Thanks to Ruth at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town for hosting today, the last Friday of National Poetry Month.
Between the awesome poem videos from the students of Texas Women's University, The Classic Found Poetry Palooza, and the author interviews, it has been a fabulous month of poetry.
Today I having Sally Walker returning with her new book, Trees: Haiku from Roots to Leaves.
I was thrilled when Anne Irza-Leggat, Candlewick Press, presented me with the opportunity to interview Sally Walker again with her latest book.
This picture! Yes, I used it last year and it speaks volumes about Sally's love of trees.
JRM: At your website, you have a photo of you hugging a tree. And in your author’s note, you mention how you and your sister loved trees. Can you share more about that experience, your love of trees?
SW: We were fortunate to have many excellent, memorable trees in our neighborhood. My father planted a Norway maple tree on our front lawn shortly after he and my mother purchased the house I grew up in. By the time I was 10 years old, it was perfect as “home base” for many of the games we played with our friends.
The oldest tree in our city—a swamp white oak—was two houses down from my mine. There was a brass plaque set into a concrete slab beneath the tree that informed passersby of this distinction. Based on the city arborist’s calculations regarding the tree’s age, we estimated that it had started growing about the time when George Washington was a young man.
A long block away from my home, two copper beech trees towered above the very large lawn of an insurance company. Their hefty, almost two-foot diameter trunks supported numerous widespread, thick branches, some of which nearly touched the ground. Perfect climbing trees that became pirate ship riggings or Sherwood Forest hideouts, depending on what we decided that day’s adventures would be.
And today, 55 years later, in my mind I still vividly hear the whistles of the cardinals and the raucous screeches of the blue jays that raised families in the pin oak trees outside my bedroom window.
JRM: You have another tree book, Champion, The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree. What led you to write another book on trees? Did the idea percolate when researching Champion?
SW: The idea for TREES was not percolating at all when I was researching and writing CHAMPION. As a matter of fact, I had scarcely begun writing EARTH VERSE, my first haiku book, at the time. I’m not sure exactly what led me to writing TREES. In looking back over my first drafts, I see that the earliest one dates to the month when we had to have an aged silver maple in our front yard cut down. We replaced it with a lovely Autumn Blaze maple. I remembering thinking that I was going to miss the old tree and wondering what the new one would look like in the fall. From there, I suspect that the idea for TREES made its way into my thoughts.
Also, the folks I work with at Candlewick—my editor Hilary Van Dusen and copyeditor Hannah Mahoney (who is an amazing haiku poet)—put the “dream” in “dream team.” I really wanted to continue working with them. Hilary likes trees, too, so the topic seemed another good haiku fit.
JRM: What was the most “tree-mendous” discovery you had in writing this book?
SW: I love puns! Thanks for that one, Jone. The tree-mendous discovery for me definitely was learning how trees communicate with one another. I’ve always imagined that the sound of leaves shushing in the wind was the trees whispering amongst themselves. It is one of my favorite sounds. But learning that trees send air-borne scent signals to one another and also communicate nutritional-need signals via their root systems—well, that’s pretty mind-blowing stuff! Now when I walk in a forest, I am aware that a network, almost a magical one, surrounds me. And it makes me wonder how certain trees might be relating to those that surround it.
JRM: Would you share a little about what a writing day looks like to you from research to sitting and writing and in-between? Would you have an early draft of a poem and the finished poem?
SW: First off, especially when I’m writing haiku, I always, always have my copy of Roget’s Thesaurus on my desk. My parents gave the book to my husband as a gift when he graduated from college. Although it was originally his, during the 49 years we’ve been married, it’s slowly become mine. Its red, cloth cover is heavily worn on the edges and there are a few tears as well. But I would NEVER replace it with a shiny, new “model.”
A lot of my haiku are written while I am walking outside. After all, immersing oneself in nature is kind of what haiku’s all about. It’s often where the germ of a haiku begins. I mostly write using a computer because typing is easier on my fingers than writing with a pen. But I have my desk positioned such that I have a window on each side of the desktop. When I pause to think while I am writing, I can see our Autumn Blaze Maple if I look to my left. (And it is a gorgeous, flaming red in the fall.) If I look out the other window, to my right, I can see the thin stems of one of our four serviceberry trees. In April they get silvery blossoms that give rise to purple berries in late June. They taste similar to small, sweet blueberries and make yummy pies.
Oops. I am supposed to be writing about my writing day, not trees. Sigh.
JRM: That’s quite alright, I would do the same.
