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Sherry Weaver Smith


Richer Resources: Hello, Sherry. Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Richer Resources: How long have you been writing poetry? Do you write every day? Do you have rituals around your writing?

Sherry Weaver Smith: I have been writing poetry for seven years, and I became inspired to start writing when I became a mother. I like to take haiku field trips to find images, sounds, or moments to write about. My favorite destinations are marshes, snowy forests, art museums, the desert, and churches.

Richer Resources: Why haiku? How were you introduced to it? What attracted you? What inspires you?

Sherry Weaver Smith: I like that haiku is just a sketch of a moment, and readers get to imagine their own details. Marjorie Buettner has characterized haiku as a pilgrimage; she quotes the Japanese poet Bashō, who searched for a "glimpse of the underglimmer." For me, haiku is trying to express the mysterious essence of things.

The other reason that haiku is a natural challenge for me is that I lived in Japan, where the form originated. Japan is a country of beautiful landscapes, geometric gardens, and traditions of hospitality, and these qualities still inspire me in my haiku.

Richer Resources: Someone once pointed out that haiku is the smallest form of poetry but has the most rules. Is this a conundrum in writing? Or does it actually make it easier?

Sherry Weaver Smith: What a great question! For me, sometimes what I want to express flows into the form of haiku naturally. At other times, what I want to say requires a longer poem. I think I would feel too rule-bound if I only wrote haiku or only wrote free verse.

Richer Resources: How does the traditional haiku form work for English? What do you think about the modifications to form that some American haiku writers have used?

Sherry Weaver Smith: Many writers in English have not been using the traditional 5-7-5 syllable pattern of haiku. Instead, they write "modern" haiku, which is also what I typically do. Japanese words tend to have more syllables than their translations in English. Therefore, many poets have felt that haiku in English should have fewer syllables than haiku in Japanese. I tend to let the poem fall where it wants, but I usually make sure to have two images juxtaposed in each poem, which is a traditional element of haiku. I would recommend to anyone who would like to try writing haiku to start out with the 5-7-5 pattern until that becomes comfortable. Then, begin exploring with other syllable counts.

Richer Resources: Do you write other forms of poetry? If so what?

Sherry Weaver Smith: Yes, I write many types of poetry, from haiku to tanka (a slightly longer-form poem also originating in Japan) to free verse.

Richer Resources: Who are some of the contemporary poets you enjoy?

Sherry Weaver Smith: I like to read haiku poetry by Christopher Herold and free verse by Mary Oliver. While not contemporary, I love the poetry of Russian novelist Boris Pasternak, T.S. Eliot, and Li Po. Pasternak's poetry inspires me to write about snow, but I can never match the beauty of his images!

Richer Resources: Your collaboration with the artist, Sylvia Van Strijthem, seems like a perfect, natural match. Can you tell me a little about how this came about?

Sherry Weaver Smith: Sylvia and I have been friends for more than a quarter of a century. We met at the School of Oriental and African Studies, which is part of the University of London. I was studying abroad as part of my undergraduate education at Duke University, and Sylvia was starting a Master's course. We continued our friendship even as we each moved to various places, such as Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan, and back to our home countries of the United States and Belgium.

While living in Hong Kong, Sylvia furthered her study of Chinese brush painting. When I traveled to meet her adorable newborn daughter, I was touched by Sylvia's lovely paintings. So when there was a chance for illustration of my poems, I contacted Sylvia right away. Sylvia quickly understood the way that I wanted to write poems inspired by natural shapes, and she had wonderful ideas that expressed this same idea in visual art, such as the spiraling of a wisteria branch.

Richer Resources: Your poetry was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2008. That must have been a pretty exciting time for you.

Sherry Weaver Smith: Yes, it was. I couldn't believe it. I won First Prize in the Arizona Authors Association yearly contest for my free-verse poem, "Daily Breath," about a sick child in a hospital in Manila, the Philippines. As part of the award, the Arizona Literary Magazine graciously nominated my poem.

Richer Resources: What are your hopes and dreams for this collection?

Sherry Weaver Smith: I am so grateful to Richer Resources Publications for publishing this collection and to Sylvia for her thoughtful and evocative paintings. I hope that readers will enjoy contemplating the poems, which are remembrances of my own pilgrimage to beautiful places and through motherhood and faith. Most of all, I hope some readers will be inspired to write their own poems, since I believe that everyone has a unique way of perceiving the world.


Interview with the Poet