A Report on Haiku North America 2005

First published on the Haiku North America site (and perhaps also in the HSA Newsletter, 2005).

The state of Washington recently hosted the eighth biennial Haiku North America conference, the first one in the state since the conference began in 1991. Previous conferences have been held in San Francisco, Toronto, Portland (Oregon), Chicago, Boston, and New York. The 2005 event took place September 21 through 25, hosted by Centrum at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend, directed by Michael Dylan Welch, with Christopher Herold as associate director. The event featured dozens of readings, papers, presentations, discussions, workshops, nature walks, and performances.

Haiku North America began with a two-hour chartered boat trip from Pier 69 in Seattle directly to the Fort Worden dock. Tour-guide commentary emphasized the geography, geology, and other natural wonders. Perfect sunny weather on the trip and throughout the conference gave attendees clear views of the Olympic and Cascade mountains. Along the way, many haiku were written about the seals, water birds, boats, mountains, and other scenery, and a few dozen of these poems were later posted for anonymous voting for the boat trip kukai. Attendees (about 100) came from Europe, Japan, and throughout North America, and included many leading scholars, translators, and poets specializing in haiku.

Public Performances

Two evening performances were open to public. Friday night featured a mesmerizing butoh dance happening by Christopher Overman, with audience members entering onto the darkened stage from the back, placing a candle in a circle around the main dancer, and then writing a haiku onto large white panels on the stage. The dance was followed by a superb reading by Seattle poet Ruth Yarrow (including bird sounds to accompany some haiku), and then the premier reading of work from The Unswept Path: Contemporary American Haiku, a new anthology from White Pine Press (Christopher Herold, Margaret Chula, William J. Higginson, and Penny Harter read their contributions).

The Saturday-night performance featured four members of the Haiku Northwest group (William Scott Galasso, Connie Hutchison, Dean Summers, and Ruth Yarrow) reading “Haiku: The Four Elements” with music by James Whetzel on darbouka, talking drum, sarod, and electronics, plus throat singing. Renowned Canadian haiku poet George Swede followed this with a career retrospective reading, complete with projected images of his poetry and historical photographs. The evening climaxed with an energetic performance by Seattle Kokon Taiko drummers.

Banquet and Other Highlights

Another weekend highlight was a banquet featuring a reading by Francine Porad, for whom the Washington Poets Association recently named its annual haiku contest. Carol O’Dell and Doris Thurston also prepared other banquet activities, including a haiku trivia game. At the banquet, winners were announced for the Port Townsend Film Festival haiku contest (won by Marian Olson) and the boat trip kukai winner (won by Michael Dylan Welch). Jeanne Emrich and Carole MacRury also announced winners for the conference haiga (haiku painting) exhibition contest. The banquet also included a deeply moving memorial reading by Pamela Miller Ness and Jerome Cushman for haiku poets who had passed away since the previous HNA conference. Dean Summers served as banquet MC.

The conference also featured the following:

      • A haiku bookfair with a dozen tables filled with haiku books for sale.

      • A room filled with items to bid upon for the silent auction.

      • A table brimming with “haiku handouts” (trifold sheets and other creative preparations) to share with other attendees.

      • Spectacularly beautiful ikebana displays by Sakura Davis.

      • An origami display and demonstration by Puget Area Paperfolding Enthusiasts Roundtable.

      • haiku posters from the Port Townsend Film Festival haiku contest (also displayed around town).

      • A national meeting of the Haiku Society of America chaired by society president Charles Trumbull (at which Merit Book Awards and winners of the Henderson and Brady contests were announced).

      • A “regional” reading of haiku emceed by William Scott Galasso.

      • A tour of Copper Canyon Press (one of the country’s largest independent poetry publishers, resident at Fort Worden).

There was also an informative personal interview with Harumi Blyth, daughter of famed late haiku translator R. H. Blyth (this included the reading of some handwritten tanka in a notebook sent to Harumi by the current emperor and empress of Japan upon the death of her father).

Specific presentations and panel discussions included the following:

      • Early-morning meditations led by Christopher Herold.

      • Opening remarks on wonder as an antidote to “haiku inflation” by Michael Dylan Welch.

      • A workshop led by Pamela Miller Ness.

      • A presentation on Noh theater by David Crandall (and its parallel to haiku in the process of being brought into Western culture).

      • Maggie Chula’s presentation on haiku written by the Japanese in the World War II relocation camps.

      • Abigail Friedman’s stories about learning haiku in Japan from a famous master (from her forthcoming book).

      • Jeanne Emrich’s presentation on haiga (which also resulted in a display of “postcard haiga”).

      • Paul Nelson’s talk on Allen Ginsberg’s haiku-derived form of American Sentences (see his site to find his text).

      • George Swede’s talk on haiku innovation.

      • Charles Trumbull’s presentation on music and haiku (complete with musical samples).

      • Talks by Manabu Sumioka and Kimiyo Tanaka of the “Shiki Team” from Japan about Japanese haiku.

      • Translator Cheryl Crowley on Buson.

      • Jim Kacian on the early history of haiku in the West.

      • Bruce Ross leading a haibun workshop.

      • Carlos Colon on using haiku in public art.

      • A presentation by Bill Higginson and Penny Harter on how haiku is mainstream (they also led a renku writing session to coincide with the full moon).

      • A rengay workshop by Garry Gay.

There were also rousing and informative panel discussions on the “fourth line” of haiku (about gender, biography, geography, and context in haiku), authenticity in haiku, starting a haiku group, how to teach haiku, translating haiku, and the psychology of haiku. And there was much more.

Amid much rigorous academic study, perhaps the conference’s greatest highlight was the chance to see old and new friends, and to make many new acquaintances. Many attendees signed each other’s copies of Tracing the Fern, the 2005 conference anthology containing 122 poems by attendees, edited by Michael Dylan Welch and Billie Wilson. Conference attendees also sported HNA T-shirts featuring a logo designed by Keven Elliff (the same design that also graced the attractive round conference “buttons” that replaced plastic nametags). Attendees also posed for a group photograph taken by David Conklin [shown above], enjoyed tasty meals together at the dining commons, and stayed in dormitories and the fort’s homey “officer houses.” Additional conference photographs are available online [links no longer active].