Thursday, October 4
Contributing Author Robyn Hood Black: Finding the Magic in Haiku
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 http://artsyletters.com.