For four decades Oliver resident Anna Vakar has had a significant presence in the world of English-language haiku poetry, with particular prominence in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
On June 28, friends and family gathered at Sunnybank Centre for the launch of a volume summarizing her lifetime works. Published by Claudia Radmore’s Catkin Press in Carleton Place, Ontario, and edited by Vancouver resident Vicki McCullough, the book contains an introduction by McCullough that situates Vakar in the debates that remain ongoing today among western writers of the Japanese form of poetry.
Vakar, according to McCullough, opposed a movement to westernize haiku, defending the traditional rules as necessary for preserving haiku’s identity in this new cultural context.
“We are delighted some of Anna’s poetry has found its home in this marvellous book edited by Vicki McCullough,” said Deborah Gyapong, Vakar’s niece who came from Ottawa to represent Anna’s family at the occasion.
“What a labour of love Vicki has accomplished in presenting these lovely poems in such an attractive volume and reminding Canadians of the key role Anna has played on the haiku scene in North America.”
The book, entitled Sisyphus: Haiku Work of Anna Vakar, contains a selection of her published and unpublished poetry, ranging from her first forays into writing haiku to more recent years.
“Anna was not only a wonderful haiku poet, with a distinctive style,” McCullough says, “but she was an essayist, critic, teacher and advocate for haiku as a tool for promoting individual experiences of unity. Her poems, book reviews and thoughts on haiku have been published in periodicals in Canada, the United States and Japan.”
Born in Paris, France, in 1929, of Russian parents, Vakar and her sister Catherine came to the United States as refugees during Second World War when she was 11 and her sister 13. They were among a group of refugee children brought over by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee through the efforts of Waitstill and Martha Sharp.
The documentary reveals how the Vakar sisters’ parents put them on a ship to America, not knowing whether they would ever see them again. Nicholas and Gertrude Vakar were able to join them a year later.
The Sharps were recently featured in a documentary on PBS called Defying the Nazis: The Sharp’s War. Anna and her older sister Catherine provided research material for this documentary. More information about it can be found at www.defyingthenazis.org.
Fluent in Russian, French and English, Vakar has worked in a variety of professions, including teaching, but writing has remained one of her passions, especially the writing of haiku.
Vakar has lived in Oliver since 1975. She immigrated to Canada with visual artist Judy Foster who passed away in 2000. One of Foster’s paintings was used to illustrate the cover of Vakar’s book.
“Anna has such a love for the Okanagan Valley, and so many of her poems capture brisk images of life here during each unique season,” said Gyapong. “We are so happy to see these lovely poems preserved in such a beautifully presented way. They really capture our beloved aunt’s insight, intelligence and humour.” And, says McCullough: “In the 1980s Anna actively brought haiku awareness to the Okanagan, editing a ‘Way of Haiku’ section in Interior Voice: A British Columbia Magazine of Thought, Literature and Art, facilitating a study group in Penticton and teaching haiku workshops at the Okanagan Summer School of the Arts in Kelowna.”
Those who wish to obtain copies of the book can contact Vicki McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org.