2011: A Summary of My Poetic Year

Not previously published.

Like the year before, 2011 was another standout year for me poetically, but nearly immediately it took an unexpected turn. In January, I inherited the Haiku North America conference after organizers at the intended location backed out. Out the window went my New Year resolutions to submit more poetry for publication and to do work on a few other writing projects. Instead, with a crack team of volunteers, I contracted to use meeting rooms at Seattle Center, booked the Space Needle for our banquet, and pulled together an extensive program of haiku presentations for the conference that took place in August. But more on that later.

        My year began with a contribution to Sheila Bender’s Creative Writing DeMystified, published by McGraw-Hill. I wrote about tanka poetry, describing the autobiographical nature of one particular tanka, and also provided a tanka writing exercise. Actually, I wrote my contribution more than a year earlier, but the book appeared only at the start of 2011. Here are more of my poetic highlights from 2011.


National Haiku Writing Month

In February, I instigated National Haiku Writing Month, which turned out to be way more successful than I imagined—using the shortest month of the year to promote the shortest genre of poetry, with the simple assignment to write one haiku a day. Not only did I create the website, I also created the NaHaiWriMo Facebook page, which very quickly attracted many hundreds of participants. I summarized this experience on the website. Aubrie Cox also conducted an interview with me for Haijinx magazine, and wrote an overview of NaHaiWriMo. Alan Summers also wrote a report about his experience with NaHaiWriMo. These features appeared in the March 2011 issue of Haijinx, which also featured fourteen of my own haiku from NaHaiWriMo.

       On the NaHaiWriMo page on Facebook, for each day throughout the month February, I provided a daily writing prompt. At the end of the month, everyone wanted it to continue, so I started appointing monthly writing prompters. Hundreds of wonderful prompts have inspired many thousands of haiku from poets around the world. You can read enthusiastic comments from many participants. Indeed, NaHaiWriMo was probably one of my biggest poetic successes of the year—and perhaps even of several years.


Line Zero Contributions

This year I had an essay and two interviews in Line Zero magazine, an independent Seattle-area zine. My first contribution was “Building a Suburban Poetry Community” in February, followed by “Cream Rises: Lana Hechtman Ayers in Service of Poetry” in May and “Thinking Small: Devon Léger and Roots-Based Indie Music” in August. This latter piece wasn’t poetry-related, but it was a nice way to stretch my writing wings in the realm of music (another passionate interest).


Haiku Society of America and Haiku Northwest

I continued again this year as vice president of the HSA, working with Ce Rosenow, president, and a great team of officers. We made continued headway with new and renewed activities. I also continued as web manager for the Haiku Northwest group, and participated with all of its monthly meetings on the second Thursday of each month, meeting mostly in Bellevue, Washington. The local haiku group has been a wonderful place to share my latest haiku, and officers of the national organization, including all the regional coordinators I liaison with, have been a great set of contact points for the larger haiku scene.


Poetry Workshops

I gave numerous poetry workshops this year, starting with one on “Haiku Targets” at Oil and Water Arts on Bainbridge Island in February. Other workshops included a March workshop for the Plateau Area Writers Association in Auburn, Washington, and, in April, my “Haiku: It’s Bigger Than You Think” workshop at the Redmond Regional Library in Redmond, Washington, sponsored by the Redmond Association of Spokenword. I also gave a weekly “Introduction to Haiku” workshop for three weeks at the Seattle Japanese Garden in Seattle, and my “Writing Haiku: Myths and Realities” workshop at Historic Joy Kogawa House in Vancouver, British Columbia, also in May. In June I also gave an introductory haiku workshop as part of the national meeting of the Haiku Society of America held in Bend, Oregon (I even appeared in television news coverage of the event). In July, I gave a workshop on renku at The Commons on Gabriola Island, British Columbia, and in August I presented “The Joy of Haiku” at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center in the heart of the North Cascades National Park, which was a real treat. In September, I taught several introductory haiku classes at the annual Aki Matsuri (fall festival) at Bellevue College in Bellevue, Washington. I taught another introductory haiku class at the Seattle Japanese Garden in October (this time just a one-day class), and that turned out to be my last workshop presentation for the year.


