NaHaiWriMo en français daily writing coprompter for February 2023
1. How did you get started with haiku?
I had come across a couple of examples of haiku through general education, mainly 5-7-5, but had never thought of writing any until I took a late-adult education class on creative writing. I wanted to write about my experience of working at the forefront of the HIV/AIDS pandemic from its onset, mainly to exorcise what some of us had been made to witness and partake in. I was mainly with young school-leavers writing about their first heartbreaks, parents’ divorce, first time travelling away alone, and so on. As we shared our writings with the group of students weekly, I felt that my prose about such a heavy subject as AIDS would dampen their spirit and I resorted to condensing my experiences into 5-7-5 snippets of what I thought was haiku. The teacher took a liking to them and wanted me to present them to the group. It was 2001. I went online, typed “haiku,” came across Ray Rassmussen’s website, and contacted him to ask permission to use some of his photographs for my project. He responded and told me about an online class about to take place with an’ya from the World Haiku Club. I registered, got on with the course, and then joined various Yahoo groups (including the second incarnation of the Shiki Salon), and soon find my way to renku, keeping haiku as a parallel activity. What I remember best from this magical time was that trying to condense my thoughts into a 5-7-5 format felt wonderfully therapeutic, almost meditative, and certainly improved my concentration. I could feel a physical shift in my brain almost. For a decade I was writing solely in English until I felt the need to go back to my native tongue, which is French. I’m still to write about the HIV/AIDS pandemic, though a few of my haibun have touched on the subject.
2. Tell us more about yourself.
I grew up in a tiny village (250 inhabitants) deep in rural France (Béréziat) on a farm that was eventually forced to specialise in free-range chickens, but we had everything from cows, sheep, rabbits, pigs, and ducks—and turkeys and guinea fowls for selling at Xmas. Great childhood! I’m now a finally retired nurse and live in London, England with no idea of where I’ll end up for the last years of my life, all relocation plans having been dampened by Covid and Brexit. I’ve taken a few breaks from writing renku and haiku, especially in the wake of the Iraq war that proved so divisive for so many haijin but never for too long as I guess once you catch the haiku bug it’s difficult to wean oneself off it successfully. Going back to my mother tongue was beneficial on many levels, including the opportunity to meet many haijin in the flesh during my visits ‘over there’ but I yearn for a balance between the two languages and am working towards that. I also have to balance a lot of other interests: pottery, printing, volunteering in a nature reserve, knitting, darning, and watching documentaries and films—all of which feed my own haiku fest but I’m not seeking to translate all into haiku either.
3. What does NaHaiWriMo mean to you?
I participated in a few at its very beginning where I actually met Vincent Hoarau who was the third prompter for NaHaiWriMo en français (it was started in 2011 by Jessica Tremblay), but once I became active in my mother tongue, I became less present on the anglophone lists. I was also confused for a while about using prompts to write haiku because “desk ku” had been such a no-no when I was a new on the path. [Writing haiku in response to prompts, however, encourages writers to tap into their memories, so not an inauthentic way to write haiku.] Vincent created one of the first (if not the first) French Facebook haiku groups, entitled Un haiku par jour (one haiku per day), and as Yahoo groups became defunct I (reluctantly at first) reconnected with the haiku/renku community through Facebook. Now, I love participating in NaHaiWriMo every February and often intend to participate more often in other months to join a few of my old friends who are active there (such as Linda Papanicolaou). But life is full of choices, and navigating between two main cultures and languages absorbs a lot of my energy to do it justice.
4. What one piece of advice would you offer to those who are new to writing haiku?
Try it. Read others. Try again. Read some more. Revise. Play with the order of words. Never forget to play with it! Seek and accept criticism but never lose sight of what you want to say and express and hold on to your inner voice.
5. Please share three of your favourite or best haiku.
a gardener’s hand
This was one of my first and highly praised poems in the World Haiku Club course.
the indecent red
This was highly criticised 20 years ago for naming an emotion, but I held onto it because the moment that led to its writing had been so strong; nowadays whenever I air it, it gets lots of thumbs up and positive comments and has found its way in someone’s personal anthology.
the magnificent insignificance
of our lives
This was published in its French version in an anthology about Bretagne and the sea.