Haiku in February

Haiku in February: the shortest month for your shortest poems

by Barbara Schiffman

This February / write one short poem each day / for NaHaiWriMo

February seems like “the runt of the litter” compared to other months. The shortest in our calendar, even on a leap year, it was the last month added to the Roman calendar and marked the end of winter. It’s also the only month that can pass without either a full or new moon, and was originally called “Februarius” in honor of Februa, the annual Roman purification ritual on February 15th.

February holidays now include Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, sometimes Chinese New Year (Friday 2/12 in 2021) plus a host of other religious, cultural, civic and commercial celebrations. Find a list at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/February

My new favorite February celebration, however, lasts all month long. While researching the world of haiku for my September 2020 MWW blog post and workshop about haiku as a valuable practice for writers, I learned that February has been honored by poets as National Haiku Writing Month (aka NaHaiWriMo) since 2011. This was inspired by NaNoWriMo in November, when many novelists around the world challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in a month. FVCC even schedules an annual NaNoWriMo class led by Kathy Dunnehoff.

February is the shortest month and haiku the shortest of poems, so it makes sense for haiku poets to write only one per day. Traditional haiku are only 3 lines with a total of 17 syllables (no matter how many words are used) so if you write one poem a day for 28 days, that’s a mere 476 syllables. This sounds easy, but it’s not as each poet strives to find the right word for the right place.

This February, I propose we give NaHaiWriMo a try just for fun. Can you write one haiku each day between 2/1 and 2/28? You can approach this challenge as a short-term diary or journal about this period of your life. Haiku can reflect the events or moments of your day, or just random thoughts, questions, or concerns. They can be humorous, witty, serious, sad, silly, cheerful, or curious.

How do you write a haiku? I created these haiku-guidelines to help me remember the structure:

Five syllables plus / seven more and five paint a / picture for your mind

Traditional Japanese haiku structure allows only 3 lines with a total of 17 syllables (5+7+5). But Montana Haiku can be shorter, longer or unstructured — after all, we go our own way in Big Sky Country. Feel free to experiment.

For inspiration, find suggestions at http://NaHaiWriMo.com and daily writing prompts at the NaHiWriMo Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/NaHaiWriMo).

To prepare, get a small notebook where you can jot down interesting words or phrases as they come to mind “based on things you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch (generally avoiding analysis and judgment),” according to NaHaiWriMo. “Haiku are poems of experience that create an emotional effect, first in you, and then, if you craft the poem effectively, in the reader.”

Keep the notebook by your bed at night — haiku phrases have popped up in my dreams, but if I didn’t write them down, they evaporated by dawn.

If you get stuck, check out the online Haiku Poem Generator (https://www.poem-generator.org.uk/haiku/). It will ask you for a few words or category choices, then create a haiku for you. Here’s one “written” by the generator using a few of my words plus its own random choices:

Deer – A Haiku:

Snow-clad wintertime /

A red, attractive deer hides /

at the perfect house

That sure sounds like a Montana Haiku, doesn’t it? I hope you’ll also become a MonWoHaiPo (aka Montana Woman Haiku Poet) and share your poem-diaries in future MWW blogs.

(If you miss NaHaiWriMo, you can always write one haiku on April 17th for International Haiku Poetry Day.)

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A Different Kind of Holiday

By Carol Marino, Community Editor, Daily Interlake, new member Montana Women Writers

Even though our kids weren’t able to be here in person to celebrate the holidays in 2020, we were all still able to share most of our family traditions. Both of them and their significant others put up trees and decorations in their own homes — a first, since they’ve always come to our home for Christmas. I’d collected and saved ornaments for them through the years and was happy to send them their way (and also reclaim some basement real estate).

Our daughter asked for some favorite family recipes, from cookies to quiche, which she prepared like a pro.

My husband and I still headed to the woods, (a longstanding family tradition) found the perfect tree and collected cedar boughs, and baked dozens of cookies for family, friends and neighbors.

Throughout the season, we and the kids exchanged pictures of our homes’ decked halls and festive food; and we delivered Christmas dinner to our son’s door.

And although we weren’t physically with each other, we did hang out together Christmas morning to open gifts via Zoom; it was actually a lot of fun.

