Kay F. Anderson, Life-Dancer

First published in The Heron’s Nest 9:2, June 2002. Kay F. Anderson was born on 29 July 1934 and passed away at the age of 72 on 8 February 2007. See also “In the Garden Shed After Nightfall.”

Those who met Kay Anderson couldn’t help but be changed by her spirit of joy. I first met her in the early 1990s at a meeting of the Haiku Poets of Northern California in San Francisco. When Christopher Herold and I were editing the group’s journal Woodnotes, the first poem we published by her, from issue #14 (Autumn, 1992), was this:


rainy day—

sharing my bread

with a peg-leg grackle


In 1993, I was drawn to take a class in sumi-e brush painting in Redwood City. Much to my surprise, when I showed up at the first class, there was Kay! She stuck with it and over the years many haiku poets have seen her heartfelt work. At the time of the class, she would have been nearly sixty years old, still learning, still eager to try something new. Here’s a poem by Kay from Woodnotes #18 (Autumn, 1993):


first sumi-e lesson—

what I need

is the teacher’s brush


Kay was also my nearest haiku neighbour for many years. She and I lived next to salt-water lagoons in Foster City and Redwood Shores, towns right next to each other along San Francisco Bay. We’d occasionally get together and share poems, and her poems were often about the birds she saw from her back deck. Often her haiku expressed a profound, selfless empathy—the following one winning second prize in the 1996 Henderson Haiku Contest sponsored by the Haiku Society of America:


deep silence

         the orphaned nestlings

         this third morning


Yet she wrote vividly about many other topics. I once shared the following poem of Kay’s with a friend who had just been divorced. My friend immediately wanted a copy for herself:


five years

in the wrong window:

the violet’s first bloom


When my wife and I moved north to Seattle, Kay and I kept in touch by email. She took particular delight in my becoming a new father and enjoyed the stories I shared about my two young children. Her positive outlook came, I believe, from an innate youthfulness, always seeing the world as just beginning, as full of hope. She valued the joy of youth, and encouraged me to savour it in my children. She said my son and daughter had changed me, and she was right. And so had she—for the same reasons. I like to think that something of her joy made it into this poem of mine:


first star . . .

a seashell held

to my baby’s ear


This picture is my favourite of Kay, taken in September of 2002 at the beach near the Asilomar conference center in Pacific Grove, California, at the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society’s annual retreat. What a sparkle in her eyes! Her ready smile and the twirl of her arms expressed her joy at being alive—despite her diagnosis of melanoma. I love how she wanted to be barefoot—not just at the beach that early autumn day but in all of life, to not hold herself back from life’s full experience. She was a life-dancer. This unguarded moment on the beach is the way I want to remember her: ever and always as a life-dancer. It was the last time I saw her.