Poetry Reading Series

I continue to curate two mainstream poetry reading series: SoulFood Poetry Night, which I started in 2006, and the Redmond Association of Spokenword, a group that I’ve been a board member of for many years. These readings took place every month throughout the year, SoulFood on the third Thursday of each month, and RASP on the last Friday of each month. I MC’d all the SoulFood readings (often with my cocurator, Lana Hechtman Ayers), also served as MC for RASP in February, June, August, and September. The SoulFood readings focus on poetry, but the RASP readings include poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and even children’s literature, which is a nice variety.


Haiku Invitational

In 2010, I served as judge for the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival’s annual Haiku Invitational. In March of 2011, a bus placard, featuring the five top haiku I selected, started appearing on hundreds of buses and SkyTrains in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was my honour to serve as judge, and I continue to assist the festival as a haiku advisor, and to help with their various events as much as I can despite living a two-hour drive away. In early April, I read these winning haiku, and many additional selections, at the Japan Days event at Vancouver’s beautiful VanDusen Botanical Garden.


E. E. Cummings Society

Also in March, an essay of mine, “The Tiny Room: The Jottings of E. E. Cummings,” appeared in issue #17 of Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society. I’ve been a contributing editor to this journal for many years, but hadn’t published one of my own essays in the journal for several years. I originally presented this paper on 28 May 2004, in a shorter form, at the American Literature Association conference in San Francisco, but it was only published now, after extensive revision.


National Poetry Month

April, of course, is National Poetry Month, but other than a few activities already mentioned, I didn’t do much except to help staff the haiku table at Sakura-Con 2011, Seattle’s massive anime festival, at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. Quite the cultural experience to see all the cosplay participants dressed up as their favourite anime characters. Anime fans often appreciate other aspects of Japanese culture, so many conference attendees also expressed interest in haiku.


Book Publications

My book publication news this year began in May with the appearance of a book on bonsai, titled simply Bonsai, from PIE Books in Tokyo. With Emiko Miyashita, I cotranslated a dozen Bashō haiku—a year of Bashō, one haiku for each month of the year—that were featured in this art book presenting photographs of stunning examples of bonsai, arranged by season. In May, through the Washington Poets Association, I published Cascade. I coedited the journal, and also did the layout and design (that same month, I also MC’d the premier reading for the journal at the WPA’s Burning Word poetry festival in Leavenworth, Washington). Cascade is available on Amazon. July saw the book launch for my new book, Tidepools: Haiku On Gabriola (Pacific Rim Publishing, 2011), celebrating ten years of haiku weekends on Gabriola Island, British Columbia (read the introduction). For such a slim book, it sure took a lot of work! It was a pleasure to read from Tidepools for the July book launch at Drumbeg House on Gabriola. August saw the publication of Standing Still, the Haiku North America conference anthology I coedited with Ruth Yarrow (more on HNA later). And to close out the year, in November, PIE Books published an art book of photographs titled Furoshiki, my cotranslation with Emiko Miyashita of poems and prose about elegant Japanese gift-wrapping cloths known as furoshiki. Once again, however, another year went by without my publishing a book entirely of my own haiku or other poetry.


Poetry Readings

I gave numerous poetry readings this year, in addition to sharing poems regularly at the monthly SoulFood Poetry Night and RASP readings. A particular highlight, in mid-May, was the “Cross-Border Pollination” reading series in Vancouver, British Columbia, hosted by Rachel Rose. I read with Jericho Brown, Catherine Owen, Roberta Rich, and Sheryda Warrener, and the reading took place at Simon Fraser University. This was one of the best-paying readings I’ve ever given. The next day, Jericho Brown and I both gave poetry workshops (mine on haiku) at Vancouver’s Joy Kogawa House. In July, on Gabriola Island, British Columbia, I gave a reading of my haiku and tanka, and in August, for the Seattle Japanese Garden’s annual moon viewing festival, I read haiku and other poetry about the moon. At this latter event, Tanya McDonald and I also cojudged a moon viewing haiku contest, and read the results.


