March 2024
Dee Cohen on Poetry
Dee Cohen

Judi Brannan Armbruster

Open to the moment

Prescott poet Judi Brannan Armbruster creates poem/photo combinations known as haiga, a Japanese form that pairs poetry, usually haiku, with artwork. The visual and written portions are meant to complement one another and highlight their interconnectedness. Although many people associate haiku with the standard three-line, 5-7-5 syllable count, it actually encompasses any short poem that focuses on vivid or juxtaposing images, usually of the natural world, and moments of illumination.

Originally haiga were handwritten poems on brushed ink drawings, but the form has evolved over time. Today haiga incorporate many media, including watercolor, collage, calligraphy and photographs. The poem can be handwritten or computer-generated, depending on the artist's vision.

Judi has always been drawn to poetry. “It’s a format that fits my thoughts — concentrated in minimal words or a fleeting look at nature.” Although she writes longer poems, her discovery of Japanese short forms transformed her writing. Through online workshops and reading, Judi studied modern American haiku and credits the teachings of haiku poet Jane Reichhold with expanding her understanding of the form. By delving more deeply into haiku, she learned about haiga and found the right vehicle for her creativity.

At that time Judi was living in Northern California on the Klamath River, an area she considers her ancestral homeland. She is a direct descendant of the Karuk people on her father’s side. Reconnecting with her heritage and taking photos in the wooded landscape opened her eyes to the creation of many poem/photo pairings. “I found my poetic voice there in the canyon and in the beauty of the forest.” Eventually she published a book of free verse called 60, described as “an explanation of the author’s native roots and the first 60 years of her life, written in her rediscovered poetic voice.” Over the years she has also published in various journals and anthologies, including Yellow Medicine Review, Stellar Showcase Journal, Thresholds, Autumn Leaves, Poetry Quarterly, and others.

Judi feels that the creation of haiga taps into meditative contemplation. “Being a mindful person, I look for images to put to my haiga. It seems as though I am thinking in haiku.” Poems come to her in various ways. “Sometimes the words come first and at other times the photos. When reading, I may see a word I want to use or a phrase I can parse into an expression. It is often about how it made me feel in the moment.”

Although Judi has been writing for many years, she’s had no formal training. Her early efforts were not encouraged as she struggled through a difficult childhood and marriage. Returning to college at age 30 as a single mom, she began writing again. Great sources of support for her journey were online poetry forums. After encouragement to keep writing, publish and tackle big topics, Judi now states, “Poets often take the pulse of current affairs and speak out strongly against bigotry and injustice.”

The natural world and its abuse at the hands of humans are recurring themes in this poet’s work. “Nature is my inspiration, especially for photos. Because haiku is often about sights, seasons, sounds and even smells, it is a rich palette for my mind and heart. Walking, driving, or even just sitting on my porch is often how I see the images I want to shoot.” She is continually surprised by the world around her. “Moments exist when the subtle beauty of our landscape takes my breath away.”

Having lived in Arizona on and off for years, Judi moved to Prescott about seven years ago. A retired nurse, she spends her time reading, writing and gardening. She devoted an entire year making daily haiku that evolved into haiga. “That writing became my morning mediation.” Currently she is putting together a chapbook of those poems.

Our local scenery provides many opportunities for new poems. “This morning I was out at first light, before the sun had broken through last night’s rain clouds. I looked up and saw three does on my lot. One had stopped and was nose-to-nose with my cat — I certainly wished that I had my camera! But the sight will probably make a poem or haiku. These little gifts from nature are precious moments for me.”

When discussing her poems, Judi reflects, “I hope they give you pleasure or even an aha moment, and that you’re encouraged to try this for yourself. For me, poetry is a form of meditation — to open myself to that moment, and be that moment.”

You can find Judi's work on, and contact her at

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer.