Haiku Society of America
Thirtieth-Anniversary Haiku Retreat

Previously published in the HSA Newsletter in 1999 (need to confirm details).

The Haiku Society of America celebrated its 30th anniversary in a special way November 20–22, 1998. The event was the HSA retreat, “Images of the Future,” at San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville, California that attracted 27 HSA members and guests from California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, and Washington state. Organized by Michael Dylan Welch and Jerry Ball, the weekend’s activities featured talks by Leza Lowitz and Dana Gioia, a photography presentation by Garry Gay, and a table bursting with haiku books.

        The setting was a Franciscan monastery in the hills above the San Francisco suburb of Danville, with views of the fall colors in the valley below and of nearby Mt. Diablo. Cloudy weather sometimes obscured the view, but we enjoyed the cloister’s gardens and fountains, as well as nearby trails.

        Attendees were Jerry Ball, Alex and Alice Benedict, Brett Bodemer, Randy Brooks, Kathleen Decker, Jeanne Emrich, Garry Gay, Dana Gioia, Carolyn Iacarella, Earl Johnson, Judy Lieber, Leza Lowitz, Patricia Machmiller, Mary Fran Meer, Elizabeth Nichols, Fumio Ogoshi, Carolyne Rohrig, Jodi and Tim Russell, Kenneth Tanemura, Kiyoko Tokutomi, Emile and Eugenie Waldteufel, Paul Watsky, Michael Dylan Welch, and Paul O. Williams.

        The weekend began on the evening of November 20th with dinner at the monastery’s dining hall. At the library, Jerry Ball and Michael Dylan Welch then welcomed everyone, followed by rounds of introductions and readings of poems. To honor Society charter member Elizabeth Lamb, Elizabeth Nichols played Indian flute while Michael Dylan Welch read Lamb’s haiku. Michael then showed slides of various haiku poets as attendees called out the names of familiar faces. The evening concluded with more haiku reading, the writing of tan-renga, and much socialization. We also wrote well-wishing notes to Francine Porad who was unable to attend.

        Saturday’s breakfast preceded another round of introductions and poems at 9:00 a.m. Jerry Ball read a message from HSA president Kristen Deming welcoming everyone and listing the Society’s key accomplishments since its founding in 1968. The first morning session consisted of papers about the problems and future of haiku in English. Randy Brooks began with “Gestalt Psychology and Haiku,” in which he discussed the gestalt leap that makes many haiku work. Brett Bodemer’s talk, “Problems of Context and Expectation in English-Language Haiku,” stated that Western culture lacks much of the aesthetic and philosophical context that makes haiku successful in Japan.

        After a break, we reconvened for the first of two talks by Leza Lowitz, poet and cotranslator with Miyuki Aoyama of A Long Rainy Season and Other Side River (Stone Bridge Press), books of haiku, tanka, and longer poetry by Japanese women. Her first talk, “Sea Change: Haiku Then and Now,” used an ocean theme to focus on a history of 20th-century Japanese haiku.

        After lunch, attendees walked up the hill above the monastery, stopping to view mushrooms and plumed grasses. We met again in the library to hear winners of the HSA’s Henderson and Brady contests, the renku contest, and the Merit Book Awards. Garry Gay also unveiled Light and Shadow, the 1998 HSA members’ anthology he edited, produced by Michael Dylan Welch. Those present with poems in the book read their poems. We then heard two more talks prepared in response to the call for papers. Elizabeth Nichols read “Haiku: A Visual Trend,” and shared a handout of visual and typographical presentations of her haiku. The second talk was by Paul O. Williams on “Making That Third Haiku Line Work.”

        After another break, Leza Lowitz presented her second talk, “Outward Bound—The Millennial Haiku Circle: Experimental Haiku East and West.” Her recent research and translation work has focused on experimental 20th-century Japanese haiku. She connected her findings to experimental English-language haiku.

        After dinner, attendees enjoyed several rounds of haiku, as well as wine and snacks prepared by Jerry Ball. Garry Gay, a professional photographer, then presented a slideshow of his photographs paired with haiku by attendees and then his own poems, followed by enthusiastic discussion of the art of haiga. The evening concluded with Garry presenting the rengay form, followed by a writing session.

        On Sunday morning after breakfast, attendees checked out of their rooms and then met for more rounds of haiku. Poet and critic Dana Gioia then gave two talks, first on “Compression in Poetry,” which emphasized the value of haiku for its essential characteristic of compression. His second talk, “Perceptions of Haiku by Non-Haiku Poets,” generated the most lively discussion of the weekend. He summarized degrees of consideration given to haiku by major poetry textbooks, showing that critics have varying attitudes toward the genre. He proposed that haiku poets, to gain greater respect for the haiku art, must practice more rigorous criticism. In discussion, he and the group identified reasons why haiku often receives a poor critical reception. Gioia’s talk seemed a fitting end to the weekend’s activities, inspiring us to continue raising the quality of our haiku craft. The retreat concluded after lunch as we went our separate ways.


Postscript: Kathleen Decker is commemorating the weekend by compiling poems and other contributions to the retreat in a 120-page bilingual anthology (Japanese and English), complete with paintings and photographs by attendees. Watch for more news of this publication soon.