Leave a Comment

Interview with Terry Ann Carter

by Skylar Kay 

Terry Ann Carter is an American born poet and paper artist who moved to Canada in 1965. Carter lives in Victoria, where she is the facilitator for the Haiku Arbutus Study Group. Author of seven collections of poetry and five haiku chapbooks, she is the past president of Haiku Canada, a member of the League of Canadian Poets, and the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild. She is an active member in the Haiku community; her current projects include Haiku in Canada: History, Poetry, Memoir (Ekstasis Press, 2020) and a collection of essays on pioneering women haiku poets in Canada (forthcoming in 2020 by catkin press.). Other publications include Tokaido, (Red Moon Press, 2017) a collection of haibun which won the Touchstone Distinguished Book Award in 2018, A Crazy Man Thinks He’s Ernest in Paris (Black Moss Press, 2010) was shortlisted for the Archibald Lampman Award, and day moon rising (Black Moss Press, 2012) was shortlisted for the Acorn-Plantos People’s Poetry Award, among many others. 

Skylar Kay: One part of Haiku in Canada which fascinates me is the in-depth discussion of distinct haiku groups based on location— The Magpie Haiku and Tanka group from Calgary, for example. I am not familiar with any other form of poetry that has as many groups, magazines, and conferences specifically dedicated to it. From your perspective, what are some unique features of haiku that cause this sense of community, and do you see such groups growing or shrinking? 

Terry Ann Carter: The opening sentence in William J. Higginson’s seminal work on haiku (The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share and Teach Haiku, McGraw Hill Book Company, 1985) states, “The primary purpose of reading and writing haiku is sharing moments of our lives that have moved us, pieces of experience and perception that we offer or receive as gifts.” The operative word “sharing” leads me to believe that this unique feature of haiku poetry, leads to community. These communities or study groups are spread across Canada, and I feel they are growing. More and more people are becoming interested in this literary form, and are wishing to be part of a group of “kindred spirits” where sharing and learning can take place. 

I facilitate such a study group in Victoria, British Columbia. Our first meeting was held in the winter of 2014, making “Haiku Arbutus” six years old. During the Covid experience, four local writers have inquired about joining our group. 

SK: You have written many other books in or about a Japanese poetic tradition, both creative and educational—Tokaido and Lighting the Global Lantern for example. Is there a particular reason you felt compelled to write this book? Who would you say is your target audience? 

TAC: This book followed an evolution of presentations and earlier drafts. In 2011, I was invited by Michael Dylan Welch to present a paper on the “History of Haiku in Canada” for the Haiku North America (HNA) conference, in Seattle Washington. Which I did. Shortly after that conference Brick Books approached me for an “online history of haiku in Canada” and I sent them the paper. It was published on their website and drew quite a bit of attention. Some of the attention had to do with errors, and important “bits” that I had left out, so I hit the drawing board, and continued to revise. At the time of the Haiku Canada conference in Victoria (2015) I posted a revised edition of the history which met with more responses and more critical thinking. 

For the next several years, I researched all the study groups in Canada, the early anthologies, the pioneers, the Japanese haiku traditions in Canada, and the contemporary poets using haiku in abstract ways. It was exciting research and I loved every minute. 

I think my target audience would be poetry lovers of all kinds, but I would like the book to make a deeper splash. I would like to see the book in the hands of anyone interested in history and literary culture in Canada. There are some marvellous poems here, so the book serves as a poetry resource, as well. 

SK: This book was a long work in progress, several years! How did the aim or form of this project change from start to finish, and what were some of the influences (if any) that caused changes? 

TAC: Through the years, and through my connections with haiku poets across Canada, the essay “History of Haiku in Canada” began to grow. In the middle of the process, I moved to the west coast (Victoria, British Columbia in 2012). By 2013 I had started the Haiku Arbutus Study Group in Victoria and became connected to the activities of the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society. Through the kindness of Sally Ito, I met Dr. Susumu Tabata, and became interested in his story of writing haiku in an internment camp. This opened the door for more research on other camps and other writing. More regional haiku groups came into being. More books. More poems. More annual conferences for connections. 

