The Woodnotes Survey Summarized

by Michael Dylan Welch

First published in Woodnotes #19, Winter 1993, pages 34–39. Unlike other essays in Woodnotes, which sought to be instructional or inspirational, this essay was more informational in summarizing responses to a questionnaire about the journal sent to all members of the Haiku Poets of Northern California. What may be of most interest here is how the discussion indicated editorial choices and directions both before and after this survey, offering a look behind the Woodnotes curtain. A revealing fact, too, is that at this time Woodnotes received nearly 800 poems per issue and accepted only about 12 percent of those submissions. This survey also demonstrated a desire for transparency and a willingness for the organization and the journal to grow and improve through open feedback.

Every three months, nearly 200 members of the Haiku Poets of Northern California receive a slim publication called Woodnotes. The journal represents an important connection between many of the finest haiku poets writing in English today. Some members drop all their other mail and tear into Woodnotes to skim over each season’s new selection of haiku, senryu, tanka, articles, news, and announcements. HPNC is a very active haiku group. This wouldn’t be true were it not for the support and enthusiasm of its members—not only in California, but across the United States, Canada, and elsewhere around the world.

As a member-supported organization, the Haiku Poets of Northern California takes its commitment to haiku and its members seriously. As a result, the executive committee wanted feedback on what our members think about HPNC and Woodnotes. In issue #17, mailed out in June, 1993, we surveyed members’ opinions and preferences regarding Woodnotes, and we are happy to include the most significant results here. Lynne Leach received and compiled the responses and shared them anonymously with the editors and other officers at an executive committee meeting on July 29, 1993. The officers then met in Golden Gate Park on September 25, 1993 to discuss the survey at great length. Readers were asked to respond to issue #17 in regard to typeface and design. The survey was by no means scientific, but we hope you find the opinions interesting. We want you to feel part of this group! The bottom line is that almost all of you are highly satisfied with Woodnotes.

The first question concerned the covers. By a vote of 46 to 1, readers were satisfied. One of you asked why we no longer print on the inside covers, thinking this space to be wasted. We stopped doing this because we found it cheaper to add an extra four pages inside Woodnotes than to print just two pages in the color ink of the inside covers. Woodnotes was substantially redesigned with issue #11, and we explained this change on page 22 of that issue.

As for the size and selection of typefaces, the vote was 24 to 20 against the Bernhard Modern typeface used in issue #17 (three respondents had no opinion). The typeface in that issue was a new one, and many said you found it too ornate and hard to read. Unfortunately, we also had equipment problems in producing the camera-ready masters for issue #17 (resulting in somewhat lighter and more thinned-out letters than usual), complicated by the fact that the printer replaced its old equipment right after issue #17 was printed. So perhaps that typeface was a victim of bad printing circumstances. But yes, it was not as easy to read as the previous (and current) typeface, Palatino. This was especially true for sections of prose, as many of you noted. So we are happy to have returned to the Palatino font, and hope you also appreciate the fact that poems and articles are now typeset at a consistently larger point size for ease of reading.

By a strong margin of 35 to 9, with three having no opinion, those of you who responded found the spacing and arrangement of poems to be acceptable. Some of you liked our use of illustrations in earlier issues. We were unable to include artwork in issues #17 and #18 due to the practical limitations of space (we had too many poems!), but in future issues we will do our best to use a variety of illustrations—as in this issue.

The next question generated some of the most enthusiastic responses: which features or potential features of Woodnotes you would like eliminated, cut back, expanded, or reinstated. Some of you wanted to remove the minutes of quarterly meetings, but this is something we feel is necessary for a membership organization to include. Not all of you can attend our meetings, but we offer the minutes as a way of involving everyone, and sharing what we are doing in the San Francisco area. We wish all of you could join us!

Some surprises in this question were the desire for expanded articles, and reduced reports of past activities. You also wanted more news of upcoming readings and other events, and more book reviews. In response, much of this is governed by what actually happens, or what is submitted to us, so perhaps it is not completely in our control. Also, the “Haiku Life” section was only popular with some readers. Most “Haiku Life” material is optional, however, and usually only included as the lowest priority if there is space in the “Woodnotes” announcement section. Many of you were also enthusiastic for reinstating “Haiku Stops,” a feature in earlier issues in which readers commented on a specific poem chosen by one of the editors. While not everyone liked this feature, if there is room in future issues, the editors will consider reviving it, perhaps with a different name. Certainly it is useful to know how different readers respond to chosen poems.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of this question was the enthusiastic support for an expanded tanka section. We have never limited tanka in Woodnotes, but we have found tanka submissions to be much more numerous in the last couple of issues. Tanka does seem to be receiving a surge of interest in this country. As for comments included with this question, the bulk of them asked for more discussion on the process and craft of writing haiku. While we would like to include more articles of this nature, we usually only have room for one main article in each issue. You also wanted more poems printed, thus, given the constraints of time and money, we must seek a balance. Almost all of you who responded expressed satisfaction with the content of Woodnotes as it is.

The executive committee has sometimes wondered if Woodnotes should accept poems from nonmembers. We have generally felt that we shouldn’t, in order to support the poetry of our members and subscribers rather than whoever might be the most successful or prolific. In response to our question on this topic, the vote was 26 to 15 in favor of accepting only member’s poems (six of you had no opinion). There are many good reasons to accept poems from nonmembers (such as outreach and the promotion of literature), but the executive committee has decided to continue the policy of printing only member’s poems. As one of you noted, “Membership makes Woodnotes a reality.”