Haiku North America Conference

With all of the preceding activity, you wouldn’t think I’d have had time for anything else, but the main focus of my poetic energies for most of the year was actually the Haiku North America conference, which I mentioned at the start of this report. I put together a great team of helpers, especially Tanya McDonald, and in six months we organized a superb conference that normally takes two years to prepare. HNA took place in the Northwest Rooms at Seattle Center, over the long weekend of 3–7 August 2011, with our banquet taking place up the Space Needle.

        Oh, so much to report about this weekend, not even counting the 1,500 photos I took. Speakers included such wonderful and talented haiku poets and scholars as Melissa Allen, Fay Aoyagi, Don Baird, Jerry Ball, Marjorie Buettner, Terry Ann Carter, Margaret Chula, Carlos Colón, Wanda Cook, Abigail Friedman, Garry Gay, Richard Gilbert, Penny Harter, Jim Kacian, Deborah Kolodji, David Lanoue, Eve Luckring, Tanya McDonald, Paul Miller, Emiko Miyashita, Gene Myers, Makoto Nakanishi, Minako Noma, Ce Rosenow, Bruce Ross, Lidia Rozmus, Carmen Sterba, Richard Tice, Jessica Tremblay, Charles Trumbull, Cor van den Heuvel, Don Wentworth, and Ruth Yarrow. And so many others.

        We had numerous individual readings, a reading for Standing Still (the conference anthology), readings of haibun and “anything but haiku,” a memorial reading for haiku poets who had passed away in the last two years, a reading of haiku written by children for the Japan Air Lines haiku contest, and a reading featuring poets with new haiku books. We also enjoyed morning tai chi, and presentations on such topics as one-line haiku, race in haiku, place in haiku, rengay, the histories of Canadian and American haiku, erotic haiku, concrete haiku, spaciousness in haiku, Shiki’s haiku revolution, Issa’s haiku, Japanese high school haiku tournaments, video renku, haiga, teaching haiku, gendai haiku, haiku comics, season words, and more. Richard Gilbert delivered the William J. Higginson Memorial Lecture, “Social Consciousness and the Poet’s Stance in 21st Century Haiku: From Kaneko Tohta to the Present.” Panel discussions dug into the topics of developing haiku book manuscripts, what makes Canadian haiku Canadian, starting and running haiku groups, and haiku blogging, with a special panel on how haiku writing had changed over several decades for a selected number of panelists. We also enjoyed a rollicking Haiku Bowl game show (rife with haiku-related trivia), and workshops on traditional and gendai haiku, rengay, and haibun, plus much socializing, especially when we went to nearby restaurants for meals.

        Our meeting rooms featured displays of haiga, ikebana, T-shirts from all past HNA conferences (starting in 1991), haiku-trifolds and other freebies, and more, including a selection of poems from the Haiku on Sticks installation I’d put on previously. The dessert reception, bookfair, and silent auction were all hits, as was the Haiku Tree, where you could attach poems to tree boughs assembled in our meeting room. We enjoyed a guided walk to the nearby Olympic Sculpture Park, an excursion by monorail to downtown Seattle to visit Pike Place Market and the Seattle Art Museum (our urban kukai), much exploration of Seattle Center, and of course our trip up the Space Needle for the banquet (while the Blue Angels soared around us for the Seafair celebration). At the banquet, kukai and unsilent auction winners were announced, and we had an extraordinary appearance by Haiku Elvis himself. Oh, and the Saturday-night dance was a real hit, too.

        Many attendees ordered the conference T-shirt, and everyone received overstuffed registration packets complete with an HNA-branded notebook, and got a free printed copy of the HNA group photo. Events concluded on the fifth day with a trip to Blake Island to visit Tillicum Village and to experience the Native American dance and storytelling performance and salmon bake, plus hiking around the island.

        And if this all sounds like a lot of work, it was, as I developed the program, scheduled everything, produced the conference program (and anthology), coordinated all the volunteers, and generally made everything happen. But it was a wonderful event, well worth the effort—and not possible without stellar volunteers who helped to take care of registration, finances, facilities arrangements, book sales at the bookfair, banquet preparations, gift items for each of our speakers, hotels, transportation, the website and blog, plus logos, posters, and publicity, not to mention umpteen other details. Definitely the highlight of my poetic year!


