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.
a woman’s song
mingles with the bath water
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.]
wind twists a lifetime
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.
which is the way?
the fallen pine needles point
in all directions
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.
one puddle frozen
the size of my skate
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.
tombstones lean east
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.
sound of shading . . .
the edge of his palm darkens
with the sketch
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.
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.
beneath the surface, somewhere,
the river bends
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.