Our Bloodroot Haiku Award judge is Tanya McDonald. Here is what she has to say about the current role of haiku.
The challenges of 2020 have affected us all, but as a haiku poet and editor, I don’t feel that the role of haiku poets has changed from what it was a year ago. Our job has always been to pay attention to the world around us and to convey those observations and experiences through concise language. These observations may include nature scenes and seasonal references—cherry blossoms, migrating geese, etc.—but they may also include everyday human life.
If 2020 has changed anything in haiku, it’s the subject matter and vocabulary. This year, I’ve read haiku about tear gas and marching in solidarity, about rampant forest fires and evacuations, about standing in line to vote, about work-from-home and homeschooling, about social distancing and cancellations, about essential workers, about a future vaccine, about isolation from loved ones, and so, so many haiku about masks. I will read more haiku on these topics because this is our world in 2020.
Our role as haiku poets is still to witness, to document, to interpret, and to share with others. Our haiku not only illustrate an observation, they invite readers to bring their own experiences and emotions to the poem. In this way, haiku encourage empathy, not only with the poet but with the subject matter, whether it’s a fawn taking its first steps or someone sleeping rough under an overpass. Whether we act like it or not, we really are all in this together, and if poets can inspire more empathy toward our fellow humans and this planet, then perhaps there is hope for a brighter future for all of us.
Tanya shares this haiku with us, originally published in Presence #68 (November 2020):
his gift of lilac jelly—
back to normal
in air quotes
Tanya McDonald is known for her bright plumage and her love of birds. Her haiku, rengay, and haibun have appeared in various journals. She judged the 2014 Harold G. Henderson Haiku Contest (with Michael Dylan Welch), the 2016 Haiku Poets of Northern California Rengay Contest, and the 2018 Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival Haiku Invitational (with Jacquie Pearce and Paul Chambers). Last year, she edited the 2019 Haiku Society of America’s members’ anthology, A Moment’s Longing, which prepared her for the launch of her new, print haiku journal, Kingfisher in 2020. A Touchstone Award winner and a New Resonance poet, she lives near Seattle, Washington.