A Report on Haiku North America 2009

First published in the HSA Newsletter 24:3, September 2009, in a shorter form.

The much-loved Haiku North America conference reached a milestone in its storied history by holding its tenth biennial gathering over the long weekend of August 5 through 9, 2009. Held at the Canadian National Library and Archives in Ottawa, Ontario (equivalent to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.), this year’s HNA focused on the theme of “crosscurrents,” and was thoughtfully and efficiently organized by Terry Ann Carter, Claudia Coutu Radmore, and Guy Simser. Main evening features included Robert Sibley, a senior writer for the Ottawa Citizen, presenting a talk on “The Way of Shikoku,” his pilgrimage around Japan’s Shikoku Island, and how haiku informed his 1,600-kilometer walk. Sibley wrote an extended set of featured articles about his trip for his newspaper, and is a well-known Ottawa resident. Another feature was Patricia Donegan reading excerpts from her new book, Haiku Mind, in her “Pause for Peace” presentation given on the evening of August 6, the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. The next evening featured musical performances by Debbie Danbrook and Catriona Sturton to accompany poems from the new bilingual Canadian haiku anthology, Carpe Diem, read by Luce Pelletier in French and DeVar Dahl in English. And Saturday evening featured an outstanding banquet with live classical music and a keynote address from John Brandi, followed by a glorious boat cruise on the Ottawa River—complete with fireworks.

        This conference seemed to have more readings than previous conferences. These included the conference’s traditional regional readings, the memorial reading led by Angela Leuck and John Stevenson, and a reading of the entire conference anthology, Into Our Words, edited by Michael Dylan Welch and Grant D. Savage. In addition, there were readings from past contributors to Jim Kacian’s New Resonance books, three readers of new books in Marco Fraticelli’s Hexagram series, Emiko Miyashita reading from the most recent Japan Air Lines anthology of children’s haiku, and many other readings.

        Numerous additional speakers rounded out the weekend, presenting papers, panel discussions, workshops, and more in an inclusive and inspirational manner. These additional speakers and readers included Nick Avis, Roberta Beary, Micheline Beaudry, Rick Black, David Burleigh, Margaret Chula, Jerome Cushman, Raffael de Gruttola, Angelee Deodhar, Claire Dufresne, Judson Evans, Margot Gallant, LeRoy Gorman, Penny Harter, Marshall Hryciuk, Jim Kacian, Joseph Kirschner, Philomene Kocher, Deborah Kolodji, David Lanoue, Dennis Maloney, Ian Marshall, Emiko Miyashita, Mike Montreuil, Lenard D. Moore, Kathleen O’Toole, Claudia Coutu Radmore, Michele Root-Bernstein, Bruce Ross, Grant Savage, Rick Schnell, George Swede, Charles Trumbull, Michael Dylan Welch, and Marjorie Woodbridge. Sample topics and presentations included an anonymous haiku workshop, French-Canadian haiku, haiku as creative process, speculative haiku, haiku “by” Thoreau, season words, train haiku, Shiki and the origins of shasei, lessons to learn from Japan, workshops in haibun, performance, and renku, presentations on the Haiku Foundation and the American Haiku Archives, a panel on Nick Virgilio’s haiku, Claudia Coutu Radmore’s choreographed artistic interpretations of haiku (music, drama, and painting), and much more. In addition, we closed the conference with a tribute to William J. Higginson, to whom the conference anthology was dedicated. Before this tenth conference, Bill was the only person to have attended all nine prior conferences.

        The conference also featured an outstanding book fair, an exhibit of haiga by Peter Vernon Quenter and a few others, a silent auction, a group photograph, HNA T-shirts and tote bags, a “cryptic” quiz by Anita Krumins won by Jim Kacian (the prize was a bottle of “Frogpond” wine—and yes, there is such a thing), an ikebana installation by Yumiko Tsunakawa Toma, and welcomes and speeches by representatives of the Japanese Embassy and Ottawa Tourism. Attendees enjoyed much socializing at the conference hotel, the Crowne Plaza, and at various restaurants and pubs nearby. Even the weather cooperated with warm sun and photogenic clouds for the whole weekend.

        Another high point of the conference was the close proximity to Canada’s grand Parliament buildings, where we saw the changing of the guard, took tours of the grounds and inside Parliament, saw the nightly son et lumiere (a choreographed sound and light show projected onto the face of the main Parliament building), and visited historic Byward Market, Rideau Canal, and other attractions. The National Library also had an exhibit of world-renowned photographer Yousef Karsh on the same floor as the haiku conference. But by far the biggest surprise of the weekend occurred during the Saturday evening boat cruise. In addition to the open-mic reading hosted by Janick Belleau, we had a raucous dance! Who knew that so many haiku poets were such good dancers? Charles Trumbull called it the “Haiku Hop” and the “Shiki Shake.” It might also be called the very first “Discku.” You can see my pictures of the dance and many other pictures of the conference (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), numerous readers, and tourist attractions on Google Photos (more than 1,100 photos).

        A story about the conference appeared in the Ottawa Citizen immediately after the conference. Pearl Pirie’s blog offers extensive reports about the conference, too. Her photos appear on Flickr. Naia and Debbie Kolodji also posted extensive blog entries and photographs online. Others have posted their photos online also, such as Gary Hotham, where you can relive the conference, or experience it vicariously if you weren’t able to attend.

        A big bouquet of thanks to Terry Ann Carter, Claudia Coutu Radmore, and Guy Simser and their team of volunteers, especially Mike Montreuil, Pearl Pirie, Peter Vernon Quenter, and Sheila M Ross, for making Haiku North America 2009 such a success.

        On the Saturday night, the location of the next HNA conference, in the summer of 2011, was announced as being Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, hosted by Randy M. Brooks and Francine Banwarth. We hope to see you there! [The 2011 conference was later rescheduled to Seattle, Washington.]