An Interview With Poet Sarah Potter

24 Jan


Well, I always feel bad for the poets out there, because I feel like you get the short end of the stick on my blog.  Truth is I know next to nothing about poetry, so I figure it’s better that I just stay quiet about it rather than embarrass myself.

But today you poets are in for a surprise.  I have an expert in the figurative house, and her name is Sarah Potter, and she has agreed to discuss Japanese Poetic Forms with you today.

Let it never be said that I don’t care about all of you.

And now, here’s Sarah!

Sarah Potter “Waning” Lyrical About Japanese Poetic Forms

Thank you so much, Bill, for inviting me as a guest on your wonderful blog. I’m both excited and a bit daunted, as this is the first time a fellow blogger has asked me to write about poetry.

My love affair with Japanese poetic forms began in December 2010, when I signed up for a Twitter account. Here, I stumbled upon haiku, which fitted the 140-character limit for tweets while also having something meaningful to say. To my delight, my first attempts at haiku were retweeted numerous times and gained me a band of followers, including some from Japan! I saw this as a great compliment, as haiku is a traditional Japanese poetic form. [Note: The spelling for haiku is the same in singular and plural].

A year later, I started blogging as Sarah Potter Writes, with my main focus on haiku. Again I collected some Japanese followers, despite my unavoidable Anglicisation of their traditional poetic form. Most Japanese words are polysyllabic, meaning each one consists of multiple syllables. This makes it extra hard to pen a haiku in English and stick rigidly to the 17-syllable limit, without producing something unwieldly that defeats the object of the poem. Nevertheless, I do stick rigidly to the 17-syllable rule as I like challenges.

So here are the rules of traditional Japanese haiku that it’s my quest to adhere to as much as possible, without destroying the meditative spirit of the exercise…

  • 17 syllables
  • 3 lines (5/7/5 syllable count)
  • Unrhymed
  • No adverbs
  • Sparing with adjectives
  • Use present tense
  • Focus on images from nature
  • Focus on brief moment in time
  • Contains a season word to indicate the time of year
  • Can be read in one breath
  • Pauses at end of 1st or 2nd line (*see below for further explanation)
  • Brings enlightenment and illumination

(*In haiku, ideally there’s a juxtaposition of two images or ideas, with the cutting word between them that signals a break in the line of thought. This can be an actual word, or expressed in punctuation, most commonly an ellipsis).

On the subject of punctuation, you will notice that most haiku poems have no punctuation of any kind, or capital letters at the beginning of lines. The reason I don’t adhere to this rule on my blog, is that the three-line formatting disappears during automatic post shares with Facebook. This produces an unpunctuated lowercase string of words that, at times, can read as random nonsense.sarah-potter-ian-1

Here are two of my bird haiku:

early evening…
plump wood pigeon contemplates
the meaning of spring

horizon smudged grey…
invisible seagulls squawk
beyond summer rain


Further to one-verse haiku, is Haikai no renga (also known as renku), which is a linked verse game. I wrote the following verses, one for each phase of the moon. The name used at the end of the second line of the opening verse is the Shinto moon god, and the last line of the final verse is the Shinto sun goddess.

under cutglass stars
she dreams of Tsukuyomi
new moon love potion

nocturnal circus
legged draped over crescent moon
girl hangs upside down

gibbous halfway house
shadow night crickets gossip
she needs sedating

full moon tree-trunk spin
naked dancing on silver
she coruscates dew

blackbird sings her home
waning moon ambushed by dawn


You will notice on my blog that I usually post a photograph with my haiku. Some haiku purists might object to this, but I love photography, although I do try to compose haiku that will also stand on their own without a photo.

In 2012, I had the delight of collaborating with artist, Julian Sutherland-Beatson, to produce some haiga (haiku art). This involved me providing him with some haiku poems that he interpreted and integrated into paintings. Here’s one of them. To see the full set of paintings, click here.



