press, NY, 2011):

plum branches –
umbrellas taking shape
in the rain

– wife of Mitsusada (1583-1647)

A note with the haiku says the wife of Sugiki Mitsusada was “often called the first female haikai poet” … so I did a little online research and found this from Far Beyond the Field, Haiku by Japanese women, compiled by Makoto Ueda:

The earliest documentary evidence for female authorship of haikai is  … Enokoshu (The puppy collection, 1633), which collected verses  written by poets of Tei-mon, the oldest school of  haikai. [It] contains works by a person identified only as “Mitsusada’s wife”. Of the 178 poets represented in the anthology, she was the lone woman. That statistic, and her being listed under her husband’s name, suggest the kind of status to which women were confined in haiku circles during this seminal period.

Read a sample from the book.

Presence turns 50

I have spent the past week dipping in and out of the new issue of Presence, a print haiku journal from Britain that was, until his tragic death in April, edited by Martin Lucas.

Matthew Paul and Ian Storr, who have picked up the editorial reins, say in their editorial: “Since so few non-publicly-funded poetry magazines have the kind of longevity that Presence has had, this was to have been a celebratory issue. Martin’s sudden death has cast a dark shadow over what has undoubtedly been one of his major achievements, bringing Presence into existence and developing it into its current position as one of the world’s leading English-language haiku magazines.”

Presence is to continue – Matthew, Ian and Stuart Quine (who rejoins) form the editorial team with Chris Boultwood continuing as webmaster. Read submission and subscription details here.

Issue 50 features a lovely shot of Martin on the cover, contains an obituary for him, plus two articles and two book reviews by him. Despite all the upheaval and grief, the editors have produced a volume of which, I’m sure, Martin would be proud.

uncut meadow
the sun sets
in a rabbit’s ears

– Matthew Morden

where the sun shines
a loose school
of fingerlings

– Greg Piko

There are several works dedicated to Martin and of the two haiku of mine in the journal is this one that, although I didn’t say so, is in memory of Martin, a hugely talented, kind and downright top bloke with a dry sense of humour. (In case you don’t know, birdwatching was one of Martin’s favourite things.)

bleak morning –
the brisk chatter of godwits
turning for home

– Sandra Simpson