Mary McCormack

cherry blossoms . . .
the painter
sets down his brush

Mary McCormack
Urbana, Illinois

Congratulations on having your haiku selected as the top winner in the United States category in the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival’s 2022 Haiku Invitational contest. How did you first learn about haiku, and how much writing of haiku or other poetry have you done?

Thank you! It’s such a delight and honor to have my haiku selected as a winner. I’ve been writing haiku since 2020, but I’ve been writing poetry in general for much longer than that, since I was about seventeen. I first learned about haiku in grade school, but it was at the end of 2019 that I bought two used books on haiku (The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, and Issa by Robert Hass and An Introduction to Haiku by Harold G. Henderson) at a garage sale, and after reading them I thought I’d attempt the form. I decided to write at least one haiku a day for the next year, and usually I’d find myself writing more than that. I also got involved in a haiku mentorship group run through the Haiku Society of America, so I’ve written and shared a lot of haiku with that group, which has helped me learn a lot about the form.

What was the inspiration for your winning poem?

I was walking down a pathway, cherry blossoms all around me, and I had a notebook with me. I’d planned to write some haiku while I was in this magical setting, but I ended up simply reveling in the experience of being there. I almost wanted to cry, I was so moved. And then afterward, walking home, I realized how I could convey that feeling to readers—I could show them a painter being so overcome that he stops what he’s doing to simply experience the moment. I like thinking about artists of various kinds and what we all share, so that was part of the inspiration for this.

Describe the moment when you first learned you had won.

I was sitting down at the computer to do some writing, and I checked my email first. I was completely taken by surprise and absolutely thrilled to learn that my haiku was getting this recognition. I called my parents, and from there the news started to spread to other relatives. I’ve had so much positive support from family when it comes to my writing, so I was really happy to get to share the good news with them. And I told a friend of mine who’s seen each haiku I’ve written from the very start. Encouragement when you’re starting out makes such a lot of difference.

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?

The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, and Issa by Robert Hass was a great introduction to haiku for me. I realized through that book how moving haiku can be. Where the River Goes: The Nature Tradition in English-Language Haiku by Allan Burns is an excellent anthology. I also love reading the various haiku journals out there; I’ve learned a ton from reading other writers. Some of those journals are Wales Haiku Journal, #FemkuMag, The Heron’s Nest, Frogpond, Shamrock, Acorn, and Presence. Besides haiku, several journals also include haiku book reviews and essays on haiku, which I’ve found very engaging and helpful. The Haiku Foundation is a website with so many resources for haiku that I haven’t yet explored them all.

Please tell us more about yourself.

I’m a writer (of fantasy, poetry, and some nonfiction) and also a freelance writing tutor. I love going on walks, particularly in forests, alongside water, past castles, and/or through gardens.

How does where you live and what you enjoy doing affect the way you write haiku?

So much of what I do/see/hear/feel/taste/smell makes its way into my haiku. I’ll pass by an interesting plant that brings a haiku to mind. It’ll be a sunny day, and sunlight will feature in my haiku. I’ll eat something delicious, such as vanilla ice cream with strawberries and a bit of balsamic vinegar, and I’ll make a haiku of it. That said, some haiku come from my imagination, with no (obvious) relevance to where I live or what I do on a daily basis.