A Report on Haiku North America 1993

First published, in slightly different from, in Woodnotes #18, Autumn 1993, pages 4 to 11. And with the title “A Perspective on Haiku North America 1993,” this report also appeared in the Romanian journal Albatross III:1 and 2, Spring-Summer and Autumn-Winter 1994 (all a single issue).

On the sunny afternoon of Thursday, July 15, 1993, a convening of spirits began quietly. One by one, haiku poets from San Francisco, New York, Toronto, and places between assembled at Las Positas College in Livermore, California. Authors and publishers hurried to the book fair room to set up displays of books for sale. In the registration room, friends meeting after long separations shook hands or hugged enthusiastically. Many met for the first time. Soon, dozens of travel-tested poets had registered, picked up a T-shirt and a poetry anthology, and enjoyed refreshments in the warmth of both the late afternoon and each other’s good company. Following the success of the first such conference in August of 1991, Haiku North America 1993 had just begun.

        As an international celebration of haiku and related forms of poetry, Haiku North America 1993 was an unqualified success. With an attendance slightly higher than in 1991, more than 90 poets from the United States, Canada, and Japan attended this rich weekend of presentations, readings, and socializing. The sponsoring organizations included the Haiku Poets of Northern California, the Haiku Society of America, the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society, Haiku Canada, Haiku Northwest, the Haiku Poets of Upstate New York, the Haiku Writers of Gualala Arts, the Boston Haiku Society, the North Carolina Haiku Society, the Western World Haiku Society, and the Japan Society of Northern California. The conference was organized by Garry Gay, Michael Dylan Welch, David Wright, Ebba Story, Jerry Ball, and Marianne Monaco, and hosted by Las Positas College and the Pleasanton Hilton hotel.


Thursday, July 15, 1993

Soon after registering on Thursday afternoon, many attendees began sporting the conference T-shirt, with the conference logo (a sheaf of wheat) and large gray letters proclaiming “Haiku North America” on bright salmon-pink cotton. Other activities included an art and photography show in the registration room. Especially memorable were paintings by HSA president Francine Porad, available for purchase. Many greetings and messages of support were also displayed in the registration room. These included posters, pictures, and poems from Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Croatia, Canada, and from various places across the United States. Meanwhile, amid a surfeit of refreshments at the registration tables, attendees eagerly picked up copies of The Shortest Distance, the conference anthology edited by Ebba Story and Michael Dylan Welch, with a cover photograph by Garry Gay. This book offered haiku and senryu by 51 conference attendees. Many poets also gathered around two long tables offering free brochures, order forms, poetry sheets, and other information on various haiku groups and publications. The mood during registration was relaxed and comfortable, yet infused with an air of anticipation.

        The evening began in the main lecture hall with an introduction to haiku and its history presented by Paul O. Williams, past-president of the Haiku Poets of Northern California. In outlining the development of haiku and its growth and enthusiastic reception outside Japan, he brought beginning and experienced haiku poets together on common ground. After a short break, Garry Gay took the stage. As chief conference organizer and past-president of HPNC and HSA, Garry officially welcomed everyone to the conference. After announcements, Las Positas College professor Jerry Ball led us in an open haiku reading. This enthusiastic reading lasted for more than two hours, with many poets sharing greetings and selections of their work. Socializing continued afterward at the registration room where snacks and drinks were available, and late into the evening at the Hilton hotel in nearby Pleasanton.

        One of the greatest highlights of the conference, aside from the workshops and lectures, was the haiku book fair. More than a hundred books on haiku, senryu, tanka, and longer poetry covered tables in the book fair room. Especially well-represented were AHA Books, From Here Press, Press Here, Stone Bridge Press, Two Autumns Press, and Weatherhill. Recent issues of Brussels Sprout, Frogpond, Haiku Headlines, Inkstone, Lynx, Modern Haiku, Woodnotes, and other magazines were also available. Also on display was Surimono: Prints by Elbow, a sumptuous collection of Japanese wood block print reproductions, with commentary by Edythe Polster. Edythe generously donated her book as a gift to the Las Positas College library. This 12½ by 19-inch, 494-page book displays 536 full-color illustrations, and is available in a limited edition for $1,500.00 each. One of the most eagerly anticipated books unveiled at the conference was Haiku Moment, edited by Bruce Ross, just published by Tuttle. A much-anticipated volume now available in bookstores across the continent and in Japan, Haiku Moment anthologized most of the haiku poets in attendance at the conference. With this and numerous other books and magazines for sale, the book fair was a resounding success. More than $4,000.00 worth of books were sold.


