Haibun for Bill Higginson

Day and Night Diptych Part One, Day - by Aalix Roake

I started publishing haiku in 2000, before I really even knew what it was. I found poems that I liked in a book and started sending them to a mailing list, to friends’ inboxes, to their pagers, to my phone. One haiku per day. Nothing more. The list grew and I built a simple website to go with it. From the converted gardening shed on the back of my garage — my roughly-finished office — I sent haiku winging out over digital networks around the world.

After awhile, it became clear that it was more than just a small circle of friends who were reading tinywords, so I stopped borrowing haiku from books and started publishing my own, as well as asking people on the list to send in their own. My early efforts at writing haiku were, like those of most educated in American schools, exactly seventeen syllables. Easy enough, or so it seemed at first: But soon I found I couldn’t write or get enough haiku I liked to keep the daily pace going.

Desiring a wider audience — and needing more good poets — I sought listing in search engines. Bill Higginson responded, adding tinywords to the top of the haiku list that he curated for the Open Directory. It was like turning on an engine: The site took off, buzzing with an infusion of readers and writers who had discovered the site through Bill’s help, and who were eager to contribute haiku, or comments, or just read and share with their friends.

hum of the laptop
watching a lost world flicker to life

Bill’s help didn’t stop there. He contributed haiku, both his own as well as his translations of the ancient masters, and generously offered suggestions on how I could improve my own haiku. His books provided an invaluable, expert and open-hearted education in the deeper aspects of the art. And he was a generous correspondent, always finding time to reply. He could be prickly: Several times I had to adjust the design of the website because of his complaints about how his haiku were appearing. Of course I resented these criticisms, but after I steamed about them for awhile, I wound up conceding his points and making the changes he suggested. They always made the site better. In time, with my labor over PHP and MySQL code and the occasional pointed comment from Bill, tinywords evolved a clean, simple, minimalist design that kept the focus on the very brief poems that were its heart, and enabled each one to shine forward on its own terms, one per page.

The burden of maintaining tinywords grew, and as the mailing list topped 3,000 subscribers the number of submissions grew overwhelming. With work and family also weighing heavily on my time, tinywords seemed more and more like a burden. I walked away from haiku altogether in June 2008. I couldn’t even bear to look at my e-mail inbox, no longer maintained tinywords, and I even stopped reading haiku journals. So when a friend wrote in October of that year to tell me that Bill had died, I didn’t get the message until months later. And I didn’t have the heart to reply when I did.

There’s little I can add to George Swede’s elegant eulogy to a man whose intelligence, scholarship, generosity and poetry have touched many people’s lives. I never even met Bill Higginson. Yet he was a great patron of this site, and a friend.

over the bay
a jet banks into the haze

Illustration by Aalix Roake, AalixR.com

31 Responses

  1. alexismadrigal Says:

    Glad to see tinywords back. I hardly knew the original, but the new version looks terrific. Congrats on the relaunch, DT.

  2. michaeldylanwelch Says:

    Thanks for your tribute to Bill. I too found that he was sometimes prickly — but right! But more importantly, he was indeed generous with his time and ideas. His influence in English-language haiku reaches very far and very wide indeed.

    Congratulations, too, on the rebirth of tinywords.

    Michael Dylan Welch

  3. Gerry Says:

    Also glad to see the site back up. The daily haiku gives me a moment of reflection each day.

  4. Dana-Maria Onica Says:

    Dear Dylan, many of us never even met Bill Higginson, but felt his arm around their shoulders. Thank you for writing about him.
    I read with interest the tinywords' story, a sharp image of its birth and evolution. I'm sure that your plans and hopes are not only a daydream.


  5. Georgia Kornbluth Says:

    Thanks for the tribute to Bill Higginson.
    I'm pleased by the revival of tinywords & hope to be able to contribute.