Senryū shares the 17-syllable, 3-line poetic form of haiku, but is more often about human foibles than nature, tends towards the humorous or cynical, and doesn’t contain a cutting or a season word. You will notice that a number of senryū are about old age, often written by poets who are of mature years themselves, so either they’re laughing at themselves or a loved one in a playful way. Here’s one of my senryū and you can draw what conclusions you like from it!

old tartan blanket
once used for picnics and lust
keeps his stiff knees warm


Now for the classical poetic form of Tanka. Historically, it predates haiku and is one of the major genres of Japanese literature, often sung in its early days. Here are the rules of the Tanka:

  • 31 syllables
  • 5 lines (5/7/5/7/7 syllable count)
  • Lines 1 & 2 are the upper phrase (Kaminoku), containing the primary image
  • Line 3 contains the pivotal image (as in a sonnet)
  • Lines 4 & 5 are the lower phrase (shimonoku), switching from the image to a contrasting image or a study of the emotional response
  • Unlike haiku, it can contain simile, metaphor, and personification

Here are two of my tanka:

metallic winter
enhanced by rhododendrons
— rejuvenation —
an old woman with grey hair
wearing neon pink lipstick

rain tumbles, birds swoop,
music floats from the red house
–melody recalled–
an old man, his piano,
a candelabra, her face

Finally, I’ll touch briefly on dodoitsu, which I’d never heard of until Bill mentioned it in one of his posts.

Its rules…

  • 26 syllables
  • Four lines (7/7/7/5)
  • Focuses on work or love
  • Usually has a humorous twist

Here’s my first dodoitsu (more to follow on my blog soon):

Through the window a rainbow
she is desperate to share.
Moulded in cushion comfort
he prefers his tea.

Why do I love Japanese poetic forms? It’s to do with their simplicity: their ability to bring tiny details into sharp focus. It’s the challenge of saying a great deal in as few words as possible. They’re meditative, calming, uplifting, and encourage one to see the world through a new and better lens. It has also helped improve my fiction writing and made it more succinct and attuned to the senses.


Connect with Sarah: 

Independent Author Network 

Sarah’s Books on Amazon:
Noah Padgett & the Dog-People




Thank you so much, Sarah.  I learned tons today and now I can rest, for awhile, on my laurels, feeling good about myself for posting something to do with poetry.  You have done me a great service.


Seriously, folks, go check Sarah out.  She is seriously talented.




“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”



49 Responses to “An Interview With Poet Sarah Potter”

  1. Janine Huldie January 24, 2017 at 3:18 pm #

    What can I say, Bill but I am with you on poetry as I feel like that is the one area of writing that I don’t have as much of a comfort level with writing myself. That said, I love reading others poetry and can’t thank you enough for sharing Sarah and her beautiful and eloquent poetry here with us all today. Happy Tuesday now!! 😉

    • Billybuc January 24, 2017 at 3:19 pm #

      First as always, Janine, and it feels good to know there is another writer out there who struggles with poetry. 🙂 Thanks my friend and Happy Tuesday to you.

    • Sarah Potter Writes January 24, 2017 at 3:56 pm #

      Thank you, Janine, for your lovely comment about my poetry 🙂

  2. Sarah Potter Writes January 24, 2017 at 4:04 pm #

    Many thanks again, Bill, for having invited me to guest post on your blog and for your kind comments. Just a little note, under the section about haiga, it might be an idea to edit out the sentence that says “Here’s one of them”, as you’ve omitted the picture that I’m talking about! Of course, alternatively, you could insert the picture;-) Apart from that, all is good 🙂

    • Billybuc January 24, 2017 at 4:12 pm #

      Oops, sorry about that…will go check it now. And you are very welcome. I’m the one in debt for this. Much-appreciated.

  3. Billybuc January 24, 2017 at 5:32 pm #

    I fixed the mistake, Sarah….that’s what I get for being in a rush. Sorry about that!

    • Sarah Potter Writes January 24, 2017 at 7:34 pm #

      Thanks, Bill 🙂 If I rush, it never works for me as I get very clumsy, especially in the kitchen, dropping flour all over the counter or pans on the floor! Either that, or I’ll start banging into things. I think they call it more haste less speed. As for writing at speed, I’m a very slow writer, but not as slow as Donna Tartt. I believe she takes 8-10 years to write a novel, but they’re always masterpieces and so she’s my inspiration. The best antidote to rushing, is writing Japanese-style poetry, so never say never to writing some poetry of your own 😉

  4. Sageleaf January 25, 2017 at 1:52 am #

    Fantastic! I love all these haikus and I’m loving, LOVING Sarah’s work. She’s a great blogger and has some wonderful insights. I’d first heard about her when you guest-posted over there; I’m glad to find her over here, too.
    I hadn’t heard of these variations of haiku, but I’m itching to study poetry more: one of my favorite poetic writers – that I have not read nearly enough of – is Rumi. For so many reasons.
    I hope you have a great week!