Friday, July 16, 1993

Friday’s events, after morning registration, began with a keynote address from Jane Hirshfield, poet and cotranslator of The Ink Dark Moon, a book of tanka from ancient court Japan. She spoke eloquently on “The Natural World as a Carrier of Meaning in Poetry.” She suggested that certain objects and events in the natural world can be understood to carry an intrinsic metaphorical or indicative meaning in much nature poetry being written today, including haiku and tanka. While Jane says she is not a haiku or tanka writer herself, she began what the organizing committee planned for the conference as an emphasis on haiku in the context of longer poetry. She concluded her talk by answering spirited questions from the audience.

        The first lecture and workshop session on Friday, July 16, included Jerry Ball’s talk on “Tricks,” cautioning haiku writers on the use of gimmicks in writing their haiku, and favoring the most direct expression of deep feeling and keen insight. At the same time, Patricia Donegan and David Wright gave a workshop on teaching haiku, exploring the varieties of pedagogy necessary for the successful presentation of haiku to naturally capable neophytes. Michael Dylan Welch also discussed the art of punctuation in haiku, offering a popular handout with examples of punctuation in haiku classified by category. He gave many recommendations on when and when not to punctuate. Ty Hadman was also scheduled to speak on “Hispanic Haiku” at this session time, but was unable to attend.

        At the second session, after a two-hour break for a catered lunch and visits to the book fair, Paul O. Williams delivered his potentially controversial paper on “Problems of Metaphor in Haiku,” in which he discussed the use and misuse of metaphor in classical and modern haiku, and in comparison to metaphoric traditions in Western poetry. This talk will hopefully see publication soon. William J. Higginson also gave a workshop at this time on “The New International Haiku,” in which he discussed the varieties of approaches to haiku in various countries, showing how they differ from and can broaden our own English approach. As an experiment, he challenged attendees to write haiku from memory, about the here and now, and out of fantasy. Meanwhile, Jane Hirshfield gave an enthusiastically attended workshop on writing tanka, in which examples were discussed, praised, and revised. Francine Porad also spoke during this time on “Psychological Responses to Haiku,” making reference to primal motifs of understanding and the distinctiveness of people-centered haiku where psychological responses are central.

        After a half-hour break, the third Friday session began with Penny Harter’s workshop on “From Haiku to Longer Poems,” in which she invited attendees to expand one or more of their haiku into a longer poem. She encouraged haiku poets who also write longer forms to use haiku’s rich images and other haiku sensitivities in their longer work. Meanwhile, Tom Lynch spoke to an enthusiastic group on “What’s American About American Haiku? Or, Do I Have to Like Sushi to Write Haiku?” His talk promoted aspects of haiku specific to our American sensibilities, and mentioned the transcendentalist and shamanistic precedent for our distinct American haiku awareness. Continuing the emphasis on haiku in the context of longer poetry, Lequita Vance spoke on “Broadening the Pond: Seeing Haiku into Mainstream Poetry,” in which she reported on her efforts to make haiku more accepted and acceptable to editors of nonhaiku poetry publications. Hiroaki Sato had been scheduled to speak at this time also, but regretted that he could not attend. In his place the committee scheduled John Wills to speak on subtlety in haiku, but at the last minute, John cancelled because of illness.

