Millikin University Haiku Writer Profile

Penny Harter

  evening rain—
I braid my hair
into the dark
by Penny Harter

Biographical Background

Penny Harter, author of many types of poetry, was born in New York City. She graduated from Douglass College of Rutgers University, and she began publishing longer poetry in the 1960s. It was in the early 1970s that Harter started experimenting with haiku. She lived in New Jersey until 1991 when she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico wither her husband and writing colleague, William Higginson. The couple has three children.

While in New Jersey, Harter taught literature and writing, and she served as a writing consultant for one of New Jersey’s larger school districts. Starting in 1972, she conducted writing workshops in various schools in the National Endowment for the Arts Poets-in-the-Schools Program, as well.

Today, Harter and Higginson still reside in New Mexico, where Harter is a full-time teacher of creative writing at the Santa Fe Preparatory School. Over the years, she has published fifteen books of poems, including four of haiku.

This profile of haiku writer, Penny Harter, was researched, written and created by Shannon Kroner.

See Shannon's Essay on Harter

Scroll through the entire profile, or jump to any section:

Author Awards

Harter has received many awards and honors throughout her career as a writer and teacher. Her most recent award was received this year. Harter was the recipient of the William O. Douglas American Nature Writing Award for her work appearing in American Nature Writing 2002. Her work has long reflected nature and appreciation for the planet in its natural state. This most recent award is a testimony to that facet of her work.

Harter has received numerous fellowships and awards for her poetry from such organizations as the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the Poetry Society of America.

She has also won prizes and honorable mentions in the Haiku Society of America's Harold G. Henderson contest and the Haiku North America 1999 contest. In addition, she was awarded First Runner-Up in the Valentine Awards from The Heron's Nest.

Author's Books

Turtle Blessing

Grandmothers's Milk

Stages and Views

Shadow Play: Night Haiku

The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku (co-authored with Higginson)

In the Broken Curve

From the Willow

Hiking the Crevasse

White Flowers in the Snow


The Orange Balloon

House By the Sea

Her contributions to recent anthologies also include over twenty works of poetry, including one of our class texts, Global Haiku.


Reader Response Essay

Harter’s Appreciation for the Natural
World With Emphasis on Night/Dark Imagery in Her Haiku
Both an interview and a personally conducted interview with Harter’s husband, William Higginson, revealed Harter’s appreciation for nature and for all elements of the natural world. In her interview, Harter states, "Always, place has formed my imagery." Her earlier work reflects her life on the east coast, while her more recent work illustrates the great beauty of the western United States that Harter has found since she moved to Santa Fe. It was this very same beauty that served as the partial impetus for Harter and Higginson’s move to New Mexico.

When asked about his wife’s plethora of nighttime/dark imagery in her haiku, Higginson had this to say about Harter:

Harter has always been sensitive to the dark, in particular to twilight (what the French call "crepuscule"), which can be either at morning or evening. She is fortunate to have excellent vision in low-light conditions as well as better-than-average long-range vision, and finds the border zones between day and night, and between the darkness of space and the illumination of planets and stars, fascinating. She also reads widely, especially in the natural sciences.

It was Harter’s poignant night/dark imagery, coupled with her keen ability to invoke images of clear, distinct elements of nature (i.e. the sky, animals, and the outdoors) that attracted me to Harter’s work. My favorite haiku of Harter’s, which has both nighttime and dark imagery, was written in 1999, and is actually the result of some of her earlier work that never came out of her personal files (this is also the haiku that earned her the first runner-up recognition in the Valentine Awards from The Heron’s Nest).

evening rain—
I braid my hair
into the dark

I love this haiku for its simplicity, effective wording, and beautiful imagery. It incorporates an image of nighttime, an image of something dark (the woman’s hair), and a sense of nature or natural beauty, both in the evening rain and in the woman. I get the impression that she is just out of the shower or bath; she is wearing only a towel or a robe as she braids her hair as she prepares to sleep. Another example that shares this same elegance and combination of night and nature is found in Global Haiku, page 58.

moonlight gleaming
on the grapes—the lovers
can’t stop laughing

The imagery in this haiku is jovial yet tranquil at the same time. The image of the lovers laughing conveys a sense of excitement from the laughter and the love being exchanged between the couple. Furthermore, the deep purple imagery from the "moonlight" and "the grapes" provides the scene with the serenity of an evening light by the moon and filled with the love of two people. A third haiku by Harter captures a very different aspect of nature surrounded by darkness.

through the telescope
the mountains on the moon—
Grandmother yawns

Shadow Play, pg. 8

This haiku intrigued me because it incorporates images not typically found in haiku-telescopes, the moon (in terms of astronomy rather than a romantic context), and other elements of astronomy. These entities are not often considered when contemplating elements of nature. However, this is part of what makes Harter’s work so unique and appealing. She has such an appreciation for and connection to nature that she can write and express her feelings about nature and the natural world in ways that make her readers see and imagine the world very differently from how they typically do.

Harter fosters a heightened awareness of nature and all that it encompasses. Many of her haiku accomplish this through various images of darkness, nighttime, and twilight-that hazy, purple period in both the morning and the evening that signify a transition between night and day.


Additional Web Links and Resources

Penny Harter and her husband, William Higginson, can be contacted jointly by email at


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