Millikin University Haiku Writer Profile

Margaret Chula


  grinding my ink—
a black cat
howls in childbirth
by Margaret Chula

Biographical Background

Margaret Chula started writing haiku while she was living in California in the early seventies. She moved to Kyoto, Japan in 1980 and lived there for twelve years. In Japan, she taught English at Kyoto Seika University and studied the brilliant R.H. Blythe’s translations of haiku. Besides teaching at Kyoto Seika University, she also taught creative writing and haiku at Doshisha Women’s College.

This profile of haiku writer, Margaret Chula, was researched, written and created by JoDee Whitlock.

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Author Awards

Oregon Literary Arts Award in 1998

Japan Tanka Poets Club Prize in the Third

International English Tanka Contest: 1993

2nd place in the Japan Airlines/Mainichi Daily News National Haiku Contest: 1987

Grinding My Ink won the Haiku Society of America’s National Book Award in 1994

Shadow Lines won The Haiku Society Of America’s 2000 Merit Book Award

Author's Books

Always Filling, Always Full

Shadow Lines

Grinding My Ink

Reader Response Essay

Margaret Chula presents wonderful insight in her haiku. Chula picks up on everyday life occurrences and turns them into a three-line wonder. Her writings give the audience a sense of realism because their main focal point is on everyday happenings, but overlooked events. A simple episode in life such as a cat in a tree is turned into a remarkable piece of artwork written on paper. Margaret tends to exaggerate her style of writing by fooling around with the spacing and indentations of lines in her haikus. She also uses different types of punctuation like the exclamation point to emphasize and dramatize the haiku a little more. Here are some excerpts from her books:

"Poetry is like describing our feelings from the inside out. Margaret Chula's poems are composed of the finest and detailed feelings of all humans. She shapes translucent images to clarify the outer world known by our senses. She breathes transparent words to illuminate the inner world only half-known by our hearts.

Chula's images—copper leaves, fireflies, spring nests—call us to let the body's knowledge of its surroundings shine through into awareness. Her words about being in love and out of love, about encounters with sorrow and bewilderment and acceptance - challenge us to light our own lives with honesty." —review of Always Filling, Always Full.

In Always Filling Always Full, Chula shows she not only completely understands the tanka techniques and methods but that she has the poet’s ability to take an emotion, give it a parallel in daily reality, and to lead the reader to feel what she was feeling.

my friends tell me
that they are breaking up
I stand at the sink
- rinse the cloudy rice over
and over again

the black negligee
that I bought for your return
hangs in my closet
day by day plums ripen
and are picked clean by birds

Shadow Lines won the Haiku Society of America's 2000 Merit Book Award.

"Suddenly I am filled with a profound loneliness. An ache, like hunger, an emptiness as bleak as the landscape. What would it be like to die here? And then I see them, a flock of snow pigeons flying in formation. Back and forth they move across the blank sky, then blur into nothingness."

top of the mountain
snow, sky, the outlines of birds
I disappear

This Moment: Tea Ceremony Haiku

"Margaret Chula is a master of spaces and silence."

Kansai Time Out, Japan

entering the tea room
the tea master
and a firefly

host and guest
breathe together
powder becomes tea

Grinding My Ink

"Twelve years of the poet's life in Kyoto are distilled in this extraordinary collection of haiku. Chula poses as the winner of the Haiku Society of America's 1994 Merit Book Award."

Margaret Chula’s first book, Grinding My Ink, showed that she was adept at writing haiku and knew how to make a stunning collection of her work. The book opens with grinding the ink in preparation for painting or writing. Through this meditative process, the artist's mind begins to empty, allowing space for creativity. The four sections carry the reader through the cycle of seasons and life-from the birth of a kitten to a neighbor's suicide. Each season is introduced by an original fold-out calligraphy brushed in Chinese characters.

grinding my ink—
a black cat
howls in childbirth

spring cleaning
a white kitten
rolls in the dust

sound of a moth
trapped in a paper lantern
summer rain

lying side by side
separate letters
from our divorced friends

"Superbly sustained focus. Each section has its special imagery, tones, and moods. Indeed, this book is a good example of unity in diversity, a cohesiveness of all elements. Nothing seems extraneous."

—Judges' comments
Haiku Society of America's Book Award

"She has the uncommonly keen perception and compositional skills of a painter or fine photographer, while at the same time working with the music and implications of language."

—Morgan Gibson
Kyoto Journal


Additional Web Links and Resources


haiku conferences haiku courses at Millikin Modern Haiku magazine
speakers & readings haiku competitions at MU student renga
student haiku projects published haiku by students links to haiku web sites
student research on haiku haiku by Millikin students directory of haiku magazines


2001, Dr. Randy Brooks• Millikin University
last updated 8/16/01 • about this web site