A Hundred Gourds 5:2 March 2016

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Haiku North America 2015 — Schenectady, New York

by Jennifer Sutherland

| Introduction | page 2 | page 3 |page 4

HNA 2015 – Day 1

The home for the poets’ stay for the duration of the conference was The Desmond Conference Centre, Albany. Daily scheduled sessions including the book fair and haiga display were held at the impressive Union College in Schenectady.

Poets met early in the lobby of the Desmond for the short bus ride to Union College, the second oldest college in New York State having been founded in 1795. We entered the Old Chapel where the first presentations were to take place.

The William J. Higginson Memorial Keynote Address

The William J. Higginson Memorial Keynote Address, “Teaching Haiku In American Higher Education”, was given by Dr. Randy Brooks. Dr. Brooks presented an overview of the scholarship process in the United States then discussed the history of American haiku, touching on various motivations for writing haiku including Zen, insight into nature, history, psychology and the personal experience. He cited the influence of Robert Spiess’s articles on the craft of haiku writing and also the influences of Japanese-American haiku, the Modernists and the Beats movement. He touched on the possibility of haiku use in therapeutic and hospice environments and the effects of stylistics and acoustics in haiku. He suggested that haiku would be appropriate for longer-term projects in schools, such as English as a Second Language forums, and that haiku could be combined effectively with music and film studies. Dr. Brooks concluded by saying that all haiku poets should consider themselves teachers and encouraged public readings, kukai (group haiku contests), feedback sessions and sharing haiku with family and friends, with a focus to connect with the wider community.


Dr. Randy Brooks at the podium

Panel Discussion

This keynote address was then aptly followed by a panel discussion featuring educators from different sectors of the American school system. Panel members were Aubrie Cox, Geoff VanKirk, Tom Painting and Rich Schnell. Michael Dylan Welch acted as moderator. After this session ended, it was time for poets to make some serious choices as various presentations ran in unison. Poets pondered over their program. Some poets attempted to divide their time between sessions by running frantically from one venue to the next. I opted to concentrate on one complete session for each time slot in order to obtain the most out of the experience.

Japanese Aesthetics

It was my first tough decision of the day, but I decided to forego Philip Rowland’s “Beyond Surprise: Haiku and the Poetics of George Oppen” in favour of “Japanese Aesthetics and Junk Haiku”, presented by Lee Gurga.


Japanese Aesthetics – Lee Gurga

Lee presented four Japanese aesthetic principals, Ma, Kire, Kigo and Kokoro –

Kigo – seasonal element word – does the season expand the haiku?

Kokoro – the way of the inner spirit – is there too much mind and too little heart?

Ma – space – the interval, silence, what is not said

Kire – the cut, cutting

He discussed each and demonstrated their importance in haiku with examples of English Language haiku collected in the Modern Haiku Press anthology, Haiku 2015. Here are a few examples:

the first crocus humming Vivaldi

            —Lesley Anne Swanson

a praying mantis
stick-still on the stubble:
praise this

             - Scott Mason

roses in the rose messaged and left

            — Richard Gilbert

summer clouds
I pull the rope ladder up
behind me

            — Susan Antolin

Why Haiku?

After a buffet lunch in the company of fellow haiku poets, the presentations resumed. I settled back to enjoy “Why Haiku? – A Personal Reflection”, by Scott Mason. Haiku that achieve excellence, in Scott’s view, share certain qualities: they convey feeling, evoke emotional responses, honour the small and reverberate in the reader’s mind. Scott illustrated his appreciation of haiku through the works of various poets featured in the anthology, Nest Feathers: Selected Haiku from the First 15 Years of the Herons Nest. Among many other examples from Nest Feathers, Scott displayed and commented on these:

the slow turn
of a barber's pole –
afternoon heat

— John W. Wisdom

salmon run
does the river too
have memory?

— Yvonne Cabalona

heat lightning
Christmas beetles
spangle the flyscreen

— Lorin Ford

fishing village
a rumour of blues running
through the cafe

— Jim Kacian



Why Haiku? – A Personal Reflection – Scott Mason

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