Haiku on the Journey to Healing, Guest Post by Karen Parrish

On October 1, 2019, my husband, Bill, died in palliative care at Vancouver General Hospital. At the time of his cancer diagnosis seven months earlier, he’d been a seemingly healthy fifty-nine-year-old father to our teenaged twins, a member of the UBC community, and a loving friend and son and brother and partner. To say that everyone was in shock didn’t come close to the overwhelm and disbelief we felt on that gorgeous fall day.

Now four years later I’m moving into Joy Kogawa House for a two-month residency, trying still to make sense of this loss.

In the months following Bill’s death I walked often in pain and memory in Pacific Spirit Park, and, after a time … I began writing haiku for him. It began on the last day of 2019, when I felt I needed to say something to him before the year was out, the last year we had together in our thirty-six-year relationship:

The trail is unlit

this path uneven, my heart

slashed, following you

That initial effort ended up resulting in fifteen hundred or so of these short poems, until now, organized only chronologically. Part of my work at Joy Kogawa House will centre on developing a manuscript of haiku that explores both my relationship with my husband and the contours and arc of grieving, how it’s changed from a deep, despairing immediacy to—at least occasionally—a calmer, more contemplative state. My hope is to describe aspects of this intense, surreal experience and to show that surviving—and opening, loving, and thriving despite it—is possible.

I’m thrilled to be part of the community of writers at Joy Kogawa House and to have opportunities to engage with the larger community during my stay. As part of the residency I will host two workshops.

Not Just 17 Syllables: Expressing Grief through Haiku

The first, an exploration of haiku in the context of grief and loss, takes place on Sunday, October 15, from 3:00-4:30pm in the living room at Joy Kogawa House. There we’ll briefly discuss the history and formal constraints of traditional Japanese haiku. We’ll also look at how the flexibility inherent in this small form allows for navigating the largest of feelings. With the aid of prompts, we’ll write haiku to share with the group. Participants are also very welcome to bring their own haiku or those of other writers to share and discuss.

Two Sides of the Heart’s Coin: Beauty and Transformation in Grief Poetry

A second workshop, Two Sides of the Heart’s Coin: Beauty and Transformation in Grief Poetry, will be offered on Sunday, November 19, 3:00 to 4:30pm, in the living room at Joy Kogawa House.

I hope that whether you’re a seasoned writer of haiku or new to the form that you’ll join me in an exploration of grief and loss, transformation and love—I very much look forward to seeing you then!

Register for one or both workshops on Eventbrite.

Karen Parrish is a poet and grief group facilitator with the Lower Mainland Grief Recovery Society. She holds a certificate in fine art techniques from Emily Carr University and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Syracuse University; she graduated cum laude in English and American Literature and Languages from Harvard University.

In October 2019 she ceased being a partner in a lifelong relationship and became a single person navigating disbelief, confusion, and deep sorrow. In her loss she turned to literature, and as a poet, she looked to poetry to make sense of suffering, undertaking a daily ritual of walking in Pacific Spirit Park, and writing haikus on her iPhone.

Karen Parrish will edit to publishable size more than 1,500 grief haikus while in residence at Historic Joy Kogawa House from October 1 to November 30, 2023.