Ulrike E. Narwani
after cherry blossom
dawn’s slow light
Ulrike E. Narwani
North Saanich, British Columbia
Congratulations on having your haiku selected as the top winner in the British Columbia category in the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival’s 2020 Haiku Invitational contest. How did you first learn about haiku, and how much writing of haiku or other poetry have you done?
I began to take an interest in haiku after meeting Terry Ann Carter, past president of Haiku Canada, at the Planet Earth Poetry reading series in Victoria in 2014. Her book Lighting the Global Lantern: A Teacher’s Guide to Writing Haiku and Related Literary Forms helped provide much-needed insight. I joined Victoria’s Haiku Arbutus study group, founded and facilitated by Terry Ann. This group has been of tremendous help by providing feedback on haiku, information about workshops, and readings, by bringing in a variety of haiku speakers, many well-known, and in general connecting us with the wider haiku world. I am also a member of Haiku Canada. This organization publishes the Haiku Canada Review, which is a great resource, and a real pleasure to read. I am both a lyric and a haiku poet. I’ve been writing poetry for the past fifteen years, haiku for about five. These strands of poetry seem to run on parallel tracks, which I’m trying to bring closer together. My haiku have been published in anthologies and chapbooks, such as Erotic Haiku: Of Skin on Skin, Last Train Home, and Ion Codrescu’s book of haiga, The Wanderer Brush. I included haiku in my debut book of poems, Collecting Silence (Ronsdale Press, 2017).
What was the inspiration for your winning poem?
My cherry blossom haiku came to mind one early morning. I sat sipping my coffee, looking out as usual over the garden. The garden is large and slopes down to an old cherry tree behind which rise tall cedars, pine, and Douglas fir. I watched as dawn’s pale pink reached past the row of black trees, lit the first cherry blossoms, and then gradually transformed all the others. The whole tree finally shone as if set alight with dawn from within. A cheerful vision for any dark day.
Describe the moment when you first learned you had won.
I caught my breath—can it be? Then I went over everything slowly again, word for word, to confirm the reality of that. It was only after reading the judge’s comments that I felt, yes, my haiku had reached across. The win is real. Then I raced downstairs to my husband and son shouting all the way. Guess what, guess what, you won’t believe it, I hardly believe it, but my haiku has won the VCBF haiku contest, for all of BC. The shouting continued for a bit, hands pumping the air. There was lots of hugging. When I finally settled down, I printed the announcement. Made it touchable.
Do you have favourite books or websites relating to haiku that others might benefit from in order to learn haiku as a literary art and to share one’s haiku?
My favorite book for learning haiku is the one I mentioned by Terry Ann Carter. Another book, a small one, that I found inspiring, edited by Terry Ann, was Deep Breath: A Book of Haiku Evolution. As the title suggests, it illustrates, in back-and-forth discussions with other haiku poets, the gradual maturing of a haiku into its final form, a process useful for one’s own thinking. I would also suggest joining a local haiku group to share, discuss, and learn haiku together, and above all to be surprised and encouraged. In a chapter of her recently published and so interesting book, Haiku in Canada: History, Poetry, Memoir, Terry Ann discusses all the regional groups of Haiku Canada, which might help in finding one, at least in Canada. In an appendix, she also lists useful websites. A couple of haiku sites I would recommend are www.theheronsnest.com and www.dailyhaiku.org. A book of haiku that I recently enjoyed was The Signature Haiku Anthology, Including Senryu and Tanka, edited by Robert Epstein, a signature haiku being one that you “consider your favorite and/or has been published the most.” An added pleasure, besides the delightful haiku, was reading the commentary of the poets on why they feel their chosen haiku is so special. I am at present beginning to explore haiku in the wider context of haibun, which connects a short piece of prose with a haiku, and haiga, which choruses haiku with art. I loved Terry Ann’s book of haibun, Tokaido, and Marco Fraticelli’s A Thousand Years. Finally, there is Ion Codrescu’s book of haiga The Wanderer Brush. It is a delight for the eye and mind with the beautiful interplay between haiku and the ink-brush strokes of Ion’s sumi paintings.
Please tell us more about yourself.
I grew up in a Baltic-German family in Edmonton, Alberta. My parents fostered a love of music, dance, and art. My siblings and I had years of piano lessons, some studied the cello, began violin. My sisters and I took ballet lessons and later learned modern interpretive dance, which at the time was under the influence of Mary Wigman. These efforts culminated in a performance in the Alberta Jubilee Auditorium of The Little Matchgirl (I had the lead role), choreographed by Laine Metz Kriik. Most of us skied. I went mountain climbing with the Alpine Club of Canada, rode horseback by the North Saskatchewan River. Spending time since childhood on our farming property near Mayerthorpe, Alberta, created a lifelong bond with that expansive two-toned prairie land. My family also tried to keep us connected with our heritage by encouraging us to learn German and taking us to Latvia to visit important family sites. The Russian influence on this part of the world (and the beauty of the sound of that language) played a role in my decision to study Russian and Slavic Languages, completing a PhD in Toronto in 1977. These early experiences continued to shape my life. My husband’s work, first with the CIBC and Barclays, and then with Standard Chartered Bank, moved us every few years from country to country. Both of us relished these opportunities because they offered us and our three children new vistas to explore. We lived for many years in the United States, England, India, and Thailand. In Mumbai I had the good fortune to be able to sit in a classroom, bansuri flute in hand, to learn from the revered master pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. My husband’s passion for flying, which I echoed—I soloed, but didn’t complete my pilot’s license—took us on many adventures flying a single-engine Cessna 182 into remote corners of the world. His first major flight was across the northern route from Canada to England. From then on, he and I always flew together. Our final flights in the East took us from Thailand, via Malaysia, Indonesia to Australia. We wrote a memoir, Above the Beaten Path, describing these adventures. Our final move was to Sidney, British Columbia in 2003. Here a whole new chapter began in my life, one of poetry and haiku, both a great pleasure.
How does where you live and what you enjoy doing affect the way you write haiku?
Writing haiku raises my awareness of the present moment, opening the senses and mind to my surroundings. So now when I look out the window or go for a walk in the nearby forest I remind myself to pay attention as I pass by giant arbutus surely hundreds of years old, by the fire-blackened trunks of cedars, catch the light streaking though the branches of bigleaf maples, as I hear the rapid tap-tap of woodpeckers, feel the streak of a bird through the trees, glimpse the ocean in the distance. Impressions flash by. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, a moment stays long enough to become poetry-conscious, to form a thought, a line, sometimes even three.