Congratulations to Naomi Wakan on her new book: Poetry that Heals (Pacific-Rim Publishers, 2014). Naomi will be reading at WordStorm in Nanaimo on Tuesday, September 30th, 7 p.m. at the Vault Cafe. You’ll have a chance to purchase the book which I think is wonderful. (More about the book below.) Congratulations as well to Harvey Jenkins who won the Canadian haiku prize in the Haiku Invitational, part of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival in the spring. He won a Sakura Award as well. You’ll see the judge’s comments and other winners here.

Harvey Jenkins’ winning haiku:

Wild Horse Shakes its Mane
the Tai Chi group moves
through cherry petals

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASharon Bertchilde, Harvey’s wife, won an honourable mention among the Sakura Awards in the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival’s Haiku Invitational. What a team. Although Harvey and Sharron now live in Winnipeg, we claim them as our own. The British Columbia winner was Cheryl Ashley of Nanaimo. (Photo: Harvey Jenkins, Mary Ann Moore and Sharron Bertchild at Bethlehem Retreat Centre, April 2014.)

I wonder if Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands have the highest incidence of Canadian haiku writers? Recently I learned from Joanna Streetly of Tofino, B.C. that she has a new book of haiku called This Dark. The book is illustrated with original linocuts by Tofino artist Marion Syme. You can read about it at Postelsia Press , a micro publisher of all things west coast with a focus on high quality handmade-style books.   Also check out Joanna’s beautiful blog here.

 When Nanaimo’s Poet Laureate, Naomi Beth Wakan, appeared at the Hazelwood Writers’ Festival in August she held up two books and said: “I only published two books this year.” One of them was her memoirs (Some Sort of Life) and the latest is Poetry that Heals. That’s a title that really interested me as I consider writing a wellness practice and there have been studies to show it is exactly that.

Poetry That Heals is a journey that took place over thirty years of poetry writing. It began during Naomi’s “middle years” when she lived in Japan for two years.

A press release about the book said: “Her writing affected shifts in her personality. The sense-focused haiku, the feeling and intellectual qualities of tanka and the community-feeling of writing renku (poetry writing by a group of poets) all worked to first ground her in nature, then open her to deep feelings and help her mature a philosophy for her life and finally encourage an intuitive trust in living in community on her small island of Gabriola. A poetry journey that was physical, emotional, intellectual and psychological.” As she explains, “poetry that heals.”

winonabakerIn the introduction to Poetry that Heals, Naomi says that Winona Baker, “that brilliant haijin,” had a big influence on her, particularly Winona’s book Moss-hung Trees. Winona is a Nanaimo poet who in 1989 was awarded the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Grand Prize in the International Section of the World Haiku Festival for her haiku that begins with the line: moss-hung trees. (Photo: Winona Baker)

Before Naomi was a haijin (haiku writer) herself, she invited the haijin of the region to a gathering on Gabriola Island to coincide with her July birthday. One occasion grew to twelve years of occasions. The last gathering was on July 21, 2013.

During the July haiku gatherings, Naomi met some of the best haiku and tanka writers in North America. She includes them in her book: Michael Dylan Welch of Washington State; Terry Ann Carter of Victoria; Carole MacRury who has received many awards for her haiku, tanka and photographic haiga; Susan Constable of Nanoose Bay; and Vicki McCullough, a long time haiku volunteer with the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival. They were all at the 2013 gathering as was Sonja Arntzen.

Naomi met Sonja Arntzen about eight years ago.  Sonja had recently retired to Gabriola Island and happened to be a scholar of medieval Japanese literature and a leading translator of Japanese classical texts. How fortuitous is that.

Sonja was a translator of the fifteenth-century Zen monk, Ikkyu. He was known for his rebellious and wild nature and his poetry that embodied his struggle. She became Naomi’s guide into tanka “that five-line predecessor of haiku.”

I was going through old copies of ascent magazine recently and in a summer 2007 copy, spotted an article by Talya Rubin: “who says that my poems are poems?” The article discusses the life of a recluse with three contemporary hermit poets: Sonja Arntzen, David Budbill and Bill Porter.

Sonja had recently retired as professor of East Asian studies at the University of Toronto. She said in the discussion that one of the things that drew her to Ikkyu’s poetry when she first heard about it “was that he seemed to break the mould of the common notions of a Zen monk as someone who didn’t express anger or didn’t express attachment, such human qualities of indecision and confusion and irritation and resentment even.”

Naomi includes some of Sonja’s translations in Poetry that Heals.  In a section on haiga that consists of haiku, calligraphy and brush painting, Naomi includes several beautiful illustrations including from Basho and Buson. Other images are from present day haijin including Carole MacRury.

Jim Swift’s “abstract haiga” is included as well. He was also at “Haiku in Other Forms” in July 2013.

Naomi calls her chapter on tanka “Letting it all out.” Tanka are five line, free-verse poems. “While haiku reflect a Buddhist outlook, tanka have space for the more paradoxical Zen statements,” Naomi says.

The last chapter in Poetry that Heals is about haibun. Sonja spoke about haibun (haiku imbedded in or at the end of a piece of prose) at “Haiku In Other Forms” at the Gabriola Commons for the last of the yearly haiku events organized by Naomi. I remember Sonja saying that the first literacy in Japan was Chinese and the men claimed Chinese. The Japanese vernacular language was something the women used.

As Naomi points out in her book, haibun was first used by Basho in 1690. Others followed him: Buson, Issa and Shiki. Today haibun are written in English usually about travel.

Naomi created her own form of writing and poetry: the Espoe (essay + poetry). She offers further insight at the end of her book about her healing haiku/tanka/renku journey: “Haiku restored interest to my day to day chores. I no longer sought novelty, or yearned to be ‘where the action is.’ The action was on our half-acre. I wasn’t lost, I was here.”


You can find the details about Some Sort of Life and  Poetry That Heals here.

I wrote an earlier blog called Ephiphanies of a Landscape, also about haiku, featuring Terry Ann Carter. You can read it here. Another earlier blog, Haiku Moments, features Harvey Jenkins’ book Haiku Moments on the Camino. You can read that blog here.