“Sometimes the word ‘poet’ carries a lot of baggage,” Michael Dylan Welch, cofounder of the Haiku North America Conference, says. “But, as Jack Kerouac put it, ‘Haiku should be as simple as porridge.’ There’s seemingly not much to it, but it’s still healthy and fulfilling.”
Welch shares his description of haiku in preparation for the biennial iteration of the conference, which takes place in Santa Fe this week. Haiku North America began in 1991 in San Francisco and has since moved around the United States and Canada to cities including Toronto, Portland, Chicago, Boston and Ottawa. This year marks its first appearance in the Southwest.
"Santa Fe has been on the radar for a long time," Welch tells SFR. "There's something about the community that attracts poets and has drawn a lot of people out of the woodwork to this conference."
This year boasts the largest number of attendees to date with over 220 poets and haiku enthusiasts coming from a numerous states such as New Mexico, Alaska and Pennsylvania, as well as countries like Canada, Mexico and Japan. All levels are welcome to attend and learn more about the art form through workshops, presentations and readings about haiku history, criticism and contemporary writing.
So—what makes a haiku a haiku, exactly?
"The simple answer is the 5-7-5 syllables taught in fourth grade classes," Charles Trumbull, local haiku poet and leader of this year's organizing committee explains, "but any serious haiku poet ignores that." Because Japanese and English syllables differ, the form can get lost in translation.
Trumbull posits that instead, "haiku is all about images." It is the art of using words to put two seemingly separate images together in a way that puzzles a reader because there is no immediately visible connection. But, when a reader discovers the thread that joins the lines of a poem, they experience an epiphany, or what Trumbull describes as the "aha! moment."
Teruko Kumei, professor of American history and culture at Shirayuri University in Tokyo, adds that haiku are powerful primary historical documents. "Haiku and senryu [a similar poetic form] are the records of life, the poems of sentiments," she says
Kumei delivers a lecture at the conference this week titled "Haiku and Senryu in the Santa Fe Internment Camp," which delves into how this art form can help our current communities relate to the experiences of our past, specifically the internment camp that was located just a few miles from the Santa Fe Plaza between 1942 and 1946.
A plaque acknowledging the camp was dedicated in April 2002 at the Frank S Ortiz Dog Park as "a reminder that history is a valuable teacher if only we do not forget our past." Kumei's lecture uncovers this past through readings of 60 poems written by internees during that period (though over 8,000 were written in the camp). "The process of composing haiku or senryu poems helped inmates live through their stress, anxiety, worry and loneliness," she says.
Haiku North America also offers free nightly poetry readings for those who did not register for the conference but are interested in participating. In addition, Axle Contemporary's current show, Playing with Haiga, is scheduled to appear outside Hotel Santa Fe during the conference.
Playing with Haiga explores haiga, a style that evolved after haiku. While haiku is rooted in text, haiga combines text and image into one composition. Traditionally, the art form also creates one of those "aha! moments" in which the text is not a direct caption for the image and the image is not a direct interpretation of the text. Rather, each is a seemingly disparate component until the viewer discovers the bridge of connection.
Jerry Wellman, co-founder of Axle, tells us the show features six local artists including Juliana Coles, Collestipher Chatto and Luke Dorman, plus students from New Mexico School for the Arts who take creative liberties within the haiga tradition. Axle also collaborated with the students and Karina Hean, NMSA visual arts chair, to create large haiga banners to be marched through the conference on Thursday evening at 6 pm. Wellman explains that, just as haiga breaks the mold of haiku, "The students walking the banners also breaks the world of how to show art."
With the confluence of activities and discussions, Haiku North America becomes a hub of inspiration for both aspiring and established poets. "HNA is a catalyst," Welch tells SFR. "It energizes people to write, to create, to share—this is where it all begins."
Public Poetry Readings
8 pm Wednesday Sept. 13; 7:30 pm
Thursday and Friday Sept. 14 and 15. Free.
Hotel Santa Fe,
1501 Paseo de Peralta,
Playing With Haiga at Axle Contemporary
All Day Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 13 and 14. Free.
Outside Hotel Santa Fe,
1501 Paseo de Peralta,
All Day Saturday Sept. 16. Free.
Outside SITE Santa Fe,
1606 Paseo de Peralta,