Captain Haiku’s Secret Hideout

Note: This page is for archival reference. The original standalone website was first created in all of two hours in September of 1997, and was not revised once since then, even though it had hundreds of thousands of visitors in the first eleven years at its original location. This site was first established at, and was moved to on 28 October 2008, when America Online shut down its free website hosting services on AOL Hometown. And then, on 19 August 2020, I moved the content to this location. You can see what the site originally looked like (including its awful background pattern) on the Wayback Machine. In the following text, please note that references to journals, especially addresses, contact information, and subscription rates, are in most cases no longer correct. Though dated, the content here may serve as a haiku snapshot for 1997, a sort of time capsule. For this new location, I’ve added the correct link for the Haiku Society of America, fixed three typos, and also removed a bad image link. Otherwise, there are no changes to the text or images on this site since it was originally created in 1997. I’ve left alone the fact that I now use “on” (pronounced as “own,” but quicker) rather than “onji” for the sounds counted in Japanese haiku, except to add a new parenthetical explanation at that location. But it’s still true that in Japanese they count sounds, not syllables, so if you write 5-7-5 syllables in English, and call it haiku, you’re writing a much longer poem than what they write in Japan. If you have comments, please contact Captain Haiku at Enjoy! + +

Welcome to Captain Haiku’s weird and wonderful world of haiku mayhem. I may be having some fun, but here and there, you’ll find some really useful stuff about haiku poetry. But you never know, I might include something that’s completely false somewhere, so be on your toes! The Haiku Police are hiding here somewhere!

What’s a Haiku Anyway?

You’re probably thinkin’ you know all about haiku, right? Oh, good. Well, let me tell you a bit about what I know, okay?

Haiku has a long tradition in Japan, and if you want to know the Japanese tradition, you can read tons of books about that, as well as translations of the leading poets from the time of Basho (Japan’s “Shakespeare”) three hundred years ago right up to today.

Speaking of today, haiku has leaped across the pond and has been written in English for many decades. Because the languages are different, haiku in English naturally differs from haiku in Japanese. The 5-7-5 “onji” pattern is traditional in Japanese, but 17 syllables is generally too long in English (and much longer than 17 Japanese onji). [Note: “onji” is now considered an incorrect and obsolete term; the correct term is “on.”] Thus haiku in English tend to be about 10 to 14 syllables, often in a short-long-short pattern, usually in three lines. They are objective, imagistic, and about nature, and often include a seasonal reference. It’s a poem recording a moment of heightened awareness of nature or human nature. It should come across like a moment of realization, producing an “aha!” moment in the reader in the same way that it gave you that moment of realization when you, as the writer, experience the haiku moment in the first place.

A less seasonal and less nature-centered variety of haiku is the senryu. This twin sister looks a lot like haiku, but its personality is more playful, humourous, ironic, satirical. More vulgar sometimes, too.

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Some information about the captain, Michael Dylan Welch:

I’ve always had a sense of poetry. Being named after Dylan Thomas may have had something to do with that! I was born in 1962 in Watford, England, and grew up there and in Ghana, Australia, and the Canada prairies. In college I majored in communications/media and English, and I received an M.A. in English in 1989. I focused my graduate studies on twentieth-century poetry and fiction, and wrote a thesis on Anthony Burgess and his sense of play with words—something akin, I think, to the sense of play that pervades haiku. I delight in the fact that “haiku,” literally translated, means “playful verse.”

Since graduate school I’ve been employed as a technical writer, publications manager, and predominantly as a freelance book editor. In recent years I’ve held a staff editorial position with IDG Books Worldwide, publisher of the “For Dummies” series of computer books. In the past I’ve been a lifeguard, a ski patroller and ski instructor, a disc jockey, and a summer camp counselor. Now, aside from professional duties, I enjoy reading, writing, books and bookstores, skiing, racquetball, music, hiking, travel, and photography—my other main art besides poetry.

My path to haiku began in a high school English class, where George Goodburn introduced haiku as a seventeen-syllable nature poem. I’ve long preferred short poetry, so I immediately gravitated towards this form. For years all of my “haiku” were rather ill-formed and ill-informed. About a decade later I bought my first haiku book at a Japanese bookstore near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London—a collection of Basho’s haiku translated by Lucien Stryk. Shortly thereafter I started buying every haiku book I could find (I now have some 2,000 haiku books and magazines). When I encountered Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology, however, my perception of haiku shifted radically, thanks most particularly to the work of Marlene Mountain. No longer did I see “haiku” as whatever words I could squeeze into an arbitrary cookie-cutter shape. Rather, the poems in Cor’s collection showed the value of content over the so-called form. Something else was happening in these poems, and their magic captivated me. Cor’s book also connected me with the Haiku Society of America and Frogpond, as well as with Robert Spiess’s Modern Haiku. Through Doris Heitmeyer, then secretary of the HSA, I connected with the Haiku Poets of Northern California when I moved to the San Francisco area after completing graduate school.

Since 1989 I’ve been increasingly involved in this poetry, and find great pleasure not only in haiku, but in knowing and interacting with many people near and far who write this rewarding form of poetry. Nineteen eighty-nine saw me first start editing Woodnotes, and I served as an HPNC officer until 1996.

In 1989 I also started a publishing venture called Press Here. The first publication, a limited-edition collection of my own haiku, called Egret, appeared that year. Since then Press Here has published nearly twenty other haiku books, including interviews by vincent tripi with prominent haiku poets such as Anita Virgil and Virginia Brady Young, collections of original poetry by Lee Gurga, Adele Kenny, Pat Shelley, and Sono Uchida, and anthologies of haiku, senryu, tanka, and haibun. Several of these books have won awards, several titles have gone into multiple printings, and I hope Press Here will continue to present fine haiku books for years to come.

In 1990 I published two small volumes of my own poetry. The Haijin’s Tweed Coat is a short sequence of haiku hiding the names of various haiku journals in its poems. And Tremors is a collection of earthquake haiku and a haibun written in response to the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco, which toppled all my bookcases. Since then I have not published a significant poetry collection of my own, but I plan to when the time is right.

Starting in 1990 I produced five annual haiku anthologies for the Haiku Poets of Northern California (working with various editors). This series of books, published in conjunction with the group’s Two Autumns reading series, has continued until today. I was one of the four featured readers at the inaugural reading. I also helped produce four HPNC membership anthologies: After Shock in 1990 (an anthology of earthquake haiku, edited by Paul O. Williams), The Gulf Within in 1992 (Gulf War haiku, which I co-edited with Christopher Herold), Playing Tag Among Buddhas in 1993 (a membership anthology edited by Jerry Kilbride), and All Day Long in 1994 (a membership anthology of haiku based on times of day, edited by Garry Gay). In 1993, I also served as managing editor and wrote the introduction for the Haiku Society of America’s first-ever membership anthology, entitled When Butterflies Come (edited by Jerry Kilbride and Marlina Rinzen).

I believe haiku’s strength is its poets. As a means to help foster increased communication among those who write and enjoy haiku, in 1991 I worked with Garry Gay, Jerry Ball, and David Wright to cofound the biennial Haiku North America conference. This conference met in California in 1991 and 1993, in Toronto, Ontario in 1995, and Portland, Oregon in 1997. These conferences are intended as inclusive celebrations of haiku and its readers, writers, scholars, and translators. With Garry Gay, I’m still actively involved in planning and consulting for future HNA conferences. Press Here has published all of the Haiku North America anthologies since the conference’s beginning—books that I’ve also edited.

In 1992 Garry Gay invited me to help him write the first ever “rengay”—a new six-verse form of thematic linked verse he invented. Since then I’ve promoted the form in a number of articles, and helped judge the first rengay contest in 1995. In 1995, Garry Gay, John Thompson, and I privately published the first rengay anthology, entitled Hammerhorn.

In 1994 I served on the editorial board for the Haiku Society of America’s twentieth-anniversary anthology, A Haiku Path. I was responsible for the final copy editing, coordination, typesetting, layout, design, and production of the book. This book documents and celebrates the first twenty years of the HSA’s colourful history.

