by Dennis Dalman
Juliana Howard of St. Joseph, who is the author of a just-published book of poems titled “Love Will Lead You Home” doesn’t have to stray too far to find inspiration.
She finds it daily, right at home, which happens to be on the third floor of Serenity Place, an assisted-living facility in St. Joseph and a stone’s throw from Klinefelter Park.
Every morning, Howard sits in a corner room with its big window facing east. There, on any given morning, she opens her mind to whatever she glimpses as she gazes out of her window on the world: the ever-shifting sky, birds, a sunrise, swirls of snow, pelting rain, trees and leaves. Images and words appear, sometimes slowly, sometimes in a flash. And then she uses them to create her haiku poems, at least one each day. Sometimes the words just “drop in,” like welcomed guests.
The stringent minimalism of haiku poetry began in Japan at least 800 years ago. A haiku poem consists of only 17 syllables and three lines – five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, another five in the final line. A haiku poem could be described as extremely condensed brevity – less is more.
One morning, Howard was sitting in that east-facing room and was pondering how simple and uncluttered her life had become, living in the pared-down apartment space with few possessions and only one closet. Then the following haiku poem just suddenly seemed to bloom in her mind:
“Down to one closet
And seventeen syllables.
It’s a simple life.”
In that lean little poem, Howard managed to merge her simplified life (down to one closet) with the minimal rigor of the haiku form itself (only seventeen syllables).
In her book, there are 57 haiku poems. The book’s cover is an illustration by Howard’s niece, artist Sophia Heymans, who lives in New York.
Like so many others these days during the virus pandemic, Howard is in lock-down mode, along with her husband, Jerry, a retired English teacher. Despite the isolation, Howard, friends and fans enjoyed a celebration of her book’s publication via a Zoom ceremony with 42 people tuned in. One of those friends was Tracy Rittmueller of Sauk Rapids, who convinced Howard her haiku poems were eminently worthy of publication. Rittmueller, an award-winning poet herself, is the founder and artistic director of a local website called “Lyricality” that features the works of area poets, prose writers and songwriters. The site fosters fellowship and communication among members of the central Minnesota arts community.
Rittmueller selected the 57 poems for the book.
Here is another of Howard’s poems:
“Sit now facing east.
Stay until you do not know.
Ready then to love.”
“RX for wisdom:
One per week for one full year.
Chew, swallow slowly.”
That poem, like many others of Howard’s, reveals her subtle, often gently sly-and-playful humor.
Howard does not consider herself a poet – rather a vessel who receives inspiration.
“God works through me,” she said.
One of her major inspirations is Julian of Norwich, a mystic and visionary in Fourteenth Century England, who wrote “Revelations of Divine Love,” the first known book written in English by a woman.
Howard said that book’s message is to find the divine light within oneself before finding it in a church or book or in one’s own head.
“Love must come from the heart, where love resides,” she said, echoing the title of her haiku collection: “Love Will Lead You Home.”
After Howard writes a haiku poem, she sends it out to 26 people, many of them nuns, including one in Belgium. Those fans of hers find wisdom, serenity and beauty emanating from such short, pared-down poems. In fact, Howard calls her poems “wisdom haikus.”
Yet another poem:
“Pause and look around.
See the sparrow do the same.
Howard is a strong believer in “synchronicity,” which is the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear related but have no discernible causal connection. For example, one day she and her husband ate a Chinese dinner at home and then Howard opened the fortune cookie that came with the meal. The cookie’s thin-paper message stated, “Those who face the east will have good fortune.”
The Howards smiled, nodding, chuckling and thinking of how Juliana sits every morning in front of the east-facing window at Serenity Place.
Life as journey
The Howards’ life together is a long journey filled with hard work, accomplishments, family and friends. They have five children – four boys and one daughter, Annie Heymans, who lives just six blocks from the Howards’ apartment.
The Howards have 10 grandchildren.
Howard was born in Dickenson, S.D. She met Jerry while attending Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., where she studied English.
“I met him at Danny’s Bar,” she said.
For 50 years, the couple and their children lived in St. Cloud. Then, later, Jerry and Juliana moved to Wisconsin, their summer place. They wintered in Arizona.
A few years ago, Jerry, who is 86, and Juliana, 84, moved into the assisted-living apartment partly because Jerry suffers constant chronic pain from severe arthritis.
Juliana was a teacher at Sts. Peter, Paul and Michael Middle School in St. Cloud, a school where she also served as a liturgy coordinator. In addition to writing poems, Howard has also written songs, many of them liturgical and spiritual works for children. Since 1986, six of her song collections were published by World Library Publications. She has also been the director of “The Crayons,” a St. Cloud Catholic schools’ children’s performing and recording group.
She has created music for psalms, such as her collection “150 Psalms for Singing,” based on “Psalms for Praying,” written by Nan C. Merrill.
A member of Benedictines for Peace and Justice, Howard is a volunteer at the St. Benedict Monastery and was honored as a Benedictine oblate. An oblate is one who associates with a Benedictine community in order to enrich a Christian way of life.
She is a member of “Cultural Bridges,” which promotes understanding among people of all races and cultures, and she volunteers on behalf of immigrants in the St. Cloud area. Those efforts are often the topics of Julian Howard’s regularly featured guest column called “Cultural Connections” in the St. Joseph Newsleader.
The following are the opening lines from Howard’s song, “I See a New World.”
“I see a new world coming soon where people share their pain.
“I feel a new world coming soon where peace and justice reign.
“I hear a new world coming soon where people dare to care.”
Howard’s “Love Will Lead You Home” is available at Minnesota Street Market in St. Joseph, Books Revisited in St. Cloud and via Amazon.com.