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Kay Titus Mormino

Kay Titus Mormino (born Katherine Darling Titus, April 19, 1905, San Francisco, California; died January 11, 1983, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), a poet and promoter of haiku, she served as haiku editor for The Nutmegger, the magazine of the Nutmegger Poetry Club of Danbury, Conn., and edited its Haiku Anthology: 1968, one of the earliest compendia of original American haiku. She founded Modern Haiku in 1969 and edited it until 1977. Mormino’s last residence was Laguna Niguel, Calif.; she died in Los Angeles in 1983.


Early Life

Katherine Darling Titus was born April 19, 1905, in San Francisco, and grew up in Glendora, east of Los Angeles, California. She was educated locally, at Rosemary Hall, a private school for girls in Wallingford, Conn., the Girls Collegiate School in Los Angeles, and then graduated from the Anna Head School for Girls in Berkeley. She attended the University of California, Berkeley, but dropped out to marry John Allison Bell in June 1927. After bearing two children (Charles Gordon Bell and Charlotte Alison Bell), she returned to college and graduated from UCLA around 1942. She taught English, journalism, and social studies at North Hollywood High School. In 1954 she was awarded a Fulbright teaching award and spent the following year teaching in The Netherlands.

John Bell died in 1951. Kay married Frank Mormino in Los Angeles in 1962. After Frank’s death in 1974, she moved to the California seaside town of San Clemente and later to Laguna Niguel.

Her friend and associate Michael McClintock provided some personal words about Kay Mormino: “She was heavyset, about 5´ 2˝ in height. Kept her hair permed and occasionally used a cane. She seemed to have difficulty walking at times, was easily tired (physically) and loved wearing scarves around her throat. Her home office was large, full of books and mementos, and cluttered in a way that told you it was organized clutter! She read a lot, especially enjoyed large coffee-table books of art, and enjoyed crossword puzzles.”1 In 1967 she was honored with an invitation to join the Accademia Internazionale di Significazione Poesia e Arte Contemporanea in Rome, which published her sonnet, “Sound Without Meaning,” in the International Quarterly.2 She was a member of the National League of American Pen Women.

Kay Mormino in The Netherlands, ca. 1955
Photo courtesy of Henny van den Brink-Koolschijn

Kay Titus Mormino succumbed to cancer on January 11, 1983, and was buried in the Bell family plot in Oakdale Memorial Park, Glendora, Calif.

Haiku Poet and Editor

Mormino learned about haiku from her local library as preparation for entering the 1964 Japan Air Lines National Haiku Contest. She was one of 83 semifinalists (of some 41,000 entries) with the haiku:

Blue flowers budding
On the cherry tree … Double
Miracle … They fly! 3

Encouraged by this success, Mormino began sending her haiku to the handful of journals that welcomed haiku in the 1960s, including American Haiku, Haiku Highlights, Haiku West, and The Blue Print. She edited the Haiku Pages section of The Nutmegger, the members’ journal of the Nutmegger Poetry Club of Danbury, Conn., until issue 5:6 in July 1969. Through the four pages at her disposal in each issue she tried “to provide an audience for sincere haiku poets,” publishing what she called the “best haiku submitted,” regardless of whether or not they were penned by The Nutmegger subscribers.4 The early work of poets including Molly Garling, Elizabeth Searle Lamb, Hian (William J. Higginson), Willene H. Nusbaum, Marian M. Poe, John Wills, and Virginia Brady Young were published in the Haiku Pages.

Mormino also edited the Nutmegger Poetry Club’s Haiku Anthology: 1968, one of the earliest compendia of original American haiku. The anthology featured three haiku each by sixty poets, including other leading lights such as Mary Dragonetti, Bernard Lionel Einbond, Jaye Giammarino, Gustave Keyser, and Sydell Rosenberg.

