Winston-Salem Hosts Largest Haiku Conference In North America

Winston-Salem Hosts Largest Haiku Conference In North America

4:15pm Aug 07, 2019
As part of this year's conference, North Carolina poet Lenard Moore will read from his new book "Geography of Jazz" accompanied by the Matt Kendrick Trio. Image courtesy: Haiku North America

Poets from around the world have descended on Winston-Salem. They've gathered for Haiku North America, five-days of workshops, lectures, readings, and performances connecting those who enjoy and practice the ancient poetry form. 

Haiku was first translated into English from Japanese over 100 years ago. It influenced imagist poets like Ezra Pound and helped fuel the Beat movement. Today though, it's somewhat misunderstood. WFDD's Bethany Chafin spoke with Haiku North America co-founder and poet Michael Dylan Welch to find out why.

Interview Highlights

On the traditional characteristics of haiku poetry:

Most North American schools promote it as a five-seven-five syllable form. The problem is that syllables are not equivalent to what is counted in Japanese which are not syllables. That's the fundamental urban myth of haiku. Haiku is not five-seven-five syllables in Japanese or in English even though it's taught that way. This emphasis on form obscures more important targets, even in Japanese, and that is to present objective images based in your five senses and to include a seasonal reference called a kigo and what is called a kireji or "cutting word" in Japanese. We don't have a direct equivalent in English but the effect is to give the poem two parts, and the juxtaposition of those two parts creates space and sometimes mystery and engagement with the reader to figure out what does one part have to do with the other.

On the difference between reading haiku on the page and hearing it spoken:

Haiku has both a visual and an oral component. I know for myself when I write haiku I am definitely thinking about both aspects. How does it look on the page? How do I arrange the lines? Should it be in three lines, could it be in one line or some other arrangement, or words scattered around the page? I mean there are lots of options, but I also think about the sound. I think the great Japanese haiku master Basho referred to haiku as being, "a thousand times on the lips." In other words, it was very important that it sound right when you heard it. So for me, I like to think of the sounds, the alliteration or other sounds that happen in a haiku. Usually, haiku will avoid rhyme which is too heavy-handed but occasionally it can work. So I think of both things: how does it look on the page and how does it sound when I read it aloud?

On capturing a moment:

I don't believe any haiku can ever be written in the moment because you're having the moment and you have to at least wait until it finishes before you can write it down. So in that sense, all haiku are moments of history. What matters is not how recent the moment was but how vibrant it was. So if you write from a memory of 30 years ago or 10 years ago or 10 minutes ago or 10 seconds ago, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you're presenting something that's an experience for you and recreating it for the reader ... and in the workshops I give, one thing I tell people, I said, "If you remember nothing else from this workshop, remember this. Don't write about your feelings. Write about what caused your feelings." And when you write about what caused your feelings you're going to dwell in that experience whether it's old or very recent. You're going to dwell on that experience and share the experience itself rather than your reaction to it. And that's part of the process of writing from the moment which is a better way to describe it rather than in the moment.


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