Seabeck Haiku Getaway

Coming in a close second to the Haiku North America conference as a highlight of my poetic year was the fourth annual Seabeck Haiku Getaway, which I directed with Tanya McDonald. It took place 13–16 October 2011 at the Seabeck Conference Center in Seabeck, Washington. Our featured speaker was John Stevenson, longtime officer and past president of the Haiku Society of America, and current managing editor of The Heron’s Nest haiku journal. Other presenters and readers included Susan Constable, Cara Holman, Tanya McDonald, Barbara Snow, Carmi Soifer, Angela Terry, and more. We enjoyed various readings, an at-your-own-pace collaborative writing event I called renkurama, anonymous workshops, “burning question” discussions, the creation of our holograph anthology (handmade copies of anthologies for every attendee, made during the weekend), haiku walks to the woods and water, a rengay-writing workshop (I led that), weathergrams (poems on slips of paper hung in the trees and bushes), a photo-haiga presentation, and a showing of the “Haiku” documentary movie filmed in 2007, mostly at that year’s Haiku North America conference. I also gave a presentation on “21 Haiku Lessons from A Book of Tea.” We also announced the winners of the 2011 Porad Award for haiku, held a kukai, saw a presentation on making your own haiku booklets, and enjoyed our usual silent auction, bookfair, and other activities. The weekend ended with a Sunday trip to nearby Scenic Beach State Park. I took many photographs of the weekend, and put an album on Google Photos. The Seabeck Haiku Getaway is a warm and transcendent weekend that I look forward to all year long.


Websites and Facebook

I continued to develop content for my Graceguts and NaHaiWriMo websites. I added a great deal of content to Graceguts, including a mix of published essays, reviews, poems, sequences, rengay, and more. Less new content added to the NaHaiWriMo site, but I’ve been pleased with what’s already there. In addition to these two sites, I continued to run my SoulFood Poetry Night site, kept the Haiku Northwest website up to date (especially with Seabeck Haiku Getaway content), and added the occasional photo album to my Google Photos site (see the Photographs page for album lists). I also continued to administer the American Haiku Archives site and helped with the Haiku Society of America website and Facebook page.

        Speaking of Facebook, I added content almost daily to my own Facebook page, as well as to the NaHaiWriMo page, often with discussion questions or humourous comics. Likes on the NaHaiWriMo page continued to grow all year long, and I suspect they will top 1,000 in 2012. The Rengay page on Facebook never did catch fire, but I continue to run it.

        I have a Twitter account (CaptainHaiku), but rarely post anything with it. I’ve never quite understood Twitter, and how to make the most of it—so far it seems like yet another thing to not have enough time for, as if everything else wasn’t already enough.


A Few More Poetic Distractions

This year I had wanted to publish a bit more of my haiku and essays, but Haiku North America made that very difficult. Right near the end of the year, though, I did manage to publish two short essays and a selection of my neon buddha photo-haiga in Notes from the Gean (I did also have other occasional publications throughout the year, but not much, other than in Line Zero magazine). Next year I’ll surely publish more of my essays and poems—although I continue to write way more than I publish. Actually, this was a particularly productive year for me, writing-wise, but I long to share more of it in print, whether online or off.

        As for other writing distractions, I tried again to do the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), but wasn’t able to finish (too much going on, alas), but maybe I’ll do it again another year—and finish 50,000 words, like I did in 2010. It wasn’t poetry, but in January I received an award of excellence for best printed technical publication from the Society for Technical Communication (I do, after all, have a day job—in case anyone would think all of the above is all I do, not to mention many family pleasures and obligations). In October, a number of my haiku appeared in a haiku app, available on iTunes, published by The Haiku Foundation. And there were other tidbits of poetic activity, like my regular attendance at monthly Haiku Northwest meetings, constant reading of poetry books and journals (not just related to haiku), and much correspondence with haiku friends everywhere. What a year it has been, not even counting the Seabeck haiku retreat or the spectacular Haiku North America conference! Let’s see what 2012 has in store.