Tributes to Cyril Childs

Tributes made to Cyril at the time of his death in January 2012. The text of the eulogy given at his funeral on behalf of the haiku community of New Zealand is at the end of the page.

Cyril was a fine haiku poet. When I met him in Berkeley, California on June 6, 2002 (and then drove him to Sacramento where we met with Jerry Kilbride), he signed one of my haiku autograph books with the following poems:

after the holiday
sand . . .
in my pocket

firefly viewing
her feet . . .
feeling for the path

distant foghorn
white glove in a puddle
pointing the way home

The last poem seems particularly fitting at this time. My condolences to Cyril’s family and many friends.

– Michael Dylan Welch (US)

What a lot he has given us all to remember him by.

– Shirley May (Tauranga)

Cyril was an inspiration to me, and not just in the haiku arena. He had high poetic and personal standards and conveyed them with gentleness and restraint.

southern sunset
brightness lingers then
merges with aurora

– Karen Peterson Butterworth (Otaki)

News of Cyril’s passing at the too-young age of 70 has sent me to my bookshelves, to spend time for him, remembering him through his own words.

First the taste of nashi with its soft green cover and gentle kanji embellishments. Cyril was one of four selectors for this anthology, which was launched at Haiku Aotearoa 2008, the event at which I first met him. I recall with pleasure his warm welcome to this Ditch-hopper* from Oz.

From here I turn to Cyril’s signed, gift copy of Beyond the Paper Lanterns – a journey with cancer, in which he chronicles his first wife Vivienne’s lost battle with cancer.

outpatients clinic –
not needing to give our name
at reception

bright winter morning –
the blind at her window

holiday over –
I call at the cemetery
to tell her I’m back

In September 2009 it is Cyril’s turn to Ditch-hop, in company with four other New Zealanders, including his second wife, Christine. At the 4th Haiku Pacific Rim Conference at Terrigal, NSW, the 57 full-time delegates and over 40 day delegates are greeted by an incredible dust-storm, the first in over 70 years, but the dust has settled by the time the day for presentation of papers comes and Cyril delivers his paper “Haiku 45 South”, a history of haiku in the Shaky Isles, as New Zealand is sometimes called. In his presentation, published in the Conference Proceedings, Cyril gives many examples of favourite haiku written by his fellow countrymen. His own work is represented in Wind Over Water: an anthology of haiku and tanka by delegates of the Fourth Haiku Pacific Rim Conference.

no name
for its colour
tea-table rose

full white moon
touching . . . not touching
the top of the hill
amidst mountains
she pauses to admire

(These poems were first published in Modern Haiku XXV:1; Frogpond XVI:2; Frogpond XXIII:1, respectively and the third of these, my favourite, also appears in Beyond the Paper Lanterns.)

Other favourites include two from Haiku NewZ showcase, with their contrasting moods:

wind over water
so easily the cormorant
one to the other

backyard cricket
Dad and I pick up
the kitchen window

and the wry and down-to-earth:

the stone buddha

published in the taste of nashi.

My own small tribute to Cyril, penned today:

crowded inbox . . .
email from you now marked
‘do not delete’

– Beverley George, Convenor: 4th Haiku Pacific Rim Conference 2009; President: Australian Haiku Society 2006-2010.

*The ocean between the east coast of Australia and New Zealand is often referred to colloquially as “The Ditch”.

It was an honour to be introduced to haiku by Cyril and I will always be grateful to him. He was a very fine person indeed. I am reminded of Cyril’s haiku on the haiku pathway at Katikati…

summer dusk –
the silence
after they’ve gone

– Cyril Childs

Here is my personal tribute to a great teacher…

I follow
the haiku path, your breath
set in stone

– André Surridge (Hamilton)

I have long been an admirer of Cyril’s two excellent NZ haiku anthologies, I was only in direct contact with him via email during the last year of his life. We coincided through haiku and cricket. He was a man of fortitude and intelligence, and a fine poet. I particularly respect his grace and humour in a last dictated message to me. My thoughts are with his family.

we’ll have to wait
to play cricket
in the next life

– Tony Beyer (New Plymouth)

Cyril’s name is very much linked with excellence in the genre of haiku internationally, as well as in New Zealand. I recall the first-class address he made at the Fourth Pacific Rim Haiku Conference at Terrigal in 2009, informing us with knowledge, dedication and enthusiasm, of the haiku scene in your country. He had a warm and quite inspiring presence. I can imagine that you will all miss him greatly.

