How did you get into haiku?
Sherry: I wrote my very first (free verse) poem in June 2020. Within a week I knew this was something I would want to do all my life, so I started exploring different poetry forms. Through friends I reached out to the only NZ haiku poet I knew at the time, Patricia Prime (also living in Auckland but we never met in person) who has been most kind in challenging me to write in different short forms — we corresponded via email.
At first I was mostly published as a cherita poet but over time as my haiku writing skills improved, I started submitting to journals and quite often got published. In September 2020 I invented my own poetry form called “nonaku”. From August 2021 I also started making haiga. Within a year and a half I got more than 300 short form poems published in 50 journals/anthologies around the world and made many haijin friends online during the lockdowns — with whom I also enjoy writing collaboratively. It’s the most wonderful experience.
Zoe: I wanted to write haiku because my mum always reads her haiku to me as bedtime stories and also because it’s short and easy to write. I wrote my first haiku when I was six. I also wrote a poetry book “Bat Girl” with my mum.
What do you enjoy about it?
Sherry: I love how short a haiku is, I usually write a set quickly. My record was writing a set of 50 haiku within 4 hours (on International Haiku Day, April 2021). I keep track of all the poems and articles I have written (by always numbering and dating them) ever since the beginning of my writing days — this has proved to be a great system and very valuable in knowing which of my poems got published.
The haiku form is so condensed and full of emotions, it will take more than a lifetime to master the skills. I particularly love how welcoming and encouraging the internationally short form community is, where poets interact daily, sharing and appreciating one another’s published writing. I also love how many haiku journals there are out there and that we get different prompts or themes to write to — it is very energising every time an acceptance letter arrives. Winning an award also tells me that I have been improving, and I find myself learning even more from rejections!
I am NOT a big fan in going back to revise my poems because I treat them as my “poetic diary”, however rejections force me to sometimes go back and look at these poems again… also sending the rejected poem(s) to another journal can increases the acceptance rate.
Zoe: Mostly I enjoy that it is short and easy to write, but also that so many people write haiku, so I wanted to participate.
How would you describe haiku to someone who hasn’t written haiku before.
Sherry: Haiku is a way of life. They are the fleeting moments of beauty that we try and capture — a glimpse of truth. With its briefness the poet tries NOT to describe through words, but to present it in a way that the readers can FEEL it themselves, all the sadness or happiness that we perceive at a given time, and the so-called AHA moments of illumination. There is also space for “ma (間)” (which is Japanese for “space”) within good haiku and I love how everything flows in lowercase, as natural as breathing air. I know that doesn’t answer the question of HOW a haiku is made. But writing good haiku comes with experience which involves lots of writing, reading and not giving up. After a while, you’ll be able to tell good haiku from less satisfactory ones.
Zoe: Haiku is three lines. People mostly now write first line short, second line long, third line short. You can also do it the other way. The old japanese way is first line 5 syllables, second line 7 syllables, and third line 5 syllables. You can choose either way. I prefer short-long-short.
What inspired you to set up CHALK ON THE WALK HAIKU
Sherry: Zoe and I recently (July 2021) went to Tauranga and Katikati to attend haiku workshops by noted NZ haiku poets Sandra Simpson and Margaret Beverland. We had the opportunity to visit the famous Katikati Haiku Walk on our way driving back to Auckland and thought, it would be so nice to have a park just like that in Auckland, however that will involve convincing our city council which didn’t seem very easy to do at the time.
A couple of months later, by chance I saw a post online by haiku poet Wilda Morris from Iowa, USA, who had hired a little boy to chalk haiku outside for her. In Auckland we have just gone into a long lockdown and it was then (the very end of August 2021) Zoe and I decided, that we can bring the haiku walk right outside our house and share with all our friends around the world. We ordered some chalk online and started chalking one haiku by a different friend each day, posting them in our Facebook group and that has somehow become very popular, not just enjoyed by the local people who walk past (who sometimes stop and express their gratitude when they see us chalking, which is always very rewarding) but by our haijin friends all over the world — they feel proud to have their poems curated in New Zealand!
