Opening the Jumble Box

First published as the introduction for Jumble Box: Haiku and Senryu from National Haiku Writing Month, Sammamish, Washington: Press Here, 2017. Also read the book’s afterword, “Next Steps with Haiku,” and the list of contributing poets. See the Press Here page for additional information about the book, including ordering details.       +

One of my favorite quotations about haiku is by R. H. Blyth: “Haiku is a hand beckoning, a door half-opened, a mirror wiped clean. It is a way of returning to nature, to our moon nature, our cherry blossom nature, our falling leaf nature, in short, to our Buddha nature.” This observation reminds us that haiku points to a source. It inspired my daily writing prompts for the seventh episode of the annual celebration known as National Haiku Writing Month, or NaHaiWriMo, held in February of 2017. Beginning and experienced haiku poets from around the world responded to these prompts with thousands of haiku and senryu (the index includes poet locations to tell you where they’re from). I chose this book’s 324 poems, by exactly 100 poets, for their individual resonance and poetic quality, but also for their creative ways in responding to the prompts. Look for celebrated similarity among some poems, yet also diversity and variety in others, all contributing to an energetic jumble box of poets and poetry.

National Haiku Writing Month first took place in 2011 with the goal to write at least one haiku a day for each day of February, the year’s shortest month for the world’s shortest genre of poetry. Each year, hundreds of participants share their haiku and senryu on the NaHaiWriMo page on Facebook, and I’m grateful to this active community for producing the poems in this anthology. In a way, this book is twenty-eight smaller books, with chapters for each day of February offering sets of poems themed to match each daily prompt. Perhaps read just one chapter a day, taking up to an entire month to read this book. And while you’re at it, try writing a new haiku of your own in response to the prompt for each day. Please also join us for the next National Haiku Writing Month celebration, held every February.

The following poems emerged as some of the best from many thousands written for NaHaiWriMo in 2017. I shared a short list of about 400 selections with Tasmanian artist Ron C. Moss, who chose one poem for each day of the month. In response, he  created twenty-eight original haiga—a painting for each poem he selected, with the poem added in calligraphy. He also created the cover art, and suggested the book’s title, from a poem by Greg Longenecker. Surely the many ways we write haiku are like a jumble box—and as with a box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll discover. Special thanks to Ron for his artwork, and to each poet who participated in NaHaiWriMo. May their moments of poetic inspiration now be yours as a way of returning to yourself and what matters in the world around you.

Indeed, through each one of this book’s poems I hope we can return to nature—our moon nature, our cherry blossom nature, our falling leaf nature—for it is nature and its seasonal unfoldings that provide much of haiku’s inspiration. Likewise, human nature inspires haiku’s more humorous or satirical cousin, senryu. I will leave it up to each individual reader to contemplate whether this poetry also returns us to our Buddha nature, but I trust that it at least returns us to the essences of deeply felt personal experience, to the joy of creativity with language, and to a heightened appreciation for our varied and wonderful world.

Michael Dylan Welch

National Haiku Writing Month Founder