With compassionate thoughts
– Quendryth Young (Australia)

Cyril was a very gentle, unassuming man who not only wrote exceptional haiku, but also encouraged others in their writing. He achieved great things in the haiku world, although you would never know it to talk to him. He was a rock of haiku, not only in New Zealand, but around the world.

evening quiet
a new colour
in the sunset

– Vanessa Proctor (Australia)

He was unfailingly kind and encouraging to me when I was starting out, and also a great supporter of the Small White Teapot haiku group. It was a pleasure to know him.

– Barbara Strang (Christchurch)

Cyril was a past-President of the New Zealand Poetry Society, long before my time, and I met him shortly before he moved to Dunedin. He was a kind and thoughtful man, and I was inspired by the work he shared with us at a haiku workshop he ran in Petone, before moving. The society, like haiku enthusiasts world-wide, held him in the highest esteem, and we consider it fortunate that his work for us lives on through the two national haiku anthologies. These continue to be popular collections long after their publication, thanks to his experience, knowledge and careful selection of the haiku within. RIP Cyril.

Laurice Gilbert, President, New Zealand Poetry Society

I remember receiving Cyril’s sensitive haiku for inclusion in the Wind over Water anthology and how they touched my heart. Here is a haiku by Kiba in 1868 , one that I’m sure Cyril would agree with…

my old body:
a drop of dew grown
heavy at tip

oi no mi ya
hazue no omoru
tsuyu no tama

Dawn Bruce (Australia)

Cyril had all of the special attributes very respectful writers have noted. But Cyril was even more than the sum of these attributes. He was brave, funny and optimistic …

another bitter morning
and then –
the first kowhai

He was utterly sincere and without artifice. There was never anything contrived in his haiku. They were very poignant …

in fading light
leaving this place –
no longer home

I think of Cyril’s nature as a clear mountain stream untroubled by ambition or any of today’s pollutants. He averred he’d had a good life and indeed he had.

– Catherine Mair (Katikati)

We were so sorry to hear of Cyril’s illness and passing. As part of our Haiku Pathway family, he held a special place in our hearts. We are honoured to have two of his haiku among the public collection on the pathway.

– Katikati Haiku Pathway Committee

I remember in particular Cyril’s gentle, considerate and caring approach to living. He respected others’ right to their views while holding clearly to his own way of seeing. He had a strong sense of fun, reflected in his haiku. I was on the NZPS Committee with him and had plenty of time to see these qualities in action.

I appreciated his editorial opinion both as a selector (and adviser) for the taste of nashi (2008, ed Nola Borrell & Karen P Butterworth), and as a generous and thoughtful critic of my own haiku.

I think he played quite a critical role in the New Zealand haiku community remaining as part of the NZPS rather than forming a separate organisation. He wanted haiku to be part of the poetry community, rather than as a ‘specialty’.

I liked his openness to possibilities. Once I was writing about the idea of lines 1 &2 going together, or lines 2 & 3. ‘Each line can be primary,’ wrote Cyril and quoted O Mabson Southard’s ‘the old rooster crows/ out of the mist comes the rock /and the twisted pine ‘, a favourite of his. ‘Whatever works is OK – there are no rules. Haiku are what we make them’. Cyril will be richly remembered through his haiku

– Nola Borrell (Wellington)

Cyril’s death leaves a large gap in the lives of family, friends and haiku poets around the world. Always eager to help and teach beginners, he was a mentor to many aspiring New Zealand haiku poets. He will be remembered for his kindness, patience and humour.

From his last submission to Kokako, I should like to suggest the following haiku: the first as a sample of his love of cricket and his subtle sense of humour and the second for its simplicity:

backyard cricket
Dad and I pick up
the kitchen window

– Kokako 14, 2010

for tonight enough
the stars . . .
the black sky

– Kokako 14, 2010

My own haiku for Cyril are:

bright summer morning
the cadences of his haiku

summer day
the chink of petanque balls
on the lawn

– Patricia Prime (Auckland) co-editor of Kokako.

