A, B, C of Haiku

Hope you’ll enjoy this ride through a fairly random haiku alphabet – there are a myriad of alternative choices for each letter. If you feel inspired to make your own alphabet, please share the link in the Comments section.


deep autumn
the arsenic
at the apple’s core

Melissa Allen, A New Resonance 8 (Red Moon Press, 2013)



home of my ancestors
I download an app
that speaks their language    

Ann Magyar, IRIS Magazine Little Haiku Contest winner, 2017



so suddenly winter
baby teeth at the bottom 
of the jar

Carolyn Hall, The Heron’s Nest 7.1, 2005


we sample new
baby names

Susan Burch, Betty Drevniok Haiku Award, 2018



today my son weighs the same
as when he was born

David J Kelly, Modern Haiku 48.3, 2017


into the church hymn
wall gecko

Anthony Itopa Obaro, Yamadera Basho Memorial Haiku Contest, 2017


Planting songs

The importance of rice to the culture of Japan would probably take a lifetime to research – and then some! This ancient grain is part of art, mythology and religious belief, as well as an everyday staple of life. Here’s a peek at just one of the many traditions …

On May 20 Princess Akiko of Mikasa participated in rice-planting  in Niigata Prefecture in Japan. The rice-planting event was held by Shinyu-sha, the association established by Princess Akiko which encourages and fosters Japanese traditional culture.

akiko of mikasa

Princess Akiko (standing) during this year’s rice planting.

girls planting paddy:
only their song
free of mud

Konishi Raizan (1654-1716)

The same day Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko sowed dry-land rice and millet at the Imperial Palace. Both the couple’s sons and their families also participated in what is a long-standing tradition.

The Emperor followed this up on May 25 by planting more rice at the palace – the last time he will carry out this duty as Emperor. Akihito abdicates on April 30 next year, after 30 years on the throne, in favour of his older son Crown Prince Naruhito.


Emperor Akihito plants rice at the Imperial Palace in 2018.

The sajiki (dictionary of season words) at Gabi Greve’s World Kigo Database says: The Emperor, embodying the god of the ripened rice plant, plants the first rice of the spring and harvests rice from the plants of the autumn. In one of the most solemn Shinto ceremonies of the year the Emperor, acting as the country’s chief Shinto priest, ritually sows rice in the royal paddy on the grounds of the Imperial Palace.

the beginning of all art –
in the deep north
a rice-planting song

Basho (tr David Barnhill), read more about this hokku


Rice planting woodblock by Kasamatsu Shiro (1898-1991)

a whole field of
rice seedlings planted – I part
from the willow

Matsuo Basho (tr Haruo Shirane)

The above poem is another from Basho’s travelogue, Narrow Road to the Deep North. Here is the passage, and an alternative version of the poem, as translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa:

I went to see the willow tree which Saigyo celebrated in his poem when he wrote, ‘Spreading its shade over a crystal stream’. I found it near the village of Ashino on the bank of a rice-field. I had been wondering in my mind where this tree was situated, for the ruler of this province had repeatedly talked to me about it, but this day, for the first time in my life, I had an opportunity to rest my worn-out legs under its shade.

When the girls had planted
A square of paddy-field,
I stepped out of
The shade of a willow tree.

Read the entire document.

again a baby frog
at the edge of the rice-paddy
in the rain

Shimobachi Kiyoko (tr Koko Kato)

June 15: Just found the following while searching for something else and thought it was a natural fit for this post.

Looking at Mount Fuji,
     The rice-planting girl
Adjusts her hair.

Anon., from Japanese Life and Character in Senryu by RH Blyth (1960)

Scents of a place

The Escape! festival is coming up in Tauranga from June 1-4 and I’d like to particularly recommend to haiku poets Scents of a Landscape (10am, June 3) and the Beyond the Visual writing workshop (1-4pm, June 2), both with Laurence Fearnley. See the full programme here.

A perfume from Saudi Arabia that evoked the country’s landscape crystallised a business idea for Tauranga couple Serena and Harold Jones – using scent to create a unique sense of place.

Serena Jones - Copy

Serena Jones, co-owner of Queenstown Natural Perfumiers.

The result is Queenstown Natural Perfumiers, which debuted its collection last year. “Our natural environment is New Zealand’s true luxury. It’s totally amazing and often undervalued,” says Serena Jones, who has studied botany and horticulture.

“Queenstown Lakes is among New Zealand’s finest landscapes so we sought to find and express the region’s essential scents.”


After 2 years of research and development involving professional perfumiers in New Zealand and France, the keen trampers and bush walkers released four scents – Mountain Herbs, Wilderness Berries, Lakeland Flora and High Country Tussock.

The perfumes will be available to sample at the Escape! festival in Tauranga early next month as part of Scents of a Landscape on Sunday, June 3 with Harold Jones, who is also a poet (AUP New Poets 4), and award-winning novelist Laurence Fearnley, discussing the power of scent to enhance feeling, awareness and memory.

Watching her two dogs on their morning walk inspired Fearnley to try a new way of mapping the world – by sniffing things.

