Ernest J Berry, 1929-2021

Noted New Zealand haiku personality Ernest J Berry died on May 31, 2021 in Blenheim aged 91. Ernie dedicated his retirement years to haiku. He lived and breathed haiku, and was mentor, friend and enabler to numerous New Zealand haiku poets. He helped organise haiku workshops, invited international haiku figures to visit New Zealand, and opened his Picton home to passing haiku poets (he moved to Blenheim in 2013).

During the late 20th and early 21st centuries Ernie won numerous haiku prizes, published his own collections, and was widely published in journals in Aotearoa-New Zealand and internationally.

storm warning
the cry of a shearwater
circles the sky

Ernie founded the Wellington Windrift Haiku Group and hosted and chaired the first meetings in his hotel apartment during his frequent visits to Wellington with his partner Triska Blumenfeld. His colourful approach to meetings ensured the group was well launched.

He would invite members for a session of, ‘Haikuing, fat chewing, funning … from high noon — till we drop’. Poets were asked to bring an original poem — usually using a specified phrase, such as ‘roadside shrine’, ‘framed by the window’, or ‘patches of snow’ — to be hung unsigned on the haiku tree (really a potted plant). The haiku were then ‘plucked, applauded and critiqued before the writer confessed’ to his/her authorship.

night fishing
knee deep
in the Pleiades

Windrift went on to publish the taste of nashi: New Zealand haiku (the third New Zealand haiku anthology) in 2008. Ernie was one of 10 selectors who chose haiku for inclusion.  Windrift was wound up as an Incorporated Society in 2019.  A group of former members remains active and remember Ernie’s contribution with gratitude.

A Korean War veteran, Ernie is survived by his partner Triska, a sister, and three adult children. Read more of Ernie’s haiku, and a short bio note, on his Showcase page. Thanks to Nola Borrell and Karen Peterson Butterworth for the tribute. If anyone would like to send a tribute to Ernie, they will be published here.

Ernest J Berry Tributes

Ernie was one of my favorite people, within haiku and without. He was not above getting himself in a spot of trouble, and that, I think, was part of his charm. He didn’t take things too seriously, which was a breath of fresh air — seriousness in a small pond is incredibly tedious. He was generous to those he knew, and to those he didn’t. He was impulsive, but he was also thoughtful, and very often what seemed like spur of the moment was actually the result of considerable planning. He loved life, and didn’t sit around waiting for things to come to him. He was an instigator of the first water, which made him some enemies but endeared him to those who liked things stirred up now and again. He was loyal and devoted to those he loved, but wore it lightly. He was a complex man, one who brightened any room he walked into, darkened the brows of the rulemakers and their enforcers, and followed his own path with conviction wherever it took him. We already miss him. – Jim Kacian, US

In my early days of haiku writing Ernie was kind enough to let me visit him at his home. It was only when I arrived that I became aware he had been knocked over by a cyclist several days earlier. Although he was bruised and a little worse for wear he refused to put off our meeting. We chatted about his wartime experience and he showed me his writing set up which included a room chock full of folders all stuffed with haiku. He was living on his own at that time and spoke of the hours that he spent writing. He had plans for further books. He told me about his process of working a haiku and was at pains to make sure I understood what was “not” a haiku. He gave me a book of his poetry when I left. Ernie was kind enough to say he liked some of my early efforts which gave me a real boost at a time when I needed it. I was grateful for his interest in my interest in haiku. I learnt a lot from him. Ernie contributed significantly to the development of haiku in New Zealand and to my own development and I thank him. – Steven Clarkson, Taupo

vac ncy
in the haiku world
haijin Ernie, a new winter

So sad today to hear of the loss of a world-renowned haijin Ernest Berry and I would like to offer this haiku out of respect and admiration to Mr Berry. In the haiku, I have used ‘Ernie’ because that was how he signed my copy of the beautiful hand-stitched book haikuwine, copy 74, published by natal* light press and in collaboration with another amazing haijin, an’ya. In this book Ernest gave us the incredible one word haiku ‘vac ncy‘. No one could ever fill the vacancy of a haijin who has given so much and who leaves such a lasting legacy. – Benita Kape, Gisborne

Sad news, but a long life well-lived. One of the characters of the NZ haiku scene. – Tony Chad, Wellington