Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Summer 2005, vol 3 no 2


Interview ~ Catherine Mair
The Haiku Pathway:
An interview by Robert D. Wilson

RW: The haiku pathway in Katikati is more than a pathway. It is . . .?

CM: Katikati's Haiku Pathway, which follows the river, is a meandering concrete and exposed aggregate pathway. It is an all weather walk and is accessible for most of its length to wheelchairs and push chairs. Small plank bridges add visual interest and sound texture. Under one of these little bridges a colony of rabbits has become well established and often a dog's tail can be seen wagging furiously as the dog tries to scrabble its way to its quarry.

The pathway is much more than a dog's paradise or interesting and useful feature, for it is intrinsically a pathway of surprise and discovery. The 24 haiku are 'discovered' rather than 'expected'. One day I overheard a little girl ask her mother, "Where is another message? I want to find another message!"

On another interesting occasion a teacher had her class reading the haiku as clues on a mystery trail. They followed this 'mystery trail' over the specially designed steel bridge with its cut-outs of eels and birds' feet until they reached the 24th haiku boulder situated near the main highway through the town.

While each haiku has been carefully chosen for its quality and for the way it adds to its location, the verses are not restricted to those with visual appeal only. For example, Tony Chad's

          marathon effort -
          the veteran runner
          jogs his memory

is a delightful senryu sitting appropriately beside the pathway which is frequently used for exercise as well as contemplation.

    [click on image to view enlarged photo]


RW: How did you conceive of this vision?

CM: In November 1997 I was fortunate in being invited to HAIKU SOUNDS at Picton, New Zealand. Janice Bostok had travelled from Australia to conduct the weekend haiku workshop. She and I were accommodated in the artist's cottage owned by Ernest Berry and Triska Blumenfeld. After the excitement of the weekend we relaxed for a couple of days but still talked about haiku. Jan mentioned that before she died she would like to present a 'haiku rock' to her local art gallery for the landscaped garden. She went on to say that she'd heard that in Japan haiku poems are engraved on rocks and placed as memorials in public parks and gardens. Suddenly I had this amazing vision of a pathway in Katikati, winding its way along the banks of the Uretara Stream. The riverside at this time was thoroughly overgrown with scrub, gorse and blackberry and all but impassable except for a few intrepid whitebaiters' hacked out tracks. I visualised the path travelling seawards in direction and up towards the wonderfully picturesque Kaimai Ranges the other way. In my imagination massive river boulders engraved with interesting and appropriate haiku could be placed at intervals.

RW: A lot of people dream. But you went beyond the dream stage. You made your dream a reality. Tell us about the journey you took to accomplish this . . . a path within a path.

CM: As soon as I returned from Picton, I made a telephone call to the coordinator of Katikati Open-Air Art. KKOAA is the inspirational force behind the outdoor gallery of murals and sculptures which revitalised the town during the 90s when kiwifruit prices slumped and the town was closing down. June Carlton came around to see me immediately. She thought it was a wonderful concept but said that Katikati Open-Air Art was fully committed to other projects for at least six months. My next approach was to a local councillor who received the idea enthusiastically, seeing my idea as a natural and exciting counterpart to the plans to develop the riverside.

On May 15, 1998, a letter went out from HEART OF KATIKATI - RESERVE DEVELOPMENT inviting interested parties to a meeting. The local press was very supportive and in the news section the headline read: POETRY TRAIL AS MILLENNIUM PROJECT. "Katikati is to have an exciting new Open-Air Art project to celebrate the new millennium, one which will be a first for New Zealand. It will be a haiku trail with the poems carved into boulders along the pathway."

RW: Why did you choose haiku instead of another form of poetry? Was it because of its symbiotic relationship with nature?

That was one reason, and for their accessibility. This was a small, rural community, nearly all of whom had never heard of haiku. They were generously trusting in considering this wildly innovative idea. As some haiku are almost like verbal photographs, I felt I might gain the public's confidence by presenting verses to which many could relate. I like the idea of a form which, while it is so open and invites reader participation, is also a complete unit and not just an excerpt from a larger piece. The way haiku can expand appreciation of a locality or situation made this form seem a natural choice.

RW: Whose haiku is on the first stone? And could you share that haiku with our readers?

CM: The first haiku I selected was William Higginson's

          Holding the water,
          held by it -
          the dark mud

This terrific haiku has a primordial quality which suits its position perfectly.

RW: In the selection process, you poured over haiku selections submitted from throughout the world. What was the criteria for selection?

The criteria for selection is straightforward.

The haiku need to be of an international standard. I sought the best I could find (with a huge amount of help from Jan Bostok) which would fit and enhance the different aspects of the pathway. I wanted haiku which might amuse and give that AHA! of recognition. Respected journals and anthologies were my sources. Only one haiku was written especially with the pathway in mind.

One of the well known haijin represented, Jim Kacian, was very taken with the way his

          clouds seen
          through clouds
          seen through

which I believe was written in Wyoming, fitted its position in the pathway in Katikati, half a world away.

RW: What is your concept of haiku? And how popular is it in New Zealand?

Although I wonder whether the concept of haiku is changing in some respects (for instance the success and popularity of 'desku'), I think the basics need to be respected. To me haiku is very much about being part of the world around us, whether that is urban or rural. It's about dropping our preoccupations and set ideas and seeing things as fresh and new while experiencing them directly. It's about linking nature with human nature and discovering some wonderful and surprising connections. I believe in the rejuvenating effect of letting go and entering the haiku spirit. I don't believe in a forced adherence to a 5-7-5, format and I'm not persuaded by a glib or too clever approach. I'm a little wary of a ruthless minimalist technique if the 'poetry' is stripped away ferociously, leaving only the bare bones. I love humour and probably lean towards senryu because of the sauciness and wit inherent in a lively senryu.

Haiku is popular in New Zealand. New Zealand haijins are frequently represented in journals and competitions around the world. In the recent New Zealand Poetry Society International Competition, 617 entries were received in the open section and there was a large entry in the childrens' competition.

Katikati's HAVE-A-GO HAIKU competition, which included an adult section and two sections for younger writers, drew an astounding 1,100 entries. Many of the local entrants had never written haiku before but were inspired to try by their interest in the haiku pathway.

The annual, Auckland based magazine kokako, presents work of a high standard from all over the world.

RW: Will there be additions to the Haiku Pathway?

CM: At present we are planning Stage 4. Three more haiku have been selected and approved for carving onto boulders. This is a very expensive and time consuming undertaking and requires skill and extreme precision. About twenty more companion rocks will be placed judiciously along the stopbank where we plan to locate two further seats from which restful views of the Kaimai ranges, a lagoon and a small area of rapids, can be enjoyed. It's winter time now and we are waiting for settled weather to progress this stage.

Thank you for inviting me to discuss our project. If you travel this way information can be obtained at the town's information centre. Katikati's website can also be accessed. For more information, a booklet entitled Haiku Pathway Katikati can be purchased for $5.00 plus postage from the information centre or Katikati's craft shop.

Catherine Mair

July 2004

    [click on image to view enlarged photo]

Catherine Mair lives in New Zealand's beautiful Western Bay of Plenty on part of what was once a family farm.

A selection of her recent work will appear this year in an anthology entitled A to Zazen, which also features the work of Ernest Berry, Jeanette Stace, Vanessa Proctor, Tim Bravenboer and the late Bertus de Jonge. Ernest Berry's sumi-e will enhance the written work. A to Zazen is being edited by Vanessa Proctor.

Click here to read selected poems of Catherine Mair in this issue of Simply Haiku.

Copyright 2005: Simply Haiku