Monday, April 17, 2017

Guest Post: So What is Haiku? by Charlotte Digregorio

Note from Amelia: April is National Poetry Month and today is International Haiku Poetry Day! Welcome Charlotte Digregorio, prolific author, haiku poet, and one of my haiku mentors:

Many people think they know what haiku is. They think it's really simple to write, perhaps because their teacher had them write it in grade school. But, there's a lot more to it than just a three-line poem about nature. In fact, although it's often nature-related, it doesn't have to be. One thing is for sure: haiku is not a random, cute thought. In fact, it is often not a happy thought at all. (The word "haiku" is both singular and plural.)

In haiku, there is often a communion of man with nature. Haiku often evokes the wonders of nature. Actually, it doesn't have to be three lines. It is sometimes one, two, four lines or more. It is mostly imagist poetry, and it originated in Japan in the 1600s. It's written in the present tense because it captures the moment.

Punctuation is used sparingly, if at all. Haiku is usually no more than 17 syllables, but it sometimes is a lot less. There are no titles, and words aren't usually capitalized. Haiku is poetry. There are often literary devices such as alliteration and assonance, and being imagistic poetry, it evokes a gamut of emotions from happiness to sadness.

A haiku poet strives for using the fewest words possible. Adjectives and adverbs are often avoided, as they describe too much. The haiku poet wants to create an image in a very understated way, in simple language, without rhyme. The image allows the reader to formulate his/her idea of what the poem is about.

Unlike what your teacher may have taught you, in a three-line haiku, you do not need to write five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third. In fact, modern haiku in the English language rarely follows this traditional formula.

Through well-written haiku, the reader can feel the emotion of the poet, even though the poet has written it in a very matter-of-fact way. There is no preaching to the reader, nor are there judgmental words. The beauty of haiku is in the image it evokes in each reader who takes the haiku on both its face value and its deeper level of meaning.

To offer an example, this is a published haiku that I wrote:

through darkness...

The haiku above has deep spiritual overtones in just a few words. To some, it may mean that a path to faith/religion has been found. But, to others, it may simply mean walking through darkness, that is, depression, and finding one’s way out.

Today, haiku and senryu–the latter, in the haiku form, but focusing on human nature, and often humorous–are popular in dozens of languages worldwide. Senryu originated in Japan in the 1700s. Often, poets do not differentiate between haiku and senryu, but consider both as just "haiku."

For many people, haiku and senryu are therapeutic, as they help us express our innermost feelings that we have difficulty articulating even to people close to us. Haiku and senryu can be written about anything relevant in our lives.

It is very gratifying to learn to appreciate the art of haiku and senryu. To write them well, poets must read them on a daily basis, and practice writing them often.

Charlotte Digregorio is the author of Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All. She blogs on haiku, and runs “The Daily Haiku” at “The Daily Haiku” has featured thousands of poems written by international haikuists of thirty countries.

"So What is Haiku?" copyright 2017 Charlotte Digregorio

Monday, April 3, 2017

Story #2: Animal

Another piece of flash fiction, written by 13-year-old me. I found this recently and was thinking that some of my best writing ideas came to me when I was a child. With some serious polishing, some of those ideas have gone on to become published works. I wouldn't necessarily call this little gem one of my best, but it was good practice:

I crouched low behind a tree, keeping my eyes on the creature. It watched me back, perched on its haunches, alert to my presence. It looked to be tall and thin with bright, wild brown eyes. Its long straight snout extended before it. It seemed to sniff the air in short, quick breaths.

I crouched even lower and began to inch forward. It was about ten yards away from me. I relaxed my breathing. At this distance, it was an easy target but I would still need to be very careful. I could still startle it away.

We looked back and forth at each other for a few long moments. A fly buzzed around me and I instinctively shook my head. That startled the creature and it re-positioned itself, then trained its snout in my direction again.

It settled once more, and so did I. Then it abruptly stood upright on two legs. Very tall and very still. I decided now was the time. I rose up, readying myself for my chance. As I did, the creature made a sudden piercing sound that rendered me temporarily deaf.

Something sharp then stung me in the shoulder. Shocked, I fell to the ground, tumbled over myself, righted myself quickly, and retreated into the forest as fast as I could.

The creature made this strange sound two more times, but I only felt the terrible stinging sensation once. Limping, I found my way through the underbrush and back to my den. No kill today. Hopefully next time.

