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