‘A beautiful constraint’: Winnipegger hung up on haiku, has written 1 per day for nearly a year

One woman, three lines and 17 syllables — that combination has now totalled nearly 300 consecutive days of poetry, and a new perspective on life for one Winnipegger.

Christine Watson has written a haiku every day since April 7, 2020. It started out as a challenge, but has since become a passion for the traditional Japanese poetry style, which involves three short, unrhymed lines totalling 17 syllables.

“I think it’s also forced me to be in the moment, to pay attention, to think about connections and to look at things in different ways” she said.

“Now even my kids are saying, ‘Hey Mom, that would make a really good haiku.’ There’s just a great opportunity to sometimes be present in a very busy life and choose my language carefully and create the story that I’m trying to tell.”

Watson started the haiku project with a couple of friends in Australia and another in British Columbia. It was part of The 100 Day Project, an annual global art initiative that encourages people to pursue any creative project, every day for 100 days, and share their creations online.

“I chose haiku because it’s a beautiful constraint. It creates an opportunity for poetry but in a really condensed format, so you have to be really careful,” Watson said.

After posting a few entries with generic online backgrounds, Watson began to combine her words with her own photos — snapping pics of things she came across.

Inspiration ranges from wildlife to doorknobs

Her pithy poetry covers, well, pretty much everything. There are musings on graffiti art, snow sculptures, Christmas decorations, wildlife, orphaned organs, lawn ornaments, farmer’s sausage, the Eaton’s catalogue, a solitary home ringed by an industrial park and even the lowly doorknob.

“I’m not a poet, I’m not a photographer, but it allowed me to focus on something in my life that was positive and productive,” Watson said.

“You can interpret really simple things in many different ways.”

Some of the entries can be mundane, some can be funny or unusual or absurd, said Watson. And some can be downright philosophical. (Christine Watson/@dr_c_watson/Instagram)

Walking around Winnipeg’s Wolseley neighbourhood one day, she was struck by the bold and bright colours of one yellow-green house and was inspired to write: “Fear not the judgment / of neighbours nor the shackles / of beige tyranny.”

The home’s owner ended up seeing the haiku and told Watson the history of the house and why they painted it that way.

“So that was a really neat, kind of unexpected community connection,” Watson said.

Some of the most interesting and unusual photographic subjects she comes across are in alleyways. One thing that caught her eye was a paint splat on wall.

“So I wrote the haiku: ‘When your heart breaks it splatters, not shatters, losing love’s liquidity,'” Watson said.

It’s not just Winnipeg that has galvanized her imagination. She’s written poems inspired by locations across the province, including Snowflake, Birtle, Grand Beach and the U.S. border.

During one road trip, Watson was moved by the colour of a field and the hay bales, writing “Spools of sun-spun gold, stitched seams of bright quilted fields, a sower’s delight.”

When she reached her 100th haiku on July 15, Watson celebrated what was supposed to be the final entry by using a photo of a headstone and a poetic epitaph.

But rather than lay her creative journey to rest, she decided to keep going. On Saturday, she marks Haiku Day 300.

“So now I’ve committed to 365 days,” Watson said, adding the project has helped change her perspective on her own life, especially during a pandemic. 

“No. 1, it got me out of the house and it allowed us to travel to some amazing places around Manitoba,” she said.

“And it encouraged me to explore my own creativity to the point where we’ve actually started a new chapter in Manitoba of CreativeMornings. It’s a  global community … that gathers once a month to just talk about creativity.”

It has also taught her to not seek perfection but to just enjoy the practice, and to be consistent.

“I would just encourage everybody, if you were going to do something creative for 100 days, to just start. Don’t try to be perfect because it’s the love of the doing rather than the seeking of perfection that makes it beautiful,” Watson said.

“Some of mine are really, really lame but I do it every day because it brings me joy.”