    • Sarah Potter Writes January 25, 2017 at 2:50 pm #

      Such a lovely comment. Thank you so very much. You’ve made my day 🙂 xox

    • Billybuc January 25, 2017 at 2:53 pm #

      Lil Sis, thank you…Sarah, this lady is a dear friend and committed human being…you two are perfect for each other.

      • Sarah Potter Writes January 25, 2017 at 4:55 pm #

        …And my day just gets better and better. Thank you, dear Bill, and without you, we would never have met in Blogland 🙂

      • Billybuc January 25, 2017 at 8:20 pm #

        Just one more reason to love Blogland! 🙂

  5. Sarah Potter Writes January 25, 2017 at 3:07 pm #

    Reblogged this on Sarah Potter Writes and commented:
    For those of you who want to know more about Japanese poetic forms, do read my guest post on Bill Holland’s wonderful blog. Whilst there, perhaps you might like to have a go penning a Japanese-style poem of your own in “comments”.

  6. socialbridge January 25, 2017 at 10:40 pm #

    Always love Sarah’s haiku posts. It’s a wonderful form of poetry.

    • Billybuc January 26, 2017 at 2:53 pm #

      It is for sure, Social, and Sarah does it so well. Thanks for the comment.

    • Sarah Potter Writes January 28, 2017 at 11:48 am #

      Thank you, Jean. You’re so kind 🙂

  7. Michael Milec January 26, 2017 at 2:21 am #

    Great introduction into secrets of my youth.I love this post. Thank you Bill for sharing priceless treasure for my need and want. Poetry was my early childhood’s life daily memorizing as well as writing. My first poem was publish at my eleven… Than suddenly all has been put on far away burner; At fifteen I left my culture, my language to live, learn , self supporting … up to seventy years later a dream is being revived in yet another language – perhaps – my youth would be reinvigorated …

    • Billybuc January 26, 2017 at 2:52 pm #

      Michael my friend, I am a huge believer in not allowing dreams to die. Not only perhaps, but definitely, your youth should be reinvigorated.

      Blessings always, my friend.

    • Sarah Potter Writes January 28, 2017 at 11:57 am #

      I know from personal experience, Michael, that writing such poetry does reinvigorate youth. It’s so easy as one gets older to get into the mindset that there’s nothing new under the sun, but even with the “same old, same “, there is often a new and different way to look at it. The Japanese poetic forms are an excellent discipline for such refocusing and revival. Thank you for your kind comment about the post.

  8. Linda Lum January 26, 2017 at 5:39 am #

    Bill, Thank you for sharing this amazing artist with us. I am in awe of the craft of haiku and people like Sarah who can so skillfully put together so few words, yet say so very much.

    • Billybuc January 26, 2017 at 2:50 pm #

      I totally agree, Linda! If I didn’t have the novel format to work with, no words would be written. LOL Haiku??? No chance for this boy.

      • Sarah Potter Writes January 28, 2017 at 12:08 pm #

        Of course you could write haiku, Bill … during your coffee breaks. It would soothe your brain in between dealing with serial killers and paranormal freak-outs 😉

      • Billybuc January 28, 2017 at 3:52 pm #

        Now that is funny, Sarah!

    • Sarah Potter Writes January 28, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

      Thank you, Linda, for your lovely comment 🙂

  9. the dune mouse (CybeleMoon) January 26, 2017 at 6:28 am #

    I had no idea how disciplined this was. I stand in awe and unable to even begin. Sarah is supreme.
    “at nightfall Sarah Potter waits
    though wrens complain
    about the winter moon”

    am I even close! 😀 Great interview and explanation Sarah. Thanks Bill and Sarah!

    • Billybuc January 26, 2017 at 2:49 pm #

      Thank you, dune mouse….I admire discipline for sure, and I, too, am in awe of Sarah’s talent.

    • Sarah Potter Writes January 28, 2017 at 12:17 pm #

      Thank you so much Cybele. That’s a good first try with a haiku and I love the words, but the syllable counts have gone a bit awry with 8/4/6 instead of 5/7/5. How about?…

      “at nightfall she waits
      though wrens and thrushes complain
      about winter moon”

      • the dune mouse (CybeleMoon) January 28, 2017 at 5:41 pm #

        ahhh, I see! I am usually a bit awry at the best of time lol!! thank you for the critique!

