British Haiku Society
Haiku Poets of Northern California
Haiku Society of America
Manitoba Writers' Guild
Tanka Society of America
United Haiku and Tanka Society
World Haiku Association
Writers' Collective of Manitoba
I was honoured to be chosen for this feature by the editor, Marilyn Hazelton.
In response to her question regarding my musical background as it informs Three-Part Harmony:
I have been playing guitar, singing, and writing songs since the age of 12. My eldest sister was the main musical mentor in my life. I received my first guitar from her as a Christmas gift, and we often played music and sang together. She taught my sisters and me to sing harmony, hence the title and dedication of this book. Though she passed away when she was 28, every time I play my guitar, I think of her.
In response to her question regarding how I compiled the book:
It took about a year to finalize the manuscript. I began my eliminating poems that had appeared in my first book, Warp and Weft: Tanka Threads. I sorted the remaining published work into themed groups, and whittled the field down to approximately 300 tanka. This is like working on a huge jigsaw puzzle. I inserted each tanka into a set until they resonated with each other, thereby breathing new life into old poems.
In response to her question regarding my reflections on three tanka sets she chose at random:
curls of clouds
the low-angled light
invites me to follow
scribe an ancient mystery
across the moon
their soft murmurs
catching winter's breath
m u m u r a t i o n
sifting the sky
she recalls the moment
her life changed shape
I have been an avid birder for 40 years. Birds inspire me on a daily basis, and they feature in many of my tanka. In murmuration, I tried to encompass the way birds make me feel, how they capture my imagination, and stir my emotion. Here, we have clouds shape-shifting into passerines, snow geese becoming scribes, and starlings changing the very shape of sky.
bread and tempers
that phone call
all those years ago
I still see
a serpent writhing
between her fingers
escalates all night
these paper-thin walls
only meant for wasps
above a bake shop
of bread and tempers
rising through the night
I find it cathartic and healing to share my joys and sorrows via the written word. I do not shy away from writing about the dark times in my life, because these experiences have helped to mould me into the writer I am, and the writer that I will become.
resting in a thicket
by the slough
all over this world
the sound of guns
another child dies
for a debt
her chalk outline
macabre street art
bullets of crows
on gunmetal nights
a deeper shade
of anguish echoes
in her bones
This set is especially meaningful to me, as I have a complicated relationship with guns. When I was a child, my father hunted to provide food for our family, so they seemed like a necessary evil, if you will. Over the years, two of my cousins have been murdered by these weapons, and with escalating gun violence throughout the world, I find myself becoming increasingly fearful for our global community.
letters addressed to you
I am grateful to an’ya for inviting me to be the featured poet in this issue of cattails. She was the first editor to whom I submitted work, and I was thrilled when an artist of her calibre chose to accept my haiku! This encouraged me to take the plunge and begin sending out my work. As a neophyte in the world of writing Japanese short form poetry, I was concerned that I might not have anything of value to add to the wealth of information provided by much more knowledgeable writers. Then, it occurred to me that perhaps my positive experiences with this genre over the past year might inspire other poets to embark on a similar adventure.
The Pulse of Poetry
I make my home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I have also lived in Saskatchewan and Alberta, the other two prairie provinces, as well as on the west coast of British Columbia. Both the prairie and the sea play integral roles in much of my writing.
Photography and art are important aspects of my creative life. An exhibition of my abstract photographs was recently held at the Assiniboine Park Conservatory in Winnipeg. A gallery of these images may be viewed on crated.com. I am currently assembling a collection of haiga and tanka art, and I often post these creations on Twitter. You are welcome to visit me online at: https://twitter.com/Debbie_Strange
My other interests include singing, playing guitar and writing songs, tending a huge perennial flower garden, and exploring nature with my husband and our dog in a lime-green 1978 VW camper named Ludwig Van. Our camping trips provide wonderful inspiration for my photography and writing.