I am so sorry to hear about Cyril Child’s passing. He was a wonderful haiku poet and will be deeply missed within the haiku community. Please pass on condolences from the Australian Haiku Society.

– Cynthia Rowe (Australia), president HaikuOz

Cyril was a lovely man and a legend of the infant NZ Haiku scene. Who hasn’t turned to his ‘Guidelines for writing haiku’ in the first NZ Haiku Anthology? New Zealand poetry is richer for the time Cyril spent as part of it.

My sympathy to his family.

– Tony Chad (Lower Hutt), editor of Valley Micropress

I just learnt of Cyril’s passing and my thoughts and deepest sympathies go to all his family and friends and the NZ haiku community. My first solid meeting with Cyril’s work was when I purchased Beyond the Paper Lanterns and I was greatly moved by his sensitivity and very fine writing. I finally got the chance to meet him in person at the Pacific Rim Conference and we kept in touch afterwards. I grew up in Dunedin so we had many things in common regarding a sense of place and a love of haiku. I like to think Cyril has moved on to become part of the natural world which he loved and wrote about so well.

tired of this world . . .
suddenly moonlight
through my window

– Ron C. Moss (Tasmania)

Being one of the younger members of our haiku family, I feel that Cyril was the Grandfather of haiku in New Zealand. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Cyril at my first Haiku Conference in Christchurch in 2008. I remember his kind eyes and warm smile, the encouragement he gave me, and his deep passion for haiku. My condolences to his family and friends, and his haiku family and friends, in New Zealand and around the world.

– Kirsten Cliff (Matamata), haikai editor for the NZPS magazine.

Sad news about Cyril passing away. I saw him regularly at the NZ Poetry Society when I was on the Committee in 1997 with other JAAM members Ingrid Horrocks and Helen Rickerby. He was a nice man.

His wife Vivienne died in 1997 and my mum died from cancer in 2000 the year that he brought out his cancer chapbook Paper Lanterns which I reviewed in JAAM. We also published some of his poems in JAAM.

I was back in touch with him after he had moved to Dunedin for my cricket poetry anthology A Tingling Catch. He was most supportive of the book and reviewed it for the NZPS as well as contributing to my blog. I did not realise till now doing random searches for his Obituary [to be posted on the Poetry Archive of NZ Aotearoa website] that he was a promising cricketer himself. The Cricket Archive in England has him listed with match details as playing for Otago U20s, Otago U23s and Southland in the early 1960s.

Farewell Cyril, may the beautiful game continue in the next life.

Mark Pirie (Wellington), owner of HeadworX Press

Read the Poetry Archive of New Zealand Aotearoa obituary here.

Kind wishes for Cyril’s family and his fellow haiku writers have also been received from John O’Connor (Christchurch), Jim Kacian and Jerry Ball (both US), and Ruth Arnison (Dunedin), co-ordinator of Poems in the Waiting Room.

Cyril Childs and Haiku

Written by Sandra Simpson (at the request of Cyril’s family), and read at his funeral service on February 1, 2012 by Sophia Frentz.

Cyril was a well-known and much-loved member of the haiku poetry community, and in an online tribute this week was described as a rock of haiku, not only in New Zealand, but around the world. Others praised his intelligence, grace, sincerity, his sense of fun, his kindness and his patience. He’s probably blushing by now but all these things are true.

One contributor compared Cyril’s nature to a clear untroubled stream, coincidentally echoing one of his own haiku:

meeting over –
the clarity of water
across broken stones

Thanks to his efforts in editing and publishing the first and second New Zealand Haiku Anthologies (in 1993 and 1998), the haiku community in this country not only began to coalesce, but to flourish to the point where several Kiwi writers – Cyril included – are recognised internationally. His signature haiku style is one of simplicity and an easy way with language. Yet, he somehow managed the difficult trick of making each haiku worth reading several times to discover the depths that were hidden behind the mild exterior. Something like the man himself.

His haiku story began when living in Japan for 12 months from 1989. Cyril had gone to Japan on a science research fellowship and came away with a love for Japanese culture, in particular the small poems that observe and reflect upon nature. He once commented that he thought the reason why a good number of people with science backgrounds write haiku was that although the form requires an almost-scientific close observation of the natural world, it also encourages a free association of ideas to let the poetry in.

