Thursday, October 04, 2012

Contributing Author Robyn Hood Black: Finding the Magic in Haiku

By Robyn Hood Black

I'm delighted to introduce my second contributing author today, Robyn Hood Black. She'll join us every first Thursday for a regular post on poetry. I felt this was a niche missing from the blog, and poetry is a wonderful way to explore imagery and emotions in your writing. Robyn does it all--author, artist, and poet--so she'll have great tips overall on unlocking your creative side.

Take it away Robyn...

I’m honored to be guest-posting for the first time on your AMAZING blog, Janice! Thank you.

As for first impressions, I should probably be dazzling you with poetic skills or at least convey some authoritative air. But rolling up my sleeves to work on this post exactly coincided with a not terribly welcome note in my inbox: a rejection from a haiku journal, one I’ve been accepted to--and rejected from--before. Sigh.

Today I’ll share how the process of submitting and acceptance and rejection works for me as it relates to my haiku writing. Poetry must have some magic–that moment of inspiration and initial jotting down of just the right phrase–or it’s likely not going to attract any readers. In future posts, I look forward to exploring the intangible parts of the creative process with you! For this one, we’ll wrestle with the practical side of submitting haiku.

A quick haiku primer: If, like me, you were taught in school that a haiku is a three-line poem with a syllable structure of five-seven-five, then you were only allowed to see the tip of the haiku iceberg, and on a cloudy day. The “five-seven-five” rule is not generally followed by contemporary haiku poets (though there are fine poems constructed, and some published, in that format). The difference between Japanese sound units and English syllables is a discussion for another day. For our purposes, let’s define haiku as a short poem (often three lines in English) which captures a moment in time and usually juxtaposes two images. Traditionally, haiku have some connection with nature and the seasons.

The best way to sink yourself into haiku is to read lots and lots of it. Try writing it, if the form appeals to you. Then read more. And write more. Haiku is very accessible, with many high-quality free online journals. (Try The Heron’s Nest, A Hundred Gourds, and Chrysanthemum, for a taste. There are many more.) The highly esteemed Frogpond, Modern Haiku, and Acorn, subscription-based print journals, feature selected poems online. And The Haiku Foundation, is a terrific resource.

But back to submission and rejection. When I started sending out haiku a couple of years ago, I’d been reading lots and writing often and had seen my haiku for children published in the former online journal, Berry Blue Haiku. I wondered if my poems were good enough to be accepted by the leading contemporary journals. They weren’t. I received polite, swift rejections.

So I hunkered down for months and read and studied more–and wrote more. Gradually, the rhythm of haiku seeped into my bones and sinews, and I felt I was starting to get the hang of it. (I’m still just a student on the journey!) Then I sent out more batches, and this time some poems were met with acceptance by journals I revered.

Here’s how the process works for me. I’m usually caught by the idea of a haiku when outside, often on a walk. I should note I’m MUCH more creative in coming up with haiku if I’ve been immersed in reading them–there is an absolute, direct correlation there!

The initial draft will end up on a scrap of paper or on a yellow note in my iPhone, and then in a little journal I keep for that purpose. I’ll let it “cure” and return to it a day or week or month later. If it still has merit, I’ll jot it down on a 3 X 5 index card, adding the date on the top. These I keep filed according to month in a drawer of my big old desk/printmaking table. As submission deadlines roll around, I spread out these cards and decide which ones to submit where. I’ll note on the card the journal I’m sending it to and then clip these together and put in a “Submitted” section. (I send up to ten poems at a time, usually online, depending on guidelines.) Then I move on.

When I hear back from an editor, there are two options for each card. The celebratory result–an acceptance–results in a shiny little scrapbook “jewel” affixed to the top of the card, and it gets to move to the “Accepted” section in the drawer. (We have to celebrate, right?!) For those other cards, I’ll note the rejection and put them in the “Not Accepted–(yet)” section. I’ll go through these cards again for the next round of submissions, though if it doesn’t look like a poem will find a home after a few tries, it retires at the back of the line.

What I wanted to share about my “system” is this: as of this writing, reflecting a solid year of submitting haiku, there are 16 jeweled cards in the “Accepted” section and 97 cards in the “Not Accepted” section. I’ve been thrilled to be published in about eight different journals. But you can see that, like the hunts of many predators, most individual poem attempts don’t result in success.

And a final note–writing, even such a small thing as a haiku, sometimes especially such a small thing–is mostly re-writing! The card pictured here that’s nice and clean? With only ONE unblemished poem and the “Acceptance” jewel? That’s the exception. The other card reveals a poem that went through revisions even between submissions. (It even has another card taped to it with earlier versions.) It was rejected by two journals before finding its home at a third. I should note that this haiku has a humorous bent, and the accepting journal specializes in senryu–haiku-like poems that feature (often humorous) human nature. That advice to “target your submissions?” It’s true–for a haiku or for your epic novel.

Robyn Hood Black writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction for young readers from the foothills of north Georgia. Her books include SIR MIKE (Scholastic Library, 2005), and WOLVES (Intervisual Books, 2008). Her poems appear in THE ARROW FINDS ITS MARK (Roaring Brook, 2012) and THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY (2012). Her haiku have been published in leading haiku journals. She’s also just launched an art business with “art for your literary side” at


  1. What a great post! For one thing, you completely changed my understanding of haiku.

    I've noticed that walks and reading in the same style as my current WIP both helps me a lot. Also, for whatever reason, reading something poorly written. Somewhere along the line, my inner editor gets fed up with it and goes to work on mine...

