Terri L. French
United States Winner, 2017 VCBF Haiku Invitational

the gasp
before the sigh . . .
cherry blossoms
                Terri L. French
                Huntsville, Alabama


Congratulations on having your haiku selected as the top winner in the United States category in the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival’s 2017 Haiku Invitational contest. How did you first learn about haiku, and how much writing of haiku or other poetry have you done?

I first learned of haiku like most haiku poets, in high school. Of course it was the traditional 5-7-5 variety and full of simile and metaphor. I majored in journalism in college and dabbled in prose and short story writing. In my forties I regained an interest in haiku and Googled it. I ran across an article on Michael Dylan Welch and took it upon myself to email him and share some of my very poor haiku. He was kind enough to respond and tactfully educate me on English language haiku. I was hooked, joined HSA and the rest is, as they say, history. I feel it is so important to mentor new poets and try to do so as sort of a pay-it-forward for what Michael and other poets have done for me.

What was the inspiration for your winning poem?

There are not many cherry trees in Alabama, but I did grow up in Michigan. Traverse City, Michigan is the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States. In May, the blossoms blanket the miles of rolling hills throughout the area; it is quite a sight to see. There really are no words appropriate to describe their beauty. I imagined my response and the response of many onlookers would be simply to gasp and to sigh. Perhaps the sigh comes as the petals begin to fall. The anticipation of the trees loaded with cherries and all of the wonderful pies that will be made is wonderful, and yet, one will have to wait another year to admire the profusion of beautiful pink blossoms.

Describe the moment when you first learned you had won.

I was attending Haiku North America 2017 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a fellow haiku poet, Julie Warther, of Ohio, came up to me and congratulated me. I had no idea! I must say tears came to my eyes. I was so happy that the judges appreciated my poem. Later that evening my original mentor, Michael Dylan Welch, came up and congratulated me and said he was proud of me. It was a happy day to be sure to be around so many wonderful poets and friends when I heard the news.

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?

Of course, William Higginson and Penny Harter’s book, The Haiku Handbook, and Lee Gurga’s, Haiku: A Poet’s Guide are go-tos. I also recommend The Haiku Foundation’s website and Michael Dylan Welch’s website, Graceguts.comwhich have a wealth of information for both novice and more advanced students, writers, and appreciators of haiku and related genres.

Please tell us more about yourself.

Well, I never quite made it in the cut-throat world of journalism, being the sensitive and introverted poet that I am! I’ve worked as an office assistant, barista, and am a semi-retired massage therapist. I am a frustrated artist and would love to have more time to work on the art of sumi-e. My husband and I take yoga, and like to bike and hike. His job gives us the opportunity to travel to many cool places. We have been to Peru, France, Nepal, India, and will soon travel to Spain (being wine-lovers, we are looking forward to all of those Spanish Malbecs) and hopefully Thailand next year. We love trying all of the wonderful cuisine wherever we visit. He will retire in a little over a year and we are planning to sell our home, buy an RV, and chase warm weather all over the United States(I do not like the cold!). This will afford me lots of time and inspiration for haiku and to work on my sorely lacking photography skills.

How does where you live and what you enjoy doing affect the way you write haiku?

I use both midwest and southern seasonal references in my haiku, since I was in Michigan for twenty-eight years and now in Alabama . . . well, longer than that! And, of course, in all of our travels, I am fortunate to experience many other cultures and discover their flora and fauna. I’ve written, and had published, many haibun and haiku which were gleaned from these experiences.