In 1995 and 1996 I served as the California regional coordinator of the Haiku Society of America, putting on two weekend-long haiku events as part of national HSA meetings held in San Francisco. One activity I also put together while regional coordinator was a special presentation and discussion on haiku in San Francisco by United States Poet Laureate Robert Hass. I continued my service to the HSA as first vice president in 1997, during which time I took on the task of producing the society’s new logo and T-shirts.

Since 1995 I’ve been running the “Haiku City” reading series at a major bookstore in downtown San Francisco, featuring local and visiting haiku poets, and I also give regular haiku workshops at Hakone Japanese Gardens in Saratoga, California.

In 1996, I helped cofound the American Haiku Archive in Sacramento—an accomplishment of which I feel the most proud because it will have the most lasting value for the widest number of haiku poets. Primary cofounders Jerry Kilbride, Garry Gay, California State Librarian Kevin Starr, and I worked together for over a year to bring this project to fruition. This library features the haiku books and papers of Elizabeth Searle Lamb and many other haiku poets, and should serve as the continent’s premiere permanent archive of English-language haiku literature.

In 1997, after eight years of editing work on Woodnotes, striving to make it one of North America’s best haiku publications, I replaced the journal with a new haiku-focused journal called Tundra. I hope this new journal will continue for years in the future as a leading proponent of short poetry in the English language.

In the course of pursuing the haiku art, I have enjoyed judging numerous contests, including the Brady and Virgilio contests for the Haiku Society of America, two haiku contests for the Nature Company, a senryu contest for Atlantic Monthly online, and various other regional and national haiku contests. Reading this work, and the many thousands of submissions I receive yearly for Woodnotes and Tundra has provided me with an immeasurably valuable haiku education.

My own haiku have been published in most of the leading haiku journals around the world, and have been included in such anthologies as Haiku Moment (Tuttle, 1993), Haiku World (Kodansha, 1996), The San Francisco Haiku Anthology (Smythe-Waithe Press, 1992), and The Midwest Haiku Anthology (Brooks Books, 1992), and my articles and book reviews about haiku have appeared in numerous places also. My perception of the haiku form has evolved from the rigid seventeen-syllable approach I held twenty years ago toward the free-form approach. Now my inclination is toward the so-called “organic” approach to haiku. I prefer haiku that are sharply imagistic, focus on the here and now, and are objective yet intuitive.

I also write longer poetry, articles, and some fiction, and continually look forward to deepening my writing, editing, and publishing experience in these areas also. In addition, I am also actively involved with the E. E. Cummings Society, for which I help edit Spring, the society’s annual academic/poetry journal. I have also spoken about Cummings and poetry for American Literature Association conferences and other conferences.

I have now enjoyed haiku poetry for over twenty years. The genre continues to reveal its many hidden faces and I find myself always learning. As I discover more of its Japanese origin, history, and current developments, as well as its worldwide changes and adaptations, I learn the heart of humanity itself, for haiku is the world and her people. Haiku is a window into ourselves. I’m grateful that being named after Dylan Thomas has led me, in a round-about way, to this window’s vista. It’s a window I look forward to keeping wide open for many years to come.

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Let me know what you think about my page. Send mail by clicking here.

Click here for more information on: The Haiku Society of America.

Haiku and Other Distractions

Thornewood Poems

by Michael Dylan Welch


a red berry on the trail

I look up

to the chickadee’s song

miner’s lettuce

beside the trail—

fallen toyon berries

a red toyon berry

at the trail’s edge—

the tinkle of a stream

first on the trail—

the pull of a spider’s strand

across my face

a switch-back

in the trail—

I glance at her face

a climbing pea

has lassoed a blade

of crab grass!

trail dust settles—

a shooting star bobs

over a spider’s turret

a slow breeze . . .

sticky-monkey flower

barely moving

noon sun—

fallen bark moss

swaying in a thistle

dried horseshoe prints

more frequent

by the blackberry bramble

passed from nose to nose,

a torn leaf

of pitcher sage

swaying in the shadows

of the ancient oak,

honeysuckle berries

lifting mugwort to her nose . . .

