Note: This page is for archival reference. It was first created in all of two hours in September of 1997, and was not revised once since then, even though it had hundreds of thousands of visitors in eleven years. This site was first established at http://members.aol.com/WelchM/, and was moved to this location on 28 October 2008, when America Online shut down its free website hosting services on AOL Hometown. You can see what the site originally looked like (including its awful background pattern) on the Wayback Machine. Please note that references to journals, especially addresses, contact information, and subscription rates, are in most cases no longer correct. For this new location, I've added the correct link for the Haiku Society of America, fixed one typo, and also removed a bad image link. Otherwise, there are no changes to the text or images on this site since it was originallly created in 1997. I've left alone the fact that I now use "on" (pronounced as "own," but quicker) rather than "onji" for the sounds counted in Japanese haiku. But it's still true that in Japanese they count sounds, not syllables, so if you write 5-7-5 syllables in English, and call it haiku, you're writing a much longer poem than what they write in Japan. If you have comments, please contact Captain Haiku at WelchM@aol.com. Or better yet, visit my new website at http://www.graceguts.com/. Enjoy!
Welcome to Captain Haiku's weird and wonderful world of haiku mayhem. I may be having some fun, but here and there, you'll find some really useful stuff about haiku poetry. But you never know, I might include something that's completely false somewhere, so be on your toes! The Haiku Police are hiding here somewhere!
What's a Haiku Anyway?
You're probably thinkin' you know all about haiku, right? Oh, good. Well, let me tell you a bit about what I know, okay?
Haiku has a long tradition in Japan, and if you want to know the Japanese tradition, you can read tons of books about that, as well as translations of the leading poets from the time of Basho (Japan's "Shakespeare") three hundred years ago right up to today.
Speaking of today, haiku has leaped across the pond and has been written in English for many decades. Because the languages are different, haiku in English naturally differs from haiku in Japanese. The 5-7-5 "onji" pattern is traditional in Japanese, but 17 syllables is generally too long in English (and much longer than 17 Japanese onji). Thus haiku in English tend to be about 10 to 14 syllables, often in a short-long-short pattern, usually in three lines. They are objective, imagistic, and about nature, and often include a seasonal reference. It's a poem recording a moment of heightened awareness of nature or human nature. It should come across like a moment of realization, producing an "aha!" moment in the reader in the same way that it gave you that moment of realization when you, as the writer, experience the haiku moment in the first place.
A less seasonal and less nature-centered varietry of haiku is the senryu. This twin sister looks a lot like haiku, but its personality is more playful, humourous, ironic, satirical. More vulgar sometimes, too.
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Some information about the captain, Michael Dylan Welch:
I’ve always had a sense of poetry. Being named after Dylan Thomas may have had something to do with that! I was born in 1962 in Watford, England, and grew up there and in Ghana, Australia, and the Canada prairies. In college I majored in communications/media and English, and I received an M.A. in English in 1989. I focused my graduate studies on twentieth-century poetry and fiction, and wrote a thesis on Anthony Burgess and his sense of play with words—something akin, I think, to the sense of play that pervades haiku. I delight in the fact that "haiku," literally translated, means "playful verse."
Since graduate school I’ve been employed as a technical writer, publications manager, and predominantly as a freelance book editor. In recent years I’ve held a staff editorial position with IDG Books Worldwide, publisher of the "For Dummies" series of computer books. In the past I’ve been a lifeguard, a ski patroller and ski instructor, a disc jockey, and a summer camp counselor. Now, aside from professional duties, I enjoy reading, writing, books and bookstores, skiing, racquetball, music, hiking, travel, and photography—my other main art besides poetry.
My path to haiku began in a high school English class, where George Goodburn introduced haiku as a seventeen-syllable nature poem. I’ve long preferred short poetry, so I immediately gravitated towards this form. For years all of my "haiku" were rather ill-formed and ill-informed. About a decade later I bought my first haiku book at a Japanese bookstore near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London—a collection of Basho’s haiku translated by Lucien Stryk. Shortly thereafter I started buying every haiku book I could find (I now have some 2,000 haiku books and magazines). When I encountered Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology, however, my perception of haiku shifted radically, thanks most particularly to the work of Marlene Mountain. No longer did I see "haiku" as whatever words I could squeeze into an arbitrary cookie-cutter shape. Rather, the poems in Cor’s collection showed the value of content over the so-called form. Something else was happening in these poems, and their magic captivated me. Cor’s book also connected me with the Haiku Society of America and Frogpond, as well as with Robert Spiess’s Modern Haiku. Through Doris Heitmeyer, then secretary of the HSA, I connected with the Haiku Poets of Northern California when I moved to the San Francisco area after completing graduate school.
