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.”

Postcard from Santa Rosa

Our final haiku connection in our journey was made through Carolyn Hall who was the most fantastic hostess, putting us up in both Santa Rosa (in the Sonoma Valley) and in San Francisco.

Carolyn is an accomplished haiku poet and the winner of many awards. Among her many achievements are editor of Acorn (2008-2012), winning the HPNC Haiku Contest in 2011, winning a Snapshot Press Book Award (resulting in Water Lines published in 2006, which won a Haiku Society of America Book Award), winning The Heron’s Nest Readers’ Choice Poem of the Year in 2015 (and being first runner-up to the Poet of the Year), THN Poet of the Year in 2011, THN Poem of the Year in 2007, while her second book, How to Paint the Finch’s Song, won a Touchstone Distinguished Book Award in 2011. Read a review of that book here.

her death date
I pause the river
in my cupped hands

— Carolyn Hall, The Heron’s Nest Poem of the Year 2015

Carolyn was introduced to haiku about 17 years ago by a friend who was at the time writing haiku himself. “I bought everything I could find with ‘haiku’ in the title. I showed [her friend] my first haiku … I don’t know why he saw any hope in me.”

Carolyn then met Laura Bell and almost immediately started getting her work published “which got me really excited”. Other early support came from Jim Kacian and Christopher Herold.

Haiku is “an addiction I have no desire to break”, she says, and although fears she’s writing fewer haiku as time passes, Carolyn is contemplating a fourth collection.

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Carolyn Hall and her equally sociable husband, Buck. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In Santa Rosa Carolyn invited members of Haiku Poets of Northern California and Yuki Tekei haiku groups to join us poolside for the afternoon and dinner, and we had a delightful time meeting Richard Bruns, Garry Gay, Patrick Gallagher and his friend Kathleen Wall, and Michael Sheffield. Some lived nearby while Patrick and Kathleen had made a 3-and-a-half-hour drive to be with us! Yuki Tekei, by the way, prefers haiku written in 5-7-5 with a kigo.

Many haiku poets in the area belong to both haiku groups as the meetings rarely clash – Yuki Tekei meets monthly and HPNC only four times a year. Patrick is president of Yuki Tekei, while Garry, who was an HPNC founder and its first president, is again leading the organisation with Carolyn as membership secretary. Garry is also a founding (and still active) director of Haiku North America.

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Patrick Gallagher. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Garry Gay (left) and occasional haiku writer Keith Frentz. Photo: Sandra Simpson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garry, a professional photographer, began writing haiku in the 1970s after meeting Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North! “I had been writing longer poetry,” he says, “but the poems kept getting shorter and shorter until they were only 4 lines. I didn’t know what haiku was but I gobbled up everything I could find. HPNC was founded because I was looking for people like me.”

Garry is also the inventor of the rengay form of linked verse, saying that he found the ‘rules’ of renku too restrictive so came up with his own form!

end of the world
I blow apart
a dandelion

— Garry Gay, winner of the 2013 Peggy Willis Lyles Haiku Award

Patrick, on the other hand, was driving his wife Claire (1941-2009) to meetings in San Francisco when he was invited in … and the rest, as they say, is history. Now, his new friend Kathleen is showing a lively interest in haiku (and has already written some) so watch this space!

first meeting you
a flight of balloons
above the summer river

— Patrick Gallagher

Michael, who is apparently something of a hula dancer among many other interests, is a featured guest at this year’s HPNC Two Autumns reading on August 28. “I want to get haiku out to the masses,” he says.

summer’s end
next year’s blossom
in the daylily root

— Michael Sheffield

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From left, Garry Gay, Carolyn Hall, Richard Bruns, Michael Sheffield and Patrick Gallagher. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Richard, who has also been a professional photographer, wrote up our visit as a photo journal for those who attended the dinners, a kindness that was much appreciated.