A past-president of the NZ Poetry Society, Cyril judged the society’s haiku competition three times, and was co-judge of the Haiku Society of America’s premier award in 2000. He was an advocate for Kiwi writers using their own language and culture in their poetry and selected Kiwi haiku for two years for the New Zealand Poetry Society’s newsletter, as well as being one of the four selectors who assisted the co-editors in production of the third NZ haiku anthology, published in 2008.

Cyril co-edited Listening to the Rain, an anthology by the Small White Teapot haiku group of Christchurch in 2002 and, after giving the keynote address to open the 2008 Haiku Festival Aotearoa in Christchurch, said he felt compelled to right a wrong with “an explanation, an apology and a presentation”. Listening to the Rain had won an award from the Haiku Society of America in 2003. However, for various good reasons, Cyril had never given his co-editor Joanna Preston her certificate. So, just 5 years late – and to her delight – he set things right.

Beyond the Paper Lanterns, his own book of haiku, longer poems and haibun (haiku in a prose narrative), was published as a limited edition in 2000 – the first 100 copies went so quickly he had another 100 done and in June 2000, the first time I met Cyril, I obtained copy no 103.

thunder-filled clouds
over the bridge come
jingling jangling horses

Sub-titled “a journey with cancer” and detailing their 2 trips to Japan along with her diagnosis, treatment and death of Vivienne, his first wife, it has made poignant reading over the past weeks. His book was carried to the summit of Mt Fuji in 2000 by American haiku poet Jerry Kilbride in a climb organised by the US Breast Cancer Fund.

In a piece published in 2006 Cyril wrote: “Jerry read from the book to the climbers the night before their ascent and he carried it to the summit. After the climb Jerry had everyone write a message in the book and returned it to me. It will remain a precious thing to me and my family.”

Cyril loved sport, particularly cricket and rugby, and was thrilled to have 9 haiku selected for publication in the 2010 anthology of New Zealand cricket poetry, A Tingling Catch, among them:

backyard cricket –
Dad and I pick up
the kitchen window

As much as this is a tribute to Cyril from the haiku community, it is also of necessity a personal tribute. My first contact with Cyril came in 1998 when he was preparing the second haiku anthology – I was living overseas and, thanks to the new-fangled email, we began a long-distance conversation about his choices and some of his editing suggestions, all of which helped to improve my haiku.

We met for the first time at the opening of the Haiku Pathway in Katikati in 2000, where I was enchanted by his twinkling blue eyes but so in awe of his work that I found it difficult to speak to him. Fortunately, he didn’t encourage awe, just friendship and the times we have met since have always been good fun.

He was invited to deliver a paper at the Haiku Pacific Rim conference in Australia in 2009, which he did with his usual mixture of dry scientist and mischievous lad. He and Christine also hosted an impromptu “happy hour” for the three other Kiwi delegates and a happy hour it was indeed. Cyril seemed to be in his element pouring wine for four women in his hotel room!

the bouncing ball
    beats the giggling boy
            down the zig-zag

Although he had largely put aside haiku for the past couple of years to concentrate on the biography of his uncle, Cyril still had poems published regularly and was planning to visit Tauranga in June for the Haiku Festival, keen to go back to the pathway where last year one of his haiku was engraved on to a boulder, the second of his poems to feature in this park that is unique outside Japan.

I had spoken to Cyril by telephone several times in the last month of his life, once to ask permission to use two of his poems in a showcase of New Zealand haiku that will appear on an American website – one haiku each day for the month of April. He was delighted to be asked and said that it gave him something to aim at in terms of longevity. We both laughed. What else was there to do?

My husband called on Cyril in early January, giving him a copy of my first collection of haiku. I was delighted when Cyril telephoned me straightaway to talk about it – his advice early in my writing career had helped put me on the right track so his quiet praise was beyond price, especially when he was clearly tiring.

His quiet charm, his good manners, his steady character and his ever-present smile – all these endeared Cyril to me, and to many others. Farewell from the haiku community of New Zealand, you will be much missed my friend, but your fine writing will live on, setting both a personal and artistic standard for all those who come after.

summer morning
the old dog
slips his leash