The following was my guest contribution to J. I. Kleinberg’s “The Poetry Department” blog, posted 1 February 2020.
If it’s February 1, it must be time for National Haiku Writing Month. This year is NaHaiWriMo’s tenth anniversary, and it’s hard to believe it’s been thriving for a decade.
NaHaiWriMo was inspired by National Novel Writing Month. I first did NaNoWriMo in November of 2010 and thought at the time that there ought to be a national month for haiku and that February would be perfect—the shortest month for the shortest genre of poetry. The goal was to write at least one haiku a day for the entire month. And so I set up a website and a Facebook page and started spreading the word that we’d begin on February 1, 2011.
On that very first day, someone asked if there was a prompt they could follow, so I came up with “hands” as the first prompt, and we were off. Following the daily prompts was optional, but they provided inspiration for hundreds of people that first month.
At the end of February 2011, participants said they didn’t want to stop, so I’ve arranged for guest prompters each month since then. The NaHaiWriMo page on Facebook immediately became a year-round place for haiku inspiration—and of course you could also use the prompts to write any kind of poetry. The Facebook page now has more than 3,100 likes, with poets participating in many countries around the world. The #nahaiwrimo hashtag is also popular on Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and other social media channels.
Since 2020 is our tenth anniversary year, I’d like to celebrate some highlights from our history.
The first thing that many people notice is our logo, with the numbers 5-7-5 with a red slash through them. Clicking that logo on the website leads to an essay on why counting 5-7-5 syllables is a myth for English-language haiku, despite how widespread that belief is. The logo is deliberately polemical, to make people think about how there are more important targets for haiku than just counting syllables—targets that are nearly never taught in schools and that are unknown to the general public. Counting syllables is the most trivial of haiku’s disciplines. I hope the logo (and the ensuing conversation) has done some good shaking up haiku misperceptions, though it has also had the effect of offending some people who remain attached to syllable counting.
In addition to the daily prompts, I started creating haiku-related memes. These sought to poke a bit of fun at haiku (and misperceptions thereof), with the intention that we not take haiku too seriously (and yet seriously enough). Many people shared these memes on Facebook, which helped to promote NaHaiWriMo. Here, for example, is a set of memes with a Simpsons theme.
In March of 2012, NaHaiWriMo was the subject of a “group interview” of sorts, about how NaHaiWriMo worked. The results, from many voices, appeared in the online journal Notes from the Gean. This interview serves as a snapshot of the way things were in those early days.
Later the same year, NaHaiWriMo published a free ebook, With Cherries on Top: 31 Flavors of NaHaiWriMo, featuring selected poems inspired by 31 different daily writing prompters for the month of August 2012. The book also features dozens of my fireworks photos. Follow this link for more details, including links for free downloads.
In 2014, a new feature of the NaHaiWriMo community was short interviews with each of the daily writing prompters. The interviews show the broad international support that NaHaiWriMo receives. Prompters are always reminded to make sure their daily prompts are posted to the Facebook page before the day begins in New Zealand! This international aspect of the community is emphasized in many of the comments about NaHaiWriMo.
In September of 2017, NaHaiWriMo published its first printed anthology, Jumble Box (from Press Here), with artwork by Ron C. Moss. The collection presents poems inspired by each of the daily prompts from February 2017. The book was shortlisted for a Touchstone book award from The Haiku Foundation.
One of NaHaiWriMo’s most ardent supporters from the beginning was Johnny Baranski. After he died, in January 2018, NaHaiWriMo held the one-time Johnny Baranski Memorial Haiku Contest, complete with cash prizes.
Of course, the biggest highlight is the sharing of hundreds of thousands of haiku by a growing community of poets. Many poems have followed the prompts, but it’s also fine when they don’t. And not everyone who participates even posts online, which is also fine.
NaHaiWriMo eagerly celebrates its tenth anniversary in February 2020, and invites your participation, whether you’re on social media or not. Just pledge to write at least one haiku a day for each day of the month. And since 2020 is a leap year, that means 29 haiku. Are you up for the challenge?
Learn more at www.nahaiwrimo.com. Follow this link for more about haiku and some of its misunderstandings (start with “Becoming a Haiku Poet”).
Personal Aside: For those who might live near Kirkland, Washington, I’m the writer-in-residence at the Kirkland Library this year. Starting on Thursday, March 26, 2020, I’ll be leading a monthly writing critique group on the fourth Thursday of most months. Please bring writing to share. I’ll also be giving a presentation on Mary Oliver and her theme of attention on Earth Day, April 22, and a presentation on “forest bathing” and haiku in July. See my other events here. One of those events is another iteration of Poets in the Park in Redmond, with poetry performances on July 25, and workshops on July 26, with a theme of travel. Watch for more details soon. [Because of the pandemic, I was not able to serve as the library’s poet-in-residence in 2020 after all, and Poets in the Park did not happen either.]