Finally, I had a collection of papers, newsletters, journals, emails, personal notes, letters, books, chapbooks—all pointing to the development of haiku in Canada; and the direction of the writing began to change. It was no longer the history I had started nine years ago, but rather a combination of “styles.” Some of the writing was formal (needed for the accuracy and “tone” of the historical facts); some scholarly (although I am no scholar); and some personal and anecdotal—for I knew so many of the poets, had attended their book launches, and read and re-read their poetry collections, reviews of their books, and essays on their techniques and content. Had fallen in love with their poetry. I wanted this book to contain poetry. Haiku poetry. How to make a gestalt from all these parts? 

In early 2019, I revisited Sei Shōnagon’s Pillow Book. It simply fell off the shelf into my arms. And what a discovery. I was familiar with the work of this Heian Court writer, but this time the writing came under closer scrutiny. Her book was a recording of observations and musings—including essays, anecdotes, poems, opinions, interesting events in court, and her famous lists. Around 164 of them. It seemed as though I had found a “model,” and although Sei Shōnagon lived long before the concept of “haiku” (her poetry was waka, or tanka), it was her writing style “zuihitsu” or “assorted writing” that intrigued me. A perfect example of this “assorted writing” occurs when I use first and third person when referring to myself; everything depends upon context. My new title “Haiku in Canada: History, Poetry, Memoir” seemed more appropriate, and would allow me to share the historical details along with my own reflections. 

SK: Like many other poetic forms, haiku finds its roots in an oral tradition. Most journals still present haiku in a solely typographical format, but what ways do you see haiku interacting with other forms of art, either visual or oral? What about haiku lends itself to this sort of synesthesia? 

TAC: Haiku lends itself to wonderful collaboration with other arts, primarily visual. This new hybrid is called haiga, although it is not so new. When Japanese poets first began composing haiga (haiku with an image) the resulting work was usually in a form of calligraphy, each artist’s brushwork with ink (sumi-e) resulting in an individual style. Today, haiga artists use photography, pen and ink drawings, collage, watercolours, and more to produce haiga. 

SK: In the final chapter of the book, you mention your collections Tokaido and Haiku from Cambodia which were written in Japan and Cambodia respectively. What would you say is the role of place when writing haiku, and what are some of the biggest differences, if any, you have noticed between haiku from Canada and haiku from other countries? 

TAC: The role of place can be huge in composing haiku. The word for place is “ba” in Japanese, and I have attended entire conferences dedicated to this matter, alone. The first, and obvious difference in these kinds of poems, is the “naming” of places: street names, names of mountains or rivers, flora and fauna. I found when I was travelling in Australia, I wanted to learn everything I could about gum trees, about native birds, about local foods. The aspects of seasons that were different from my Canadian references. Haiku (usually) contain a “kigo” or reference to a season. Kigo differ from country to country. So interesting to discover. 

My son and his family live in Panama. My granddaughter is learning Spanish and I am trying to learn with her. Language, or names of particular animals or foods or festivals become part of the immersion into another culture. When I was in Cambodia, I spent a great deal of time reflecting on the brutal history of that country, and tried to impart some of my understanding through haiku. 

A second, and perhaps deeper “role of place” is trying to understand the development of haiku in that place. Canadian haiku has a deep rich history of experimentalism. It is a constant topic for research and study. I will be a student, forever. 

SK: Speaking of place, Haiku in Canada begins with a section discussing the early history of haiku in Canada. Given that Canada placed many Japanese citizens in internment camps less than 80 years ago, how do you as a Canadian writer of a Japanese form navigate the potential appropriation of culture? Do you see these kinds of practices in place often? 

TAC: I have never experienced any feeling of appropriation of culture as a haiku poet. My first concern would be how Japanese poets feel about this topic. And it has been my experience to be welcomed wholeheartedly into the Japanese haiku community. I have presented papers (with translators) at conferences in Japan, I have participated in renku (linked haiku) in Japan (with a translator), and most recently, I was asked to judge an international haiku contest by Morioka City Hall. (Morioka is the Japanese sister city for Victoria) I certainly do not propose to write as a Japanese poet. 

