f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

October 11, 2008

a haiku giant dies: William J. “Bill” Higginson

Filed under: haijin-haikai news — David Giacalone @ 10:00 pm

William J. “Bill” Higginson (1938 – 2008)

Bill Higginson, a man who helped bring haiku and linked-form Japanese poetry to the English-language world, and who was an admired friend and mentor to scores of “haijin”, died today. Bill was a Poet, Translator, Author, Workshop Leader, Editor, and Teacher, and a charter member and past president of the Haiku Society of America, but the sum of the person and his work was much more than the parts.  I was not fortunate enough to know Bill personally, but the affection and respect with which he is held by many of my haiku friends tells me how deeply he will be missed.

Holding the water,
held by it __
the dark mud

writing again
the tea water
boiled dry

from the sandy beach
I stumble into
path firefly

… by William J. Higginson
“Holding the water” — Haiku West 3/2; The Haiku Anthology (3rd Ed)
“writing again” – The Haiku Anthology (2nd, 3rd Eds.)
“from the sandy beach” – HIA

As Curtis Dunlap noted at his Tobacco Road weblog this evening, just about every serious haiku poet has a copy of The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku (1985), which Bill wrote with his wife and collaborator, Penny Harter. It was my first introduction to the history and aesthetics of haiku.  Bill’s love of renku and his many contributions to the genre can be seen at his Renku Home website. You will find a brief literary and academic bio, here, and much more at Bill’s 2HWeb “gateway” site.

Those who know Bill well will surely have much more to say about the haiku legend, the friend and teacher.  His loving wife Penny sent a message to Curtis Dunlap today about Bill’s last day and plans for memorial services, which you can find at Tobacco Road.

Any of Bill’s friends, students, or admirers who would like to leave a message or a poem celebrating his life or mourning his death, is welcome to do so in our Comment section. [Because Comments are moderated, there may be a delay before yours is posted.] My most sincere condolences go out to Penny and the rest of Bill’s family, and to all of his friends.

— You can share this post with this Tiny URL: http://tinyurl.com/fkaBillHigginson

clouds encircle
an almost-full moon —
we follow his footsteps

…. by dagosan (in mem., Bill Higginson, October 11, 2008)

. . . . . . .

— sunset over the Mohawk River, Schenectady, NY, October 11, 2008; by dag —

afterwords: See Don Wentworth’s and Greg Schwartz’s tributes to Bill Higginson (Oct. 12, 2008); and tribute poems for Bill H. at The Australian Haiku Society (via Curtis);


  1. What a tremendous loss to the haiku community!

    In the spring of 2006, Bill and Penny drove all the way up from NJ to a dim sum restaurant near Schenectady to read his poems to John Stevenson, Hilary Tann, Tom Clausen, and I.

    I can still hear his laughter.

    Will always treasure my good fortune to have met the giant.

    Comment by Yu Chang — October 12, 2008 @ 12:16 am

  2. sad. and indeed quite a loss.

    Comment by kouji — October 12, 2008 @ 4:58 am

  3. writing a haiku
    my elbow rests
    on my handbook

    Comment by mary white — October 12, 2008 @ 5:45 am

  4. Bill will be sorely missed. The haiku world is less without him.

    Comment by Greg Schwartz — October 12, 2008 @ 11:18 am

  5. badger moon–
    the cry of a eagle fades
    in the west

    Comment by Nancy Stewart Smith — October 12, 2008 @ 1:24 pm

  6. short and makes no sense
    and yet we love it so much
    life is a haiku

    Comment by Paul Sohar — October 12, 2008 @ 4:10 pm

  7. A generous man & poet.
    I’ll always be grateful for his Haiku World almanac.

    Comment by Kim Dorman — October 13, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

  8. end of winter –
    i flip ‘Haiku World’
    to spring

    Such was the scope of Bill’s haiku lens, he recently spotted a write up of me and some of my haiku in the sports pages of an Australian newspaper, and felt compelled to alert one of my fellow Aussie haijin to it, who in turn alerted me to Bill’s favourable comments. What a thrill it was to know he had seen some of my poems.

