23.12.1932 … 22.5.2022
At the Australian Haiku Society we are greatly saddened to hear of the passing of John Bird who, in November 2000, co-founded our society with Janice Bostok. John was much loved and admired as a poet, mentor and friend. His generous encouragement of the writing of Australian haiku continues to this day. The following eulogy by Quendryth Young and tributes from other Cloudcatchers, a group that John began, attest to this. His influence goes far beyond this haiku friendship group that was so close to his heart. Many of us have been touched by John’s impact on our own haiku journeys.
This page will remain open for two weeks for your personal comments and tributes for a man who passionately but humbly steered the development of a uniquely Australian voice celebrating the culture and environment of our place in the world of haiku.
A Celebration of John’s Life – by Quendryth Young
How blessed we all are that the very full life of our beloved friend, John Bird, has given us the opportunity to develop deep and affectionate relationships with him, and to appreciate some of the abundant facets of his meaningful living, during which he contributed so much to so many.
Above all, for so many of us, John will be remembered as a highly accomplished poet, so generous with his time and expertise in teaching, inspiring and leading those who fell under his spell into the exploration of the haiku genre and its related forms.
The story started before I came on the scene to tell it. John had a close association with Janice Bostok, who also lived in the Brunswick Valley area, and who had been corresponding with haiku poets in America. In 2000 John and Janice set up the Australian Haiku Society which was launched in December that year. It was he who proposed that the society’s mission be:
* to promote enjoyment of haiku within Australia
* to bring Australian writers to the world haiku community
In spite of all his talents, John was so modest that he did not assume a major role in administration, but preferred to be the catalyst, and instigated and participated in many new ventures, such as setting up the Australian Haiku Society’s website, HaikuOz. He also established a website for Beverley George for the Yellow Moon journal, and he judged competitions with masterly comments to educate and stimulate new poets. Beverley states that ‘Underpinning every encounter was John’s commitment to quality in haiku and his adherence to genuine Australian seasonal references’. John also established and maintained a website called Haiku Dreaming Australia, which carries to this day a series of Australian-themed haiku written by Australian poets, with accompanying notes. In these early days, not many worthy haiku were being written, and his choice as editor was limited. Strangely a new poet appeared in the collections by the name of Jack Prewitt, followed by another new name … Cynthia Ludlow!
I first met John at FAW Lismore (Fellowship of Australian Writers). He invited a few of the members to form a casual group for regular meetings in each other’s homes, to read and workshop poetry and short stories. From one of John’s stories, I learnt that he was a keen motorbike rider … a surprise to discover this attribute in such a gentle giant.
When the Lismore branch of FAW closed, a smaller group was formed at Alstonville in 2004. John was one of our guest speakers, introducing us to the wonderful world of haiku. I was hooked! Soon after that event, John invited Nathalie Buckland and me to join him in workshopping haiku, and Wollumbin Haiku Workshop was formed. John was the webmaster, and seven collections of haiku were published between 2006 and 2010, and remain online today.
In December of 2005, John organised a gathering of local poets to experience a haiku walk at Tourakina Park, his favourite location in Brunswick Heads. There were thirteen of us. Seeking a name for the group the word ‘Cloudcatchers’ was suggested. We all live in the caldera of Mount Warning, and the aboriginal name for this landmark is Wollumbin, meaning ‘the catcher of clouds’. Perhaps that is what we do too.
Cloudcatchers continue to meet once each season for a haiku walk, known as a ‘ginko’. There are twenty Cloudcatchers on the current mailing list, with six of them from the original gathering twenty-six years ago. Since John started us off, eighty-one different poets have attended a Cloudcatcher ginko: some just curious, others’ testing the waters’ and deciding whether it was for them, some remaining for the ’long haul’.
The 41st ginko of Cloudcatchers held on Thursday 5 May 2016 at Lennox Head, was no ordinary ginko. The committee of the Australian Haiku Society, with Vanessa Proctor as president, resolved to honour John with recognition of the invaluable role he has played, both in the formation of the Australian Haiku Society, but also for his initiative and application in developing and promoting Australian haiku.
On this day, seated at the head of a picnic table beside Lake Ainsworth, John was stunned and then delighted, to receive a framed certificate, which read, ‘Honorary Award, presented by the Australian Haiku Society, to JOHN BIRD, in recognition of his vital role in the development of Australian Haiku’. An outstanding piece of artwork created by Ron Moss, featuring one of John’s haiku, was also presented. Members of Cloudcatchers gave John written expressions of what his mentorship and friendship have meant to each one. A cake cut at lunchtime was iced to illustrate the haiku.
In 2020 the Australian Haiku Society resolved to establish an international haiku competition and requested suggestions for its name. The decisive response from poets all over Australia was for the John Bird Dreaming Award for Haiku. Early in 2021, a total of 890 poems were received from 41 countries all over the world.