Her greatest influence on English-language haiku, however, was her founding of the journal Modern Haiku in 1969. Jane Reichhold recalled that Mormino was concerned that “the writers of haiku in English should be finding their own way, making haiku truly their own and not re-warmed from the old masters.”5 Michael McClintock, who served as associate editor of Modern Haiku under Mormino, reported that one of her motivations for the journal was to create “a platform for coexistence” among haiku’s various factions. She was a generous and humble editor. In a piece of advice to one beginning haikuist, she noted “The more I study the more I realize how little I know. Yet, far from being discouraging, this fact is a constant stimulus to know more, to write better haiku.” Many of the prominent haiku poets Mormino had published in The Nutmegger and the 1964 anthology were brought to Modern Haiku. She edited the journal from its creation in 1969 before handing it over, due to illness, to Robert Spiess with issue 9:1 in 1978. Several editors later, the journal continues to this day.

Appreciation

Mormino’s own haiku were mainly in the 5–7–5 syllabic norm of the time, a style she would continue even in her later work. Thematically, the majority of her poems focused on the natural world:

Filling the room
     with apple blossom scent …
          storm-broken bough6

   
outgoing tide …
running from waves that aren’t there—
spotted sandpipers7

They contained an empathy for small, isolated things:

Small girl walks alone
     around the ribboned Maypole
            other children wove.8

   
The weathercock turns
  as strong fall winds change their course;
     so does the scarecrow.9

   
Just as she left them,
     house plants on the window shelf,
           dying one by one.10

Additionally, even in later years, she was not above using the poetic device of personification, a feature that had largely fallen out of favor with other haikuists:

Above the roof tops
     power poles hold a hammock
           for the morning star.10

   
Scolded, the old dog
     takes his wounded dignity
        to another room.11

Kay Mormino’s passing was widely mourned, but haikuists realized how little they actually knew about her.12 One tribute noted “Having done so much to see that other’s haiku were published, it is a shock to realize that the few haiku we have of Mormino’s [less than 100] must be gleaned from periodicals. She never published a book of her own work; she left only a hand-written copy of her haiku to her daughter that is now unavailable to us.”13 The memorial issue of Modern Haiku14 included a remembrance by Ann Atwood of an afternoon that the two friends and neighbors had spent by Kay’s swimming pool. It read in part:

The sky was beginning to glow on the western horizon. Our talk had turned from haiku to the quest of the spirit, to the many paths we had both begun, travelled, and lost over a lifetime. We felt a need to sum things up. Kay said, “If I were to say what I am, I would say that I am and always have been, a Seeker.” Then I [Ann] said something to the effect that for the true seeker each answer becomes another question, and Kay responded characteristically with a meditative pause followed by a slow melodious “y-e-s.” I will always remember that “y-e-s.” It was the sound of Kay. It was the sound of a reverberating bell. YES.

Geraldine Clinton Little, another poet friend of Kay’s, provided this haiku in memory of the founding editor of Modern Haiku:

The way
a single wave moves
the whole sea15

A haiku contest for high school seniors in the United States and Canada and the Kay Titus Mormino Memorial Scholarship in the amount of $500 was announced in the first Modern Haiku issue of 1987.

Activities

  • Editor, Haiku Pages, The Nutmegger, 196?–1969.
  • Founder and Editor, Modern Haiku, 1968–1977; Associate Editor, 1977–1983.
  • Member, Accademia Internazionale di Significazione Poesia e Arte Contemporanea in Rome, 1967.
  • Member, National League of American Pen Women.

Sources / Further Reading

Works Edited

  • Modern Haiku: An Independent Journal of Haiku and Haiku Studies. Edited by Kay Titus Mormino, Los Angeles, Calif., 1969–1977.
  • Mormino, Kay Titus, ed. Haiku Anthology: 1968. Danbury, Conn.: T.N.P.C. [The Nutmegger Poetry Club], 1968. 180 haiku by 60 poets. 

