Postcard from Juneau

Had the great good fortune yesterday to spend a day with Billie Wilson, in her home town of Juneau, Alaska. Billie and husband Gary kindly cleared their diary for us and were great hosts showing off their picturesque home area, otherwise known as the state capital of “The Last Frontier”. On our side, it was wonderful to spend time with honest-to-goodness locals and hear stories and experiences that only long-time residents can tell. (Three bears on the deck with their snouts pressed against the glass while Billie and Gary were watching TV!)

Billie and I also had time to talk haiku (like that was never going to happen)! Like me, she’s seeking to win back some time for writing (among other things Billie is an associate editor for The Heron’s Nest and Events/Registry editor for The Haiku Foundation). Sitting and thinking, we agreed, are an essential part of the haiku process (at least for us) and we both increasingly feel we have to “schedule” such time, which is exactly what we don’t want to do.

from a beach near Savoonga –
winter rain

– Billie Wilson, First place in the Henderson Award, 2003

Savoonga has an interesting history, including a famine from 1878-80 that severely affected the native population. Read more here.

retreating glacier –
how long since we’ve heard
the black wolf’s song

– Billie Wilson
from Haiku in English: The first hundred years (Norton, 2012)

It’s probably difficult to live in Alaska and not have an environmental focus to your work. It’s an amazing place full of stunning vistas and can be surprisingly like New Zealand! Read more of Billie’s work. She may be the only regularly practising haiku poet in Alaska, although Billie has – and continues to try – to foster interest in her community.


Billie Wilson (left) and Sandra Simpson at the Mendenhall Glacier, near Juneau. Gary mentioned how far the glacier has retreated in the 50 years he’s been living in Alaska – the lake that is now the glacier terminus wasn’t there in 1958. Photo: Keith Frentz

that whale I could have touched
surfaces again
in my mind

– Billie Wilson, from a 2012 Per Diem feature at THF

Something we were out of step on was our coughing – we didn’t once manage to get it going in unison, though goodness knows we tried!


Postcard from Seattle

Clockwise from left front: Carmen Sterba, Sandra Simpson, Tanya McDonald, Angela Terry and Michael Dylan Welch. Photo: Keith Frentz

Had dinner with some fellow haiku-ists in Seattle last night, great fun – an exchange of news and views; some gossip; a brilliant idea was suggested, mulled and thought to be do-able; and there was plenty of laughter. I have met Michael and Angie before, both at Haiku North America in 2013, had met Carmen only by email and made a new friend in Tanya. Considering it was a week night in summer (school is just finishing in the US), I was thrilled that anyone was able to come and especially pleased that Carmen had come so far (90 minutes – and leaving her new husband alone for the evening!). I can’t tell you how special it is to make contact with other haiku enthusiasts when so far away from home so a big thanks to Michael for his organisational skills.

Michael had kindly bought me a copy of the new HNA 25th anniversary anthology (thus saving me quite a bit of postage), Fire in the Treetops, which he edited. Michael is also on the organising board of HNA.

Haiku in the Pacific Northwest of the US seems to be alive and well – Angie is president of Haiku Northwest which has a mailing list of more than 200, although numbers attending meetings vary wildly she says, anything from 5 to 40.

rain on the skylight
I carve off a petal
of lavender ice cream

– Tanya McDonald

the ferry shakes
into my spine – 
the whale’s wake

– Michael Dylan Welch

first snowman –
a toddler’s breath
on the windowpane

– Carmen Sterba

dry lightning
sizzling in twilight
the baby kicks

– Angela Terry

Recent poems

Lovely surprise this morning – the results of the new European Haiku Prize landed in my inbox. No monetary reward, unfortunately, but I had a haiku selected in the Distinguished Poet category (a Commended?) which will appear in the contest anthology.

tea from a rough bowl
             we open the window to rain

– Sandra Simpson

Tea-time at Eikando Zenrin Temple in Kyoto. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Staying at a traditional Japanese hotel is a lot of fun – especially when it includes an onsen (in Kiwi parlance, hot pools). Fresh tea and a small ‘cake’ is brought immediately after you’ve arrived in your room and served at the low table. My favourite tea ‘cake’ is the chestnut-paste square, known as tochi-mochi (栃もち), which is, naturally, an autumn treat.

Tochi is Japanese for horse chestnut but – as we should all know – horse chestnuts are the ones that can’t be eaten because they’re toxic. The clever Japanese, though, have found a way around and you can read about that here.

This haiku was written last year while staying at the Yumoto Fujiya Hotel in Hakone and is pretty much as it happened.

Farewell to A Hundred Gourds, an online journal that I shall miss greatly. Lorin Ford has been an excellent haiku editor and her final selection is well worth a read – including three of my own humble efforts. The archives will be available for the foreseeable future so do have a look if you don’t already know this publication.

bull kelp
sliding in and out of sight
a fur seal

– Sandra Simpson

Fur seals frolicking in Otago Harbour. Photo: Sandra Simpson

NZ fur seals were almost obliterated by the coming of people to these islands – the few the Maori left were soon hunted down by European sealers after their skins and blubber. Read more here. Fortunately, sanity finally prevailed and in 1978 kekeno became a protected species. They are now the most common seal sighted and their numbers are growing. Read more here.

Finally, two haiku in the latest issue of The Heron’s Nest, a red-letter day!

cumulonimbus —
the slow grind of continents
beneath my feet

– Sandra Simpson

I’ve had this one around for a little while, but couldn’t get any recognition for it so entered it into an online kukai* that I belong to. One of the participants, whose work I admire enormously, said: “Coming from California I have written many haiku on earthquakes and unsteady ground, and even this knowledge of grinding continents. I will stop. L2 and 3 say it perfectly. The contrast between the smooth glide if clouds is wonderful.” Woohoo!

So I sent it off again, and what do you know? The haiku was written while on a ginko** at Te Puna Quarry Park.

*Kukai = peer-judged contest or workshop. Poems are entered anonymously and participants vote for their favourites (you can’t vote for your own), offering constructive comments as to why they like a haiku or why they think something doesn’t work.

**Ginko = a group walk to observe, take notes, make word sketches and write haiku. Often a kukai at the end.