What is your background, and what attracted you to short form poetry?
I’m better known as a New Zealand poet but I actually came from Taiwan originally, and when I was quite young I fell in love with English. I find the rhythm and rhyme of the language very engaging. Since my high school years in Taiwan, I began reading in English all the time, drawn to philosophy and poetry particularly, for its musicality. I’ve been working as a professional pianist and cellist for many years before finally taking up poetry writing for the first time in June 2020.
For me, short form poetry fits with my lifestyle particularly well as I’m a busy mum of four children. I often write while doing chores around the house. Short form poetry, when compared to a novel, is easy to read and if you know what you are doing it can be relatively quick to write. I find it an interesting challenge to write something meaningful within the constraints of word, line and syllable counts. Like many haiku poets, I started writing haiku in the form of syllable limits per line; the limits are, one line of 5 syllables, one of 7 syllables and another line of 5 syllables, but fairly soon I was able to break free from this rule (which works better in Japanese).. When I write short form poetry, I normally write in sets with most of the poems loosely related.
Do you work in other forms and disciplines?
Yes I do. I also enjoy writing ekphrastic poems and in 2020 I wrote poetry almost exclusively inspired by artworks and music. And now I create haiga by combining photos or artworks with my own haiku and occasionally paint digitally myself.
You seem to have quite a substantial output of work in many different forms and structures. How do you keep track of your work?
The system I use to keep track of my poems is by giving each poem an opus number (like composers do), and it’s especially satisfying to see the total number shoot up because I sometimes write 50 haiku a day to celebrate special occasions.
The goal I set for my upcoming 1 1/2 year writing anniversary is to write 3000 poems, and I’m very close to that target, as well as having had over 350 poems published in over 50 publications, and my poems have been long listed (India), short listed (NZ) and one of my poems won a rengay competition (USA) with my friend Alan Peat (UK) which is all very encouraging for a new poet.
I’m primarily published as a cherita, haiku/senryu and rengay poet, even though I have written many poems in longer forms, these are yet to be published as poetry collections. Like playing music, to this day I still write poems largely by instinct, sometimes not following rules so strictly. and I love the international short form poetry community where we are like one big happy family.
in my ear
Does writing short form poetry require a lot of hard work?
It does, but once you know what you are looking for, writing short form poetry becomes a much easier task. The technical side of writing, you can learn, and once you understand that, then you can go about crafting a poem. The most essential thing is to observe and feel with your heart, then write them down in your own words. Go into nature, watch the crowd go by, or just look into yourself. There is inspiration wherever we go.
This kind of poetry is very structured. Does that make it easier or more difficult to write?
One can get obsessed with counting the syllables, rather than seeking the most effective connection between the words, and one of the most common difficulties is that we end up with too many filler words. I found that to be a real issue for me when I first started writing haiku and whenever I revisit my old poems written in 2020, I chuckle at their lack of depth. I feel I have improved after writing many more poems daily.
I have been writing haiku for just over a year now, I am a true believer that “quality comes with quantity” and constant practice is required for such improvement. It’s all part of my journey, looking back I find myself keeping a diary in the form of poetry, and I wouldn’t go back and change my diary entries, I’ll just be writing yet another new page.
You recently attended an international Haiku conference?
Back in June 2021 I was invited to give a rengay presentation workshop at the Haiku Society of America (HSA) virtual conference, which was my first time involved in any major haiku event. I was very glad to be able to meet many poet friends on zoom that I had previously been writing poems with over email or messenger. I have just attended the Haiku North America Conference in October 2021, where I was a moderator for two of the amazing presenters (Donna Beaver and Emiko Miyashita) and that was a wonderful experience.
The central topic for the HNA conference was the concept of Ma (pronounced Maah) which refers to the space between the lines of the haiku but also suggests a sense of space as much in the environment around us as it is in the poetry we are aiming to produce.
a white space
Part two of this interview is here