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

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Haiku Journey

I walked unannounced into the world of haiku. I’d never encountered it before, never been taught it at school. Even when living in Japan for six months I never crossed paths with haiku.

Haiku for me now is like an old friend: comfortable to be with, always there for me through the good times and the bad, with an honest heart which will still challenge me when I need it.

My haiku journey began when I moved to Bay of Plenty in 2005, joined Tauranga Writers' a year later and heard about the Katikati Haiku Pathway.

On New Year’s Day 2007, I was alone with a longing to begin my year with something new. I felt a need to discover the external world, yet at the same time explore the world deep within myself. So when everyone else was heading to the beach hungover, I drove forty-five minutes to the calmness of the Katikati Haiku Pathway.

I strolled, I sat, I listened, I looked, I touched, I smelled: I wrote my first haiku. I absorbed all that was on offer that day and found what I'd been searching for: a new way to express myself.

Haiku just seemed to ‘fit’ me. It was concise, to the point, I felt I knew where I stood with it. There were no long descriptions, no flowery language to get lost in. Just good honest observations, where every word and line break was important, and carried a depth that would reward the present reader.

Most of my poetry at that time stemmed from observations: moments in time that stayed with me and begged to be created into something. Sights, sounds, and sensations that enticed my body to grasp pen and paper, and then record the occasion in its rawest and truest form. Haiku allowed me the opportunity, gave me the tools to do justice to my experiences.

I read all I could about haiku in print and on-line. It wasn’t long before my first haiku were published. Then six months after my visit to the Katikati Haiku Pathway, I set myself a challenge: from my 30th birthday on 31 July I would write one haiku, every day, for a year. It was this huge task that really taught me the craft of haiku, and elevated all my writing to the next level.

It did this in two main ways: honing my observation skills, and refining my ability to clearly convey what I wanted to say.

Writing haiku means living life using all your senses. Not just listening to what a person says, for example, but looking at the way their eyes light up over certain topics, the way the sunlight picks up different colours in their hair, the smell of their perfume, the temperature of the room, the background noises. Taking in all these aspects when interviewing someone for an article (which is what makes up half of my prose writing work) brings to life your experience of your time with that person. The reader gets a more rounded view of the interviewee, and your article is more enjoyable to read as it is richer, deeper. Working and playing with haiku has made me become more observant to the world around me, and this can’t help but enrich all of my writing.

Writing haiku involves capturing the beauty and fullness of a moment, in about 10 words or less. Working with haiku has improved my ability to convey what I want via the written word. I enjoy wordplay more since reading and writing haiku: it's taught me the value of each word and it has expanded my vocabulary as I’ve searched for the right words, in sound and in meaning, to form those few short lines. The challenge of writing haiku has lead me to an uncluttered writing style, in both my poetry and prose.

I've only been writing creatively for six years but much of that time has been spent on the art of haiku. I see so many possibilities with this form and I’m experimenting with it and extending my knowledge all the time. My latest project is developing a collection of collage-style haiga (haiku with images) about my experiences of going through treatment for leukaemia. Yes, my old friend haiku was there for me then, too.

This piece appeared as the feature article in a fine line, The Magazine of the New Zealand Poetry Society (July, 2011).


  1. A marvelous story, Kirsten. Since I have a haiku in the Katikati Haiku Pathway, it's nice to think that one of my haiku played a small part in your personal renaissance. But of course you would have gotten there on your own. So glad you discovered haiku -- we're fortunate to now be inspired by poems you have written.

  2. Thanks so much for taking the time to read this, and to comment, Michael. I enjoyed reading your story too. There are many pathways to haiku, and I'm so pleased to be a part of it! I greatly appreciate your kind words about my work. :)