Haiku Down Under, an Historic Event

‘Historic.’ It was American poet and editor Michael Dylan Welch who put things in perspective for those of us at last weekend’s online Haiku Down Under. The four organisers – Leanne Mumford and Carole Harrison (Australia), and Sue Courtney and Sherry Grant (New Zealand) – had, in 51 weeks after attending last year’s online Haiku North America, created the first trans-Tasman haiku event that, thanks to Zoom, was actually held in neither country.

But that wasn’t the only historic moment. Sue Courtney, inspired by the 2019 hit album Waiata/Anthems that featured well-known New Zealand songs rerecorded in te reo Māori, selected haiku, some of them previously unpublished, for a project that saw poet Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Ātiawa) translate the haiku into te reo. In the presentation for Haiku Down Under, a slide containing both versions was shown with the poet or Sue reading the haiku in English and Vaughan in te reo. 

The background image was taken at sunset by Sue Courtney on Tiritiri Matangi, a bird sanctuary island off the coast of Auckland.

Each haiku slide was introduced by a map of Aotearoa New Zealand showing where the poet lives and, if the place has an English name, also giving its Māori name. Vaughan noted some of the issues he faced with the translations, including that te reo has fewer consonants than English and doesn’t use the same constructions.

The weekend featured presenters from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and England, with David McMurray joining us from Kagoshima, Japan for the final panel discussion. Over the course of the event, there were also viewers from India, Sri Lanka and Germany, and possibly Greenland, although I wasn’t clear if she was on that island or in Australia at the time. The highest number of log-ins I saw was just on 90.

Presentations were almost all live, the only exceptions being videos from Jim Kacian and Owen Bullock, and the technology worked pretty seamlessly. There’s always someone in the audience who forgets to mute and has muffled conversations about groceries or the dog or somesuch, but that was only once or twice and people were pretty good at remembering to re-mute after saying something. One presenter couldn’t make it at short notice, but the organisers kept calm and carried on and we hardly noticed. One panel speaker didn’t show up until after the talk had finished, but he had a horrible time difference to contend with and there were already four people on the panel so, again, it hardly mattered, and we did hear a brief talk from him when he logged in.

I was a member of the final panel discussing ‘Opportunities for Regional Haiku Voices’, along with David McMurray, curator for the Asahi Haikuist Network column and professor at the International University of Kagoshima, teaching haiku courses and supervising graduate seminars; Lyn Reeves, vice-president of the Australian Haiku Society, co-curator of Echidna Tracks collection of Australian haiku; and Rose van Son, co-selector of haiku for Creatrix Haiku, a journal of WA Poets Inc.

I’m not sure that we progressed the topic much further, except to agree that we need to keep pushing at the door in the northern hemisphere in terms of having our vernacular and keywords accepted by editors. With search engines at our fingertips, investigating unfamiliar words or names is the work of less than a moment. Heck, I do it for American flora, fauna and place names. It’s no bother, I learn something and it enriches my understanding of a poem.

There were old hands in the audience and complete beginners, and everyone seemed to go away inspired and happy. Can’t say better than that. Kia ora, happy haiku trails and well done to the HDU team.