  2. Rachel, thanks for the comment. I love your observation about reading things that get your inner editor fired up. Motivation is good!

  3. Robyn, your workshop on haiku at our poetry retreat a couple of years ago still resounds with me. Seeing your method for working through and submitting was great. Those practical lessons are so important! Give yourself one of those "jewels" for a job well done!

  4. I, too, was apparently taught "old school" haiku so I learned something new today.

    And I SO enjoy your poetry, Robyn--if I were an editor, I'd happily send you an acceptance! ;-)

  5. Hi, Jo and Cathy - thanks for the kind words about my workshop and my poetry! Um, Cathy, I'll just tuck a copy of your comment into each future submission....

  6. Robyn,
    Your post encourages those of us who write poetry to persevere. It helps to hear about your experience with the journals. You have a very organized system that works for you.
    I've enjoyed your poetry and comments on various sites.

  7. I left a comment before, but then it disappeared...hmmmmm. I love learning something new. To get published is hard enough but to get poetry published is super-human! Congrats on your breakthroughs!

  8. Patricia, Thanks for those thoughts, and I appreciate your comments. Now if I could just get the rest of my life organized like those little index cards.... ;0)

    Hi, Vicky! I'll be on the lookout for your first comment swirling around the atmosphere somewhere. Thanks for your encouraging words to this very human human.

  9. Enjoyed this Robyn! Haiku are simple, but certainly not easy to write. Yes, I agree you must read, read, read. And curing and editing are crucial. I like your submission process, especially the "jewels," you sound much more organized than me! Keep 'ku-ing!! :-)

  10. Thanks, Terri - I love reading your haiku in the journals and appreciate all you do for haiku, in our Southeastern region and beyond!

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  12. Hi Robyn! I enjoyed your post. Your description of your filing system was very helpful for me. I tend to be extremely disorganized, and I really needed an idea like this. Thanks :-) I also liked your emphasis on honing your craft. So true!

  13. Hi Robyn,
    I've been on a haiku journey too, trying to see more and more of the iceberg. I agree that reading and writing and revising help. I can also see that a little more organization might help too. I think I'll try your filing system.
    Great post.

  14. Tabatha, Thanks! My family would laugh at this one little area of my life I can keep on track (compared to the house, etc.). Those little index cards seem manageable.

    Hi, Liz! Thanks for clicking over. I really enjoy reading your haiku and hope to see more of them.

  15. Great post Robyn. I enjoy your filing system. Those jewels are a perfect addition to any acceptance, although my preference would be food, preferably chocolate.
    Do you have, or have you used a haiku critique group?

  16. Robyn, Thanks so much for sharing your filing system with us. I have submitted, gotten rejected and (a couple times) accepted too, and I used to keep cards and notebooks. Since blogging I have gotten lazy about that, I admit. I am hooked on the instant gratification of blog feedback. I need to get off that mainlining style and discipline myself for the long haul! Thanks for the inspiration.

  17. Hi, Andi! Thanks for popping over. I don't have discipline so much as a fear of losing track of those little poems - my computer gets as cluttered as my office!
    ;0) I always love reading your poetry.

  18. Joy - didn't mean to skip over you! Sorry. I didn't see your post earlier. And, I think as the Poetry Princess, you should definitely add jewels to your filing system.

    I don't have a haiku critique group per se, though I sometimes bounce haiku off a fellow haiku poet. There are forums out there to post your work and get feedback (such as Aha Poetry and The Haiku Foundation), though I haven't gone that route.

  19. Hey Robyn,
    I only asked because I wanted to know if other places were like the haiku groups in NC. I only went to a couple of those because I wasn't that serious to focus on only one poetry form, although Lenard Moore used to give me a hard time about it. He kept telling me, " Joy, you have to write at least 1,000 before you get any good at haiku." and then he'd tell me he had 50 haiku out submitted at all times.
    The monthly critique group could easily spend half an hour on each haiku. They'd ask questions like is the image "crisp" enough? Or is it a cliche? What senses are involved? Would a different sense be richer? Is the verb strong enough or could something better be found? Would the order of the lines be better reversed? Would it be better as a single image or a plural? Is the opening word strong, or can you do without it? Every word of the haiku would be examined. It was quite an education- Dave Russo and Richard (I'm going to have to look up Richard's last name), even Rebecca Rust once. It was a wonderful experience.
    Yup, I've got to get me some of those jewels :-)

  20. I love haiku. It is such a great exercise in disciplined writing. You have to really weigh every word. Thanks for an interesting post :)

  21. Joy - Wow, you really listened at those couple of meetings! Your list of questions would be a good one to run through for any haiku-in-progress. Lenard Moore knows his stuff - I haven't had the chance to meet him in person yet. I always have some poems out, but I haven't reached the point to have 50 at a time yet. I'm sure I did write hundreds before having something accepted (I just didn't send all of those out!).

    Thanks, africa2asia, for the comment! I agree - I think spending time writing haiku has a postive effect on any kind of writing, because of the importance of word choice.

  22. Robyn, I enjoyed your post very much. It is amazing how much thought goes into a successful haiku! I am still such a novice. Your post clearly tells me to read more haiku!

  23. Joyce, thanks for visiting! You're so accomplished; it's comforting to know you think of yourself as a hiaku novice as well. ;0) My appreciation for the writing of many haiku poets certainly deepens the more I learn.