A Hundred Gourds 4:2 March 2015

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The Seabeck Haiku Getaway: an interview with Michael Dylan Welch

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Interview with Michael Dylan Welch

Aubrie: What are some Seabeck Haiku Getaway traditions?

Michael: Years ago I read a magazine article about the value of ritual in one’s life—daily rituals, weekly, monthly, yearly—and rituals at particular places, or with particular friends or relatives. Not just the usual rituals such as putting up a Christmas tree, but your own personal or group rituals. It’s something I’ve valued in my own life. Rituals are something that haiku poets pay attention to as well, by observing each season closely as it unfolds. At the first Seabeck retreat, one tradition I started was to begin and end with a theme song, usually with lyrics of relevant inspiration for haiku poets. I would play the song as nearly the very first activity, and also the very last. My intention was to create a transition into and out of the retreat, and to use the song and its lyrics as a sort of focus for the weekend. For the first retreat, held in the fall of 2008, the song was “Ordinary Miracles” by Sarah McLachlan, and the lyrics speak about the value of appreciating ordinary miracles in everyday life, something that any haiku poet can relate to.

Alice also started a tradition that first year, which arose partly out of practicality. To save ourselves the trouble of making name tags for everyone, we asked people to make their own name tags beforehand. The results have been very creative over the years, and I’ve enjoyed photographing many of these nametags. We even had a contest for the best name tags that first year. Even without the contest, though, people have been very creative over the years.

A more recent tradition is our Saturday-night talent show, which has proved very popular, and lots of fun. Some people start preparing for it months in advance, and it allows us to showcase talents other than haiku, such as singing, dancing, drama, longer poems, storytelling, and more. We publish a retreat anthology each year. One of them, called Seeing Stars, even won the Haiku Society of America Kanterman Book Award for best anthology in 2010 (for books published in 2009), featuring “galactiku” inspired by Penny Harter’s workshop using photographs taken from the Hubble space telescope. We also have a formal kukai every year, and the top poems are included in the anthology. We also have a silent auction, to help raise money, a bookfair to showcase everyone’s haiku and related books. We also have a “freebie” table for sharing haiku handouts (trifolds or other little collections of our haiku to trade with each other). The display of weathergrams about the grounds was started by Barbara Snow, and we’ve continued doing it ever since. She had us write haiku on strips of grocery-bag paper and then use biodegradable string to tie our poems to trees and bushes around the grounds for everyone to discover (including hundreds of guests attending other conferences the same weekend as us, and for weeks afterwards). These are all traditions that help to make the Seabeck retreat very engaging for everyone who attends. How do we fit it all in?

In scheduling activities for the weekend, I’ve always tried to balance what I call the head and the heart, to provide intellectual stimulation and instruction, but also more spiritual, social, and fun experiences, keeping in mind the use of our hands as well as our minds.