C. Jean Downer
C. Jean Downer
White Rock, British Columbia
Congratulations on having your haiku selected as the top winner in the British Columbia category in the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival’s 2023 Haiku Invitational contest. How did you first learn about haiku, and how much writing of haiku or other poetry have you done?
I have known about haiku for more than thirty years but have regrettably never practiced composing them. Until a few years ago, when I began writing professionally, my poetry had always been long-form. The wonderful and talented community of authors on Twitter inspired me to write haiku, a way to use words carefully with powerful, evocative meaning. So, I began posting daily for practice.
What was the inspiration for your winning poem?
There is a street lined with cherry trees a few blocks from our home. I walk and drive by it daily. During the spring, I breathe in the blossoms’ sweet scent. Late spring, I watch their petals puddle on the ground and their gentle frondescence, and in summer, I delight when their leaves turn deep red. All the time in deep admiration. It occurred to me that the trees assuaged the feelings I struggled with regarding the mental and physical pain Covid caused our family, difficulties we are still dealing with today. My gratitude to them inspired this haiku.
Describe the moment when you first learned you had won.
The email announcing I had won the British Columbia category pinged my mailbox in the evening. I thought it was an advertisement for a haiku invitation and opened it. We were sipping our nightly herbal tea, and I gasped sharply, spilling a bit on my lap. My wife and daughter asked what was wrong. I squealed in delight! And I am still so thrilled and honoured that the judges chose my poem.
Do you have favourite books or websites relating to haiku that others might benefit from to learn haiku as a literary art and to share one’s haiku?
Oh, yes. Excellent books and websites exist, and I encourage anyone interested in haiku/senryu to learn about the literary form (and its history). Here are a few of my favorites: Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, The Haiku Handbook, Haiku Canada (join!), Haiku Society of America (join!), Wales Haiku Journal (a great blog and haiku features), and Poetry Pea Haiku (great podcast and YouTube channel).
Please tell us more about yourself.
Ooh, I cannot for the life of me answer this question without rambling and giving strange facts about myself. I’m a bit weird but with simple desires. I love reading, writing, watching British detective mysteries, so much so that I’ve developed an accent. My education from undergraduate to my doctorate is all English literature, composition, and rhetoric, but I haven’t taught in academia in years. I’m desperately trying to get my wife to retire so we can start traveling more than once or twice a year (one daughter in university and another a year away!). But I digress.
How does where you live and what you enjoy doing affect the way you write haiku?
I live flanked by the ocean and temperate forest in the Pacific Northwest, one of the most breathtaking places on earth. The natural beauty around me inspires my writing. Despite the ample source material, I only work on a handful of haiku a month. Not because I want to capture the perfect moment but because I only select my favourites to revise, to find the perfect words to express my experience for others.
Return to the main page of the Haiku Invitational.
Meet our 2023 Haiku Invitational winners.
Read the judges’ 2023 commentary for inspiration for your own haiku.
Celebrate winning haiku with commissioned pieces by Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh artists.
View additional categories of 2023 Sakura Awards and Honourable Mentions.
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