Ginko Walks. Tanka Monday. Haiku Death Matches. You’ll find all three activities at the 2019 Haiku North America conference, held in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
The four-day biennial event attracts poets, scholars, editors, translators, and publishers from all over the world. Those who have never written a word of haiku are welcome as well.
Attendees at the August 2019 conference can look forward to arts and crafts exhibits and interactive activities involving dance and jazz music. Participants can also watch a “head-to-head haiku death match” based on traditional poetry slams.
Conference director Michael Dylan Welch runs National Haiku Writing Month, inspiring 3,000 people each February to take up the challenge of crafting one haiku a day. “I’m trying to infect everyone with the haiku habit,” Welch admits.
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What you’ll learn
Those who haven’t written in the form before will appreciate workshops deconstructing the genre and the philosophy behind it. More seasoned haiku writers can explore translation and copyright issues, trends in the genre, and the process of compiling and publishing a book of poetry. The theme of the 2019 conference is “Community.” Workshops and panels will address how writers of haiku can collaborate with one another and share resources to benefit various forms of community, both local and global.
Participants are invited each morning of the conference to walk or take a van from the hotel to Old Salem for a ginko walk, inspired by the Japanese tradition of strolling outside to observe the current season’s effects on the natural world. Ginkos train writers to build sensitivity and attention to their surroundings, Welch explains. As well, they meditate on the importance of kigo – or season words – in haiku. “Kigo is not just something that anchors a poem in time,” Welch says. “It’s an allusion to other poems with that same seasonal reference.”
Conference attendees will also learn the importance of a kireji, or “cutting word,” which divides a poem into two and introduces ambiguity and space. “You don’t want the kireji to be too obvious or too obscure,” Welch says. “It’s got to appear at the right distance, like a gap in a spark plug, so that the poem will fire properly. I’ve been writing haiku for 40 years, and it’s still the hardest thing to do.”
He’s especially excited to dispel the Western notion of haiku as guided merely by the 5-7-5 syllable form. “Some writers are so busy counting syllables that they miss the core of haiku,” he explains. “This misunderstanding obscures the more important objective of imagery based on the five senses and based on personal encounters or memories or empathetic imagination of an experience.”
At press time, the 2019 presenter list wasn’t yet available. In 2017, Haiku North America presenters included Natalie Goldberg, who led a workshop on the power of haiku and practice, and Welch, whose workshop explored “Haiku and the Art of Forest Bathing.” Jerome Cushman delivered a talk titled “Seeing Haiku: Haiku in American Sign Language and Sign Mime.”
Cristina Rascón Castro spoke about “Mexican Haiku: Tradition, Translation, and Transgression.” Donna Beaver and Veronica Golos discussed Native American haiku, and a panel on African-American haiku included John Zheng, Meta Schettler, Tiffany Austin, and Ce Rosenow.
Following a Sunday-evening open-mic at the 2019 conference, participants can attend Tanka Monday, sponsored by the Tanka Society of America. During this day, speakers, readers, and performers will focus on the lyrical five-line poetry form that originated in Japan.
Advice for first-time attendees
Writers new to the conference, and to Winston-Salem, may want to attend the pre-conference tour of Reynolda House Museum of American Art and visit the living history exhibits in Old Salem with other attendees. Welch and others are eager to build on the momentum generated by the 2017 conference, which inspired participant evaluations praising the diversity of speakers and subject matter, as well as the inclusion of those new to haiku.
Many attendees arrive with copies of a trifold flier they’ve designed to display a selection of their own haiku. Writers place these fliers on tables as a way to share their work and get to know the work of others. “Even if you don’t give one out yourself, you can still pick them up,” Welch says. “People get very creative with their presentation and design. I see fliers that are beautiful creations.”
He admits that those new to haiku might find the conference slightly overwhelming. He’s quick to add that the atmosphere is “very generous.” In his opening speech, he asks people to stand and identify themselves as first-timers at the conference.
“I encourage all the people who’ve attended before to find someone to adopt,” he explains, “to introduce themselves, invite newcomers to dinner, and give them a trifold in person.”
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of the middle-grade novel Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016) and Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Penguin/Random House, 2019). melissahart.com