Frogpond associate editor, Center for Poetry to start haiku study group

January 27, 2016 - Kelsey Block

Starting in February, the Center for Poetry is partnering with East Lansing haiku poet Michele Root-Bernstein to create a haiku study group.

The group will meet on the third Saturday of every month from 1 – 3 p.m. in Snyder hall, C302. The first session is on February 20.

The study group is open to anyone at any skill level. While each session will have a different topic, Root-Berstein said all the sessions will be structured similarly. Usually the group will start out reading haiku of their own or written by others, then consider—and play with—some aspect of haiku esthetics or composition, followed by time to write and to share their work (anonymously if they wish).The emphasis is on trying something new, stretching writerly skills and having fun.

“I’m there to learn as much as anyone else and keep getting inspired,” she said.

Root-Bernstein served as the associate editor of Frogpond, the journal of the Haiku Society of America for the last four years. The journal accepts a number of forms of poetry, including renku, senryu, haibun, and rengay, along with reviews and essays.

In selecting poems for publication, she and Frogpond’s lead editor, Francine Banwarth, looked for signs of LIFE; that is, they were looking for poems that incorporated four essential elements of haiku: language rich with meaning, images that are fresh, form that enhances, and elusive evocation of experience. Banwarth and Root-Bernstein also considered what they called “the Goldilocks effect” of a poem—did language, image, form and elusiveness add up to something that was “too much,” “not enough,” or “just right”? (Readers interested in more can check this out.)

Root-Bernstein is especially excited about the haiku study group because haiku poets are reinventing and redefining the form.

“The field is under such ferment that there are so many different directions you could take the art,” she said. Some forms are collaborative, others incorporate prose poetry and still others include drawings or pictures.

“I got so involved I couldn’t give it up,” she said. “The thing is, it never quits. It’s not like all of a sudden I knew; I still don’t know how to write a haiku. There’s always something more to learn, always something that now you understand that you didn’t understand two months ago.”

Root-Bernstein was first drawn to haiku when her children were in elementary school. She worked as an artist in residence at her children’s school, visiting classes and teaching poetry.

Very soon after Root-Bernstein started writing her own haiku, one of her poems was published.  

“But I couldn’t repeat it because I didn’t know what I had done; I didn’t understand why that was a good haiku,” she said. “I had to keep at it, slowly find my way into other haiku journals, and about ten years later, stumble on the opportunity to place a dozen or so of my poems in the 2009 volume of A New Resonance (Red Moon Press).”

Perhaps because of that experience, Root-Bernstein encourages aspiring poets to keep writing and submitting their work.

“It’s not rejected, just returned,” Root-Bernstein said, quoting some advice she received years ago. “It’s not the end of the world. You’re just trying to find the editors who appreciate your stuff. And it’s true; it’s all subjective in some ways.”

She also suggests that early writers read, read, read – read anthologies and especially read the journals you’re interested in submitting to. She suggests reading journals online, like Heron’s Nest or bones, and subscribing to Modern Haiku or Acorn as well as Frogpond to get a feel for contemporary and exploratory haiku.