the hangnail

on her thumb

pausing on the trail—

I run my hand

through brush grass

white cabbage butterfly

rises from scattered toyon berries

through the horse’s hooves

the cool of shade—

a swarm of midges

brushes my arm

dried leaves on the trail—

a thistle bends

in fern shadow

broken to the heartwood—

an old meadow elm

after thunder

stopping on the footbridge

to gaze at still pools—

a sparrow’s wings flutter

voices on the trail . . .

the heap of deadwood

clogging the stream

blossoms in the wind-shadow

a hiker stops

to sip his water

dried thistle

bent across the trail . . .

trill of distant chickadee

between the brambles,

a fern’s curve

up the trail

before I sit,

I blow an ant

from the stump’s center

a turn in the trail—

sky in the branches

of red madrone

scent of jasmine . . .

a butterfly’s shadow

over trail mud

just off the wood path,

a mouse’s bones

under a curled leaf

first glimpse—

white swan

in the forest pool

valley coolness—

the trail widens

near the wooded pond

clouds of pollen

drifting through sunbeams—

a sparrow’s sudden flight

the web between stumps—

a tree frog answers

the pond frog

stones on the trail . . .

a downy feather

wafts in the breeze

new shoots

on the big-leaf maple—

how blue the sky, how blue

a mushroom cap

tilting in the sun—

I feel for my bald spot

a white swan shakes her tail

at last the ripples

reach her mate

jays squawk

from redwood tops—

the hush of distant traffic

water striders

keep turning back

from the weir’s edge

at the trail’s end,

the way we sit

beneath the redwoods

late afternoon sun—

jumping in the leaf pile

to hear the crunch

roots exposed

at the trail’s edge . . .

a banana slug’s path

afternoon shade—

moss rubbed off

where the branches touch

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Recommended Books on Haiku

Tens of thousands of books have been published on or about haiku. For those interested in learning to write haiku in English, I recommend three books above all others: The Haiku Handbook by William J. Higginson, The Haiku Anthology edited by Cor van den Heuvel, and Haiku Moment edited by Bruce Ross. Higginson’s book gives a general overview of haiku with numerous English examples. The van den Heuvel and Ross anthologies provide the most widely available collections of original English-language haiku. For translations, the best books are still those by R. H. Blyth, although you will mostly be able to find translations such as Robert Hass’s recent, but less recommendable, The Essential Haiku (Ecco Press, 1995) more easily than Blyth’s books! Also included in the following list are biographies of the four great haiku masters, Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki, and selected other books that have proved the most essential and influential in English. I could add many other books to this list, including academic books by Donald Keene, Earl Miner, Steven Carter, and others, but have chosen to list just the following as the most essential to those wishing to write English-language haiku. You should be able to order most of these books from bookstores. As with other forms of poetry, one of the best ways to learn how to write haiku is to read haiku. The following books can help you do just that.

—Michael Dylan Welch, September 1997

Amann, Eric. The Wordless Poem: A Study of Zen in Haiku. Toronto, Ontario: The Haiku Society of Canada, 1978. A short but indispensable introduction to the haiku form from the Zen perspective. Available from Haiku Canada.

Beichman, Janine. Masaoka Shiki. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1986. Important biography of the fourth of the four great haiku masters, Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902).

Blyth, R. H. Haiku. 4 vols. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1981, 1982. These four books on the history and development of Japanese haiku are essential to every haiku library. Originally published in 1949, 1950, and 1952, these four books introduce Eastern culture and present haiku by season. Blyth has written numerous other books on haiku and its history, senryu, and other facets of Japanese culture. This set is expensive and written from a Zen perspective (for which it has been criticized), but it is essential because it includes thousands of the best English translations of the Japanese masters.

Haiku Society of America. A Haiku Path. New York: Haiku Society of America, 1994. An extensive, valuable, and engaging history of the Haiku Society of America in its first 20 years (1968 to 1988). Includes numerous articles and remembrances of major haiku figures, plus an anthology of all poems from the society’s contests. (I helped edit this book, and did all the layout and design; I also contributed an afterword.)

