Welcome to Haiku North America 2009

I'm asking attendees at the 2009 HNA conference to raise their hands if they've attended particular HNA conferences in the past.

The following are notes from which I extemporized a speech that I presented on 5 August 2009 on the opening night of the 2009 Haiku North America conference at the National Library of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario. Not previously published. See my Report on Haiku North America 2009.

    • Who’s attending HNA for the first time?

    • Raise your hands for each HNA you’ve attended, from 1991 to the present.

    • William J. Higginson was the last person to have attended all HNA conferences, but now he is no longer with us.

    • Read all nine of Bill’s poems from previous HNA conference anthologies [share handout of all nine poems].

Some practical hints on making the most of this conference:

    • Get enough sleep, but don’t be afraid to stay up late to take advantage of being around so many other great haiku poets.

    • Make a list of people you’d especially like to talk to or you may miss them in the conference busy-ness (use the conference anthology as a guide to nearly everyone who’s present).

    • Consider getting others to sign your conference anthology.

    • Support the booksellers in the bookfair. Publishers of haiku books and journals do a tremendous service to the haiku community, and to keep it healthy, they need our support by your buying and reading what they publish—plus you’ll benefit by getting to know the poets and their poetry better.

    • Try doing some collaborative writing with others during the weekend—not only with someone you know, but also try doing it, deliberately, with someone you don’t know. Try writing a rengay or even just a tan-renga—and if you don’t know what those are, just ask someone until you find out!

    • Don’t try to do everything, but pick things that feel the most important to you. Pace yourself!

    • Don’t be shy about talking to anyone—take the initiative to start a conversation.

    • If you’re feeling left out at any time, just tap on someone’s shoulder and ask if you can join someone or a group at a restaurant, etc. And if someone taps you on the shoulder, please be welcoming!

    • If you’re new, you may feel intimidated or unsure at times, but if you take just a little bit of initiative, you will find that other folks will be warm and accommodating.

    • If you’re an old hand at HNA, please take it upon yourself to find two or three faces or names of people who are new to you and try to include them in something or get to know them in some way. Keep this in mind as we read all the poems from HNA anthology in a few moments—listen for names and look for faces that are new to you, and make a point to get acquainted.

The famed and sometimes debaucherous Burning Man festival has a policy of “no observers—participants only.” We should consider that, too. Ask yourself how you can contribute in some way to this conference, whether by asking the right question that’s on everyone’s mind, by helping someone who’s new, or doing something creative such as holding an impromptu haiku reading in the lobby or out on the street. What can you do to be more than just an observer?

We are fortunate to have this conference be so well organized by Terry Ann Carter, Claudia Coutu Radmore, and Guy Simser, along with their posse of volunteers. To conclude, I’d like to quote a few words by Jim Kacian that appeared on the back cover of the 2007 Haiku North America conference anthology. He wrote that, “Of the small handful of regular occasions that nurture the English-language haiku community, Haiku North America is certainly preeminent: intellectually diverse, socially expansive, emotionally gratifying, it provides more than any other single experience the sense that haiku is a literary force to be reckoned with and capable of work that matters in the rest of the world.” So here we are, about to embark on the tenth Haiku North America conference. What will you make of the next few days of haiku celebration to help make it matter in the rest of the world?

At this time, Terry Ann Carter and her committee will add their words of welcome.

After Terry Ann’s comments, we then had a reading of Into Our Words, the 2009 HNA conference anthology that I edited with Grant D. Savage.


Garry Gay’s idea for the conference that became Haiku North America first came to him in 1990, and it was my pleasure to work with Garry to make that first conference happen in California in 1991. At the 2009 conference, Garry reminded me that HNA never would have happened again after that first conference if I hadn't bugged him about it. I had forgotten until he reminded me, but he had originally envisioned HNA as a one-time event, and it was me who made it happen again and become a biennial event. He told me that in 1992 I started saying that we should do it again, and so we planned the second conference for 1993, thus giving rise to the once-every-two-years tradition. It’s amazing to me that twenty years of Haiku North America conferences have come and gone. The scholarship, interaction, and socializing that have taken place at HNA—and the subsequent publication of many essays from HNA in the leading haiku journals—have surely changed the landscape of English-language haiku. While neither Garry nor I have been able to attend all ten of the conferences, we've been to nearly all of them, and have been intimately involved in the planning and vision for most conferences. We hope the tradition continues for many decades to come as a warm and invigorating gathering of the haiku tribes.

—21 December 2009