Essays and Reviews

  • Mormino, Kay Titus. “Modern Haiku, in the Beginning.” Modern Haiku 10:3 (Autumn 1979), 11.
  • Mormino, Kay Titus. “Separation: Seasons in Space, by Geraldine Clinton Little.” Modern Haiku 11:1 (Winter–Spring 1980), 44–45. Review.
  • Mormino, Kay Titus. “Still at the Edge, by Peggy Willis Lyles.” Modern Haiku 12:1 (Winter–Spring 1981), 46. Review.
  • Mormino, Kay Titus, and Robert Spiess. “exchange of letters regarding transfer of editorship.” Modern Haiku 8:4 (November 1977), 3.
  • Mormino, Kay Bell. “A Haiku Is a Poem.” Haiku Highlights 3:6 (June 1967), 3.
  • Mormino, Kay Titus. “Haiku: The Poetry of Implication.” Haiku West 3.1 (1969): 7–11.

Longer Works of Poetry

  • Mormino, Kay Titus. “Free from work harness …” Janus & SCTH 6:4 (April 1975), 32–33. Untitled 10-haiku sequence.
  • Mormino, Kay Titus. “On this July night …” Janus & SCTH 4:4 (April 1973), 15. Tanka (untitled).
  • Momino, Kay Titus. “Sound Without Meaning. ” International Quarterly, 1967. Sonnet.

Print Periodicals in which Mormino’s Work Was Published

  • The American Bard. 
  • American Haiku, 1967–1968. 7 haiku.
  • The Blue Print, 1968. 2 haiku.
  • Cardinal Poetry Quarterly. 
  • Haiku Highlights and Other Short Poems, 1965–1970–. ≥13 haiku.
  • Haiku (Toronto), 1968–1969. 7 haiku.
  • Haiku West, 1968–1974. 16 haiku.
  • Modern Haiku, 1979–1980. 2 haiku.
  • SCTH (Sonnet Cinquain Tanka Haiku), 1968–1969. 3 haiku; and Janus & SCTH, 1974–1979. 14 haiku and one 10-verse sequence.

Works about Mormino

  • Kay, Ernest, ed. International Who’s Who in Poetry. Fifth edition. Cambridge, England: International Biographical Centre, 1977.
  • Reichhold, Jane. “Those Women Writing Haiku, Chapter 3: Haiku Magazines in USA” AHA Poetry website: http://www.ahapoetry.com/twchp3.htm.
  • Trumbull, Charles. A History of Modern Haiku. Lincoln, Ill.: Modern Haiku Press, 2019.
  • Who’s Who of American Women. Ninth edition, 1975–1976. Wilmette, Ill.: Marquis Who’s Who, 1975.

Author: Paul Miller


Notes

  1. Trumbull, A History of Modern Haiku, 2019, 10. []
  2. Haiku Highlights 3:5 (May 1967), 8. []
  3. Mormino’s entry in the JAL contest was apparently a reworking of a haiku titled “Non-Indigenous” that she had published in Haiku Highlights 2:3 (March 1966): Cherry tree covered / with blossoms of blue … Double / miracle … They fly! []
  4. Mormino letter to Marian M. Poe, December 27, 1967. []
  5. Jane Reichhold, “Those Women Writing Haiku, Chapter 3: Haiku Magazines in USA” AHA Poetry website. []
  6. Haiku West 4:2 (January 1971), 45. []
  7. Modern Haiku 10:1 (Winter–Spring 1979), 23. []
  8. Haiku West 4:1 (July 1970), 46. []
  9. Mormino, “Haiku: The Poetry of Implication.” Haiku West 3:1 (1969), 9. []
  10. Haiku West 8:1 (July 1974), 14. [] []
  11. Haiku Highlights (January–February 1970), 19, the Winning Senryu of the issue. []
  12. The text that follows, including the long quote and the Little haiku, are taken almost verbatim from Trumbull, History, pp. 32–33. []
  13. The quote is from Reichhold, “Those Women Writing Haiku.” Reichhold indicated that she was quoting the Mormino Memorial Issue of Modern Haiku, but this passage must be from another source. []
  14. 14:2, Summer 1983. []
  15. Geraldine Clinton Little, “In Memoriam: Kay Titus Mormino,” Modern Haiku 14:2 (Summer 1983), inside front cover. []
Updated on October 30, 2023