Steyer Writer Named Poet Laureate

First published in the Steyer Associates newsletter, Steyer Wire, on 17 December 2013. Following this story, lightly edited, is the original email interview, conducted by Hannah Sidaris-Green on 20 November 2013, that produced this story. See also “Simplicity and Obscurity: Crossing the Haiku Rubicon,” an essay on connections between technical documentation and haiku.

In this season of celebrations, we would like to take this opportunity to celebrate one of our own, Michael Dylan Welch, who has been named the poet laureate of Redmond, Washington.
        Michael has been working on a developer documentation project for Steyer, but when we caught up with him, he was leaving to be a keynote speaker for the annual convention of the Haiku International Association in Tokyo, where he was also guest lecturing on haiku at Sophia University. Michael has been writing haiku for over 35 years, and notes, “I don’t succumb to the urban myth that haiku should be 5-7-5 syllables in English. There are more important targets than just counting syllables.” This is one of his award-winning haiku:

         meteor shower . . .
         a gentle wave
         wets our sandals

Michael began writing creatively, before getting involved in technical writing, editing, graphic design, typography, and print publication management. For other technical writers looking to stretch their creative wings, Michael says, “I’m confident that creative writing can improve one’s technical writing
 [see “Simplicity and Obscurity: Crossing the Haiku Rubicon”]. For both creative and technical writing, you still need to think about audience, voice, concision, grammar, style, and other matters. Richard Hugo House in Seattle has great writing classes every week. It’s also good to get involved with creative writing groups (try Meetup.com) or to write for National Novel Writing Month.”
        Feel like a challenge? Join Michael in writing a haiku a day during February for National Haiku Writing Month or, if you’re in the Redmond area, come out to the Redmond library at 6:30 pm on January 29 [2014] to celebrate the works of Rumi.
        Finally, read more of Michael’s work at www.graceguts.com.

Original Interview

      by Hannah Sidaris-Green

Can you tell me a little about this trip you’re taking? I notice a lot of haiku on your website; what’s the role of Japanese literature and poetry in your life/writing?
I’m heading to Japan to be keynote speaker for the annual convention of the Haiku International Association in Tokyo. I’m also going to be a guest lecturer on haiku at Sophia University, giving a speech for the Modern Haiku Association, and will be an official guest at the Bashō Museum in Iga Ueno (Bashō is considered to be the Shakespeare of haiku poetry). I’ve been writing haiku for more than 35 years (at least a dozen years very badly). I’m currently vice president of the Haiku Society of America, and involved in various other haiku organizations, such as the American Haiku Archives, the Haiku Foundation, and the Haiku North America conference (a nonprofit organization of which I’m director). My personal website is graceguts.com, devoted mostly to haiku and related poetry. I write and publish longer poetry, too, including Here, There, and Everywhere, an anthology of poetry for the Redmond Association of Spokenword. I’ve also published numerous poetry books of my own, plus four books of translations from the Japanese (with a cotranslator). In 2012, a poem from one of these books was printed on the backs of 150,000,000 United States postage stamps. I’m also the newly appointed poet laureate for the City of Redmond, where I have “Poem of the Week” posters in numerous city locations—these posters feature my haiku, tanka, and longer poetry. I’ll also be teaching workshops, leading poetry walks, and directing the Poets in the Park festival as part of my duties. Hopefully I won’t have to write any poems for civic events, though!

What kind of work do you do for Steyer?
I’m working primarily on SmartGlass developer documentation for Xbox at Microsoft. With the launch of Xbox One, some attention has shifted to polishing existing documentation and creating new reference materials. With the release of a new console, demand is sure to increase for developer documentation as more partners and game developers get on board.

Can you tell me a bit about your evolution as a writer? Did you start technical and then get creative, or vice versa?
I majored in communications/media in college, with a minor in English, with some journalism training. I had always written a lot of poetry, but was also involved with many publications—newsletters, school publications, and so on. So I would say I first started writing creatively. Writing a 250-page thesis (on A Clockwork Orange) for my MA in English whetted my appetite for academic writing, and I’ve since published hundreds of essays and book reviews about poetry and other topics, as well as papers at literary conferences. Right after grad school, though, I got a job as a technical writer for a software company, then fell into editing technical books, eventually becoming a senior editor at IDG Books, publisher of the For Dummies books (I helped to edit the second edition of the very first book in the series, DOS For Dummies). Over the years I edited books on a range of technical subjects, and then worked on websites, documentation, help systems, and other content, both as a writer and editor. I’ve also done a lot of graphic design, typography, and print publication management, so I think that also informs by skills in editing, writing, and content management.

Do you have any insights to share with your fellow Steyer technical writers who might be looking to stretch their creative wings?
Richard Hugo House in Seattle has great writing classes every week, for poetry, fiction, and other sorts of writing, for both beginners and more advanced writers. I’m confident that creative writing can improve one’s technical writing. For both creative and technical writing, you still need to think about audience, voice, concision, grammar, style, and other matters. Either one can help the other. I teach workshops, by the way, on “Ten Ways to Improve Your Writing with Haiku” (for poets and novelists) and “Microsoft Word for Poets and Novelists,” among other workshops. It’s also good to get involved with creative writing groups (try Meetup.com) or to write for National Novel Writing Month. I also run National Haiku Writing Month in February—see nahaiwrimo.com.

P.S. Haiku is unfortunately widely mistaught in schools and widely misunderstood, and has been coopted by the general public as a sort of joke poem. My approach is much more literary, and I don’t succumb to the urban myth that haiku should be 5-7-5 syllables in English. There are more important targets than just counting syllables. Here’s one of my haiku:

        meteor shower . . .
        a gentle wave
        wets our sandals