Woodnotes also has a policy to generally accept no more than two poems per member per issue. The vote in favor of this policy came in at 37 to 6 (with four having no opinion). We began this policy as a means of furthering a democratic presentation of our members’ poems. One of you said rightly that “a limit keeps competitiveness at bay, which is in keeping with haiku spirit.” This policy may also give less prolific poets more of a chance to be published. One person claimed that we have violated this policy. To the best of our knowledge, we have only done this in the case of a timely sequence published in issue #11. Note that this two-poem policy does not apply to articles, haibun, book listings, or reviews, but only to the sections labeled “Haiku and Senryu” and “Tanka.” One respondent suggested that we keep the limit but increase the number. Again, time-space-money prevents us from doing this.

Incidentally, you might be interested to know that we receive nearly 800 poems per issue, just under nine percent of which are now tanka. Yet we publish less than 12 percent of poems submitted (about one poem for each ten that we receive). Your editors keep track of all submissions, when they are received, and when they are responded to. While we try to reply in a week or two, there can be a longer delay in the month after each deadline passes.

Another question concerned the number of pages in Woodnotes. The vote was 36 to 9 in favor of the current size. Woodnotes has slowly grown from 24 to 28, 32, and 36 pages. Usually the last issue of the year is larger than the others because it includes the results of our annual contest (as does this issue). Since your editors are volunteers, we do not want the journal getting so big that it becomes a burden. Understandably, not one of you wanted Woodnotes to be shorter—and nor do your officers. We will try to maintain a page count of about 32 to 40 pages per issue.

Also, if the number of pages were increased, most of you said you would be willing to pay increased membership dues. The vote was 30 in favor of increased dues if necessary, 11 against, four maybes, and two with no opinion. We have tried to keep HPNC membership as inexpensive as possible, and have not raised our dues in at least three years. We are grateful to those who can contribute funds to help us keep our dues reasonable. Given our many events, anthologies, and our four issues per year (as opposed to just two or three), we feel we are offering a great deal for the $12.00 United States subscription price. Due to rising costs, however, we may need to consider a dues increase sometime in the future.

On the subject of the size of Woodnotes, some of you asked for more haibun and tanka and an occasional renku. Perhaps this is something we can consider if we have space. Woodnotes has never published a renku, and probably won’t unless a good one comes along that is done by a significant number of our members (rather than just two or three). Interest in renku, tanka, and other forms continues to grow, and we are glad to know your interest.

The next question asked for suggested changes for Woodnotes. We received many lengthy comments on this topic, too many to discuss here. Some changes have already been addressed. The most notable suggestions for each issue included a desire for more articles, a brief editorial (already started on page 1 in issue #18), more haiku and more white space, and possibly a page or two devoted to the work of one regional poet. These are all good ideas, but again, we have many limitations. One interesting comment was that many of the poems are too quiet, and suggested that we print more senryu and lively haiku. Indeed, as this person noted, “not all moments are filled with silence.” As a consequence, we are reexamining our choices of poems in each issue, and will endeavor to seek a balance between nature and human nature, the quiet and the lively. Please let your editors know how you like the blend of seasonal and nonseasonal poems, as well as senryu and tanka.

One other suggestion was that we include results of haiku contests in addition to HPNC’s. We have chosen not to do this primarily because if you enter a contest, you can learn the results directly from the organization or publication that sponsored that contest. We do support other contests, and are happy to announce how to enter, but do not wish to duplicate the listing of results that may be found in other publications or received by including a SASE when entering. This allows us more space to present new poems, articles, book listings, and other news.

The last two questions asked how the editors of Woodnotes might better serve the members of HPNC and the haiku community at large. An important issue was raised: Is Woodnotes a national or international journal, or is it meant to represent only a certain region? What are your thoughts on this? The answer is that anyone may join. But in our book listings and reviews, we do favor California and West Coast publications, then books by members, and then any other books that we find interesting. As for poem selections, we intend no bias except for deep feeling and literary merit. Any member anywhere may be represented. So perhaps the poetry and articles are national or international, and the news and book listings tend to be more regional. The officers feel this policy has worked well thus far. Yet it is an important question that will require further consideration as HPNC grows.

To close this summary of the Woodnotes questionnaire, I’d like to include some positive comments, worth quoting in full: “I prefer Woodnotes to all the other [haiku journals]”; “Writing in Woodnotes from articles to book reviews is fine writing”; “Woodnotes has more quality control than others”; “Woodnotes has changed gradually and elegantly through the years”; “I love your magazine as is; [it is] a different format from the other available haiku vehicles”; “Woodnotes is just fine . . . content superb”; “I am very satisfied with HPNC, its officers, and the value I get for my money and time. And Woodnotes is always on time. Bravo!”; “[Your] periodical has gained widespread respect”; “I find your selection of haiku especially well-advised and refreshing”; “The executive committee is doing a great job”; and finally, “Thank you for giving your readers a voice in this and other matters. Woodnotes is a great publication.”

We realize that less enthusiastic HPNC members may not have responded to our questionnaire, but we are grateful for so much positive feedback. About one third of HPNC’s members returned the questionnaire. No response is also considered a response. We will do our best to maintain and improve the quality of Woodnotes.

Many thanks to the HPNC executive committee for their work on the Woodnotes questionnaire, and to Lynne Leach for compiling all the responses. Extra special thanks to all of you who took the time to respond. Your opinions matter to us, and help remind us that we are a haiku community that depends on each of its members. We hope you continue to find Woodnotes and HPNC membership worthwhile. And the next time you receive your mail and open a new copy of Woodnotes, we hope that you consider yourself listened to and appreciated. Only by the ongoing support of every member can the Haiku Poets of Northern California continue to grow and thrive. We thank you for your enthusiasm and support.