In Japan there is an honouring of the five, seven, five, “sound not syllable” count. It was this very mistranslation in the early days that brought about the forceful teaching of the “five/ seven five RULE” in writing haiku. English is a very different language in its syllabic structure. Again, many conferences, scholarly papers, book reviews, blogs, haiku magazines (in English) continue to reinforce the concept that haiku should be written within that structure: in other words, a short line, a longer line, and then a return to the brief last line. But, counting syllables is not the main point. Capturing the moment is the essence of the composition. I always remember a haiku workshop that I gave at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, during the cherry blossom festival. A number of adults and a few teens signed up for the short presentation. I started off by asking everyone to write a haiku about cherry blossoms, and sure enough, everyone wrote a short poem about the blossoms using the five seven five structure. 

The teenaged girl wrote: 

The cherry blossoms
grow outside my front window. 
They are beautiful. 

I spoke very briefly about haiku. The two parts of the haiku. the big picture (the cosmos) and the small picture (yourself). Somehow tying these two things together in one instant. I spoke about the difference between blossoms (on the tree) and petals (fallen). I talked a bit about the “tone” of a haiku. How cherry petals falling might create a sense of something ending, something closing, something happening that was not pleasant. 

Now my teen wrote: 

cherry petal rain— 
my father grounds me 
for six weeks 

So now, she was writing about her own life. The fact that her father had “grounded” her for six weeks was just the worst thing that could possibly happen to her. 

Now, I felt that she was connected in a much deeper way than her first haiku which was just an observation. My teen was a young Japanese girl. She told me her grandmother wrote haiku but that she never thought about it. It was for “old people.” She told me how happy she was to learn about writing haiku in English. Her parents were both there. If I were to ever feel uncomfortable in a cultural situation, this might have been the moment. But both of her parents were wildly interested in “writing haiku in English”. We even laughed about the grounding. 

I came away from that experience, and others, knowing that there are deep cultural differences in haiku composition. The very life fibre of Japan is filled with references so totally different from our North American ones. However, poets today, on both sides of the pond, are interested in sharing, in learning, in exchanging. 

SK: Schools often teach that haiku have a 5-7-5 syllable structure, but often do not go further in depth than that. As someone who has taught at Royal Roads University and writes about how to create haiku, what space would you say haiku currently occupies in Western academia, and how/when do you see that evolving? 

TAC: I am reassured by the fact that many poets and writers in general are pursuing an interest in haiku. More and more are leaning about “that mistranslation” from R. H. Blyth that sent most of North America into a mindset of “five/seven/five” thinking. Blyth mistook “on” or “sound” for syllable, and created the forced box of haiku thinking. With so many scholars working in the field (I begin with William J. Higginson) we have slowly come to realize that it is the moment, not the syllables that matter in a haiku construction. Most of us do not stray too far from this pattern, keeping a short line, a longer line and then a short line for reference. Then there is the matter of the “two parts” of a haiku, the phrase and the fragment. There is the seasonal reference (kigo) and the “cut” (kireji) that most haiku poets honour. But there is experimentation, innovation, creation. I am hopeful for continued interest in haiku. 

And with this season of COVID upon us, I am seeing and reading more about this interest. People are slowing down. Going for walks. Observing closely. People are finding solace and refuge in nature. All good signs! I think haiku is a way for healing. A way to reach for the light, A way to devote one’s time and attention, and gratitude, toward the great cosmos that surrounds us. 

Skylar Kay is a not-so-new writer who has a passion for Japanese forms, specifically haiku. Her work has appeared in several online and print journals, including Autumn Moon Haiku Journal and Ephemerae. 

This entry was posted in: Interviews


FreeFall is a literary magazine based in Calgary, AB. In 2008 Micheline Maylor and Lynn Fraser took over publication of FreeFall and created the FreeFall Literary Society. We publish prose, poetry, author interviews, and book reviews in two issues a year. Our mandate is to create a quality platform where new, emerging, and established writers can showcase their exquisite writing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s