Henderson, Harold G. An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Basho to Shiki. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1958. One of the most important books ever written about haiku for an English-speaking audience. Although less influential today (many of its translations are burdened by rhyme and use the 5-7-5 pattern), this book has probably influenced haiku in English more than any other.

Henderson, Harold G. Haiku in English. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1967. A brief but fundamental book on haiku and its possibilities in English. Though now somewhat dated (as is Henderson’s other book), this book offers a succinct overview of the haiku form and its possibilities in English.

Higginson, William J., with Penny Harter. The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985 and Kodansha International, 1989. Practically everything you need to know about haiku—its history, its major practitioners, its nature and form, and methods for reading, writing, understanding, enjoying, and teaching haiku. Refreshing and complete, this book is perhaps more relevant than other books in this list due to its more recent publication. In 1996, Higginson also published two new recommended haiku books: The Haiku Seasons and Haiku World (both from Kodansha), the latter an international saijiki, which also contains some of my haiku.

Mackenzie, Lewis. The Autumn Wind: A Selection from the Poems of Issa. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1957. A brief biography and extensive annotated anthology of haiku by the third of the four great haiku masters, Kobayashi Issa (1762-1826).

Ross, Bruce, ed. Haiku Moment: An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1993. Compiles 821 haiku by 185 North American poets. While mostly polarized toward nature poems (ignoring many other topics and approaches), this is still an essential reference for anyone wishing to see how haiku is being written in English today, including a selection of my haiku. (Some 97 percent of its poems are not 5-7-5.)

Sato, Hiroaki, and Burton Watson, eds. From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981. A monumental collection of Japanese poetry in English translation. Includes numerous tanka, renga, and haiku. Places haiku in the larger context of its poetic heritage.

Sato, Hiroaki. One Hundred Frogs: From Renga to Haiku in English. New York: Weatherhill, 1983. A comprehensive summary of the development of haiku from its beginnings in renga. Presents many renga and haiku written in English, plus one hundred different translations of Basho’s famous “old pond” haiku. A useful survey of today’s English haiku. (Don’t confuse this book with a recent Weatherhill truncation that presents only the hundred Basho translations.)

Sawa, Yuki, and Edith M. Shiffert. Haiku Master Buson. South San Francisco, California: Heian International, 1978. A brief biography and extensive anthology of haiku by the second of the four great haiku masters, Yosa Buson (1716-1784).

Ueda, Makoto. Matsuo Basho: The Master Haiku Poet. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1970. A comprehensive biography and anthology of haiku by the first and greatest of the four great haiku masters, Matsuo Basho (1644-1694). Ueda has also written numerous other essential books on haiku, notably Basho and His Interpreters (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1991).

van den Heuvel, Cor, ed. The Haiku Anthology. New York: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1986 and 1991. Compiles over 700 of the best English haiku ever written (to about 1986). A vibrant, liberating book that demonstrates rather than just discusses the possibilities of haiku in English. Also includes a history of the form, definitions, and useful appendixes. (Some 94 percent of its poems are not 5-7-5.)

Yasuda, Kenneth. The Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1957. A comprehensive, academic overview of the nature and history of haiku. Somewhat dated, but still influential.

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Haiku and Related Publications

Numerous haiku journals are published around the world. For those interested in enjoying and publishing their own haiku, a few haiku journal subscriptions are worth far more than they cost. The following list includes the world’s primary English-language haiku journals. Foreign-language journals, such as Romania’s Albatross, are not included even though they are bilingual. Prices are given in U.S. dollars for subscriptions in the United States (write each journal for subscription rates elsewhere). For replies, always enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) or SAE with an International Reply Coupon (IRC) from the post office. For subscription guidelines, please write to each editor.

—Michael Dylan Welch, September 1997

Ant Ant Ant Ant Ant

Chris Gordon, Editor

P.O. Box 16177

Oakland, CA 94610

$8.00 for two issues yearly.