Recently Cloudcatchers gathered for their sixty-fifth ginko, at which we held a minute’s silence, remembering our founder and mentor, John Bird. What a legacy he has left us.
For those of us who have decided this is the ideal method of poetic experience, a sense of wonder and fulfilment has been added to our lives. Most of us have shared this attitude with others whose lives have also been enriched by this gift that John has delivered to us. Some have children, some have grandchildren, and others have friends who have been grateful for this awakening bestowed by John. He will NEVER be forgotten.
Tributes from Cloudcatchers
John Bird passed away peacefully on the morning of 22 May, in John Flynn Hospital, after a full and long life of almost 90 years. He was fortunate to stay, to the end, in his Ocean Shores home and in the area of the Brunswick Valley for which he had a special affinity.
John was our Founder, and our Patron of Cloudcatchers. Personally, I feel that John was one of the most influential people in my life, and for those of us who fell in love with haiku under his guidance, we feel deep gratitude. He will never be forgotten. Quendryth Young
John influenced so many with his love of haiku. Karla Mojo
John has left an amazing legacy and he will be sorely missed by us all. I bumped into him often in Brunswick Heads and we enjoyed a repartee that was amusing to all. I will miss him. Leigh Rees
I sit in my loss, as do so many other people whose lives John indelibly touched. Grace McKenna
John was such a gentleman with a delicious sense of humour. He was so patient guiding us to appreciate and craft haiku. I am sure we are richer for his advice. We all loved him in Cloudcatchers. Certainly, he will not be forgotten. Norma Watts
Not just a great poet but a great man, kind and compassionate and a great friend. Laurel Astle
I never met John but I very much wish I had. I have enjoyed reading his haiku and his commentaries. Robyn Braithwaite
I first met John through the local Fellowship of Australian Writers. I remember him critiquing a poem of mine really hard, which was what I wanted, while the comments of others were bland and ‘nice’. I rewrote the poem, taking John’s advice, and improved it greatly.
Subsequently, John took a small group of us and introduced us to haiku. I was lucky enough to be part of that group and was inspired by his teaching. Ever since then I have been writing haiku, some of which are regularly accepted for publication.
For some time John and I met with Quendy regularly at her home and the three of us workshopped what we had written. I treasure the memory of those engrossing times, with him guiding us. He put some of our work online under the heading ‘Wollumbin Haiku Workshop’. During these sessions and those of the subsequent group, ‘Cloudcatchers’, I so much enjoyed John’s company, his fine mind, his sometimes wicked sense of humour, and his kindness.
Hearing of John’s recent death has brought back so many memories of a special friend. Thank you, dear John, for so many things. Nathalie Buckland
I am forever indebted to John for all the gentle and insightful guidance he provided during my PhD candidature when I was researching Janice Bostok’s life and writing. John not only created Jan’s website and nominated her for various international haiku awards, but together they founded the Australian Haiku Society (HaikuOz) and went on to edit the first two anthologies of Australian haiku. When I visualise Jan’s public success, I picture John standing well outside the spotlight, even though he was instrumental in shaping her career.
Right now, I’m thinking back to that overcast summer morning almost seventeen years ago: the first cloudcatchers’ ginko. I learnt so much from John on all those early haiku walks at Brunswick Heads, and loved hearing about similar experiences he shared with his mother Alma, when she was learning to write haiku. But my favourite exchanges happened with John via email. We loved trading dog haiku.
One dog haiku that I wrote for him ended up winning the Haiku Dreaming Australia Award in 2009. John created the award as a private initiative to encourage poets to write haiku relevant to and in Australia.
the farmer calls
his kelpie home …
flame trees darken
A haiku I wrote for John also found its way into the public realm.
an old dog shakes the river
from his coat
That kelpie bounding home in the fading light, and that old dog shaking the water from his coat after perhaps his final swim … well, now that John has gone, those images seem more poignant, and I’ll definitely hold them closer to my heart.
My favourite dog haiku? It’s a well-known one of John’s, of course.
dog and I exchange
Because that’s how I’ll remember John—offering up a silly grin … sitting in the morning sunshine, smiling at a dog … experiencing the world as it is. Sharon Dean
So sad to hear of John’s passing. What a beautiful man! John was a great encouragement and mentor to me. He was cheeky and kind and thoughtful. He would place himself between Nathalie and me at ginko days – “The thorn between two roses”, he’d chuckle. I wrote this haiku in tribute to him:
village weir …
in the poet’s eyes
It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of John Bird. I will always be grateful to John for his insight and generosity when it came to haiku and driving me to many a ginko. Vivien Royston
The love, admiration and gratitude you had for John was always strong, and shared by all of us. I know I’ll remember him for the rest of my days.
Thank you so much for sending through the photo of John and me at a winter ginko. I love the look on his face! You can almost glimpse in that old face the young boy he had been many decades ago – still a cheeky but shy little boy etched in there. Pam Smith