No Longer Strangers by Haiku Northwest

The following interview in celebration of the Haiku Northwest 25th anniversary anthology, No Longer Strangers, appeared on Amanda Dcosta’s Mandy’s Pages website on 10 April 2014.

by Amanda Dcosta


Welcome to yet another exciting announcement at Mandy’s Pages. Today, poet Michael Dylan Welch represents Haiku Northwest, and shares extensively on the launch of No Longer Strangers, an anthology of haiku celebrating the group’s silver jubilee. This is not just an ordinary, regular-style anthology of poetry, but rather a carefully planned and well-intended collection in honor of haiku poets with a purpose. However, Michael will tell us more about this wonderful book—and how it will impact the world of English-language haiku in particular.

Mandy: Hello, Michael, and welcome to Mandy’s Pages. Those who have been following my tanka pages have great respect for your work as an English poet, especially for your contributions to the Japanese forms of haiku, tanka, renga, senryu, etc. However, for my readers who do not know you, please tell us something about yourself.

I’m currently serving as poet laureate for the city of Redmond, Washington, for which I’ve been organizing a series of poetry events and a conference. I also curate the monthly readings for the Redmond Association of Spokenword and SoulFood Poetry Night. I’m also web manager for the Tanka Society of America (an organization I founded in 2000, serving as president for five years). In 2010, I also started National Haiku Writing Month (NaHaiWriMo), held in February each year—the shortest month for the shortest genre of poetry. The goal is to write one haiku a day every day during the month. NaHaiWriMo has a very active Facebook page, where daily writing prompts provide year-round haiku inspiration. I also run Graceguts, an extensive website devoted chiefly to haiku, with many essays, reviews, and poems. I regularly give haiku workshops in the region as well.

That is quite impressive, Michael. You are not just a poet, but a poet with a vision—an enthusiast and team leader. Tell us something about Haiku Northwest. In what capacity do you represent the organization?

Haiku Northwest was founded in 1988 by Francine Porad. It became an official region of the Haiku Society of America in 1994, at which time it started having regional coordinators. In 2014, the group moved to having a full slate of officers, and I’m currently serving as web manager (which I’d been doing for the group since 2004, but it’s now an official officer position). Haiku Northwest meets monthly in the Seattle, Washington area to share and discuss haiku. We also promote haiku at various Japan-themed events in our area. Something else I do for Haiku Northwest is to run the group’s annual Seabeck Haiku Getaway, a long-weekend haiku retreat. This year our seventh annual retreat, to be held October 16–19, 2014, will feature Alan Pizzarelli, plus many other readings, workshops, presentations, and more—such as our much-loved talent show.

I was going through your photography collection of Haiku Northwest’s activities, and picked out Francine Porad’s photograph from there. This collection gives us a visual tour of some of the activities you describe. They come across as fun, energetic, and very inspiring, which brings me to the latest book that Haiku Northwest is releasing this April 17, 2014. Please give us the back-cover version of No Longer Strangers.

Haiku Northwest wanted to celebrate its 25th anniversary in a special way, so we decided to publish an anthology by our members, past and present. The book, No Longer Strangers, features poems by 78 contributors, including both current and deceased members, plus a history of the organization written by Connie Hutchison, who has been a member right from the beginning. The book is divided into four main sections, after an introduction: haiku, senryu, and a few haibun by current members; the history essay; haiku and senryu by deceased members; and appendixes, which list all our regional coordinators, a long list of group publications, and more. You can read more about the book at the Haiku Northwest site. A team of nine people worked for about a year to make this anthology happen. Editors for living members were Tanya McDonald, Marilyn Sandall, Michelle Schaefer, and Angela Terry. Connie Hutchison not only wrote the history, but also edited the memorial section for deceased members. I did the layout and design, among other tasks, and Dejah Léger provided the cover artwork and interior illustrations. Dianne Garcia helped with manuscript preparation and research, and William Scott Galasso helped with research and publicity. Our goal with the content has been to tell the organization’s story, mostly through poems, by all its current and past members. The group has excelled at inclusiveness and nurturing, and you can see this trait throughout No Longer Strangers, which is exactly what we have become.

When I began writing tanka, I was intrigued by the many reasons poets were drawn to it. Similarly with haiku; I have a fair understanding of this genre, except my experience at writing haiku is not quite tested. So I ask the question on behalf of so many wondering minds, “Why haiku?” And for those who are still unfamiliar with haiku, “What is haiku?”

I’ve written about this subject at great length in various essays. It might be simplest to just point to a few of these essays:

And for something fun:

You can also visit the Essays, Reviews, Introductions, and Interviews pages on my website for additional links.

My website also has pages for books I’ve published, haibun, haiga, haiku/senryu, longer poems, books published by my press (Press Here), rengay and other collaborations, sequences, speeches, photography, tanka, and more.

Thank you Michael. This set of links should definitely direct a budding poet in the right direction regarding haiku and its related forms. There is nothing more helpful than clear-cut directions. Back to this latest book by Haiku Northwest, how is No Longer Strangers different from other books in this genre?

