NaHaiWriMo daily writing prompter for September 2021 and July 2022
Photo by Tyler J. Steimle/Ghost Code Studios
Steve Ralph as Touchstone and George Ralph as Jaques in a production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Hope College Theatre, 1987
1. How did you get started with haiku?
My own personal haiku journey started with my father. My dad, George Ralph, a professor of theater by profession, started writing haiku as a daily practice following a 1981 sabbatical to the University of Hawaii where he was studying Asian theater to develop and launch a new course on the subject at the college where he taught. I read my father’s haiku offerings with interest, and tried my hand at a couple, but didn’t really take the whole thing too seriously until four years later, when, upon graduating from high school, I arrived in Japan to join my dad (who was already there leading a group of students in a university exchange program and staying afterward to further his study Japanese theater). When I got off the plane in Tokyo, he handed me my first blank writing journal, saying, “This is for haiku. Start writing.” And I did.
I wrote daily during that month in Japan with my dad, but kind of fell away from the daily practice after returning stateside. Meanwhile, my dad began publishing haiku, senryu, tanka, renga, haibun, and scholarly articles about traditional Japanese poetry forms in magazines, journals, and anthologies worldwide. Later, he started becoming a perennial finalist or winner in various U.S. and international haiku contests, and eventually a judge for some of those contests.
I had published a couple of haiku in my college’s literary journal, but not much else, at first. I ended up majoring in theater for my undergraduate degree, studying under my father in the theater department he had founded back in the ’60s at Hope College in the small West Michigan town of Holland where I still live. A bit later, in the ’90s, I started writing renga with my dad and another local professor-poet, Francis Fike. We had a couple of those published in Lynx magazine, then coedited by Jane and Werner Reichhold. My dad and I were in the midst of writing two concurrent renga with Jane, at her invitation, when he died in the spring of 1997, two weeks after his retirement from the college. They were published in Lynx posthumously, unfinished.
For the next twenty years, I did precious little writing of haiku, or any poetry, really, as life happened: marriage, jobs, kids, divorce, career changes (including a stint in the mid-aughts as a newsroom journalist for the local paper), personal crises . . . you know, life! Then, in 2017, an artist I was doing some writing for recommended me to a couple who were looking for a writing tutor for their daughter who had just finished homeschooled high school and was trying to hone her writing skills in preparation for college. I took the gig, teaching her all variety of expository and creative writing, including haiku. We would often find a spot to observe our surroundings, write haiku side-by-side, and then share our creations with each other. By the time my student “graduated” from my tutoring (after a year or so writing together) and entered college, I had been rebitten by the haiku bug. Over the next couple of years, I wrote haiku in response to new paintings (mostly abstract) for a number of art exhibits in West Michigan. The haiku would be posted next to the paintings in the exhibits, some of which hosted live readings of the work during private and public artist talks (most of those as part of the annual Grand Rapids art competition and festival ArtPrize).
By December 2018, I had returned to writing haiku as a daily practice (and have continued ever since), and started posting my offerings to my social media accounts daily (initially just Facebook, but now also Instagram and Twitter). I really haven’t put too much thought or energy into submitting work for publication or contests, but perhaps I will take that next leap soon.
I’m sure most NaHaiWriMo monthly prompters have had far more extensive and impressive haiku journeys to relate, but this is my little haiku story. I hope it is at least interesting.
2. Tell us more about yourself.
I live a couple of miles from the western shore of Lake Michigan near the small West Michigan city of Holland (and about a quarter mile from the inland lake around which Holland was built). I studied theater under my father at Hope College, here in Holland, where I also studied poetry under acclaimed poet Jack Ridl. He and my father were my two primary poetry mentors, and Jack continues to be a dear friend to this day.
I do a variety of things for income, mostly performance- and writing-based. I officiate wedding ceremonies; deejay/emcee wedding receptions and other events; host live pub trivia, do freelance writing and editing projects for private clients, do some acting, directing, and scriptwriting with or for various theater groups, emcee/host for cabaret, circus, and burlesque shows, and do occasional voiceover work and writing tutoring.
I am a single father to three adult sons and one cat. My younger two sons are both in college and currently live with me (as does the cat). My eldest son lives nearby with his nearly-two-year-old daughter, my only grandchild (so far). I walk two miles every day and haven’t missed a day since the spring of 2017.
3. What does NaHaiWriMo mean to you?
Since I joined the NaHaiWriMo community, I have found it to be a welcoming, inclusive place of interesting and inspiring writing prompts and varied, high-caliber writing. This community of haiku writers, and their work, seems more focused, consistent, and intrinsically inspired than many other such online groups that I’ve encountered recently. For whatever reason, it just feels like home.
4. What one piece of advice would you offer to those who are new to writing haiku?
Start simply. Sit and observe your immediate environment. Notice something small. Notice how the observed thing resonates within you, perhaps connecting to a larger thought, emotion, or perception. Record the moment.
5. Please share three of your favourite or best haiku.
the storm-cloud sky
reflecting on the waters—
a carp goes, unseen
(composed on 21 June 1985 at Heian Shrine Garden, Kyoto; published in Opus, Fall 1988)
i have holes
but i am still red-bold
wrap me in your blue
(featured in the “Leadership on Canvas II” exhibit, ArtPrize Seven, Fall 2015)
red sun disappears
beneath the lake to give warmth
to another place
(featured by Haiku Crush, 5 August 2021)
“Shades of Blue” painting by Teresa Weatherall Neal, with a haiku by Steve Ralph.