A Report on Haiku North America 1991

First published in Woodnotes #10, Autumn 1991, pages 2–3 (originally published anonymously, but I wrote it).

The Haiku North America conference held at Las Positas College from Friday evening, August 23 to Sunday, August 25, 1991, featured a number of firsts. It was the first conference sponsored by a number of haiku societies, including the Haiku Poets of Northern California, the Haiku Society of America, Haiku Canada, the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society, Haiku Writers of Gualala Arts, and the Boston Haiku Society. It was the first to draw so many people from so many places together, and the first to feature a three-track program so that twelve sessions could be held on Saturday.

The conference opened on Friday at 6:30 p.m. with registration, refreshments, the distribution of conference T-shirts designed by Michael Dylan Welch, a welcome by Jerry Ball, and a social gathering that included a vigorous and amusing open-mike haiku reading. The reading was conducted in an unusual manner. Each poet wishing to read put his or her name in a hat, and each successive poet dipped his or her hand into the hat to select the next reader—so you never knew who was going to read next! Each poet was given five minutes to read and share greetings.

After coffee and refreshments in the registration room Saturday morning, the conference continued with William J. Higginson’s keynote address, “North America and the Democracy of Haiku.” Higginson included much information on early work on haiku in English, as well as his view that in North America, haiku is necessarily democratic in form and substance, evolving from the combined voices of so many poets.

In the first workshop and lecture session, attendees separated into one of three groups. Jerry Ball, Patricia Donegan, Kristine Kondō, and Paul O. Williams led a workshop/panel discussion on teaching haiku. All four panel members have had extensive pedagogical experience teaching haiku and other forms of poetry at various school levels. In another session, Michael Dylan Welch spoke about haiku and desktop publishing. By using personal computers, it is much easier today to produce respectable quality publications. His presentation included the distribution of a small booklet, an annotated bibliography of books on desktop publishing and related topics. In the third concurrent session at this time, Kazuo Sato spoke extemporaneously on Japan’s reaction to haiku from other countries. His seminar was especially well attended.

After a break for a catered lunch, the first afternoon session again included three concurrent sessions. Paul O. Williams delivered a somewhat controversial paper on the limits of the haiku form, generating a lively discussion afterward. At the same time, Patricia Donegan gave a workshop on haiku and the eco-crisis, and also spoke about haiku as a healing awareness practice. Finally, William J. Higginson led the first of his two workshops on writing haiku relative to the seasons and local flora and fauna. He handed out an extensive season-word list, an addendum to the list published in his Haiku Handbook.

The second afternoon session offered two options. Cor van den Heuvel, editor of The Haiku Anthology, led a workshop on haiku. This proved to be a very popular session, and unfortunately he did not have enough time to get to everyone’s haiku. Poems were chosen from previously submitted selections. One session at this time was cancelled because Alexis Rotella was unable to attend. Finally, George Swede spoke on “elite” haiku, which he defined by meticulous example as being hybrids of both haiku and senryu.

In the final afternoon session, Paul O. Williams and David Priebe stepped in at the last minute to help Michael Dylan Welch and vincent tripi in a panel discussion on editing haiku. Unfortunately, Francine Porad, who was to lead the session, and Frederick A. Raborg, Jr. [editor of Amelia and of the haiku journal Cicada] were not able to participate. Meanwhile, Jerry Ball and David Wright led a special teacher’s session on haiku for California residents in a college credit-option track. And, rounding out the afternoon, William J. Higginson repeated his haiku seasons workshop.

An unfortunate event occurred on Saturday morning when Francine Porad, editor of Brussels Sprout, broke her hip—to everyone’s dismay. She missed the bulk of the conference, spending her time at a nearby hospital. Everyone’s thoughts were with her, and all missed her contribution to the events. Do write and wish her well!

One highlight of the conference was the book fair, which enabled attendees to buy and sell haiku-related materials in a common area, as well as get books signed by the authors. The book fair area was decorated with welcoming signs and flags of the United States, Canada, and Japan. In one corner, a video machine played Garry Gay’s “Haiku Spotlight” videos of San Francisco and New York HSA members reading their poetry. The book fair proved to be an especially popular and successful aspect of the conference, with several thousand dollars’ worth of haiku books trading hands. Many of the new books are listed in this issue of Woodnotes. One of the books was the conference anthology, Harvest, edited by Michael Dylan Welch, which included one poem from each attendee who chose to submit poems. This book was free to all early registrants.

Another special event was the dinner at the Hanabishi Japanese restaurant in the town of Livermore. This also offered a time for socializing. Many of the attendees who crowded into the restaurant circulated to sign each other’s copies of Harvest. A special copy was signed by everyone and later delivered to Francine Porad in hospital. After the meal, several poets lingered to rouse a renga into shape. Perhaps it will one day see publication.

The next morning, Sunday, saw a coffee get-together at the San-Ramon Marriott, where many conference attendees were staying. At this time, vincent tripi read his moving tribute to Charlie Dickson (recently published in Modern Haiku), and Michael Dylan Welch and Kimberly Cortner read “Windswept Walk,” a special renku started by Michael over a year ago. Thirty-six different participants each contributed one verse. After this get-together, some attendees began their goodbyes. Others heading into San Francisco for a lovely walk at the Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park. Ebba Story coordinated this event, made particularly pleasurable by the docents who shared their knowledge of the many plants and flowers—and the California quail with their brood of babies! Many haiku were written on this walk, and will no doubt see publication in various magazines in the near future. This event officially concluded the conference.

Jerry Ball and David Wright, both faculty members at Las Positas College, were tireless and gracious hosts. Jerry Ball and Garry Gay, president of the Haiku Society of America, originally proposed the idea. Garry was assisted in putting together the program by Ball, Wright, Paul O. Williams, Michael Dylan Welch, and Christopher Herold. People from the Las Positas staff, especially Denis Landano, were extremely helpful. David and Rosalyn Wright and their family also helped with refreshments and registration.

Many said that a special pleasure of the conference was in finally meeting numerous people whose work in haiku one knew, but who lived at a distance. Another pleasure was the presence of haikuists from Japan, including Kristin Deming, Kris Kondō, Kazuo Sato, and Ken Sato. The Haiku Canada contingent included Marshall Hryciuk, Anita Krumins, and George Swede—also pleasurable acquaintances. Many expressed the wish for another conference in the future, perhaps in another region, such as Boston, the Midwest, New York, or Seattle. If the success of the first Haiku North America conference is anything to go by, the next one—if any group wishes to sponsor it—is sure to be successful as well. Thanks to all for making this one such a success!