SW: I write best in the morning. If the writing and idea flow is going well, I can spend hours at the computer without taking a long break. Time flies then. However, sometimes I hit a technical (usually scientific) stumbling block and need a research break to resolve it. Then I’ll head out to either the public library or the university library in town to seek the answer. Libraries are among my favorite places.
Traditionally, haiku are three-line poems with a 5-7-5 syllabic structure. Today, many haiku writers choose not to follow that pattern and instead use a differing number of syllables to convey the sense and imagery of their poem. I love playing with words, so I enjoy the challenge of finding just the right word and just the right phrasing while sticking to the traditional structure. It’s a game, a puzzle, and for me that’s fun.
Sometimes when I’m writing I take short breaks to play with my cats, who can be very persistent when they want to play. Sometimes I work in the garden. As evening approaches, I cook dinner. But even when I’m away from my desk, haiku thoughts and words simmer in the back of my mind.
Every haiku has more than one draft. There’s the “get something down on paper” draft. Followed by the “there are too many syllables in these lines and the words are not precisely what I want” drafts. (There are at least several of these drafts.) And then, often days later, the “Eureka! How could I NOT have thought of this word or phrase before?” draft pops into my mind—often while I’m out walking! There are usually two “eureka” drafts. The first draft is almost, but not quite, there; the second nails it.
JRM: Were there poems that didn’t make the cut for this book?
SW: Yep. Several. One of them we cut was one of my favorites:
the spring peepers’ sweet chorus
wakens the forest
Spring peepers are another of my favorite sounds. I think due to space/pagination considerations we had to drop a few haiku. I really hated having to eliminate this one. But we had another springtime haiku:
covered with gray fur
pussywillow catkins cling:
kittens on slim twigs
that I love equally and thought children would too. Who doesn’t like holding a pussywillow? I chose to keep this one because I thought my cats would get angry at me if I cut it out.
JRM: What is next for you? Projects? Adventures?
SW: I am very excited about—and had LOTS of fun writing—two board books that will be published by MIT Kids Press in the fall of 2024. The rhyming text invites kids to “chime in” on repetitive refrains. And the dynamic illustrations will provide plenty of discussion opportunities between parents and young listeners/readers.
As to adventures…who knows? I’m always open and on the lookout for a new adventure!
JRM: Here's to new adventures, more trees, and being outside. Thank you, Sally.
Remember, I will be announcing four winners to receive a copy of one of the four books. And watch on Saturday for the final poem video by my TWU students. It will make you smile, especially if you have chickens.
Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme has hosting duties this Poetry Friday. Matt has a terrific interview with Leslie Bulion.
Here I have an interview with Sally Walker. Thanks to Mary Lee, I got in touch with Anne Irza-Leggat at Candlewick Press. She connected me with two poets for this month that have new books coming out in April. In the fall, I will be interviewing two more poets when their books arrive in the world.
Meet Sally Walker. This picture tell me that she and I could be great friends as I love a good hug with a tree. from early readers to nature books STEM books, history and picture books, Sally has written so many. Earth Verse was her first book written in haiku.
Her latest, Out of This World: Star-Studded Haiku, is as she says a "language spaceship" . Through haiku, readers will travel the universe. There's great back matter at the end of the book.
Sally was gracious to answer questions I had for her. I loved learning about the diamonds that a certain planet has (read the interview to find out).
JRM: How did you get the idea for Out of This World: Star-Studded Haiku? What was your process for writing this book?
SW: The idea began with a haiku that I wrote about Saturn: Rings of rock and dust/circle around Saturn’s waist/cosmic Hula-Hoops. It made me smile, as I remembered summer days spent playing with a Hula-Hoop.
It became part of a manuscript with the working title Sci-ku. As I have done in many of my books, I wanted to create a book that would as a bridge to connect science with literature—one that combined facts and language play. Sci-ku’shaiku ranged from geology, to space, to physics, and to biology. I submitted the manuscript to Hilary Van Dusen, my editor at Candlewick. She liked the idea, but felt that the book would be more effective if all of the haiku immersed the reader in one particular scientific field. She was absolutely correct! I narrowed the focus to geology, my number one science love. The manuscript became Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up. The haiku about Saturn ended up on the cutting room floor. Sadly, because I really liked that one.
After completing Earth Verse, Hilary asked if I was working on anything else. I wasn’t, but suddenly the “cosmic Hula-Hoops” haiku popped back into my mind. My email reply to her suggested that I do a companion volume to Earth Verse that could be titled Out of This World: Star-studded Haiku. Of course I included the haiku about Saturn among those that I submitted in my formal proposal!
