He lives and breathes haiku:

Rossmore's Jerry Ball gets national poetry honor. 

By Janice De Jesus/Correspondent

San Jose Mercury News, October 5, 2011



For as many years as Jerry Ball has been writing haiku, the world as he views it, he said, never stays the same. There's beauty in every changing moment.


Even as summerlike warm weather ushers in the fall season, Ball pauses to reflect on the imminent change in a haiku he wrote:


autumn mist


not quite raining, but


thinking about it


"There's music to it -- some things can't be said any other way," Ball said.


One of his favorite things to do -- when he's not busy teaching poetry or volunteering teaching poetry to elementary school kids -- is walking around his Rossmoor neighborhood collecting driftwood. Ball has written several of his haiku using a black Sharpie to write it directly onto the driftwood, creating what he describes as a natural effect, as if the haiku had materialized from the piece of wood.


"I look to see which ones fit and which ones that I'm in the mood to write," he said. "I wake up and write new ones everyday."


His friend and fellow local Walnut Creek poet Nona Wyman displays the pieces of artwork on the window of her shop downtown Walnut Creek shop, Ming Quong, on Main Street.

"You can just poke him and a haiku comes out," said Wyman.

Beneath Ball's humble and unassuming manner, she said, lies a lyrical stylist of highest regard. She's quick to point out that her friend has won several poetry awards, both locally and internationally.


Recently, the 78-year-old Ball was appointed honorary curator of the American Haiku Archives at the State Library in Sacramento. During his yearlong tenure as curator, Ball hopes to continue preserving and promoting the artistic nature of haiku in the United States and beyond. The American Haiku Archives, which houses the world's largest public collection of haiku and related poetry books and papers outside Japan, is dedicated to preserving the history of North American haiku.

Ball said the public can visit the archives through the California State Library's California History Room, where they'll find rare and special book collections. The American Haiku Archives also welcomes donations of books, papers, letters, and other material relating to haiku, he added.


He's an "ambassador of haiku," he said.


"Jerry is the most Zen-like man I know, humble, giving of his time to all," Wyman said. He's a great man. People would delight in finding such a great man in our community."


Ball's teaching career spans more than 50 years. Aside from teaching nearly all grade levels -- from elementary school through to college -- Ball still teaches poetry classes through Acalanes Adult Education after his official retirement in 2006.

Even though he's written short stories, worked in radio and community theater, poetry has always been a great love of his, said Ball, who's been writing haiku since 1975. Since his retirement, he's concentrated on both western-style poetry and haiku, said Ball, who founded the Southern California Haiku Study Group while he was teaching at Cal State University Long Beach.


He's also been keeping busy volunteering to teach poetry to students at Parkmead Elementary School in Walnut Creek, where his wife Sandy teaches fourth grade. Ball hopes to teach poetry basics to more young children in other schools.

On the second Tuesday evening of each month, you can find Ball at the Barnes and Noble cafe in Walnut Creek discussing haiku and poetry with fellow local poets.


Ball, a former president of the Haiku Society of America, said he likes to quote Gary Snyder, his archives predecessor and a fellow poet, concerning haiku: "It's moment to moment meditation -- very simple, but its simplicity is what makes it hard."

Local author Anastasia Hobbet said that though she only met Ball three years ago, she wished she'd met him sooner -- 20 years ago, perhaps.


"What he teaches isn't poetry, though his courses are listed under that heading," Hobbet said. "He teaches you to keep your heart and your eyes open and to recognize the significance of your own observations. Writing a poem is the expression of experience, but the art is in the mindset."


When he's not in North America promoting haiku, Ball visits Japan often, to soak up the culture and nature of haiku. He said the haiku of such Japanese poets as Yosa Buson moves him to tears.

Ball said he lives and breathes haiku.


"I can't imagine life any other way," he said. "Poetry changed my life."


  • Brevity -- One to three lines totaling 17 or fewer syllables; the typical length of published English-language haiku is about 13 syllables.


  • Two distinct phrases (usually)


  • Haiku describes things; it doesn't tell, prescribe or relate the poet's feelings about something


  • Haiku generally avoids traditional poetic forms such as rhyming, simile and metaphor.

    North American HAIKU