Woodnotes Triveni Spotlight

First published on the Triveni Haikai India website every other day throughout the month of January 2023. The date of each posting links to the posting on the Triveni Haikai India website where each of these sixteen poems received discussion and appreciation, especially the “unmelted” poem near the end. Commentary originally written in December of 2022, with the poem selections, arranged chronologically by original publication date, all coming from issues of Woodnotes, which I edited in the 1990s. See also Selected Haiku and Senryu from Woodnotes.


From 1989 to 1997, in various capacities, I edited or helped to edit Woodnotes, the quarterly journal of the Haiku Poets of Northern California, and in 1996 I took on the journal independently before replacing it with my new journal Tundra. I lived in the San Francisco area for more than a dozen years and was active with HPNC from its first year in 1989 until I moved north to Seattle in 2002. Working on Woodnotes with such coeditors as vincent tripi, Ebba Story, Christopher Herold, and Paul O. Williams was a fine education in the art of haiku. The following are selections of favourite haiku and senryu from the journal’s 31 issues, with brief commentary. These poems are expressions of wonder, or as Billy Collins once described haiku, they exhibit “existential gratitude.” In return, I am deeply grateful for the thousands of poems published in Woodnotes over the years, and the hundreds of poets who contributed to the journal’s success.



1 January 


Summer twilight—

a woman’s song

mingles with the bath water

Patricia Donegan

Woodnotes #3, Autumn 1989


Patricia’s poem won first place in the first HPNC haiku contest, which, for its first year, admitted entries from women only, with 659 poems received. Anita Virgil and Adele Kenny served as judges, and the results were first published in Woodnotes. This is a beautiful and feminine image, and readers may wonder if the bath is for the woman herself (most likely) or if a mother is singing for her child. Patricia would go on to publish numerous well-regarded books on haiku such as Haiku Mind, a book about haiku for children, and a definitive translation of Chiyo-ni. [Patricia Donegan passed away at the age of 77 on 24 January 2023, just three weeks after this posting.]



3 January 


sidewalk sale—

wind twists a lifetime

      guarantee tag

Tom Clausen

Woodnotes #6, Summer 1990


Just as the wind is twisting a tag on a sale item, the word “lifetime” twists also. Wind not only twists the physical guarantee tag, but also twists a conceptual lifetime. The line break is innovative and effective in producing a double meaning that makes us aware of life’s ephemerality and change. That wind seems to suggest that nothing in life can ever be guaranteed.



5 January 


         which is the way?

the fallen pine needles point

         in all directions

John Thompson

Woodnotes #9, Spring/Summer 1991


This has always been a memorable poem to me, not only because of its uncommon use of a question mark but because of its vivid image. The question is not just of finding one’s way through a forest but of finding one’s way through life.



7 January 


first frost

one puddle frozen

the size of my skate

Kimberly Cortner

Woodnotes #11, Winter 1991


This is a poem of desire and anticipation. It feels like a memory from childhood, capturing an eagerness to go ice-skating when the season is yet young. The person in the poem is surely young too, filled with longing beyond just the desire to go skating. The author was also my girlfriend for many years, thus a young adult at the time this was written, but the poem’s perspective feels wistful and innocent as if it’s a child’s.



9 January 


immigrant graveyard

tombstones lean east

lean west

Jerry Kilbride

Woodnotes #12, Spring 1992


This is one of many standout haiku that first appeared in Woodnotes. The key word “immigrant” gives the locations of east and west added meaning. As a California poet originally from Chicago, Jerry himself participated in a migration to California as I did myself, and many of us have migrated in life, so it’s easy to empathize with this poem. Californians can also imagine the many historic graveyards in the Sierra foothills, such as those of Chinese immigrants who helped to build the railroads, their graves among those who came from elsewhere. Though many of us have migrated, it seems our loyalties and identities always lean home.



11 January 


           sound of shading . . .

the edge of his palm darkens

           with the sketch

Ebba Story

Woodnotes #14, Autumn 1992


Ebba’s poem demonstrates a fine awareness, seeing how the artist’s palm darkens as the artwork unfolds. This could be charcoal or pencil shading, or perhaps something else. Either way, the empathy in this poem points to a small consequence tied to an aesthetic endeavor. It’s a minor occupational hazard, but haiku notices just such “minor” details. The poem is about visual art, but is keenly aware of sound, too.



13 January


morning walk

warbler’s song

changes my route

Naomi Y. Brown

Woodnotes #16, Spring 1993


I imagine that all haiku poets would change their route on a morning walk if they were to hear a warbler or other favourite bird call. This sensitivity to nature and its seasonal unfoldings remains central to the haiku poet’s worldview—a view of the large but also the intimate and personal. In 2003, Naomi served with Lee Gurga and William J. Higginson on the Haiku Society of America definitions committee, revising the original 1973 society definitions.



15 January 


fields flooded—

beneath the surface, somewhere,

the river bends

Christopher Herold

Woodnotes #17, Summer 1993


Another classic haiku from Woodnotes. This poem dwells in the now of the flood but with an awareness of the past—where the river used to be. It’s perhaps also a poem of trust, knowing that the flood will abate, and the river’s shape will return. But for now, the poet knows that the river, as with everything else he still trusts in times of calamity, is still there.

17 January


snapped line—

the salmon’s full length

in the air

Francine Porad

Woodnotes #19, Winter 1993


This is my favourite of Francine’s many fine haiku. What a dynamic moment! The fishing line has snapped, no doubt because of the weight or strength of that salmon, and now the fish flies through the air, showing its full size. A background story here is that Francine’s husband Bernard was an avid fisherman, and Francine wrote many other fishing-related poems as well, especially ones that arose out of family anecdotes. This is the untold story behind this poem, a haiku about one fish that got away.



19 January


knocking on the hive—

the hum of winter bees

rises a moment

Paul O. Williams

Woodnotes #20, Spring 1994


This is a subtle poem, of delicate awareness. Why does the poet knock on the hive? Surely to see how the bees are doing—it is winter, after all. The hum’s rise in pitch comes as a reassurance, in response to the poet’s knock. The word “winter” heightens the husbandry or the caring attitude central to this haiku’s success.



21 January 


five years

in the wrong window;

the violet’s first bloom

Kay F. Anderson

Woodnotes #22, Autumn 1994


I once shared this poem with a friend of mine who immediately wanted to keep a copy. She had just moved to San Francisco to start a new life after ending a five-year marriage. She felt like she was finally blooming after being in the “wrong window” for all those years. On the surface, this poem is about just the flower itself, but the deeper meaning is what we bring to it as readers, as my friend did. For me it’s also a caution against procrastination—it reminds me of Gary Snyder’s “After weeks of watching the roof leak / I fixed it tonight / by moving a single board.” Isn’t that how life is sometimes?



23 January 



curve of the winter hills

         in moonlight

Cherie Hunter Day

Woodnotes #23, Winter 1994


Such beauty. We can see the patches of light and dark on the moonlit hills, perhaps of shades of snow, and feel how wonderful it is to pair this image with palominos, themselves patches of colour. Are the horses galloping on those hills, perhaps in an expression of freedom and delight? Surely yes, and we see the curve of those hills, and even the curve of the horses’ backs as they run.



25 January 


fresh-fallen snow—

footprints leading away

from the grave

Mark Arvid White

Woodnotes #26, Autumn 1995


The delicate sensitivity here, perhaps akin to Bashō’s notion of karumi (lightness), is its implication that the person who left those footprints must have been there for a long time, before the snow started to fall. We can therefore feel the depths of the person’s devotion or grief because they stood there even while the snow accumulated. It’s the unsaid the makes the best haiku.



27 January 



in the dead fox’s fur

first snow

Grant Savage

Woodnotes #29, Summer 1996


I have a haiku, recently published in Modern Haiku, that echoes Grant’s poem: “fallen sparrow— / a dusting of snow / slightly melted.” We need not decide which poem is sadder, or perhaps for some readers they’re not sad at all, but Grant’s poem suggests that the fox has been dead for a while. The seasonal element of the first snow brings to mind the seasons of life and death. For some reason I imagine the fox’s fur being white, or perhaps it just becomes white because of the snow.



29 January 


graduation day—

my son & I side by side

knotting our ties

Lee Gurga

Woodnotes #30, Autumn 1996


Another classic haiku from the pages of Woodnotes. How many fathers and sons or brothers have shared a moment like this? How many mothers and daughters and sisters can empathize with this moment with their own shared preparation rituals? A brilliant touch to this poem is the use of the ampersand instead of “and”—the shape itself being like the tying of ties. If we are to be like the ideal reader of Henry James, on whom “nothing is lost,” we will notice these subtleties in the best haiku. The interwoven “ties” here are not just neckwear but intergenerational commonality.



31 January 


with the numbers

my daughter knows—

the stars counted

Gary Hotham

Woodnotes #31, Autumn 1997


How many of us thought we could count the stars when we were children? It was indeed possible at a certain age, or so we thought, limited by our own experience not just of words and numbers but what little we knew of the stars. I am reminded of Jerry Kilbride’s jisei or death haiku: “terminally ill / when I was a kid I tried / to count all the stars.” With the young it is possible to count them! Gary’s poem speaks of a childhood wonder that we should hold onto as adults. This also reminds me of a favourite quotation from Rachel Carson: “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.” Existential gratitude indeed. This is the spirit of haiku.