        The next event brought all attendees together for a forum discussion on “What Is Essential to English Haiku?” Yuki Teikei president June Hopper Hymas and HPNC president Christopher Herold moderated this event with grace and humor. After brief position statements from David Wright, Michael Dylan Welch, Geraldine C. Little, William J. Higginson, and Jerry Ball, the audience asked questions and offered their own opinions on what makes up the core of haiku. While this forum could have disintegrated into a debate on matters such as syllable count, season words, or the distinction between haiku and senryu, it remained positive and upbeat, with a focus on haiku’s most essential spirit, and the resonance of heightened awareness that makes the best haiku sparkle. The input and opinions from the audience made this event one of the most energetic yet unifying of the entire conference. The evening concluded with free time for socializing, with many poets heading off in groups to various local restaurants. Many attendees met later for drinks and more chatting at the Pleasanton Hilton.


Saturday, July 17, 1993

Saturday dawned warm and sunny yet again. The morning’s keynote speaker was seminal English-language haiku poet James W. Hackett. He shared portions of a manuscript entitled “That Art Thou: A Zen Way of Haiku.” He spoke with passion and eloquence on the value of the here and now in haiku, and the Zen perspective that he felt informed many of the best haiku. He punctuated his talk by reading selections of his own haiku, as appropriate for the topic at hand. Quoting liberally from Meister Eckhart, R. H. Blyth, D. T. Suzuki, and others, he offered a compelling summation of his personal approach to haiku. His talk was attentively received, and many attendees were eager to meet Jim for the first time.

        The morning lecture and workshop session began with William J. Higginson repeating his well-attended “New International Haiku” workshop. Bruce Ross also spoke on “Simplicity, Timelessness, and Silence: The Transference of Japanese Haiku into English-Language Haiku.” This talk was essentially the introduction to his newly published anthology, Haiku Moment. It is unfortunate, in his acknowledgment of preceding anthologies of note, that his introduction fails to mention The San Francisco Haiku Anthology, but Bruce says that he was unaware of this publication when he wrote his paper. Bruce’s talk was especially well-attended. Lorraine Ellis Harr was also scheduled to speak at this time, on “What Haiku Can Mean to the Future,” but she was not able to attend.

        After a two-hour break and another catered lunch replete with much socializing, 69 conference attendees gathered in a courtyard of Las Positas College for a group portrait photographed by Debbie Mullen. Debbie had been taking pictures during some of the events and offered prints for sale afterward. This group picture was especially popular, and served as a special memento of the conference.

        The Saturday afternoon sessions began with George Swede discussing “Haiku in the Mid 21st Century.” In this talk he offered speculations for the development of haiku in the next fifty years, based on statistics compiled from long-established haiku publications. He suggested that the haiku community needs one or more “elite” anthologies that present only a few of the very finest haiku in English as standards to follow. Jane Reichhold also spoke at this time on tanka, and the emotions and ritual involved in the process of creating tanka poems. Once again, this topic helped to place haiku in the context of longer poetry. At the same session, as an alternative to the workshops and lectures of the day, Ebba Story moderated an open reading of haiku by those interested in sharing their work. Most poems were read anonymously and some were briefly discussed. In contrast to the weekend’s sometimes academic, scholarly, or practical presentations, Ebba’s reading was a refreshing poem-centered renewal of the haiku spirit.

        The next afternoon session featured Penny Harter, repeating her “From Haiku to Longer Poems” workshop, and Geraldine C. Little, who spoke on “Composing Haiku Sequences.” Geraldine excels at writing sequences, and offered a distillation of her experience using haiku building blocks to create what at times is akin to a longer poem. Kazuo Sato was scheduled to give his Japanese perspective on haiku developments in English at this time, but was unfortunately not able to attend. In his place was a pleasant surprise addition to the program. Nick Avis from Comer Brook, Newfoundland spoke on the spatial arrangement of words and lines in haiku. As an alternative to punctuation, he suggested that the placement of lines can add variety and have powerful effect.