"Animal," copyright 2017 Amelia Cotter

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Apparitions: Call for Submissions

Exciting news! I am working on a new book, tentatively titled Apparitions. My artist statement for the book describes it as "an array of haunting emotional landscapes, amidst Chicago's haunted landscapes, in this collection of poems, stories, and black and white photography." For this project, my haiku and other short form poetry and prose will take center stage. My husband, Jonathan Montgomery Pollock, will provide photos of abandoned, historic, and haunted Chicagoland, bridging the project to my previous books about the supernatural and providing a long-needed Chicago tie-in with my writing.

I am looking for people to contribute original statements of one to two sentences, to be featured in the book as quotes that will stand alone on a page or be accompanied by a photo or text. These statements should reflect honest, personal thoughts, ideas, or experiences about topics such as addiction, anxiety, mental illness, the nature of life and death, hope, spirituality, survival, and what makes life worth living.

You may submit an unlimited number of statements and, if accepted, you may choose how you would like your name to be attributed in the book (including remaining anonymous). Please contact me at if you are interested or would like more information. Thanks and Happy Hauntings!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Give Back/Get Involved: Have an Action Plan

Sharing this simple personal action plan, one of many being shared on social media right now, for effective activism and volunteerism. Each of us can do something!:

1) Make a short list of the issues that are most important to you. Pick two or three. Each of us has different gifts. You can't do everything and be everywhere all the time.

2) Find local and national organizations that address these issues and connect with them on social media, join their mailing lists, and/or join the organizations.

3) Call your state senators weekly, or daily if possible, regarding these issues. Ask friends in swing states to do the same.

4) Be present if, when, and where you can be. Attend, organize, speak up, support, volunteer. Be a good friend and neighbor.

5) Donate $5 or more, here and there, to the issues and organizations you support.

6) Share your action items on social media, and any tangible results you witness, to help motivate others and support hope and progress. Sharing any good that you do is so inspirational.

7) Practice self-care. You can be an effective and empathic person without having to suffer.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Haiku #2: shrunken tumors

This week, I celebrate the beginning of my tenth year in remission:

shrunken tumors…
the sun-painted walls
of my childhood room

"shrunken tumors," copyright 2017 Amelia Cotter (first published in Acorn: a journal of contemporary haiku, 2011)

Monday, January 2, 2017

Poem #1: I Begin

A simple New Year's poem. This is a self-reflection exercise that anyone can do, using the phrases "I am" and "I begin" for inspiration:

I am...

I am pale
I am frazzled
I am delicate
I am stones just beneath the surface of the water
I am a bear
I am a whisper
I am an old candle, relit

I begin...

I begin at home
I begin within
I begin again
I begin the day
I begin this day

"I Begin," copyright 2017 Amelia Cotter

Monday, December 19, 2016

Ghost Story #2: Visit for the Holidays

While I was writing Maryland Ghosts: Paranormal Encounters in the Free State, my Uncle Bernie sent me more than 30 stories from throughout his life in the form of hand-written letters. After Maryland Ghosts was first published in 2012, and featured most of his Maryland stories, we turned his remaining letters into an unpublished collection to share with family and friends called The Haunted Letters: True Tales from a Ghost-Storied Life. Here is another one of my favorite stories from that collection:

Altoona, Pennsylvania (Blair County), 2010

It was December, the Christmas season of 2010, and I had returned from the grocery store, having shopped for all the gourmet items for our holiday feast.

When I grew up, one of the holiday treats on Mom and Dad’s dinner table relish tray was watermelon pickles. My father loved them, and he grew up in southern Virginia, where his family always made them from the thick skins of the "old day" watermelons.

I displayed all of my purchases on the kitchen counter for Debra to see, placing four jars of watermelon pickles on the far right end of the counter, near our cupboard.

I went to the refrigerator and as I opened, then closed, the door, I saw my father, Bernard Lee Masino, in that right corner by the counter, from the chest up only, a partial body formation.

Dad was looking down at the watermelon pickles, smiling, wearing his old wool orange and grey plaid shirt. He was visible for approximately ten seconds, then vanished into thin air.

What a nice spiritual visit to have for the holidays.

"Visit for the Holidays," copyright 2016 Bernard W. Masino and Amelia Cotter (first appeared in The Haunted Letters: True Tales from a Ghost-Storied Life, 2013)