Introduction to Into Our Words

This is the introduction, cowritten with Grant D. Savage, to the 2009 Haiku North America conference anthology, titled Into Our Words (Sammamish, Washington: Press Here, 2009). The conference took place from August 5 to 11, 2009, at the National Library of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada’s equivalent to the U.S. Library of Congress). See the Press Here page for this book. You can also read selected poems from this book.

Into All Our Words

setting sun—

the mountain’s shadow creeps

into our words

        —Gary Hotham


No one was ever more in his element at Haiku North America conferences than William J. Higginson. Always the quintessential haiku poet, scholar, enthusiast, advocate, translator, and critic, Bill found such a stimulating and inspiring outlet for his passions and talents at this conference that he surely wished Haiku North America happened multiple times every year instead of just once every two years. He was, too, the only person who had been to all nine conferences since it began in 1991. When he passed away in October of 2008, Bill left a gaping void not just in Haiku North America, but in the entire haiku community worldwide. It is therefore fitting that we dedicate this tenth HNA anthology, Into Our Words, to William J. Higginson.

        Bill Higginson was as generous, humble, and experienced a haiku authority as we have ever had the privilege to know, by his printed words as well as in person. Few books have matched the influence and importance that continues even today of his land­mark book, written with his wife Penny Harter, The Haiku Hand­book, which McGraw-Hill first published in 1985. His other books, especially The Haiku Seasons and Haiku World, both published by Kodansha International in 1996, and voluminous other papers and presentations over many decades have had a profound impact on English-language haiku. He was also a charter member of the Haiku Society of America, founded in 1968, and served as its president in 1976. At Haiku North America, we are all missing the chance to have him speak to us one more time about season words or other essentials and nuances of the Japanese haiku tra­dition, and to lead us in a session of his beloved renku.

        The title poem for this anthology has a bit of history. Gary Hotham has told us that he recently ran across it in an old folder of work slated for publication. He reports that Bill Higginson had accepted this haiku in July of 1973 for publication in Haiku Maga­zine. As far as Gary can tell, though, the poem never appeared in print, despite Bill’s correspondence to Gary through 1977 saying that he still hoped to publish it. But now we can tie off this loose end and say that Gary’s poem, first selected by Bill, has finally been published. We hope that this haiku, now more than thirty-five years old, serves as a small memorial to Bill and his decades of service to haiku and the haiku community.

        The words of Gary’s poem also serve to remind us of Bill’s extensive influence in the lives of haiku poets everywhere, for surely Bill was a mountain of haiku knowledge whose benevolent shadow has crept into all of our words, all of our haiku. Perhaps the best tribute each of us can make to the memory of William J. Higginson, guided by his many words to us, is to pay close atten­tion to the haiku tradition, and to seek constantly to improve our own words in haiku.

        As is customary with Haiku North America conference anthologies, we’ve arranged the poems in this edition by each poet’s first name. We wish only that Into Our Words could have included a haiku by a scholar, poet, and friend who we all knew as Bill.


        Michael Dylan Welch

        Grant D. Savage

Haiku by the editors from this anthology:

        Valentine’s Day—

        a few clicks

        of the swans’ beaks

                Michael Dylan Welch

        moonlit pool

        from the silence

        a waterfall

                Grant D. Savage