by Leticia Sicilia Saavedra
My path to haiku began in a high school English class, where Mr. 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 [Kinokuniya] near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London—a collection of Bashō’s haiku translated by Lucien Stryk. Shortly thereafter I started buying every haiku book I could find (I now have some 3,000 haiku books and magazines). [Now probably 5,000+.] +
The person who expresses himself in this way is Michael Dylan Welch. Founder of the Tanka Society of America and former vice president of the Haiku Society of America, this writer, editor, and photographer is passionate about haiku, senryu, and tanka. He was born in Watford, England, in 1962. His youth was spent between Ghana, Australia, and the Canadian prairies, and he currently lives in Sammamish, Washington, with his wife, whom he met on one of his many trips to Japan [she’s Japanese, but we met in California], and their two sons.
After graduating in English and communications, he obtained a postgraduate degree in poetry and literature of the 20th century. He works as an editor and content manager. He has been writing haiku since 1976 and has been teaching it since 1990. He has won numerous awards and his haiku, senryu, tanka, and longer poems have been translated into various languages.
first snow . . .
the children’s hangers
clatter in the closet
primera nieve . . .
las perchas de los niños
tintinean en el armario
A multifaceted and multidisciplinary man, he has edited and directed a multitude of publications, and given haiku workshops, both for adults and children, in the United States, Canada, and Japan.
He edited the quarterly haiku magazine Woodnotes from 1989 to 1997, and later edited Tundra: The Journal of the Short Poem. He is a founding partner of The Haiku Foundation. He is also the editor of Press Here, which has published countless award-winning haiku and tanka books since 1989.
Haiku and photography have much in common. Just as haiku are often objective, image-based, and record an instant in time, so too are photographs. Many of the best photographs succeed because of contrast, juxtaposition, colour, subtle shades, or through various compositional techniques. So too of haiku. +
the colours of all the cars
in the parking lot
festival de tulipanes—
los colores de los coches
en el aparcamiento
Some people think of haiku as focusing on nature, with senryu focusing on people, but this is misleading. The fact is that many haiku by the Japanese masters also focus on people, so having human content is not a distinguishing factor. Furthermore, haiku is actually a seasonal poem, not strictly a nature poem (many of the kigo that haiku aim at are in fact not nature-related), although nature often comes along for the ride. Instead, it is usually tone that differentiates haiku and senryu. Haiku tend to celebrate their subjects (even if dark), whereas senryu tend to have a “victim,” and may or may not be humourous. Haiku typically treat their subjects reverently, whereas senryu do so irreverently. Where haiku might be said to inflate their subjects, senryu tend to deflate them. Haiku try to make a feeling, and senryu try to make a point. And if haiku is a finger pointing to the moon, senryu is often a finger poking you in the ribs. +
toll booth lit for Christmas—
from my hand to hers
puesto de peaje iluminado por Navidad-
de mi mano a la de ella
el cambio tibio
Asked about what he advises for a person who is new to haiku, he answers:
Read books of and about haiku in Japanese and English. Then read more. Support your fellow poets by buying their haiku books. Study them. And write as much as you can, every day if possible, or as much as your time allows. Keep a notebook in your pocket so you have no excuse not to write down what you notice, even if it’s just haiku seeds. And with that notebook in your pocket (pull it out often!), don’t be surprised if you start noticing things you have to write down more and more often. [source unknown, but similar to the content covered in “Jump Into Haiku”]
a seashell held
to my baby’s ear
una caracola sujeta
junto a la oreja de mi bebé
In 1991 he cofounded the Haiku North America conference, now a nonprofit corporation of which he is a director. In 1996 he cofounded the American Haiku Archives at the California State Library in Sacramento, the world’s largest public haiku archive outside of Japan.
the only guest
eats in silence
plata sin brillo
el único invitado
come en silencio
In 2000, he founded the Tanka Society of America, serving as its president for five years, and is currently its webmaster [and also president again, since 2018]. For many years he has been vice president of the Haiku Society of America, and coordinator of the Haiku Northwest group. He is vice president [now president] of the Redmond Spokenword Association (for which he works as a reading series manager, and for which, in 2013, he edited and published the group’s first poetry anthology, Here, There, and Everywhere).
With Emiko Miyashita, he has published a monthly haiku column in Asahi Weekly, a famous Japanese newspaper.
In 2010, Michael created NaHaiWriMo, or National Haiku Writing Month, which was first celebrated in February 2011 (the shortest month for the shortest genre of poetry). NaHaiWriMo also has a very active Facebook page.
the pull of her hand
as we near the pet store
el tirón de su mano
al acercanos a la tienda de mascotas
low summer sun—
the shadow of an earring
on your cheek
Bajo sol de verano.
la sombra de un pendiente
en tu mejilla.
On March 24, 2012, the United States Postal Service issued a postage stamp to commemorate the 100th anniversary of cherry trees in Washington, D.C. This “forever” (first class) stamp was printed in an initial edition of 100,000,000 copies. All of them sold out within the first two weeks of release, at a rate of more than a million a day, prompting the postal service to print 50,000,000 more, making it one of the top three best-selling U.S. stamps in decades. On the backing paper of each set of twenty stamps is a translation by Emiko Miyashita and Michael Dylan Welch, from their 2008 art book, 100 Poets: Passions of the Imperial Court (PIE Books, Tokyo). The poem by Ki no Tomonori from ninth-century Japan is in the form of a waka, now known as a tanka.
As founder and first president of the Tanka Society of America, it gives me great pleasure to see this genre of poetry receive such attention, and I can think of no broader or better way to bring such poetry to the people than through a postage stamp. +