P. H. Fischer
night breeze . . .
cherry petals fill
the big dipper
P. H. Fischer
Vancouver, British Columbia
Congratulations on having your haiku selected as the top winner in the Vancouver 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?
Like most, I’m sure I first learned of haiku in an elementary English class (or mathematics—counting 5/7/5 syllables!) but have no memory of it. I started writing highly derivative poetry in my early twenties trying to emulate Canadian poets I admired such as Al Purdy, Milton Acorn, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Margaret Atwood, and American poets E. E. Cummings, Richard Brautigan, Charles Bukowski, and all the Beats. After buying a well-worn copy of Harold G. Henderson’s Haiku in English, I became enchanted by these little nature-based poems that were objective, yet full of subtle emotionality. It’s incredible—the beauty and depth of feeling present in such a small wrapping of words!
I became more serious about writing haiku during my 2018 pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. As I walked the 900-kilometre trek across the Iberian Peninsula, I committed to writing at least one haiku a day (usually many more) to be mindful of the moments unfolding along the way. It wasn’t until a year and a half-ago, however, that I took the single best step forward in my growth as a haiku poet—I connected with the haiku community! I regret not doing this years ago. Besides submitting/publishing my poems in most of the major haiku journals, I also joined several groups including Haiku Canada, the Haiku Society of America, the Vancouver Haiku Group, Haiku Northwest (Seattle area), and Haiku Komo Kulshan (in Bellingham, Washington). The help and inspiration I receive from renowned haiku poets is priceless and much appreciated.
What was the inspiration for your winning poem?
Walks, taken alone or with my soulmate, Linda, inspire most of my poetry. This poem was no different. We live near Granville Island, a locale in Vancouver that, like many other neighbourhoods in the city, shows its best side in the spring when dozens of plum and cherry trees burst forth in blossoms. Under April’s full pink moon, Linda and I were out for our nightly stroll. In Ron Basford park, at the edge of the ocean, we marvelled at the cherry trees in peak bloom. That night, a gentle breeze released some of the cherry petals to swirl into the clear night sky where I spotted the big dipper constellation. In my imagination I saw the dipper scooping up some of the soaring petals, even if for a moment. As Linda snapped photos of the scene with her camera, I reached for my notebook and pen. The haiku wrote itself.
Leading up to the VCBF haiku contest deadline, I sent seven poems to my haiku mentor Victor Ortiz, who provided valuable feedback on all of them. His comments on this haiku affirmed my decision to include it as one of my two submitted poems: “I wouldn’t change a thing. This is a special one. I think it’s a winner.” He called it!
Describe the moment when you first learned you had won.
I feel a great joy and sense of gratitude anytime one of my poems is accepted for publication. Winning the VCBF Haiku Invitational is extra special, particularly as a resident of Vancouver. When I started sending out my poems to journals and contests, I told Linda that one of my highest goals was to win the VCBF haiku contest. It’s such an honour for me.
I was wrapping up a long work week when I saw the VCBF email arrive in my inbox. I stared at the email and subject line for a minute before I opened it to read the news. After wiping away tears of joy and disbelief, I immediately texted the news to Linda (swearing her to secrecy until the official announcement). She shared my joy and suggested we celebrate with dinner at Do Chay, a Vietnamese Vegan restaurant in Yaletown that is our go-to for toasting family milestones.
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?
These days, there are so many amazing resources available to aspiring haiku poets. I am seriously indebted to the Haiku Society of America’s mentorship program, which helped me grow exponentially as a poet. The Haiku Foundation’s website and Michael Dylan Welch’s Graceguts website are both incredible. I regularly binge on the cornucopia of haiku goodness I find at these two sites.
I read all the major haiku journals, including Haiku Canada Review, The Heron’s Nest, Frogpond, Modern Haiku (check out their amazing archive of haiku essays), Presence, Hedgerow, First Frost, Kingfisher, Whiptail, and Prune Juice (for senryu), among others. Some of these are free and online, while others are print journals requiring purchased subscriptions. Reading great haiku from today’s top haiku poets always primes the pump for me, inspiring me to pick up my pen again.
Anthologies are also great for reading classic haiku from the old masters or recent poems destined to become classics. Now in its third printing, Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology is a treasure-trove of haiku to knock your socks off. Jim Kacian’s Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years is similarly brilliant. And R. H. Blyth started it all (in English that is), with his four-volume Haiku collection, which remains the haiku bible for poets writing in English.
Other books that were especially helpful in my development include: Scott Mason’s The Wonder Code, Patricia Donegan’s Haiku Mind, Gabriel Rosenstock’s Haiku Enlightenment, Bruce Ross’s How to Haiku, William J. Higginson’s The Haiku Handbook, and Betty Drovniak’s Aware: A Haiku Primer.
Finally, I love listening to Haiku podcasts such as the Haiku Pea Podcast, Haiku Chronicles, or Ben Gaa’s Haiku Talk video podcast. With my headphones on, these podcasts make vacuuming, preparing dinner, or washing dishes a joy, not a chore.
Please tell us more about yourself.
With a B.A. and MDiv in theology/ministry along with a year of English literature studies and post-graduate training as a career development practitioner, I have had numerous jobs including ordained Lutheran minister, university chaplain, sessional lecturer, speech/copywriter, employment counselor, college administrator, and now manager of a government-funded employment program for mature job seekers aged 55 plus.
My work no longer defines me, nor drives me, the way it did. My biggest passions now (besides family), are simple. I love writing haiku, senryu (a close cousin to haiku with a focus on human nature), haibun (a prose poem that incorporates haiku within its structure), and walking. A perfect day for me is a long walk (the longer the better) with pauses to scribble down first impression poems (even scraps of a poem or a fascinating word or phrase) in my ever-present mini-notebook. If someone would pay me to just walk and write, I’d be a happy camper!
How does where you live and what you enjoy doing affect the way you write haiku?
I am grateful to the Coast Salish peoples-the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh. I live, work, and write on their traditional, unceded territories as an uninvited, first-generation Canadian settler of German descent. Their faithful stewardship of the land inspires me to be mindful of my surroundings, to honour the rich history here, and to walk as lightly on the earth as possible. I am awestruck by the natural beauty in this part of the world. As mentioned, the outdoors inspires much of my poetry. A walk—amidst towering coastal mountains, whitecaps on the Salish Sea, humpback whales and orcas, great blue herons, seals, soaring bald eagles, amazing neighbours promenading along the seawall, and cherry blossoms, lots of cherry blossoms—never fails to enliven my spirits.