Part of my process for writing Out of This World was paying attention to the stars, planets, and the moon as they appear to move across the sky as Earth rotates. Early morning, just before dawn, is my favorite time to be outside. Even on the coldest days, I go for a walk and look at the moon and the stars. Another part of my process was to look at the stellar—ha, ha, that pun was too good to resist—photos on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) website, www.nasa.gov. It’s an awesome website where one can spend hours immersed in all kinds of space-related information. The photos are beyond belief!!
JRM: I think one of the best parts about writing is doing research for a topic. What kind of research did you do for Out of This World?
SW: Research is, hands down, my favorite part of being an author! An important part of writing this book, which later morphed into research, came from re-living experiences from my childhood. For example, I remember sitting in the backyard with my father on summer nights. He would point out different constellations—Orion and the Big Dipper are two vivid memories—and tell me stories about how they got their name. My family always watched lunar and solar eclipses. We always used the pinhole in cardboard way to view a solar eclipse safely.
One Christmas, when I was about 10 years old, my cousin received a telescope as a gift. He invited us to his house one night so we could see Saturn’s rings. That blew me away! Maybe that’s how Galileo felt when he first saw them.
In July 1969, half the people in our neighborhood crowded around the television in my family’s livingroom and watched the Eagle land on the moon. We all held our breath until it touched down and then cheered!! Reality TV at its absolute best!!!
I researched scientific papers, books, old newspapers, and NASA’s website about all of these topics for additional information, as well as important updates, to material that I remembered from childhood.
Interestingly, research that I’d done for other books gave me a lot of information for Out of This World. My research adventures for Boundaries, my book about the Mason-Dixon line, led to planetarium visits and lots of stargazing. Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon drew their famous line of latitude guided by the position of stars.
My husband, a volcanologist, was happy to talk with me about the Martian volcano Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in our solar system. In college, when I majored in geology, I learned that scientists theorize that an asteroid strike 65 million years ago likely led to the extinction of dinosaurs on Earth. It seemed natural for me to write a haiku about that.
JRM: What was the most surprising discovery you had in writing this book?
SW: Good question! One discovery that I knew absolutely NOTHING about was that it rains diamonds on the planet Uranus. That planet, one of our solar system’s four planets that have no solid land surface, has a slushy plasma ocean that surrounds the planet’s solid core. The pressure within the ocean forces carbon atoms to crystallize as diamonds. Because the diamonds are heavier than the surrounding “slush,” they rain downward, toward the core.
This discovery also led to a funny research story. When Matthew Trueman was creating the illustration for the haiku diamonds rain, unseen/in a slushy plasma sea/sunken treasure trove, he asked what color the sea was likely to be. I had NO idea. So, I did some research. I emailed Dr. Dirk Gericke and asked him. He is a professor at the Centre for Fusion, Space & Astrophysics, in the Department of Physics, at the University of Warwick, in the United Kingdom. Dr. Gericke has written several papers on Uranus’s plasma sea. He helped me tweak the haiku so it was accurate, but he also consulted with his colleagues about the color of the plasma ocean. While no one can actually see it, their consensus (based on the chemical composition) is that the sea is bluish. I passed this information along to Matthew!
JRM: What led you to write this book in haiku? How do you decide if you want to write in prose or haiku?
SW: It was always intended to be a combination of haiku and nonfiction prose. My favorite haiku are those that not only make me think or feel about something, but also make me want to discover something new about the “moment” that I encountered while reading a particular haiku. I hope that the haiku in Out of This World will make readers think and ask questions. The narrative section of the book, hopefully, provides answers to some of those questions.
Haiku is pretty much the only kind of poetry that I write. But I did not always enjoy it. I remember being taught about haiku in fourth grade. The teacher explained what it was: a short poem that did not rhyme, had only seventeen syllables, and revealed a profound, seasonal moment in nature. We didn’t talk about Japanese culture at all. Nor did we discuss how “less” can actually be “more.” She just read us a few haiku written by Basho and Issa. Sadly, I was too young to appreciate them—at least the ones she read to us. They made me feel “itchy” because I didn’t understand what they were about. When she asked us to write haiku, I felt like I was being asked to write something so profound that it was incomprehensible. Forcing the incomprehensible into a seventeen-syllable, non-rhyming poem made the assignment essentially impossible for me. Now, as an adult, I read a haiku like Basho’s The Old Pond (An old silent pond/a frog jumps into the pond--/Splash! Silence again.) and marvel at it. But the nine-year-old me wouldn’t have understood and appreciated all it encompasses. I would not have savored that exquisite last moment. I would have splashed into the pond and caught the frog.
