Haiku North America 2021

Whew, what a weekend that was! For the first time in its 30-year history the biennial Haiku North America conference was entirely online – and with free registration – so anyone, anywhere in the world could attend in these Covid-affected times.

And although that meant rising at 4.30am so I could be logged on for the first session at 5am (9am in Vancouver/Seattle where the event was being hosted), it was an effort I was happy to make.

Taking the conference online had pluses and minuses, the biggest drawback for me being the lack of social interaction, something that’s so much easier face-to-face. But the organisers are to be thoroughly commended for the way they moved from a conference planned for Victoria (Vancouver Island) in British Columbia, Canada to something that was so dependent on technology but which worked almost perfectly all the time.

Lynne Jambor (Vancouver, co-chair), Terry Ann Carter (Victoria, co-chair) and Michael Dylan Welch (Seattle, HNA board member) were the public faces of the volunteer team, but when the credits rolled up at the end, there were a large number of people involved. Hat tip to them all.

The conference theme was ‘Ma’ (roughly translated as ‘the space between’) with presenters coming at the topic from myriad angles to cover haiku, haibun and haiga. Speakers also included people from around the world, such as Adjei Agyeh-Baa (New Zealand/Ghana), Alan Summers (UK), Kala Ramesh (India), Kazuhaki Tanahasi (Germany) and Kris Moon Kondo and Kit Nakamura (Japan).

Some presentations included brief writing workshops – I was introduced to tan-renga and had a try at haibun – but all of them were well worth seeing and listening to. The organisers intend to post YouTube videos (each presentation was recorded) as they have time, so keep an eye out for that.

The Memorial Reading is a lovely part of HNA, honouring those poets who have died since the previous conference. Each gets a slide including a photo and a poem, while the narrators share a little bit about each life.

Hand-overs between those introducing the next speakers, as well as the unseen tech boffins keeping it all running, were smooth and everything ran to time. Audience numbers varied (and I didn’t keep a close eye on them) but for some sessions were more than 180. Questions were generally handled through the ‘chat’ function and relayed to the speaker by the moderator, although for the final panel, Alan Summers allowed live questions, which worked pretty well.

The ‘chat’ function was also where website and email addresses could be posted, as well as comments on talks and thanks to presenters. From what I heard and saw, people were participating on everything from phones to PCs.

The HNA board announced that the next event will go back to being in-person and will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio towards the end of June, 2023. That immediately drew a big ‘chat’ response to make an online option available. No promises were made.

After it was all over, I had the chance to talk to HNA founder Garry Gay for a little bit. After the first conference in California, did he have any inkling the event would still be going 30 years later? “After the first one was over, I thought, ‘I’m never doing that again’,” he said. Garry is rightly proud that his baby is now so well-established and enjoyed by so many people.

When we met at my first HNA conference in 2013 (Long Beach, California), Garry gave me a brass coin, one of a limited set he’d had made to give away at the event. It contains three of his haiku, the name of the event and the date. It’s a very special souvenir. I keep it on my desk so could hold it up to the camera to show him I still had it.

Garry said he’d originally had pens printed with his haiku and gave those away, but he wanted something a bit more unique. Knowing someone who made coins and medals, he decided to try that and was very pleased with the result. Not cheap though, hence the limited numbers.

While we were talking, Roberta Beary in Ireland put a note in chat to say she still had one of his pens; Mimi Ahearn in the US said she uses her coin as a template for circles in her art; another poet said she kept hers on a shelf in her study; Bryan Rickert in the US zipped off and retrieved his coin to show Garry who, I think, was quite touched that we all valued them so much.

He said he’d heard about someone who had traded his coin for a beer in a bar. “Just the one beer?,” was the query. “Yeah,” said Garry. “Ripped off.”

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