I set up THE DAILY HAIKU in March 2020. My aims were and still are to create a writing space that is accessible, engaging and fun. As I welcome new members each day I describe our community as one that is creative, nurturing and supportive. I believe and am proud to say that is what we are, facilitate and foster.
Last week’s Transnational Literature conference: Follow The Sun run by Paper Nations UK on the theme of ‘Place and Displacement’ was inspiring. It has given me a chance to reflect on my creative and collaborative practice. How are we fostering a thriving and inclusive writing community that realises its aims and aspirations? What more can we do?
Aminatta Forna’s keynote presentation at the conference, highlighting voice over place, resonates with my desire to create ways to connect that are open, inclusive and celebrate diversity. I was reminded of a time when I first went to New York. On meeting new people they would ask me “What are you into?” This emphasis on what I like rather than what I do for a job or where I am from is refreshing and liberating.
Aminatta went on to discuss how women are often at their most relaxed and open when they meet in communal bathrooms. That happenstance and ease of conversation is something that comes when you are comfortable; in non-judgmental spaces focusing on shared experiences. A sense of being in the moment.
Connecting and connection is central to successful communication. In THE DAILY HAIKU I want the community to be one that invites everyone to take part. It doesn’t matter what you do as a job, your experience or where you are from. There are no written rules to join. There is a sensibility that has evolved within the community itself of wanting to create a nurturing, supportive and welcoming ethos.
We start from one point only of coming together in a shared creative space. We have a common passion for creativity through the practice of a daily haiku activity. Some are new to writing, some returning whilst others are experienced writers, but everyone is equal. We vote on themes and listen to suggestions. I facilitate and respond. I suggest and experiment. We discuss and embrace difference. I believe this allows us to adapt.
The invitational space of THE DAILY HAIKU hinges on a central activity of creating haiku that is immediately understandable and an easy to engage with short form of writing. You can fit it into your day or take as long as you want. Key to the format is embracing a holistic approach to writing that can also involve visual thinking by using photography, artwork and video.
In my wider creative practitioner work questions and choices are helpful in establishing connection and encouraging engagement. They are especially helpful in encouraging people to get involved in writing for the first time. Then as we explore our writing they can take us out of our comfort zones. In face-to-face situations I like to set up spaces that are inviting with a table full of sensory touchstone objects, natural and unnatural which naturally prompt conversation. Writing emerges through personal conversations. Formats for writing are informal. I rarely promote sessions as writing or poetry, even these words can put off people and only appeal to existing converts.
The daily and weekly themes, alongside other prompts and features, on THE DAILY HAIKU are always an open question “What do you think?” Themes are left to members to interpret. This often prompts wider discussions and points where we connect where more details about our lives and ideas can be shared. But these are never presumed or forced, they emerge naturally.
Also, crucially, there is not one way to respond and no work is deemed better than another. Personal preferences and opinions are of course most welcome. The Facebook like/love click and comment format encourages engagement but also an inbuilt judgement. But I hope on THE DAILY HAIKU responses reflect what we like or we connect to, as opposed to what is better than something else. After complaints about the FB labels that rewarded contributors for their engagement eg, branding people as ‘conversation starter’ etc, we switched them off after a discussion and vote.
Comparison should be inspirational not dispiriting or competitive but we can only offer guidelines and support. Writing is a complicated practice. It involves multiple motivations involving times when we thrive and others when we feel blocked. Furthermore it is frequently linked to our emotional wellbeing. Expressing how we feel in our haiku and our discussions encourages a space where opinions and feelings are invited, listened to and welcomed.
So we start from a place where everyone is welcome. No dress code or qualifications, just a desire to take part in whatever way you choose. An easily achievable activity but one that can be developed in any way you want to take it, for as long or as little time as you want to be involved. A trust to see what will emerge. Freedom. We offer different ways to engage alongside the daily format. This includes collaborative twice weekly renga, discussion threads on haiku, haiga invitations, one-off impromptu themes and call-outs for submissions for film projects.
If anyone is offensive the group consensus highlights this to me. I am further guided by overriding discrimination codes including the 2010 Equality Act. Thankfully this is rare and we continue to foster and maintain a creative, nurturing and supportive environment.
In our discussions at ‘Follow The Sun’ barriers to accessibility were touched upon and these continue to be something I want to address. Setting up a core writing group on Facebook, now on The Great Margin website and also Twitter allows us to access a worldwide engagement, crucial during the pandemic. However, issues around digital poverty have shown that this accessibility can exclude those without the technological means, connectivity or know-how. I look forward to getting back to a time when we can also support online engagement with face-to-face real time connection.
I leave this blog with an invitation to write haiku inspired by the theme PLACE AND DISPLACEMENT. As always 3 lines, 5/7/5 syllables a guideline NOT a rule with or without visual imagery. Go with the flow and see where this takes you…
Transnational Literature conference Follow The Sun hosted by Paper Nations UK https://www.bathspa.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/follow-the-sun/
@TheGreatMargin and @amandawhite10
The Equality Act 2010 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents