Unless stated otherwise, all poetry on Swimming in Lines of Haiku is Copyright Kirsten Cliff and may not be reprinted in any form without written permission from the author. kirsten(DOT)cliff(AT)gmail(DOT)com

Monday, September 30, 2013

NZPS Feature Article for September: Collaborative Poetry

Inspiration through Collaboration
by Kirsten Cliff

I never thought I'd need a prompt to get me writing. I always seemed to have new ideas, and could easily draw from what was happening around me. Then some dark days arrived – cancer, mostly – and it seemed that the act of writing got harder. I was writing less. Maybe that was okay? But being generally uninspired in my play with words did not feel good. So when a haiku friend (who'd also survived cancer) asked if I wanted to write with her, I welcomed the opportunity to expand my writing world.

Cara Holman and I started writing rengay together: a modern form of linked haiku verse. I found that writing to the prompt of her haiku lead me to write poetry that I wouldn't have penned otherwise. On really hard days – when the chemotherapy was stripping me bare – collaborating was what helped me get out of bed in the morning. Why? Because I knew that the next link in the poem would be waiting in my email inbox.

I quickly became excited about writing again. I was inspired in a way I hadn't been before. My writing was taken in new directions. It was still my writing voice, but it was brought to life through the links of my poetry with Cara's. I got instant feedback on my work, often in the form of her next haiku verse. This was highly positive as it meant I had inspired my writing partner, too. We were on a roll.

The Scent of Pine
Cara Holman & Kirsten Cliff

evening sky
the moon cradled
in the ginkgo's branches

the scratch of pencil
on paper

hushed dawn
bird tracks
in the snow

fallen fence post
counting out pills
for the day

a hawk scatters
the flock of starlings

cloud cover
the scent of pine
from the wood pile

Our first two rengay, “The Scent of Pine” and “Turning a Corner”, were quickly accepted for publication, appearing in the on-line journal A Hundred Gourds (June 2013). Over the course of that year we wrote 13 rengay together, including four on our joint experiences of cancer, and all were well received by editors. Every time we completed a rengay, we'd start another. It was addictive. And so much fun!

Then I got the itch to try a tanka sequence and asked another writing friend, Margaret Dornaus, if she'd like to work with me. We quickly found a subject we could both get stuck into: our overseas travels. We took inspiration from photos of our journeys abroad, and wrote our first sequence of tanka linked by that travel bug. Margaret and I have since written together several times and I find her feedback invaluable. I'm learning all the time in this world of poetry and she is one of my teachers.

So the positives of collaboration continued, and the desire to do more never waned. After each project I'd feel the need for a break – it was time to return to my own writing. But these 'breaks' never lasted long. My hunger for this new type of inspiration would rapidly grow, and before I knew it I'd be emailing a friend with a new idea for a rengay or tanka sequence. I soon grew bolder and began asking others to write with me. I've now written with six different people.

Lost & Found
Margaret Dornaus & Kirsten Cliff

crossing the river
into this new year, alone
I stop
to look at every turn
before I carry on

first dream of the year
diagnosing her pain
as leukaemia . . .
could I find the strength
to do it over again

on the bench
at the foot of her bed
a clutch of tissues . . .
abandoned like the words
she can no longer recall

I hear her say
she's lost the will to live . . .
the waves
keep on cresting
keep on breaking

winter fog—
the lighthouse steps
we climb
to see whatever
we might see

all day long
the peacock's cry
once again
I fail to listen
to my intuition

Part of a tanka sequence published in LYNX (March 2013)

Experimentation was part of the joy. Cara and I played with the rengay form creating what we called 'rengay sequences': four rengay linked together. This developed from that drive to keep writing with one another, and wanting to explore all avenues of a particular theme. Now I'm breaking new ground with Seánan Forbes: we are writing tanka sequences using repeating lines. This occurred the first time naturally when I was so inspired by Seánan's starting tanka verse that I wanted to use one of her lines in my linking tanka. It can be quite a challenge to use your writing partner's first line as your third line, for example, but, once again, I can't seem to say no!

A very different experience was my first time writing face-to-face, and as part of a group, at the June 2012 Haiku Festival Aotearoa in Tauranga. It was a session filled with laughter, and where I realised I wasn't too good at writing haiku under pressure! Sandra Simpson lead ten of us in writing a junicho: a longer and stricter form of Japanese linked haiku verse. It was also a 'competitive' write, which meant that we all contributed verses for each new spot, and Sandra choose the one that linked best. Although this began in real-time, it was completed on-line, which gave me more space to become inspired by the preceding verse. The experience of working face-to-face in a group setting is one I would definitely repeat, though. After all, it is how linked verses were traditionally written in Japan.

I've since gone on to create collaborative haiga (putting haiku with a photographic image) with two of my haiku friends. I was also part of Ruth Arnison's 'Poems in the Waiting Room' fundraiser, which saw the haiku of North Island poets paired with South Island artists. In this collaboration I was a silent partner, but was excited by the artists' interpretations of my haiku. I look forward to future collaborations with other people outside the world of haiku, as well as those within it.

First published in a fine line, The Magazine of the New Zealand Poetry Society (September 2013); reprinted at NorthWrite

Saturday, September 28, 2013

NeverEnding Story: Last Call for Haiku/Tanka Submissions

NeverEnding Story: Cool Announcement: Last Call for Haiku/Tanka Submi...: My Dear Fellow Poets: This is the last call for haiku/tanka submissions. The accepted haiku/tanka will be translated into Chinese and posted on NeverEnding Story and Twitter. Click on link above to follow post . . .

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hubby and Haiku

I use Grammarly for online proofreading because although my husband, Cameron Elliot, is a self professed geek in these matters, he isn't always right! So it's great to have a more reliable back-up at my finger tips.

We met at the local writer's group, and aren't the first to have found more than friendship there. But apparently we are the only couple writing and publishing haiku in New Zealand. 

Here I share some of my hubby's 'ku on the month of our fifth year since falling in love . . .

busy road 
the rest
of this seagull 

Kokako 15 (September 2011)

city centre
the footpath swerves
around two silver birches 

Commended, NZPS International Haiku Competition 2009; moments in the whirlwind (NZPS Anthology 2009)

treatment ends
the sky yields
a burst of rain

Oh, and he doesn't like me using the word 'hubby' (or geek for that matter -- he prefers nerd) but this is my blog so I win! :-)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

This Little Haiku Poet Went To Market . . .

Here's a photo of me by my stall at The Little Vintage Markets in Mount Maunganui yesterday.

I didn't sell any of my haiku cards, but I did sell several of my handmade Christmas cards, and some other goodies, making the day a happy success.

Thanks to my friends and family who came by to say hello and offer support. It was much appreciated! :-) Now for the next market...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Of Summer's Past . . .

return journey --
I fill my sunhat
with ripe tomatoes

Kokako 19 (September 2013)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Persistent Rain

bone marrow biopsy --
through my internal tears
a doctor talks
of the persistent rain
on his summer holiday

Kokako 19 (September 2013)

Thankfully all my treatments (and related procedures!) for leukaemia ended a year ago this month. Although I'm still considered high risk, a label that will stay with me for life, I have remained in remission for three years now, so all is looking good. I have also finally completed my collection of haiku and tanka that explore my journey through this experience. It is now with some very generous readers, and then I hope to enter it in the Snapshot Press Book Awards.

My work has just come out in Kokako, A Hundred Gourds and A Fine Line. I've recently had work accepted for Skylark, Presence and Contemporary Haibun Online. And have submitted work to The Heron's Nest, A Hundred Gourds, and the Australia-New Zealand Haiku Anthology. Now I'm getting my entry ready for the Kokako Haiku and Senryu Competition, as well as making haiku cards to take to the fair. Collaborations are still continuing, with Seanan Forbes writing haiku and tanka for some of my photos from Fiji. Never a dull moment!

Don't forget about the Svetlana Marisova Memorial Kukai 2013 (closing September 14th), which marks two years since Sveta's passing from cancer.

from a dream --
on my lips
I find the word

*Maori for with love/deep affection
RIP Svetlana Marisova

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Somehow I knew about them before I arrived in Japan. But I was beginning to realise it was the small ones that I should be wary of. The big ugly black ones, that you could clearly see inching along the roadside, were much too heavy to scurry up surfaces. The charming little red ones however, would suddenly appear on the wall behind the customer you were with. I would jerk and point, though only my fellow foreigners seemed to cringe at the shocking sight.

godless month . . .
I dream of riding a horse
into my childhood home,
all the family waiting
and expectant

We foreign girls started sleeping with the light on. It seemed the only solution. I was not going to lie in that top bunk with red cockroaches running around my head. Japan was not going to beat me. I needed the money, and anyway, I wanted to hide from real life for a while.

between snowfalls . . .
I wasn't meant to
find a love like this,
my slight resistance
not lost beneath languages

A Hundred Gourds 2:3, June 2013

Sunday, September 1, 2013

My Month of Dreams has Begun!

Finally September is here and so my month of Per Diem haiku has started over at The Haiku Foundation website. You can read my introduction to "Dream Speak" here, and view the first haiku on the home page here, which will change every 24 hours.

(click on image to enlarge)
Above is the September page of my calendar. The picture is taken from the end of the road where I live. A busy first of the month with my mum's 65th birthday today, and also Father's Day in New Zealand. I hope your September 1st contained some haiku, some good laughs, and some yummy food, just like mine did! :-)