Introduction to Countdown
In 2000, I edited Countdown (San Francisco: Two Autumns Press, 2000), an anthology of millennium and New Year haiku published by the Haiku Poets of Northern California. This is my introduction for the book, which points out how the precise midnight moment of change from one year to the next is the kind of intense moment that haiku poets celebrate every day, all year round. I think too of Canadian novelist and poet Robert Kroetsch, who said “I think art always happens on borders, on peripheries. It’s just like sloughs. All the birds are working the edges of the slough, and it’s the same with art. Art happens on the edges.” See also Treadmill, a sequence of my millennium/Y2K haiku.
Five, four, three, two, one . . .
It’s often the edge of something that makes it interesting. Edges define shapes, and shapes define perceptions. We are fascinated with the seashore, where the land ends and the ocean begins. We are drawn to the mystery of what lies beyond life’s edges in both space and time. We pause in a moment of reflection when an old watch stops ticking. We feel rejuvenated when we see plum blossoms signaling the onset of spring. Milestones also fascinate us, such as a baby’s first steps, a tenth wedding anniversary, or the moment when our Honda odometer turns over to exactly 100,000 miles. Edges and milestones mark places and times of change. The human psyche is endlessly drawn to them.
One of these milestones is the beginning of the new millennium. Purists argue the new millennium doesn’t start until January 1, 2001. Others counter that the millennium is an abstract and artificial construct, and that it’s the changing of the year’s digits that intrigues us, like the magic 100,000 mark on our car odometers. Either way, one millennium is ending and another is beginning, and we’re the rare generation right in the middle of it.
As Carolyn Hall notes in her poem that follows [“ ’00 / the new millennium / a big nothing”], the millennium hype has seemed to be a big nothing, and indeed it has been with the Y2K computer problem. But perhaps the new millennium is not a big nothing on a personal level. That’s because the edge of something, the milestone, the change from one significance to another, gives us pause to reflect, to resolve, and to begin again. Haiku, by its nature, often focuses on beginnings, endings, and milestones. Haiku is a means of capturing these image-moments of change that make life enthralling. The poems that follow capture this edge of time, as do all good haiku, but here they also capture the end of one year and the start of another, the end of one millennium and the start of another. Perhaps nothing is different after all. But perhaps this realization may help us grasp the deeper value of every ordinary moment, regardless of milestone.
No New Year celebration would be complete without a countdown to midnight. At the time of this annual countdown, the entire world focuses on the sharpest of moments. For haiku poets, the present moment is something we have long appreciated and celebrated. But with the passing of time from one year to the next, we celebrate that one particular moment with the entire world.
—Michael Dylan Welch
Here are three of my haiku from this collection:
fireworks at midnight—
a piece of Y2K confetti
lands on the sundial
what computers feel,
clocks feel, I don’t know—
New Year’s Day—
the computer keeps working
I feel about average