Most years, the family heads for an overnight stay at a hot springs resort during Christmas week, an ideal way to unwind. But this year, Jim and I were on our own. I had some vacation days I needed to take by year’s end so we planned a few winter’s day staycations.

On a day when the date and the temperature were identical, we headed down to the National Bison Range in Moiese. The 14-mile round-trip Prairie Drive is open in winter and we took our sweet time wandering past the snow and thistle-dusted grasslands, windows rolled down, heater on, binoculars ready. We saw roughly 60 bison — some lounging, others grazing — and a herd of elk numbering about the same as the bison. Along the pretty, meandering Mission Creek (the road passes close enough you can hear the water burbling) we passed ubiquitous mallards, magpies and whitetail, and tracked bald eagles and other raptors soaring in and out of misty clouds that blended into snow-dappled hillsides.

But the most delightful wildlife we came upon was a pair of gray coyotes actively pursuing small prey by first leaping into the air and then pouncing upon it. They casually roamed together before dropping out of sight and, although there were other cars touring the range, I think we may have been the only visitors who got to see the coyotes show that day.

When we returned to the highway we headed a few miles farther south to the St. Ignatius Mission. The impressive brick church was completed in 1893; the original chinked log cabin mission, founded in 1854, is also still on the grounds. The church has nearly completed a painstaking restoration and its 58 beautiful murals, painted by Brother Joseph Carignano, the mission’s cook, have virtually been returned to their original appearance. We were the only people in the chapel at the time. I lit a (battery operated) votive candle and we offered our petitions.

On other day trips that week, we drove down to Bigfork and walked along the Swan River Trail under a light snowfall. We also toured the Creston Fish Hatchery (its sole occupants) following the short nature trail along Mill Creek and checked out at the frisky trout and fry in the ponds.

In a year of many unforeseen trials, these getaways were welcome respites.

No, in 2020, the holidays weren’t the same; but then, nothing was. Instead, my family found workarounds and made our own little sanctuaries.

Life, and love, always find a way.

Community Editor Carol Marino can be reached at cmarino@dailyinterlake.com

Welcome to Our 2021 Blog!

Montana Women Writers 2020 Review

By Janice McCaffrey, Secretary

Overall Montana Women Writers had a good year. We met in-person January and February enjoying chit-chat and catching up with one another. Two meetings, March and April, were cancelled due to the Covid 19 Pandemic, but then Barbara Shiffman came to the rescue with her Zoom.

We had interesting speakers who brought their expertise, perspectives, and ideas to us. In January, Barbara Shiffman demonstrated how to set up Amazon Author Pages and offered to help anyone who needed assistance. February, Kathy McKay talked about the publishing team she works with as editor. We welcomed and have enjoyed getting to know members of Kalispell’s Children’s Book Writers Group.

May brought Jess Owen explaining and answering our multitude of questions about online promotions. And in June we were inspired to broaden our beliefs by Frances Erler’s Power of Fantasy. As usual we took the summer off to enjoy the beauty of Northwest Montana and maybe write.

In September, Haiku To You, Too! was presented by Barbara Shiffman. She taught us about different forms of Haiku and had us write some individually, with the group, and one specifically about the pandemic. We laughed a lot. And the experience spawned Haiku blogs for the Montana Women Writers website. That same month we discovered that a supporter of local authors, Cindy Ritter, owner/operator of Bad Rock Books in Columbia Falls, needed major repairs on the building. Montana Women Writers organized a GoFundMe campaign and worked together to upload it, publicize it, and start the donations. Within two months, the goal was surpassed with a grand total of $14,395.

The speaker for our October meeting misunderstood its starting time which threw us a lemon. But enthusiastic members made some delicious lemonade sharing motivational ideas, helpful writers’ websites, and suggestions for 2021 meetings. November, traditionally, the last meeting of the year, we were joined by Carol Marino, Community and Entertainment Editor of the Daily Inter Lake. It was a lovely afternoon, like having a tea party with a new friend . . . without the tea.

Montana Women Writers has established an internal Resource Directory to share our experiences with members. We continue as a sister-group to Authors of the Flathead and encourage participation with their meetings and annual conferences. Kathy Dunnehoff presents writing craft topics every first Thursday of the month via Zoom. For details go to authorsoftheflathead.org.