Since 1989 I’ve been increasingly involved in this poetry, and find great pleasure not only in haiku, but in knowing and interacting with many people near and far who write this rewarding form of poetry. Nineteen eighty-nine saw me first start editing Woodnotes, and I served as an HPNC officer until 1996.
In 1989 I also started a publishing venture called Press Here. The first publication, a limited-edition collection of my own haiku, called Egret, appeared that year. Since then Press Here has published nearly twenty other haiku books, including interviews by vincent tripi with prominent haiku poets such as Anita Virgil and Virginia Brady Young, collections of original poetry by Lee Gurga, Adele Kenny, Pat Shelley, and Sono Uchida, and anthologies of haiku, senryu, tanka, and haibun. Several of these books have won awards, several titles have gone into multiple printings, and I hope Press Here will continue to present fine haiku books for years to come.
In 1990 I published two small volumes of my own poetry. The Haijin’s Tweed Coat is a short sequence of haiku hiding the names of various haiku journals in its poems. And Tremors is a collection of earthquake haiku and a haibun written in response to the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco, which toppled all my bookcases. Since then I have not published a significant poetry collection of my own, but I plan to when the time is right.
Starting in 1990 I produced five annual haiku anthologies for the Haiku Poets of Northern California (working with various editors). This series of books, published in conjunction with the group’s Two Autumns reading series, has continued until today. I was one of the four featured readers at the inaugural reading. I also helped produce four HPNC membership anthologies: After Shock in 1990 (an anthology of earthquake haiku, edited by Paul O. Williams), The Gulf Within in 1992 (Gulf War haiku, which I co-edited with Christopher Herold), Playing Tag Among Buddhas in 1993 (a membership anthology edited by Jerry Kilbride), and All Day Long in 1994 (a membership anthology of haiku based on times of day, edited by Garry Gay). In 1993, I also served as managing editor and wrote the introduction for the Haiku Society of America’s first-ever membership anthology, entitled When Butterflies Come (edited by Jerry Kilbride and Marlina Rinzen).
I believe haiku’s strength is its poets. As a means to help foster increased communication among those who write and enjoy haiku, in 1991 I worked with Garry Gay, Jerry Ball, and David Wright to cofound the biennial Haiku North America conference. This conference met in California in 1991 and 1993, in Toronto, Ontario in 1995, and Portland, Oregon in 1997. These conferences are intended as inclusive celebrations of haiku and its readers, writers, scholars, and translators. With Garry Gay, I’m still actively involved in planning and consulting for future HNA conferences. Press Here has published all of the Haiku North America anthologies since the conference’s beginning—books that I’ve also edited.
In 1992 Garry Gay invited me to help him write the first ever "rengay"—a new six-verse form of thematic linked verse he invented. Since then I’ve promoted the form in a number of articles, and helped judge the first rengay contest in 1995. In 1995, Garry Gay, John Thompson, and I privately published the first rengay anthology, entitled Hammerhorn.
In 1994 I served on the editorial board for the Haiku Society of America’s twentieth-anniversary anthology, A Haiku Path. I was responsible for the final copy editing, coordination, typesetting, layout, design, and production of the book. This book documents and celebrates the first twenty years of the HSA’s colourful history.
In 1995 and 1996 I served as the California regional coordinator of the Haiku Society of America, putting on two weekend-long haiku events as part of national HSA meetings held in San Francisco. One activity I also put together while regional coordinator was a special presentation and discussion on haiku in San Francisco by United States Poet Laureate Robert Hass. I continued my service to the HSA as first vice president in 1997, during which time I took on the task of producing the society’s new logo and T-shirts.
Since 1995 I’ve been running the "Haiku City" reading series at a major bookstore in downtown San Francisco, featuring local and visiting haiku poets, and I also give regular haiku workshops at Hakone Japanese Gardens in Saratoga, California.