Though I’ve been a word weaver all my life, I am not a prolific writer. When I finally allow a fully-fledged work to leave the nest, I worry that its feathers might be singed, but I also feel hopeful that this might be the creation that takes wing and soars. I do not have a stockpile of perfectly rendered poems in my flock to send out into the world, but I do have a flourishing collection of fragments. This is my treasure trove, and within it are the pinions I need in order to fashion the wing of a new poem. I hope that words will always be thrumming in my blood through the pulse of poetry.
In 2000, I became a member of The Writers’ Collective of Manitoba. I entered their annual contests, and was thankful when I was lucky enough to receive recognition. I also sent in work for evaluation, and the constructive criticism given to me was invaluable. Through my association with this group, I gained a newfound confidence in my writing. As I learned to read my work aloud in public, my voice began to emerge from its cocoon, and this was the beginning of my metamorphosis as a writer.
I entered into retirement earlier than planned, due to the after-effects of an injury. The silver lining behind that cloud is that I now have more time to devote to writing and learning!
In 2013, I made a promise to my inner critic to answer calls for submissions, and to begin sharing my work, no matter how apprehensive I was. The first step I took in that direction was to join Twitter. Before long, I was a member of a thriving online short form poetry community, with too many excellent poets to mention here. That being said, it was serendipitous for me that the first two writers of Japanese short form poetry I discovered on Twitter were the well-known M. Kei and Chen-ou Liu. I admire their work, and I am grateful for the vast knowledge they share, as well as for their support and encouragement. They have helped change the course of my writing life.
Journeying into Haiku and Tanka
M. Kei is an esteemed tanka poet, novelist, and Editor of Atlas Poetica, as well as many other publications. I had never heard of tanka, and encountering this form has been life changing for me. M. Kei published 100 of my traditional and experimental tanka in the Bright Stars Tanka Anthology series, and I am indebted to him for leading me on my journey into tanka. The singer in me has fallen deeply in love with these short songs, and the practice of writing tanka daily feels like coming home.
Chen-ou Liu is an award-winning poet, and Editor and Chief Translator of Never Ending Story – the First English-Chinese Bilingual Haiku and Tanka Blog. I had been introduced to the “traditional 5/7/5” haiku in school, and Chen-ou has expanded my perception and understanding of this form.
My first published haiku:
|My first published tanka:|
on sagebrush prairie
the whirring grasshoppers
and trilling larks
sing a lamentation hymn
for my sister’s stone ears
Notes from the Gean August 2013
|Looking back on my first publications, I see how my work has evolved. Brevity is a difficult concept to grasp for a self-confessed “adjective addict”, but I’m learning that less is more. The minimalist nature of Japanese short form poetry appeals to me. I like to see the black bones of a poem on the page, with nothing distracting from, or confining the words. The general lack of capitalization, punctuation, and complex line breaks makes for an austerity and starkness on the page that I find aesthetically pleasing.|
I also discovered haiga and tanka art on Twitter, and this has become another new passion. Blending my photographs and art with my words satisfies both creative urges in me.
I am a member of the United Haiku and Tanka Society, Haiku Canada, Tanka Canada, the Tanka Society of America and the World Haiku Association. I subscribe to several journals, and as a result of this, I am continually being introduced to the work of a wide variety of poets with diverse styles. I have made some observations as I travel this road. I find it refreshing that most journal editors do not care who you are or what you have published in the past. The most important thing is the work, and the only prerequisite is quality. Also, it is interesting to note that self-publishing is celebrated rather than frowned upon, as is often the case with mainstream writing.
A short time ago, I could never have imagined that I would have my work published in international journals. Some of the pieces have been translated into other languages, and this is a source of amazement to me. In closing, I will quote from my thoughts regarding inspiration, which Steve Wilkinson, Editor of The Bamboo Hut, so kindly published:
My writing is mainly informed by experiences in both my emotional world and the natural world. Words are my solace and salvation. I am inspired by the very shape of words, their cadence, meaning and power. I breathe words, write words and sing words. In return, they bless me, heal me and save me.