Today’s young readers meet haiku through the mastery of poets such as Paul Janeczko, Janet Wong, and J. Patrick Lewis. Children easily relate to their poems. They meet the reader in a place or moment that she or he can understand. A park bench, a curbside puddle, a beloved pet. That is incredibly powerful and freeing. Modern haiku poets often step outside the traditional guidelines of including a seasonal reference. And they frequently inject humor.
Many of the haiku in Earth Verse and Out of This World explore moments in nature, but they are moments that exist for eons. I remember one of my geology professors telling us that in the timeline of life on Earth, humans have existed in the length of time that it takes to light a match and immediately blow it out. The formation of stars, land surfaces being eroded by glaciers and wind, an asteroid that wipes out millions of years of dinosaur existence are natural, cosmic “moments.” They exist on a timeline, the length of which we can scarcely comprehend. Why not write haiku about them?
Although some poets write haiku that don’t strictly adhere to the seventeen-syllable format, I choose to do so. I like the challenge of seeking the perfect combination of words to convey an idea or impression in exactly seventeen syllables. It’s a game with language that lets me play with words, something I love to do. It requires lots and lots and lots of mental revision to get the syllable count for each line correct. That’s cool too, because many of the haiku that I write finally reach their “Eureka!” word-choice completion while I am outside walking and appreciating nature!
JRM: What are your upcoming projects?
SW: My next book is UNDERGROUND FIRE: HOPE, SACRIFICE, AND COURAGE IN THE CHERRY MINE DISASTER. The 1909 Cherry Mine fire is one of the worst coal mine disasters in United States’ history. My home is only 50 miles from Cherry, Illinois, and the story is one that I have wanted to bring to young readers for some years. It’s especially timely, given that it’s a story of immigrants and fossil fuel, both of which figure prominently in the news today. The publication date is October 2022. I do have another haiku book in the pipeline, scheduled for publication in Spring 2023. At the moment the title is TREES: HAIKU FROM ROOTS TO LEAVES. It's a bit early to share much more about it, but I can say that the illustrations are wonderful! Both books are with Candlewick Press.
In another email, Sally and I shared an exchange about writing haiku for adults as well as the haiku structure.
She shared this haiku
words channeled into patterns.
Regarding haiku versus senryu Sally shared this little fact, I enjoy senryu a lot. In fact, I had to avoid producing them when I wrote Earth Verse and Out of This World.
Thank you so much, Sally!
All photos and poems in these blog posts are copyrighted to Jone Rush MacCulloch 2006- Present. Please do not copy, reprint or reproduce without written permission from me.
2023 Progressive Poem
April 1 Mary Lee Hahn, Another Year of Reading
April 2 Heidi Mordhorst, My Juicy Little Universe
April 3 Tabatha, The Opposite of Indifference
April 4 Buffy Silverman
April 5 Rose Cappelli, Imagine the Possibilities
April 6 Donna Smith, Mainely Write
April 7 Margaret Simon, Reflections on the Teche
April 8 Leigh Anne, A Day in the Life
April 9 Linda Mitchell, A Word Edgewise
April 10 Denise Krebs, Dare to Care
April 11 Emma Roller, Penguins and Poems
April 12 Dave Roller, Leap Of Dave
April 13 Irene Latham Live You Poem
April 14 Janice Scully, Salt City Verse
April 15 Jone Rush MacCulloch
April 16 Linda Baie, TeacherDance
April 17 Carol Varsalona, Beyond Literacy Link
April 18 Marcie Atkins
April 19 Carol Labuzzetta at The Apples in My Orchard
April 20 Cathy Hutter, Poeturescapes
April 21 Sarah Grace Tuttle, Sarah Grace Tuttle’s Blog,
April 22 Marilyn Garcia
April 23 Catherine, Reading to the Core
April 24 Janet Fagal, hosted by Tabatha, The Opposite of Indifference
April 25 Ruth, There is no Such Thing as a God-Forsaken Town
April 26 Patricia J. Franz, Reverie
April 27 Theresa Gaughan, Theresa’s Teaching Tidbits
April 28 Karin Fisher-Golton, Still in Awe Blog
April 29 Karen Eastlund, Karen’s Got a Blog
April 30 Michelle Kogan Illustration, Painting, and Writing