I think the best part is we get to be creative illustrating to the poems, and usually I consult Zoe for a selection of poems for the day. On rainy days we share haiga instead, and this activity has evolved into starting a separate group CHALK ON THE WALK MONOKU which means we get to chalk two poems a day, doubling the fun! We love it when the rain comes down and wipe the poems off for us. There is a long stretch of sidewalk in front of my house which means I can fit eleven haiku or monoku at the same time before having to rub any out for more chalking the next day. So we just fill up our sidewalk with poems, much like a poetic garden.
Zoe: I liked the Katikati haiku walk, so me and my mum decided to do our own. Though instead with chalk, and it’s on the pathway.
What do you love about Rengay and how would you describe this to someone who doesn’t know what it it?
Sherry: I also discovered rengay quite recently, at the end of April 2021. Rengay is a modern Western linked form (created by American photographer poet Garry Gay in 1992) based on the traditional Japanese linked poetry called “renku” or “renga”. Unlike the longer renku which consists of 18 or more haiku verses and full of rules, a rengay is made up with only 6 haiku.
The rengay rules are simple and flexible. When written by only 2 poets (A and B), we follow the pattern of 3A-2B-3A-3B-2A-3B, where the 2 or 3 is the number of lines for a haiku. For example, in “Departures” (the first prize winner at the 2021 Otoroshi Rengay Contest) my friend Alan and I used lots of images to portrait a scene of horror, each haiku as a fragment of the same story. You can see the use of indentation and italics to differentiate the verses written by different poets. I faithfully numbered and dated my poem.
by Alan Peat (UK) and Sherry Grant (NZ) (Op.2401)
sudden chill —
on the bonfire
empty bleach bottles
still this stubborn stain
bagged clothes —
so many names
on his passports
in a suitcase
bits and pieces
without a blink
A rengay can also be written by 3 or even 6 people, but the rules are slightly different. I was invited to give a workshop presentation at the Haiku Society of America virtual conference in June 2021, and have put more information about rengay on my website for anyone wanting to learn more.
Zoe: I love that Rengay is all haiku, and that makes it fun because I like writing haiku. I also love that you write Rengay with groups. For the instructions, Renku goes on forever, or as long as you want. Rengay is like that, but instead there’s only 6 verses. You can have two people, 3, or 6 or even write solo rengay by yourself.
What do you enjoy about collaborating creatively with haiku?
Sherry: I am always inviting new friends around the world to “rengay” with me, as I often juggle up to 10 rengay with different poets at the same time, or write “multi-rengay” with them. It’s a lot of fun, and extremely addictive! I have written many rengay with little Zoe, we’ve also written 3-person rengay with my various friends, and these have been published in several journals, sometimes with my own traditional Chinese translation.
Zoe is very good at writing rengay, even though she is only 7 years old. She is very imaginative and we greatly value “link and leap” — we have a great time writing together and she is very keen to write with my friends. Zoe and I ran a “Rengay Under The Moon” gathering (2 sessions of 2 hours writing workshops in which Garry Gay and Kala Ramesh were our special guests) in September 2021 to celebrate the Moon Festival. That was a successful online event and we plan to do it twice a year, to build a global rengay community.
Also I am planning to publish a rengay anthology each year. I have finished my first one “Speed Rengay” in which I am co-author to 100 rengay with 100 different poets, and this first volume will be multi-lingual and come with translations to different languages for each English rengay. The call for submission for Vol. 2 will start in December 2021, to celebrate rengay’s 30th birthday in 2022. The two things I love most about rengay is the friendship developed through writing together and the writing partners, while having fun, are able to exchange ideas and sharpen their own haiku-writing skills. It’s a win-win situation!
Zoe: Maybe because we can help each other so you’re not so stressed, and people famous at haiku are usually happy to help you make it better.
