On Michael Dylan Welch
by Cor van den Heuvel
The following are two commentaries by Cor van den Heuvel, the esteemed editor of The Haiku Anthology. The first excerpt comes from his introduction to the third edition of his anthology (New York: Norton, 1999), page xxvii. This book includes twenty of my poems. The second is extracted from Cor’s essay, “American Haiku’s Future,” published in Modern Haiku 34:3, Autumn 2003.
From The Haiku Anthology
[Michael Dylan] Welch intertwines memories of childhood with the present, giving his work an immediacy blended with nostalgia. His images are more urban that [Wally] Swist’s, and he varies the form more so that his haiku create fresh shapes on the page. Welch is also very important to the haiku community as an editor. His Press Here has published many of the best haiku chapbooks to come out in recent years, and he edited the haiku magazine Woodnotes until deciding to discontinue it in order to start a new one, Tundra [named, in part, after Cor van den Heuvel’s seminal poem], due this year. +
From “American Haiku’s Future”
Michael Dylan Welch has been closely involved with Garry Gay in several haiku projects. In 1992 he was the first poet to write a rengay with its inventor. They were cofounders of—and have continued to work together on—Haiku North America as well as the American Haiku Archives and have been coeditors of several books. Welch came a long distance to be part of the West Coast haiku scene and the American haiku community. He was born in Watford, England, on the outskirts of London, on May 20, 1962, and grew up in England, Ghana, Australia, and Canada. He wrote his first haiku in 1976 at the age of fourteen. He joined HPNC in 1989, the same year he started Press Here, his own publishing house for haiku books. At the time he worked as a technical writer and later as publications manager for a software company. Since 1991 he has worked as a book and Web editor. He currently lives in Sammamish, Washington. He holds a bachelor’s degree in communications/media and English, and a master’s in English. Besides haiku, his literary interests run from tanka to Lewis Carroll to E. E. Cummings. He is also an avid photographer.
Welch edited Woodnotes for the Haiku Poets of Northern California for about five years before he took it independent in 1996, publishing and editing it on his own. Under his editorship Woodnotes set a new standard for the quality of haiku—and related forms such as tanka, linked verse, and haibun—published in haiku journals. The articles were groundbreaking and the quality of the layouts and artwork were outstanding. He discontinued this journal in 1997 to launch Tundra, a new magazine for short poetry. The first issue came out in 1999 and the second in 2001. The books that Welch has published under his Press Here imprint retain the fine standards he set with Woodnotes. More than half of the twenty-five or so books Press Here has published have won Merit Book Awards from the Haiku Society of America, starting with the first one in 1989. Welch has edited or coedited all of the anthologies for the Haiku North America conferences, and has also edited important anthologies of senryu (Fig Newtons: Senryu to Go, 1993), tanka (Footsteps in the Fog, 1994), and haibun (Wedge of Light, 1999). Welch also served as California regional coordinator for the HSA in 1995 and 1996: in 1997 and 2003 he served as HSA vice president. He inaugurated the Tanka Society of America in 2000 and was elected its first president.
Welch’s haiku encompass a large variety of forms and subjects. He plays with different indentations of lines and employs white space within the poem for various effects. Memories of childhood are presented in present tense immediacy and sometimes are juxtaposed with happenings in the present itself:
home for Christmas:
my childhood desk drawer
knocking a row of icicles
from the eave
He often uses domestic and urban images, though he also employs scenes from field and woods, streams and lakes, and other natural environments:
beach parking lot—
where the car door opened
a small pile of sand
in my cupped hand
The first of these two poems has a sense of sabi. The parking lot seems empty of cars. It is dusk and the only sign that the lot may have been crowded with cars during the day is this small pile of sand. As it grows dark, a chill wind comes off the sea, and the viewer feels the end of summer and the loneliness of existence. Other readers may see a middle of summer scene, or . . . something else. The second captures the freshness of a spring day on a wooded mountain, for “spring” can be read two ways. One feels, smells, and sees the pine trees that surround the poet as he drinks from the spring where a few needles have fallen.