“They seemed to be having a great old time running round, sniffing at everything,” she says from her Dunedin home, “so I started smelling the flowers and foliage of native trees and weeds and it got really interesting.”

Before she knew it, Fearnley was also recording in the notebooks she always carries urban scents like recycling bins, cooking, exhaust fumes and body odour, as well as those of the harbour and Dunedin’s parks, hills and bush.

laurence fearnley by Graham Warman - Copy

Laurence Fearnley. Photo: Graham Warman

One of the benefits of her scent mapping has been to realise that a landscape doesn’t have to look beautiful to engage attention. “Broom and gorse are quite scraggly but in flower the scented landscape is phenomenal. Down my street are wild sweet peas and wild honeysuckle which aren’t what we think of as high-value scents, but they’re beautiful all the same.

“I’m learning from the landscape and engaging with the weather as well – rain, wind, temperature all bring out different scents. For instance, when there’s a dusting of snow on the hills, there is wood smoke from fires. It gives a kind of structure to the seasons and creates a greater sense of intimacy with the landscape.”

An Auckland Museum grant and the NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award, both in 2016, offered a chance to research “The Grand Māori Perfume” as detailed in the journals of naturalist and missionary, the Reverend Richard Taylor.

“But the more I got into the research, the less comfortable I began to feel,” Fearnley says. “It raised the question of when does a plant [taramea, golden Spaniard] stop being a plant and take on greater cultural significance and did I have the right to explore it?” Questions to which, as yet, she has no answers.

spaniard middlemarch

Aciphylla or Spaniard, pictured near Middlemarch in Central Otago. Photo: Sandra Simpson

With 10 novels, two non-fiction books about mountaineering and a win in last year’s Landfall Essay Competition to her name, Fearnley is working on two books, although not concurrently, something she finds impossible to do.

“I’d done three-quarters of the essays for a collection about scent but missed fiction so started a book about a woman creating a timeline of New Zealand based on scent. The book itself is structured like perfume development – opening with ‘top notes’ [attention grabbers], developing through the ‘heart notes’ and ending with ‘base notes’ [what lingers after a story is told].”

Scents in the novel include Māori perfume, a corner diary in the 1960s, and David Lange’s 1985 Oxford Union debate quip, “I can smell the uranium on [your breath] as you lean forward”.

“It’s been really interesting to think of a specific time and link it with a scent,” Fearnley says, “although I haven’t yet worked out what uranium smells like, if it smells at all.”

From her childhood she recalls the smell of gasworks, “almost a phantom smell now”, the sickly-sweet fragrance of her mother’s hair-removal cream and beech forest, turpentine bushes and celery pine at Arthur’s Pass.

The scent of ferns also evokes strong memories. “It’s a mix of green leaf and the dustiness of old paperback books. My father loved ferns and I always associate this scent with him.”

Brought up in Christchurch, she has good memories of family trips to camp, tramp, climb and kayak but is concerned that landscapes in, say, the Mackenzie Basin, are becoming more crowded with tourists and lifestyle blocks.

“I like, and need, quiet spaces. I thought that if I can learn to appreciate unloved areas, bits of scruffy landscape, then I might find those empty places again and so far that seems true. The dogs don’t mind what it looks like so long as the smells are interesting.”

Recent publications

Gusting wind and rain have made this an inside sort of day – after some beautiful autumn weather this past week it’s a bit of a shock to have the light on at 3pm!

Kokako 28 is out, featuring a cover image I took in an autumnal Kyoto garden in 2016. It shows a woman in tabi (one-toe socks), Japanese-style Jandals (flip-flops) and the bottom part of a kimono with a maple-leaf pattern.

The journal features four of my haiku, including:

empty sky –
the lambs kneel to drink
what’s left

bedtime story –
we skip the issues
of patriarchy

I was particularly struck by this following haiku, partly because I can never make up my mind to do this:

coral bleaching
I erase another name
from my address book

– Seren Fargo

While the one below makes me feel like I’ve walked part-way into a story that could go either way, a definite whiff of Tom Waits:

the man with pencilled eyebrows
orders a triple shot

– Owen Bullock

Find out how to subscribe, and submit, to Kokako.

Presence 60, another print journal has also arrived recently. As well as carrying tidings of the 2017 Martin Lucas Haiku Award winners, it also carries a full-length book’s worth of haiku, tanka and haibun. Submission and subscription details here.

thinking autumn holds no more surprises sweet gum

– Beverley Acuff Momoi

We’re not this far into autumn yet, but slowly, slowly we’re heading towards peak colour. Last year we planted a dwarf Liquidamber (for that’s what a sweet gum is) called ‘Gum Ball’ but I don’t think we’re going to get much colour off it this year after the dry summer bled into autumn.

summer heat
the click of beetles
on the lino

– Andre Surridge

In December we spent the weekend with friends at a 60th birthday, lots of fun, lots of talk and plenty of recreation, including petanque (boules).

sixtieth birthday —
the sheen of petanque balls
tossed into the night

– Sandra Simpson

Years ago I played doubles petanque in The Netherlands with a friend who played competitively, against his regular playing partner and Haiku Husband. Great fun and something I’ve always fancied taking up. Better get cracking, eh?