Add some personal details, who you are and where you are?
Sherry: I am a New Zealand concert pianist and cellist originally from Taiwan, and a mother of four children. Even though I have always enjoyed reading poetry and philosophy, poetry writing is a new-found art for me. Unlike music performance, it can be done at pretty much any time of the day (as long as I have my phone), especially while doing chores around the house (I multitask as most mums do). I have written some of my best poems while doing chores and cooking.
In 2019 I organised a “War and Peace” Arts and Music Festival and “100 Years Journey” to combine music, arts and poetry in most of the concerts. I got to perform 12 concerts onstage after many years of raising children. In these events I invited poets to recite their poems — I wonder if that might have indirectly inspired me to be become a poet myself, a year later!
I have some plans to perform overseas but the pandemic is making travelling very difficult and damaging to the arts industry. I just finished hosting the first Hindemith & Copland International Music Festival online (14-16 Nov 2021) and will be organising another in 2023. I am planning a Scriabin Festival online for 2022 and a concert tour in USA with my chamber ensemble TAIORO. My ultimate goal is to preserve history and create another Golden Age for our next generation. I enjoy writing poems with Zoe, who is seven years old and youngest in the family. Zoe and I are both now award-winning haiku poets and frequently interviewed around the world.
Zoe: I am Zoe Grant, youngest daughter of Sherry Grant, co-author and illustrator of “Bat Girl. The home edition of this book was published in November 2020, and the new edition published in June 2021. I was the first prize winner at the 2021 NZPS International Haiku Competition (School Junior). I live in Auckland, New Zealand. I do acting, ballet, and flute (when not in lockdown).
What other writing and creative activities do you enjoy?
Sherry: I also write many longer poems inspired by the great masters from the past. I use their rhyming schemes (in the original languages, whether German, French, Russian or other languages) and create my own poetry. My goal for my 1.5-year writing anniversary is to finish 3000 poems — I have about 5 weeks left and 260 more poems to write till the end of 2021! I am a true believer of “quality in quantity” — if I keep on writing, I will surely improve! At first I always wrote ekphrastic poetry but as I gained more confidence I was able to project my own voice without the aid of arts.
I have made many artist friends, having sent them poems I’ve written for them. My poem “Combat Ready” was written in August 2021 inspired by my eldest daughter Emily’s drawing of patu (a Maori weapon) — after a few hours’ of online research, the poem was born and soon after got short listed at the 2020 NZ Heritage Literary Awards. Poetry writing is also my way of keeping a diary and I seldom go back and edit it a lot, unless preparing it for publication or submission… really, who edits their diary? I leave my early poems be, because they all represent different stages of my writing, which has become rather lyrical, and I love rhyming, which I consider a bit of a LOST ART in this world preferring free verse.
I am planning to start composing music in 2022 and set my own poems into music, and compose music for viola and piano that I can perform. Viola is my favourite instrument although I don’t play it myself yet. I would also like to go into painting so I may create my own haiga. I love languages and the most recent language I’ve taken up is Russian. I want to be able to be proficient in several languages, to break culture barriers.
Zoe: I like doing Concrete Poems and Diamante poems. I really like dancing ballet, drawing and playing flute.
If you had to persuade someone to start writing haiku what would you say?
Sherry: Writing haiku is a great way to have a conversation with yourself. Write down your thoughts, these reflections can be surprisingly delightful or even cleansing for the soul. Three lines would not be very hard to manage. It doesn’t need to be spectacular, just be true to yourself. I strongly believe anyone of any age is capable of writing good haiku, it just takes a bit of practice. I have taught haiku at local libraries, schools and if not for the lockdown, also rest homes and retirement villages. I want to heal the world and humanity with the power of poetry.
Zoe: Haiku is so short it takes a short time to write. Everyone should try it. It’s fun to meet many poet friends around the world.
For your enjoyment, some excerpts from my 12 concerts in 2019…