We wish everyone a healthy and productive new year, as we look forward to another fun, informative, supportive year of Montana Women Writers.

January Book News

Marie F. Martin released a new book titled Where’s Joe on Amazon kindle and paperbacks.
In the aftermath of World War II, mothers suffered from the loss of their sons the best way they could. Some tried to ease their grief by holding their daughters on a leash so tight it became unbearable. Twenty-three-year-old Reba Bicknell has been smothered to the point of rebellion. She accepts a daring ride behind a stranger on a powerful motorcycle which leaves her with a driving need to find him again and ride facing the wind. The search leads her to a slummy tavern where a motorcycle gang cuts loose and hangs free. While watching to see if Joe arrives to join a group of bikers, Reba witnesses the kidnapping of a young girl and reports the crime. Unaware, Reba is about to become the number one suspect and the target of the real killer, a woman with a burning vendetta who rides with the biker gang.  

LESLIE BUDEWITZ: Thrilled to share with you the cover of my forthcoming stand-alone, BITTERROOT LAKE, written as Alicia Beckman. It will be published April 13, 2021 by Crooked Lane Books and Dreamscape Audio, and is available for pre-order now.

From the cover:
When four women separated by tragedy reunite at a lakeside Montana lodge, murder forces them to confront everything they thought they knew about the terrifying accident that tore them apart, in Agatha Award-winning author Alicia Beckman’s suspense debut.

Twenty-five years ago, during a celebratory weekend at historic Whitetail Lodge, Sarah McCaskill had a vision. A dream. A nightmare. When a young man was killed, Sarah’s guilt over having ignored the warning in her dreams devastated her. Her friendships with her closest friends, and her sister, fell apart as she worked to build a new life in a new city. But she never stopped loving Whitetail Lodge on the shores of Bitterroot Lake.

Now that she’s a young widow, her mother urges her to return to the lodge for healing. But when she arrives, she’s greeted by an old friend–and by news of a murder that’s clearly tied to that tragic day she’ll never forget.

And the dreams are back, too. What dangers are they warning of this time? As Sarah and her friends dig into the history of the lodge and the McCaskill family, they uncover a legacy of secrets and make a discovery that gives a chilling new meaning to the dreams. Now, they can no longer ignore the ominous portents from the past that point to a danger more present than any of them could know.

M. FRANCES ERLER has completed her “Peaks at the Edge of the World” fantasy saga with the publication of the seventh book, “Where All Worlds End” this year. This religious fantasy explores a world of the 31st century, where Rebels are struggling to defend themselves from an evil Galactic System which has taken over earth as well as the entire Milky Way galaxy. A fearsome new foe has appeared in the form of a red dragon. Is this the devil himself? Will they be able to defeat him with aid from allies who have traveled forward from the 21st century to help them? Who will survive if all worlds end?

The Importance of Darkness

By M. F. Erler

The Importance of Darkness 

I recently wrote a blog on the value of light in our world, but I also touched on the importance of darkness, when I mentioned how our artificial lights block out the wonders of the night skies.  I have a friend living on a farm outside Grangeville, Idaho who takes amazing pictures of the night skies.  Of course, she has a special camera and other equipment, but she is also out in the country where the city lights don’t wash out the stars.

This past year, I began to explore the idea of our need for darkness.  Many people in our urban world are now sleep-deprived, scientists tell us, because we’ve washed out the night with all our city lights.  I read a book by Jules Verne, written in the mid-1800s, that lauded the advent of artificial light as a boon to mankind, because now people could work round the clock, with no need to “waste time” in sleep.  No one had thought of the vital nature of sleep to our bodies and minds back then, apparently.

Another thing I ran across in my reading this past year was “The dark night of the soul.”  This idea originated with John of the Cross, a monk in the late Middle Ages, who for his beliefs was imprisoned in solitary confinement for several years by the Spanish Inquisition.  Yet, instead of telling of how terrible this lonely darkness was, he praised it was a time of great “enlightenment” to him.  There’s irony for you.Maybe this is what our world needs, not more artificial light, but genuine darkness, a place to recharge our spiritual batteries.  Something that none of our technology can do for us.