Martin Lucas Haiku Award

Excited beyond belief to learn that not only have I won the Martin Lucas Haiku Award but have also been placed Third equal and received a Commended! Many thanks to the organisers and to judge Simon Chard for supporting my haiku and his comments.

skylark song – 
the name on her headstone
almost gone

– Sandra Simpson, 1st

harriet simpson grave - Copy

The grave of my great-great grandmother Harriet Simpson inspired the winning haiku. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read the judge’s comments on all the winning poems.

sickle moon –  
somewhere, his name
on the Menin Gate

– Sandra Simpson, 3rd equal

Oddly, it was only after I saw the results that I realised these two haiku were so close in tone and content! I’m going to visit the Menin Gate this year, and will try and find one headstone in Ypres/one name on the Menin Gate among the many. Although my family has no  blood connection to this man, he named one of my great-grandmothers as his next-of-kin and we have kept the black-edged telegrams and his medals. I’m not sure he would have had anybody else visit.

thunder close by – 
a shearer holds his comb
to the emery wheel

– Sandra Simpson, Commended

So pleased that this one was picked out, it’s a memory-packed haiku for me and one that I’ve been writing in my head for years, although – amazingly – this was my first attempt at writing it down. If you don’t know what it looks like when a shearer holds a metal comb to an emery wheel, have a look here. A comb is fitted into the handpiece and is what clips the fleece. Important to keep it sharp.

International Women’s Haiku Festival

The multi-talented Jennifer Hambrick – classical musician, singer, radio host, poet and photographer – is running the second International Women’s Haiku Festival on her blog, Inner Voices and posted three of my haiku for the March 20 entry. Her commentaries  are insightful and sensitive so I am grateful to have been included.

This haiku has been rejected previously – by male editors. Jennifer understands exactly what I was saying and which life stage I was at!

heat wave –
holding the soft part of my wrist
under the tap

Sandra Simpson

The term “heat wave” has a wonderful double resonance as the natural phenomenon of a period of scorching outdoor temperatures and as a metaphor for the hot flashes that often come with the equally natural process of menopause. Either way, one can imagine seeking relief from the external or internal heat by holding the sensitive flesh of the underside of the wrist beneath a trickle of cool water, a common remedy for the discomfort of hot flashes.

– Jennifer Hambrick

Here’s another on the topic that was published in NOON 13 (Japan) last year. The editor of this journal is a man so I wondered if he’d experienced this from the other side! The build-up to menopause is recognised as a condition all on its own (perimenopause) and certainly there were times when I’m sure no jury would have convicted me. Demented was about right!

a swan hisses

Sandra Simpson

Those Women who Write Haiku by Jane Reichhold is available as a free download and is well worth a read. In it, she surveys the earliest known women writing haiku in Japan through to 1990 and English-language poets.

my work in the sink
voice of the uguisu

Chigetsu (1632-1708), translated by RH Blyth (uguisu is a bush warbler bird)

Chigetsu’s son was a student of Basho and she was able to meet the master over a period of about 2 years. Uko was married to one of Basho’s closest friends, the doctor and haiku poet Boncho.

the fancy hairpins
along with the combs useless now
camellia flowers fall

Uko (died in the 18th century), translated by Blyth

summer   beneath my breasts

Marlene Mountain, published 1977

And finally, a tribute to Marlene Mountain (b 1939), who died earlier this week. Born Marlene Morelock, this distinctive and unique voice in haiku was married to haiku poet John Wills (1921-1993). She changed her surname to Mountain to celebrate the mountains of her home state of Tennessee. An activist feminist, Marlene began writing haiku in the 1960s and her work was experimental from then until her death – she was one of, if not the, earliest practitioner of one-line haiku in English. Read her work here. Her first book was old tin roof, published in 1976. Read an essay by Jack Galmitz in appreciation of her work.

old turtle pushes her shadow to sea

Marlene Mountain, published 1976

Recent haiku

My response to a photo prompt at NHK Haiku Masters has been selected for February’s online gallery – and was selected as haiku master of the week for week 3! Read the judges’ comments here.

late summer – 
the diverging paths
of my children

Sandra Simpson

An Honourable Mention in the IRIS magazine Little Haiku Contest which this year had ‘travel’ as a theme. See all the winning haiku here.

palmyra … camels unfold a red sky morning

Sandra Simpson

(Palmyra, by the way, is an ancient, ruined city in Syria – even more in ruins, thanks to the attentions of a terrorist group. I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited, and stayed there, twice.)

AND I managed to save the world this week … pointed out to a cafe that the sign telling us their sourdough baker was on a ‘bread pilgrimage to San Fransisco’ was spelled incorrectly. The woman behind the till (South American?) immediately agreed but must have already read it unless it went up the instant I walked in at lunchtime! You’re welcome.