    Georgia Kornbluth

  6. nobodhi Says:


    what they said


  7. Dave Graham Says:

    So glad you're back, and I appreciated your tribute to Bill Higginson. He and I never met, but when I first asked for his criticism of my haiku and guidance in improvement six or seven years ago, he was generous with both, but frequently complained of too little time to do justice to the things he thought deserved more time. I didn't know he had died. He was right. He had too little time. He was one who truly should have been allotted more time.
    With sadness… and with thanks for his having been among us…
    Dave Graham

  8. yvonnecabalona Says:

    Welcome back, Dylan. You were missed. Also, that was a very nice tribute to Bill Higginson. I only met the man through his books of which I have three: The Haiku Handbook, Haiku Seasons, and Haiku World. It is Haiku World that put me in touch with the seasons. It made me better at haiku and deepened my awareness of each season. It makes me look at the natural world with the eyes of a child. Again, welcome back; I look forward to your tinywords.

  9. Gabi Greve Says:

    Thanks for this tribute to Bill ! He was such a great mentor to us all.


    World Kigo Database

  10. Peter H Evans Says:

    Welcome back you have been much missed! I consider myself honoured to have been included in your wonderful internet radio haiku festival a few years ago. Long may you continue. Regards Peter H Evans.

  11. cgshankar Says:

    Thanks for the tribute to Bill Higginson.
    I'm pleased by the revival of tinywords & hope to be able to contribute.

  12. Dylan Tweney Says:

    Thanks, Peter! All of the haiku from “tinywords 1.0” are still online at their original URLs, by the way: You can find them at https://tinywords.com/haiku

  13. Juanito Escareal Says:

    Bill Higginson's “Haiku Handbook” was the first book on haiku that I read and enjoyed. Years and many haiku later, I sort of drifted away from haiku for a few years. Hopefully, this would be a good time to start composing haiku again.

    Thanks, Dylan, for sharing your haibun for Bill Higginson!


  14. Doris Pearson Says:

    Thank you for tribute to Bill Higginson… he was helpful to anyone interested in learning..

  15. dixiewhistles Says:

    Glad tinywords is back. I'm ashamed to say I didn't know who Bill Higginson was. But now I do. I'm sure the educator in him would be pleased. Thank you!

  16. Kathabela Wilson Says:

    I find this extremely moving, this “Haibun for Bill Higginnson”.It is a beautiful, strongly written haibun, expressive of the journey you have taken and what has launched your heart into another journey. What a clearly poetic and deeply felt re~beginning for tinywords. It speaks of the hands we hold out to one another, as he did for you and so many others, and you do the same here. His influence evident in this adventure now, and the fragility of life, it's offering to the poet to act, grasp the now in our micro~poetic worlds. I can hear the hum…

  17. deborahpkolodji Says:


    How wonderful to receive a text message on my phone from Tinywords again! I've missed those haiku messages.

    And what a wonderful way to start off with this moving tribute to Bill Higginson. He was always helpful and generous with his time and the haiku world owes him much.


  18. laryalee Says:

    This is a terrific haibun, Dylan…it's great to see you — and tinywords — back in action! I hope the pace won't wear you down again. ;)

  19. laryalee Says:

    This is a terrific haibun, Dylan…it's great to see you — and tinywords — back in action! I hope the pace won't wear you down again. ;)

  20. Wende DuFlon Says:

    history builds layers of understanding and appreciation….thank you for the haibun and for your generosity–sharing tinywords with the world

  21. cricket (Chris Faiers) Says:

    Bill Higginson and I corresponded about once a decade from the late ’60s until the mid-2000s. He was “Hian”, and I was “cricket” – our haijin names in a then secret society of haiku pioneers. Early on Hian broke with the awkwardness of 5-7-5 in English, and he was perhaps the major popularizer of English language haiku.
    It’s a pleasure to be able to contribute in small measure to Hian’s memory:

    an owl hoots
    over smooth desert dunes

    – cricket

  22. Friv 10 Says:

    His influence evident in this adventure now, and the fragility of life, it's offering to the poet to act, grasp the now in our micro~poetic worlds.

  23. Steel Flanges Says:

    Great to have you back…hope to hear more from you at tinywords…:)

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  29. Sylvain Says:

    This is a nice post ! Bill Higginson is amaizing, thanks to honor this nice guy !

  30. benitakape Says:

    I lost touch with tinywords some years ago which always left me sad therefore to come across it today has been a joy. A haibun to Bill Higginson to cherish. I had the honour to be one of the poets gathered together to write the Kasen Renku 'On The Road to Basra' which Bill lead back in 2003 when Iraq was invaded. Indeed the Haiku world and beyond owe Mr Higginson a great debt.

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