  10. Sherri January 27, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

    Hi Bill, great to meet you via our lovely, mutual friend Sarah. I agree with you, she is indeed seriously talented. I’ve been a huge fan of Sarah’s haiku (and photos!) ever since meeting her in blogland (and delighted to say have also met in peson several times, and she is as wonderful off and online). Sarah, thank you for such an excellent explanation of these different forms of Japanese poetry, you’ve inspired me to try some…maybe on Twitter, as you did! Lovely post, wonderful poems, thank you both!

    • Billybuc January 27, 2017 at 2:53 pm #

      Sherri, so good to meet you. Thank you! I’ll be following your blog from now on, and I look forward to our online friendship.

      • Sherri January 27, 2017 at 6:36 pm #

        Thank you Bill, likewise! 🙂

      • Sarah Potter Writes January 28, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

        You two wonderful people will just love each other’s blogs 🙂

    • Sarah Potter Writes January 28, 2017 at 12:21 pm #

      Thank you, dearest Sherri. You know how talented I think you are, too. I’m so glad the post has inspired you to have a go writing some Japanese-style poetry. Perhaps you could write a haiku on your blog to go with one of your wonderful nature photos …maybe pen something about your sweet robin!

      • Sherri January 29, 2017 at 1:16 pm #

        Ahh…thank you dearest Sarah, you are always so encouraging 🙂 You have given me a great idea for a blog post to link to this one, both for you and Bill, as you have such a wealth of knowledge about Japanese poetry, it needs to be shared! I will get to it as soon as 🙂 xxxx

      • Sarah Potter Writes January 29, 2017 at 1:53 pm #

        Thank you 🙂 That sounds exciting, Sherri. I look forward to it. xxxxxxx

      • Sherri January 29, 2017 at 2:29 pm #

        My pleasure and honour Sarah… 🙂 xxxx

  11. Andrea Stephenson January 28, 2017 at 4:11 pm #

    I’m staggered by the rules that apply, I just enjoy Sarah’s seemingly effortless examples of the form!

    • Billybuc January 28, 2017 at 4:23 pm #

      Thank you, Andrea! I am staggered as well. No wonder I write fiction. 🙂

    • Sarah Potter Writes January 31, 2017 at 2:55 pm #

      I’m forever honing my art, Andrea. Sometimes my haiku take five minutes to write and sometimes all morning!

  12. Karen Szklany Gault February 1, 2017 at 4:22 pm #

    Thank you for featuring Sarah as your Blog Post writer. Enjoyed this thoroughly and I am looking forward to trying some the other forms of Japanese poems. I’ve already written haiku, which is fun, but I think I’ll also give the others a try.

    • Billybuc February 1, 2017 at 5:32 pm #

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Karen. Thanks for the visit.

    • Sarah Potter Writes February 16, 2017 at 3:13 pm #

      That’s wonderful, Karen, that you’re going to have a go writing some other forms of Japanese poems. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  13. Shauna L Bowling February 14, 2017 at 4:19 pm #

    This is a fascinating interview, Bill and Sarah. Although Sarah mentions her love of Japanese poetic forms for their simplicity, they really are rather complex. Sarah does a beautiful job with this art form. Sometimes when I’ve read haiku in the past, their symbolism wasn’t always apparent to me and I leave a bit unfulfilled, so to speak. Now I have a better understanding of the spirit of Japanese poetry.

    Thank you Sarah and Bill for a most delightful post!

    • Billybuc February 14, 2017 at 5:25 pm #

      Thanks so much, Sha! It really is a beautiful art form when done well, and Sarah definitely does it well.

    • Sarah Potter Writes February 16, 2017 at 3:19 pm #

      Thank you, Shauna. There is quite a lot of haiku poetry out there that is too Westernised — well, that’s my opinion anyway! I like to read the old Japanese masters from time to time, to tap into the spirit of the art. They are a great inspiration, although I couldn’t possibly emulate them totally, as they are Japanese and they are geniuses 🙂


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    […] have always wanted to try my hand at haiku, so let’s see.  I was encouraged by her beautiful post about the different forms of Japanese poetry featured at her friend (and my new blogging friend) […]

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