        After a short break and a last dash to the book fair before it closed, attendees gathered together again for a forum presentation on “North American Haiku Organizations.” This was a chance for everyone to learn more about the different haiku groups and their activities around the continent. Following an introduction by Garry Gay, various presidents or representatives of haiku organizations each spoke briefly about their group. After the camaraderie of the conference, the organizations offer a place for further sharing of haiku. Announcements were also made at this time, and a questionnaire was passed out for attendees to give their reactions or preferences regarding the conference. Much talk had already begun about where and when to hold the next Haiku North America conference. With enthusiasm from the Canadian contingent, the front runner seems to be Toronto in 1995. The Haiku North America organizing committee always intended that the conference belong to all haiku poets on this continent, not just to anyone haiku organization. Some people have mistakenly believed that Haiku North America was or is a Haiku Poets of Northern California or Haiku Society of America event, which it is not. Rather, it was the committee’s intent from the beginning that the conference move around the continent, organized and sponsored by different individuals, groups, or universities. It is exciting, in this regard, that the conference is taking on a life of its own and will possibly continue in Canada or elsewhere. There was also talk of having Haiku North America in Hawaii, perhaps in 1997 or earlier, as an ideal meeting place between our continent and Japan.

        The next event, perhaps a highlight for the entire weekend, was the Haiku Banquet at the Pleasanton Hilton. This event included no formal speeches, presentations, or announcements, but just plenty of socializing and good food. Poets sat around large round tables in groups of ten, yet often wandered to nearby tables to chat, get a book signed, to discuss this or that project, or to make yet another new haiku acquaintance. After the meal of chicken, mixed vegetables, and a cheesecake dessert, most people lingered to chat, or moved to nearby lounges to spread out on easy chairs. At this time, George Klacsanzky of Edmonds, Washington had organized an open-mike haiku reading at a nearby coffee-shop. While few poets took advantage of this opportunity due to the lateness of the hour, it was one example of the spontaneous energy and enthusiasm that helped make the 1993 conference even more successful than the previous one.


Sunday, July 18, 1993

The last events of Haiku North America began early on Sunday, July 18. In the relaxed yet rich way the conference began, an informal social gathering and round-robin haiku reading commenced at around 9:00 a.m. in a meeting room at the Pleasanton Hilton. After a break, and with a few latecomers having arrived, another round of reading started at 11:00 a.m. Most poets then scattered to nearby restaurants for lunch. Next, at 1:00 p.m., the final event of the conference began. Michael Dylan Welch introduced, in turn, four readers at a formal haiku reading. The first reader, James W. Hackett, delivered selections of his best haiku, including some humorous poems. Geraldine C. Little read some haiku and sequences next, as well as tanka from her book, More Light, Larger Vision. After an intermission, George Swede read both serious haiku and humorous senryu, much to the delight of the audience. Cor van den Heuvel read last, sharing portions of a haibun manuscript rich with childhood memories and imagery. Michael Dylan Welch closed the reading with a blessing for all attendees as they went on their way to various parts of the continent.

        Before we departed, however, Carolanne Reynolds and George Edward Pajari pleasantly surprised us by distributing their pamphlet called “The Late Haiku Poet Society.” They had worked on it late into the night to have it ready before we left. It shared 22 haiku and senryu by conference attendees (including themselves) who hadn’t submitted poems in time to be included in The Shortest Distance. This was yet another example of the energy and enthusiasm brought to the conference by attendees. As a bonus to this keepsake, the back cover even included a photocopy of the group portrait taken the day before.

        Some of those who came for the conference were able to stay for a vacation in the San Francisco area beyond Sunday afternoon, and many continued to meet with like-minded haiku enthusiasts. Others had to leave for home quickly, but the memories, new friendships, many new book purchases, and fertile discussions will undoubtedly influence countless haiku and articles written and published in the years ahead. Perhaps that is the value of a gathering such as this. As was the goal of the organizing committee, Haiku North America brought a widely scattered and sometimes disparate group of haiku poets together in a common celebration of a much-loved form of poetry. In the end, no matter what our differences might have been, we all traveled the shortest distance through our haiku toward and to each other. We are at a better place now than we were before.