As a haiku anthology, No Longer Strangers highlights the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and Canada, and includes poems by residents of Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. We hope the book is like other good books of haiku in presenting high-quality poems, but a higher purpose of the book has been to represent the poets of the region over our twenty-five-year history. It includes both published and previously unpublished work, and serves as an introduction to the haiku poetry of our very active region.

What advice would you give aspiring authors?

Read as much as you can. Write as much as you can. Edit as much as you can. The majority of writing is rewriting. And most people can’t really write well until they’ve read a great deal. And be patient—don’t rush to publish, and don’t delude yourself into thinking there are any shortcuts.

Are there any upcoming projects at Haiku Northwest?

We plan to have a number of readings to celebrate the release of No Longer Strangers, both in the Seattle area and in a few surrounding cities where many of members are concentrated, such as Port Townsend, Bellingham, and Tacoma, perhaps even Vancouver, British Columbia, or Portland, Oregon. We’re also involved with other regular events promoting haiku throughout the region, not to mention our regular monthly meetings at which we share and discuss haiku.

Would you like to comment on specific haiku from No Longer Strangers?

I’ll start with the title poem from the book, by the group’s founder, Francine Porad:

                poolside, we chat

                about reincarnation;

                no longer strangers

Francine, who died in 2006, was a very social and nurturing individual, a trait that continues to infuse Haiku Northwest. It was like her to chat with strangers. It didn’t matter if the topic of conversation might have been reincarnation or something else. The point was that simply talking together made a new friendship. Perhaps they shared something in common beyond the immediate topic of conversation too. This attitude of friendliness and mutual support characterizes the group, and makes this poem a perfect inspiration for the book’s title.

                sketching the sapling

                I will never see grown—

                the quiet woods

The preceding poem, by Seattle-area poet Dejah Léger, captures nature more than human nature, yet still with an awareness of the human place in nature. The Pacific Northwest is known for its huge forests and tall trees. Here the author takes us to one of those stands of trees, and helps us be aware that the trees will outlast us.

                daylight moon—

                the pregnant moose

                settles into snow

This poem is by Cindy Zackowitz, an Alaska poet who died in 2012. Even if we’ve never seen a moose in the wild ourselves, this is an image we can easily imagine, and also empathize with. We don’t know when in the winter this is, but we can imagine that the mother moose is just about ready to give birth, because it seems tired and is settling into the snow. It’s a moment of acceptance. The snow’s whiteness is echoed by the moon’s whiteness. I also love the sounds in this poem—the T sounds in the first nouns or verbs to start each line, and the varying O sounds in the last words of each line. Together the sounds and images coalesce into a pleasing and vivid harmony.

        The first of the three poems I’ve quoted here is entirely human-centered, and the third one is entirely nature-centered. The middle one is both. Haiku and senryu can include all three focuses effectively, and I think No Longer Strangers captures an effective range of these poems, several of them with distinctive Northwest subjects. The book is also generous for including poems by both less experienced and more experienced poets from the region.

When will No Longer Strangers be released? Is Haiku Northwest organizing a special event for the launch?

On April 17, to celebrate National Haiku Poetry Day, we will be having a launch reading for No Longer Strangers at SoulFood CoffeeHouse in Redmond, Washington. For eight years I’ve been curating a monthly poetry reading series there (for longer poetry, with haiku poet occasionally). This year, our regular reading date of the third Thursday of the month happened to fall on April 17, which is also National Haiku Poetry Day, so it seemed like an obvious idea to combine the two. I’m pleased that members of Haiku Northwest can gather to read their poems from the book. The reading will also be streamed live to the Internet (as all our readings are at SoulFood). For more information, please visit SoulFood Poetry Night and click the SoultribeTV link, or go directly. Depending on your time zone, you’d have to figure out when to tune in to watch the broadcast live (starting at 7:00 p.m, Pacific Standard Time, until about 9:00 p.m.), or save yourself the trouble and watch it later by searching for the poetry reading and the April 17 date. Please be aware that this is unedited footage, and sound and lighting levels may be uneven. Beyond this launch reading, we hope to have additional readings to promote the book. For other Haiku Northwest events, please visit the Haiku Northwest calendar.

How can readers buy this book?

We’ll have copies of No Longer Strangers at all our readings, meetings, and other events, of course, but for those who can’t join us, the book is currently available on Amazon. The price is $15 in U.S. dollars, plus shipping. Or visit the Haiku Northwest No Longer Strangers page for additional details, as already mentioned.

What about previous projects that Haiku Northwest has completed?

An appendix in No Longer Strangers lists dozens of previous publications, both large and small, two of which have won book awards from the Haiku Society of America. The complete list of these publications is also available online.


In one sentence, who should buy this book?

Anyone interested in haiku poetry is invited to join Haiku Northwest in celebrating its 25th anniversary of passionate haiku activity in the Seattle area. Please read No Longer Strangers to see how our haiku can resonate with you, no matter where you live in the world.

Thank you so much, Michael, for your time with this interview and for the interesting details that helped put this book together. On behalf of my team at Mandy’s Pages, I wish you and Haiku Northwest the very best. Here’s to a successful and fruitful launch of No Longer Strangers. Cheers!