Haiku poets set to descend on Whitehorse

Haikus are way less rigid than your English teacher led you to believe. Take everything you thought you knew about those short poems and their required five-seven-five syllable structure and throw it out the window.

Haikus are way less rigid than your English teacher led you to believe.

Take everything you thought you knew about those short poems and their required five-seven-five syllable structure and throw it out the window.

“Some people will still write five-seven-five haiku and they’re really connected to that and that’s fine,” says Whitehorse poet Katherine Munro.

“But generally speaking most people publishing in English are not going to count.”

It turns out haikus don’t need to have a structured syllable count. They can even be one or two lines instead of three.

“It’s true that traditionally in Japanese, that a haiku generally speaking would have been a five-seven-five syllable structure,” Munro says.

“But in Japanese they count syllables really differently than we count syllables in English. So just transferring that on to English really never worked in the first place.”

Instead of focusing on syllables, haiku poets think about writing short poems that put ideas together to entice readers’ imaginations, she says.

“It’s the idea of putting two concrete images together in a way that makes you think about other things further and further out. It’s like a ripple effect.”

If all of this has you confused, fear not, the experts are on their way. Haiku Canada has chosen Whitehorse to host its annual conference May 20-22.

About 40 poets from around North America will be in the territory for their annual general meeting and to chat about what’s new in the world of haiku.

When Whitehorse papermaker and artist Helen O’Connor heard about the conference she started planning an art show honouring paper and the written word.

Words will be on display at the Northern Front Studio Gallery at Waterfront Station on Second Avenue from May 9 to 31.

“I was really looking for not just words on paper because I think that’s what we tend to think, paper is a vehicle,” O’Connor says.

“I wanted the paper to be part of the expression. This show is really about how handmade paper is a medium as opposed to a vehicle.”

O’Connor, with some funding from the International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists, put out a call to artists from around the world looking for art.

Her only stipulation was that the art be made of handmade paper and include words – whether they be English or otherwise – in some form.

Munro put out the same call to Haiku Canada’s membership.

“So we had this really interesting cross section of art forms and mediums,” O’Connor says.

“So some of the artists that submitted work are primarily poets and some of them are primarily visual artists.”

Now her downtown Whitehorse studio is holding boxes with postmarks from around the globe: Australia, Chile, Argentina, Germany, Canada, just to name a few.

About 40 pieces will be part of the show.

Every time O’Connor opens a new box, she gets an expression on her face like it’s Christmas morning.

She picked these pieces based on photos but now she’s getting her hands on them.

A bookmaker from Austria has submitted a handmade paper book that opens like an accordion to reveal a haiku inside.

O’Connor brings the piece to the window of her studio and shows how the light shines through the thin paper like a stain glass window.

“You know how you see a reproduction and then you see the original? It’s such a surprise usually, and so beautiful.”

In another box, an artist from Chile has taken pulp, formed it into twine and weaved the twine together to create paper. Words and figures of women have been transferred onto the paper to create three delicate pieces.

“I love the concept of people around the world working in the same medium,” O’Connor says.

“It just has this cohesion. It has a feeling of ‘We are all on the same journey together.’”

It will cost $40 to attend the Haiku Canada conference. More information can be found online at www.haikucanada.org

Contact Ashley Joannou at


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