    Comment by rob scott — October 13, 2008 @ 6:34 pm

  9. birds flying in october’s
    moonlight – a heaven’s
    rest for Bill
    until spring revival
    your new world’s haikus

    Comment by claire gardien — October 13, 2008 @ 7:34 pm

  10. birds flying in october’s
    moonlight – a heaven’s

    until spring revival
    your new world’s haiku

    Comment by claire gardien — October 13, 2008 @ 7:39 pm

  11. met bill once.

    at the national arts club in manhattan.

    this was after we read from the baseball haiku anthology.

    told bill straight out, “if i hadn’t read the handbook, i wouldn’t be here.”

    on that night, i met a true gentleman & scholar.

    where we’ve been
    & where we’re going…

    thank you bill,
    ed markowski

    Comment by ed markowski — October 13, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

  12. just passed away…
    the ache of my words
    this autumn evening


    Comment by hortensia anderson — October 16, 2008 @ 2:08 am

  13. Thanks Bill, glad that I once composed a singing bowls track for you and Penny.
    Geert Verbeke, Flanders

    Comment by Geert Verbeke — October 16, 2008 @ 5:18 am

  14. seems like forever
    the leaves are green–
    then they turn, and are gone

    for William J. Higginson
    with gratitude for his service to the haiku world and for The Haiku Handbook which opened the haiku door for me, and with blessings for his continuing journey . .

    Comment by Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) — October 16, 2008 @ 9:15 pm

  15. It is terribly sad that Bill has passed on. I’m glad that I could count him as a friend, and I will miss him greatly.

    I joined the Haiku Society of America back in 1988, and oversaw the publication, with much help from Bill and others, of The Haiku Path, which was a history of the society from its founding in 1968 to 1988 — the HSA’s first twenty years. The book was dedicated to Harold G. Henderson, who cofounded the society in 1968, and died in 1974, as I recall. I remember feeling while working on the book that I wish I had known Henderson and could have learned from him. Bill knew him of course. And now Bill has died, and recent and new members of the HSA will likely wish that they knew him in person as well as through his books. I’m proud to have known Bill, and I hope all of us who knew him can continue to pass on his legacy, just as Bill and others have passed on the legacy of Harold Henderson, R. H. Blyth, and others who have shown us the haiku path. Bill’s Haiku World is one haiku book that I reach for frequently, and no serious student of haiku deserves such a designation if they haven’t carefully read Bill’s Haiku Handbook. His other books and essays about haiku, renku, and related arts are seminal influences in English-language haiku, and we are all deeply in his debt.

    And so haiku unfolds. We are in the generation where original English-language haiku pioneers and HSA charter members are still with us. But with Bill’s passing, we move a step closer to maturity. These are the pains of growing up.

    A deep bow of thanks to Bill and everything he has done for haiku poetry, and for me personally. And another bow of thanks and love to his wife, Penny Harter.

    Michael Dylan Welch

    Comment by Michael Dylan Welch — October 17, 2008 @ 1:06 pm

  16. Thanks to everyone who has commented and/or left a poem in Bill’s honor.

    Michael, thank you for leaving us with such extensive recollections and observations. Yes, we take another step toward our maturity, grateful that giants leave deep footprints to follow.

    Comment by David Giacalone — October 17, 2008 @ 2:09 pm

  17. at midnight
    a distant door
    pulled shut

    This is from William J. Higginson’s book The Haiku Handbook. How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku. McGraw-Hill 1985.

    I have also used his Handbook. Learning myself, also taught others.

    Here is my haiku for William J. Higginson; I don’t say who is this squirrel:

    morning dew –
    a squirrel found
    an acorn

    Comment by Juhani Tikkanen — October 19, 2008 @ 4:42 am

  18. Bill Higginson was a true gentleman. His kindness and generosity were evident to me from our very first personal exchanges. This same generosity was part and parcel of his writings. His haiku handbook is indeed a classic destined for unborn eyes. If there’s a haiku heaven somewhere, Bill’s there busily cataloguing the season words for the long-translated English haijin and for those about to ascend.

    Comment by Jesse Glass — October 21, 2008 @ 7:18 pm

  19. I met Bill & Penny a few times when they attended gatherings of Kado Ottawa/Haiku Canada poets.

    Their warmth and support was greatly appreciated by all and I am so very sad to hear of Bill’s passing. I send Penny a big hug and prayer for her and family.

    It was a privilege to know Bill even briefly – he has left a valuable legacy for the rest of us.

    We will be honouring Bill with haiku this evening at our Fall Kado meeting.

    now a cuckoo’s song
    carries the haiku master
    right out of this world
    – basho

    Heather MacDonald

    Comment by Heather Mac — November 1, 2008 @ 10:33 am

  20. let us never forget

    in his haiku
    living moments
    still here

    Comment by tori inu — November 2, 2008 @ 8:24 pm

  21. I first met Bill, as I remember, in Thailand, at a Japanese poetry conference, and later at Haiku North America, with Penny, and through the years we always kept in touch. I loved them both, and I will miss Bill. Penny, stay strong, and keep up your beautiful poetry.

    Comment by janine beichman — November 6, 2008 @ 12:28 pm

  22. […] the banquet, and the evening boat cruise will surely be highlights, along with the memorial for the late William J. Higginson on the final […]

    Pingback by A Look at HNA with Michael Dylan Welch « Haiku North America 2009 — July 14, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress