“Harold Henderson’s Grammar Haiku” Presentation

Published in Geppo XLVII:2 February–April 2022, page 29. See “Harold Henderson’s Grammar Haiku.”

“Harold Henderson’s Grammar Haiku” presented by Michael Dylan Welch — March 12, 2022


by Alison Woolpert


Michael Dylan Welch treated 45 YTHS [Yuki Teikei Haiku Society] attendees to a Zoom overview of Harold G. Henderson’s life and his contributions to the development of English-language haiku. Considered by many as the father of American haiku, Henderson, along with R. H. Blyth, served as liaison between General Douglas MacArthur and Japan’s Imperial household. He taught the history of Japanese art at Columbia University. He is recognized as a professor, author, translator, and anthologist of Japanese poetry. In 1968, with Leroy Kanterman, he cofounded the Haiku Society of America.

Henderson’s relevant publications for haiku poets include An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets from Bashō to Shiki (New York: Doubleday, 1958) and Haiku in English (New York: Japan Society, 1965; Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Publishers, 1967). In this talk, Michael focused on a lesser-known publication by Henderson, Handbook of Japanese Grammar (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Riverside Press, 1943).

Michael stated, “Of interest to haiku poets is the fact that Henderson’s book on grammar contains numerous mentions of haiku and occasionally tanka.” And later he added that “the inclusion of haiku or other poetry expands the haiku student’s sources of early English-language translation of this Japanese poetic import.” Michael’s presentation covered all the haiku and occasional tanka from Henderson’s grammar book, with glosses and commentary.

He also shared examples of how Japanese cutting words, kireji (such as kana, keri, and ya), are like spoken punctuation and said that they give haiku emotional shading. A cutting word can show a writer’s wonder or desire or help to soften or harden a tone of expression. The placement of cutting words may change a haiku’s meaning, and different translators might translate them differently. Attendees briefly discussed the “cut” in English-language haiku, often indicated by an em dash or ellipsis.

Michael expressed hope that an expanded version of his presentation will soon appear in a journal. We look forward to reading it in its entirety.