In 1996, I helped cofound the American Haiku Archive in Sacramento—an accomplishment of which I feel the most proud because it will have the most lasting value for the widest number of haiku poets. Primary cofounders Jerry Kilbride, Garry Gay, California State Librarian Kevin Starr, and I worked together for over a year to bring this project to fruition. This library features the haiku books and papers of Elizabeth Searle Lamb and many other haiku poets, and should serve as the continent’s premiere permanent archive of English-language haiku literature.
In 1997, after eight years of editing work on Woodnotes, striving to make it one of North America’s best haiku publications, I replaced the journal with a new haiku-focused journal called Tundra. I hope this new journal will continue for years in the future as a leading proponent of short poetry in the English language.
In the course of pursuing the haiku art, I have enjoyed judging numerous contests, including the Brady and Virgilio contests for the Haiku Society of America, two haiku contests for the Nature Company, a senryu contest for Atlantic Monthly online, and various other regional and national haiku contests. Reading this work, and the many thousands of submissions I receive yearly for Woodnotes and Tundra has provided me with an immeasurably valuable haiku education.
My own haiku have been published in most of the leading haiku journals around the world, and have been included in such anthologies as Haiku Moment (Tuttle, 1993), Haiku World (Kodansha, 1996), The San Francisco Haiku Anthology (Smythe-Waithe Press, 1992), and The Midwest Haiku Anthology (Brooks Books, 1992), and my articles and book reviews about haiku have appeared in numerous places also. My perception of the haiku form has evolved from the rigid seventeen-syllable approach I held twenty years ago toward the free-form approach. Now my inclination is toward the so-called "organic" approach to haiku. I prefer haiku that are sharply imagistic, focus on the here and now, and are objective yet intuitive.
I also write longer poetry, articles, and some fiction, and continually look forward to deepening my writing, editing, and publishing experience in these areas also. In addition, I am also actively involved with the E. E. Cummings Society, for which I help edit Spring, the society’s annual academic/poetry journal. I have also spoken about Cummings and poetry for American Literature Association conferences and other conferences.
I have now enjoyed haiku poetry for over twenty years. The genre continues to reveal its many hidden faces and I find myself always learning. As I discover more of its Japanese origin, history, and current developments, as well as its worldwide changes and adaptations, I learn the heart of humanity itself, for haiku is the world and her people. Haiku is a window into ourselves. I’m grateful that being named after Dylan Thomas has led me, in a round-about way, to this window’s vista. It’s a window I look forward to keeping wide open for many years to come.
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Click here for more information on: The Haiku Society of America.
Haiku and Other Distractions
Recommended Books on Haiku
Tens of thousands of books have been published on or about haiku. For those interested in learning to write haiku in English, I recommend three books above all others: The Haiku Handbook by William J. Higginson, The Haiku Anthology edited by Cor van den Heuvel, and Haiku Moment edited by Bruce Ross. Higginson's book gives a general overview of haiku with numerous English examples. The van den Heuvel and Ross anthologies provide the most widely available collections of original English-language haiku. For translations, the best books are still those by R. H. Blyth, although you will mostly be able to find translations such as Robert Hass's recent, but less recommendable, The Essential Haiku (Ecco Press, 1995) more easily than Blyth's books! Also included in the following list are biographies of the four great haiku masters, Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki, and selected other books that have proved the most essential and influential in English. I could add many other books to this list, including academic books by Donald Keene, Earl Miner, Steven Carter, and others, but have chosen to list just the following as the most essential to those wishing to write English-language haiku. You should be able to order most of these books from bookstores. As with other forms of poetry, one of the best ways to learn how to write haiku is to read haiku. The following books can help you do just that.
Michael Dylan Welch
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Haiku and Related Publications
Numerous haiku journals are published around the world. For those interested in enjoying and publishing their own haiku, a few haiku journal subscriptions are worth far more than they cost. The following list includes the world's primary English-language haiku journals. Foreign-language journals, such as Romania's Albatross, are not included even though they are bilingual. Prices are given in U.S. dollars for subscriptions in the United States (write each journal for subscription rates elsewhere). For replies, always enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) or SAE with an International Reply Coupon (IRC) from the post office. For subscription guidelines, please write to each editor.
Michael Dylan Welch
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Site Copyright © 1997 by Michael Dylan Welch.