Black Bough

Chuck Easter, Editor

7 Park Avenue

Flemington, NJ 08822

$13.50 for three issues yearly.


Frederick A. Raborg, Jr., Editor

329 “E” Street

Bakersfield, CA 93304

$14.00 for four issues (intermittent).


Kenneth C. Leibman, Editor

P.O. Box 767

Archer, FL 32618-0767


$20.00 for annual membership in the Haiku Society of America, which includes a year of Frogpond plus four issues of the HSA Newsletter.

To become a member, send your subscription to the following address (please make checks payable to “The Haiku Society of America, Inc.”):

Dee Evetts, HSA Secretary

P.O. Box 1179

New York, NY 10013-1179

Geppo Haiku Journal

Jean Hale, Editor

20711 Garden Place Court

Cupertino, CA 95014

$15.00 for annual membership in the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society, which includes six issues of the journal.

Send payments to the following address (please make checks payable to “Yuki Teikei Haiku Society”):

Kiyoko Tokutomi, Treasurer

9280 Old Country Road

Ben Lomond, CA 95005-0156

Haiku Canada Newsletter

LeRoy Gorman, Editor

51 Graham Street

Napanee, Ontario

K7R 2J6 Canada

$20.00 for annual membership, which includes four issues of the newsletter, an annual members’ anthology, plus “Haiku Canada Sheets.”

Please make payments to “Haiku Canada.”

Haiku Headlines

David Priebe, Editor

1347 W. 71st Street

Los Angeles, CA 90044

$21.00 for twelve issues yearly.

Haiku Poets of Northern California

Ebba Story, HPNC Secretary

478 Guerrero Street

San Francisco, CA 94110

$6.00 for annual membership in HPNC, which includes four newsletters yearly. Please make checks payable to “HPNC.”

Heron Quarterly

Carolyn Thomas, Editor

Thinking Post Press

17825 Bear Valley Lane

Escondido, CA 92027

$16.00 for four issues yearly.


Phyllis Walsh, Editor

P.O. Box 96

Richland Center, WI 53581

$12.00 for four issues yearly. A magazine of the short poem that includes haiku, senryu, and tanka.


Keith Southward, Editor

P.O. Box 67, Station H

Toronto, Ontario

M4C 5H7 Canada

$15.00 for four issues yearly (intermittent).


Koko Kato, Editor

1-36-7 Ishida cho

Mizuho-ku, Nagoya

Japan 476

Twenty International Reply Coupons (from your post office) for two issues yearly.


Jane Reichhold, Editor

P.O. Box 1250

Gualala, CA 95445

$15.00 for three issues yearly (please make checks payable to “AHA Books”). A journal of renga and tanka (no haiku).


Randy and Shirley Brooks, Editors

4634 Hale Drive

Decatur, IL 62526

$10.00 for two issues yearly.


Jim Force (Nika), Editor

1310 Hamilton Street NW

Calgary, Alberta

T2N 3W6 Canada

$8.00 for one annual issue.

Modern Haiku

Robert Spiess, Editor

P.O. Box 1752

Madison, WI 53701

$16.25 for three issues yearly. The premiere haiku publication in English.

Northwest Literary Forum

Ce Rosenow, Editor

3439 NE Sandy Boulevard, Suite 143

Portland, OR 97232

$15.00 for four issues yearly.


Jim and Mary Taylor, Editors

19626 Damman

Harper Woods, MI 48225

$8.00 for two issues yearly.

Raw Nervz Haiku

Dorothy Howard, Editor

67 Court Street

Aylmer, Quebec

J9H 4M1 Canada

$20.00 for four issues yearly.

South by Southeast

Jim Kacian, Editor

Red Moon Press

Route 2, Box 3977

Berryville, VA 22611

$16.00 for three issues yearly.


Michael Dylan Welch, Editor

248 Beach Park Boulevard

Foster City, CA 94404


$18.00 for three issues yearly (please make checks payable to “Michael D. Welch”). Formerly Woodnotes.

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[Original] Site Copyright © 1997 by Michael Dylan Welch.