Learning Better Habits

By Sandra Simpson

With the publication of the Fourth New Zealand Haiku Anthology a matter of weeks away, I’ve been able to look back on the submission and gathering process and decide  there may be a few things worth pointing out in case, dear reader, you’re the sort of person who likes to make New Year resolutions and effect change for the better*. Some of them are for you and all of them are for me!

My role as an editor for the annual Red Moon Anthologies doesn’t involve receiving submissions but for my NZ Haiku Anthology co-editor Margaret Beverland this is part and parcel of her role as co-editor of Kokako.

This difference in our experience explains why I was surprised that some people didn’t bother adhering to the submission guidelines, if indeed they read them at all – and she wasn’t!

One poet sent many, many more than 10 haiku for consideration, a few poets sent unpublished work and one seemed to be under the impression they were sending their work early when, in fact, the deadline had passed!!

The anthology is a survey of work published from 2008-2018, inclusive, and this was made clear in the call for submissions. This didn’t deter some poets including work from before 2008.

Resolution No. 1: Read the submission guidelines carefully and accept they apply to me.

A handful of poets were, for various reasons, invited to submit. One, who doesn’t have email and uses a typewriter, has been no bother. Another turned down the opportunity only to change their mind well after the deadline had passed – and we had created our first layout.

Resolution No. 2: I mustn’t rely on the goodwill of the people doing the work.

Resolution No. 3: If there’s a submission date I’m keen to hit, note it in my diary for a week before.

We placed the submission call in as many places as we could think of where potential submittors – and serious writers of haiku – might find it, including Haiku NewZ, Valley Micropress, Kokako and NZ Poetry Shelf. Yet, one well-known poet said he was unaware of the opportunity (and reads both journals) until we reached out.

Thanks to both Windrift (Wellington) and Small White Teapot (Christchurch) haiku groups for geeing along their members and thanks too, to those in both groups who helped out fellow poets who don’t have email. Patricia Prime also reached out to several Kokako poets we hadn’t heard from.

Resolution No. 4: Don’t assume the information is getting to the right people. Keep thinking about how to go the extra mile.

In a very few instances, we suggested edits to haiku, small tweaks we felt improved the poem. These edits were suggested in a spirit of goodwill and were clearly received that way. In four cases (three poets) the edits were rejected, which is fair enough. Two haiku remain in the anthology and two were omitted.

One edit was suggested because the haiku opened with an adjective and went on to repeat the same image in the next two lines. The haiku contained a striking and original idea so we were sorry not to be able to use it but the message came back “this was the way it happened” and change would not be considered.

Another poet rejected the edit on the grounds the poem was published in a 2017 US book about haiku, and then refused to discuss whether haiku are ever ‘finished’ by not answering the follow-up email.

Resolution No. 5: If an editor suggests a change, consider why that suggestion has been made. It is well within my rights to reject that change but I will do it on the grounds of whether the change makes for a better poem. If I think it doesn’t improve the poem I will state clearly why.

Speaking of emails … How wonderful instant communication is – all that stationery we no longer need, the cost of stamps saved, and an answer in a day (sometimes moments) instead of weeks. However, some courtesies still need to be observed, as old-fashioned as that may be in the age of filming everything and putting it online for the world to see.

Resolution No. 6: I will answer my emails in a timely fashion.

Margaret set up our anthology Gmail account but 99.9% of the emails were sent by and signed by me. Almost without fail, the replies came back ‘ Dear Margaret’. It didn’t fill me with confidence.

Resolution No. 7: I will read to the bottom of the email and when I respond I will use that person’s name.

The final part of the process involving poets and editors was the harvesting of biographical notes with, thank goodness, only two harder to obtain, although one was particularly difficult involving multiple emails (none of which were acknowledged, see Resolution No. 5) and, finally, a phone call.

The slightly difficult one saw the poet email several times to say why it couldn’t be done just then – in the time it took to write and send those emails, 50-60 words about oneself could have been created and sent.

By the way, these were not the teenage writers who, despite being in the middle of their NCEA exams, all responded in a timely fashion.

Resolution No. 8: Just do it.

One poet asked “is this enough?” at the end of their bio note. Again, not a teenager.

Resolution No. 9: It’s your name on the poems and your name in the Contributors section. Don’t expect an editor to hand-hold or do the work for you.

We’re delighted to have 330 poems in the anthology, written by 70 poets. We have been working seriously on the project for several months and have read widely to gather in any outstanding haiku published after our cut-off date.

The text is now with the printers with a few more decisions still to come – cover design, typeface, etc – and then it will be released into the world. A decade’s worth of writing from both established and new poets. The best of New Zealand haiku. We’re excited, hope you are too.

Resolution No. 10: Every so often do something for haiku. Then have a lie down!

*In 2013 Forbes magazine reported university research suggesting that just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions –  so 92% fail. Good luck!

Editor’s note: Sandra Simpson lives and works in Tauranga. She is editor of Haiku NewZ, Red Moon Anthology editor for the South Pacific and Africa, secretary of the Katikati Haiku Pathway committee and co-editor of the forthcoming Fourth NZ Haiku Anthology.

She blogs about haiku at breath, the title of her first collection of work published in 2011.