Betty Drevniok

You may know the name from the annual award, now in its 21st year. Who was she? Betty Drevniok was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1917 and died in Ontario in 1997. Between those dates, Miranda Baker at Millikin University reports that Drevniok was a nurse. She was also an organizer.

Betty Drevniok was “a major early influence of the shape of haiku” in English Canada by making space for a community to grow. How did she get to haiku before haiku was a thng in Canada? Terry Ann Carter related in “A History of Haiku in Canada” that Drevniok moved from sumi-e to haiku in the 1960s. 

In 1977, Betty Drevniok, George Swede, and Eric Amann founded the Haiku Society of Canada. Rod Wilmot recalls several Haiku Canada weekends in the 1980s hosted at her wooded cottages in Combermere in Northern Ontario. From 1979-82 she was President of the Society.

Photo by Kim Brickley of the Aware launch in Bellingham, WA in November 1980. Pictured, left to right, Chuck Brickley, Anna Vakar and Betty Drevniok.

Michael Dudley remembers her as “an exceptionally kind, considerate being, who generously shared her ideas and insights by conversation, correspondence, presentation, and publication”.  

Pilgrim Reader Bookstore owner, and former neighbour, John Lynch recalls “long easy evenings with Betty and her husband Willie with food, and talking about and reciting poetry” on their night porch.

Dudley recalls how, “whether by mail or in person, Betty pulsed with creative energy and seemed always to be meaningfully engaged in, and inspired by, unique ideas and the positive possibilities offered by fresh perspectives and approaches.” He related how correspondence from Betty “was marked by caring questions and musings, and compassionate interest” in the lives, plans and poems of others.

In her haiku primer, Aware, Drevniok said, “Be aware of things around you. Let those things reach out and touch you.”

Janick Beaulieu in her history of ‘Haiku Women Pioneers from Sea to Sea‘ says this book Aware: A Haiku Primer is Drevniok’s best legacy. You can read Janick’s essay and Drevniok’s 108-page book Aware as a digital book at the Haiku Foundation Digital Library. It was a book that led to a eureka by  Jane Reichhold.

Betty Drevniok’s penname for haiku was Makato. Betty’s books are mostly handwritten. These are: Impressions of Rural Ontario (1976), Inland: Three Rivers from an Ocean (Commoner’s Publishing, 1977), Focus on a Shadow (Commoner’s Publishing, 1977), Aware: A Haiku Primer (Portal Publications, 1980) and Thoughts of Spring (King’s Road Press, 1993). She also published Smell of Earth (Haiku Canada Sheet, 1987). Here’s one:

autumn night:
following the flashlight beam
through rain

Thoughts of Spring

Haiku Canada started the Betty Drevniok Award in 2002 in her memory.

Mike Montreuil made a 2012 compilation, playing a lullaby, the Betty Drevniok Awards, An anthology of winners of the Betty Drevniok Award, sponsored by Haiku Canada, from 1998-2011.

Each year hundreds send unpublished haiku for consideration for the Betty Drevniok Award. The next set of winners will be announced in Montreal at McGill the Haiku Canada Weekend, the long weekend in May 2023.

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