A Short History of Woodnotes

Previously unpublished. Originally written in September and October of 2012, and slightly updated in 2023.

From 1989 to 1997, I edited or helped to edit the haiku journal Woodnotes. It was originally published by the Haiku Poets of Northern California (HPNC), and later became an independent journal under my ownership. The journal appeared quarterly for 31 issues, and quickly grew in size and influence, becoming one of the most prominent haiku journals of its time, mostly before the explosion of haiku sharing and publication that came with the Internet and social media. In an essay titled “American Haiku’s Future” (Modern Haiku 34:3, Autumn 2003), Cor van den Heuvel declared that “Woodnotes set a new standard for the quality of haiku—and related forms such as tanka, linked verse, and haibun—published in haiku journals. The articles were groundbreaking and the quality of the layouts and artwork were outstanding.” It seemed particularly distinctive and influential for including so many haibun and tanka, and later rengay. As a result of its success, Woodnotes also served to elevate the national status and influence of California haiku poets, whose activities drew much attention and helped to broaden the Haiku Society of America organization to be less focused just on New York City. As a result, the first national meeting of the HSA outside of New York took place in Northern California in March of 1993 (reported about in Woodnotes #17).

I’m very proud of Woodnotes and what it accomplished. To be more accurate, its accomplishments were those of everyone who contributed, not only through the submission of poems, artwork, essays, or reviews, but in numerous people helping to make the journal run, including behind-the-scenes work on finances, printing, mailing labels, and distribution. Over the years, many different people contributed their talents and expertise as editors, artists, designers, and more, mostly members of HPNC. If Woodnotes made any mark in the haiku community, it was thanks to all of these supporters, together with all the poets who submitted their exemplary poems, essays, reports, and reviews.

The origin of Woodnotes was a direct result of the formation, in February of 1989, of the Haiku Poets of Northern California. Any organization needs to communicate regularly to provide value to its members and to sustain the organization itself by engaging its supporters. So it was obvious that HPNC would benefit from a publication. I believe vincent tripi came up with the name, inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Wood Notes.” vincent tripi and Paul O. Williams were the first editors, and Jane Reichhold typed up the content, producing the first two 12-page issues in the first half of 1989. These two issues essentially amounted to newsletters, offering informative details of haiku activities in the region, but the news component of these first two issues would remain a presence in all subsequent issues, helping to build HPNC’s strong sense of community.

Woodnotes quickly evolved into being a poetry journal with issue #3. That’s also when I joined the staff as an associate editor, doing all the typesetting, layout, and most design. I became coeditor with issue #9, in early 1991, and chief editor with issue #16, in 1993, and continued in this capacity until issue #31, the last issue, which came out in 1997. Other editors or associate editors were Christopher Herold (issues 11–15), Ebba Story (issues 16–23), Kenneth Tanemura (issues 24–27), Gail Sher (haibun editor, issues 28 and 29), Pat Shelley (tanka editor, issues 28–31), and Cherie Hunter Day (art editor, issues 28–31). I selected all cover and interior art (from clip art books) for issues #11 through #18. I also did all typesetting, layout, and design for issues #3 through #31, using PageMaker software, and usually collated and then hand-stapled every copy of every single issue for most of its existence. My thanks to Pip Printing in Foster City, California for the use of their staple gun. They also did the photocopying for all issues, with covers produced using offset printing with usually one ink colour, except for issue #27, which had two colours.

In 1997, I ended Woodnotes when I decided to replace it with my new publication, Tundra: The Journal of the Short Poem. By this time, Woodnotes had long been publishing nearly all of the leading haiku poets writing in the English language, featuring influential essays, reviews, and book listings of national and international significance, all while disseminating timely haiku-related news focused mostly on Northern California. Subscribers reached about 350, and the journal’s readers lived in cities around North America and around the world. Highlights included the first publication of Keiko Imaoka’s widely influential essay, “Forms in English Haiku,” as well as essays, reviews, interviews, and other material from Cor van den Heuvel, William J. Higginson, Jane Hirshfield, James W. Hackett, and many others (see “Selected Essays and Interviews from Woodnotes). HPNC contest results, and many dozens of other essays, book reviews, rengay, haibun, reports, and announcements rounded out all the issues. And a haiku crossword puzzle! Woodnotes was also one of the first places to publish rengay and essays about rengay, helping to popularize this linked poetry that Garry Gay invented in 1992. In total, Woodnotes featured 2,537 haiku and senryu, 257 tanka (one included in a tanka prose piece), 31 haibun, 18 rengay, 6 longer poems, 78 essays, 42 editorials, and more than 300 book reviews over 1,116 pages.

In the 1990s, Woodnotes proved to be one of the most influential haiku journals in English, together with Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Brussels Sprout, and a few other publications. It is an honour to celebrate Woodnotes and its many contributors, complete with selected poems and other content from each issue, as a historical record for the enjoyment of past and future readers.

These three Woodnotes cover images show the three phases of its design.