Aubrie Cox interviews Michael Dylan Welch about the first National Haiku Writing Month, held February, 2011.

Why February?

NaHaiWriMo was inspired, of course, by NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org/), a wonderful event that takes place in November each year. It's way beyond "national," though, and has become a global phenomenon, with more than 200,000 people participating in 2010, writing nearly 2.9 billion words (see statistics). And I was one of the participants. And I even managed to finish my novel, despite being unable to write for a week while running Haiku Northwest's third annual Seabeck Haiku Getaway. In anticipation of starting my own NaNoWriMo experience, in late October I thought that there ought to be a National Haiku Writing Month. November was already pinned to writing novels, so I needed another month, and February seemed the most obvious choice — the shortest month for the shortest genre of poetry. I decided to create a Facebook page for it, and sent initial invitations to a few hundred people. A few months later, on January 8, 2011, I created a website for NaHaiWriMo.

Tell me about the logo.

For some time (long before NaHaiWriMo) I had thought it would be fun to create a "No 5-7-5" graphic — the text "5-7-5" with a red slash in a circle on top of it. I used this as a logo because I wanted the NaHaiWriMo site to have at least some educational value, too, as well as inspirational, and I think the discussions it produced helped to educate a number of people into rethinking their presumptions about haiku. Too many people learn haiku (in English) merely as a 5-7-5-syllable poem, have no idea why 17 syllables is actually much longer than the 17 sounds they count in Japanese haiku, and, worse yet, have no idea about the other techniques used in haiku, several of which are more important than form. I had no idea how many people might participate in NaHaiWriMo, but at the very least I hoped a few of them might learn something new about haiku. I recall that two people objected to the logo when the Facebook page first appeared, and I offered an alternative image ("I [heart] haiku" with "haiku" presented in Japanese characters, which I've since had made into a T-shirt for myself), but the responses I got to the new image were that people vastly preferred the original. I suppose it's somewhat provocative, but perhaps that's useful to prod people out of their misperceptions of haiku. The irony is that, so long as the poem hits other necessary targets for haiku, there's nothing all that wrong with 5-7-5 itself, even in English. In fact, here's one of mine:

 tulip festival — / the colours of all the cars / in the parking lot

But too many people think 5-7-5 is the only target, pay little or no attention to the other necessities, and they pad or chop their syntax to force the poem into that form, creating far more problems, without even realizing that they're aiming at an unnecessary target (at least in English). To explain all of this, I wrote an essay, "Why 'No 5-7-5,'" which I put on the website (it's been getting a steady number of hits). The logo may offend some people, but it might very well be the people who are offended who need to hear its message. And perhaps, for those who like it, the message that they (and the logo) espouses makes them part of a club. They get it. Rather than exclude anyone, I hoped to include others, although they might have had to rethink their understandings of haiku to get it. I think a lot of people did.

Lots of people have been asking me to make the logo into a T-shirt, and I plan to do that before too long.

Why one haiku a day versus just writing 28? Even though there's a recommended word count per day, in NaNoWriMo, the goal is simply to get to 50,000 words.

I've read in the past that it takes about three weeks to ingrain a new habit into your routine, so rather than dash off 28 haiku on the first or last day and think you're done, I thought that making it a daily routine would be better. It helps you hone your awareness of daily life. Years ago, my camera was stolen out of my car. A year or so later, when I got a camera again, I noticed that I regained my habit of thinking in terms of the photographic frame — wondering how scenes in front of me might look as a photograph, whether now or later might provide the best light, or if the picture I saw in front of me might be better if I framed it from over there rather than here. I think haiku does the same thing, making you aware of seeing the world in a particular way, being more highly attuned to seasonal changes and all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle experiences of ordinary life — and then inspiring you to transform that awareness into words. So the goal to write one haiku a day over the course of the month was deliberately intended to instill (or support) a habit in whoever participated — a haiku habit.

I've set myself the task of writing one haiku a day for an entire year several times in the past, so I know how hard it can be to sustain one haiku a day for a set period of time, yet one haiku a day seemed a challenging yet reachable goal. I managed to finish 53,000 words for my NaNoWriMo novel in November. It was much harder than I imagined, but I figured if I could do that (while not even being able to write for one of the month's weeks), surely others could write a mere 28 haiku in February. Of course, it's not just words but content that matters, which is why writing good haiku is a lot harder than some people think. I love what Roland Barthes once said in his book Empire of Signs: "Haiku has this rather phantasmagorical property: that we always suppose we ourselves can write such things easily."

In early developmental stages for NaHaiWriMo, you considered a number of hubs for the month. Why did you finally decide to keep the main page on Facebook?

I began only with a Facebook page, actually. The website was an afterthought, partly to promote the Facebook page, and also to provide more extensive content than was practical on the Facebook page. The website includes instructions for participating, my essay on the matter of form and 5-7-5, links to various haiku societies, and, for fun, a comments page (have you checked that out?). I didn't really wonder (let alone predict) how the Facebook page might turn out, or what would happen, but it took on a life of its own and participation and enthusiasm spread by word of mouth. It greatly exceeded my expectations, by leaps and bounds. In fact, for the month of February, 2011, the NaHaiWriMo page received 64,516 individual views of all the various posts and comments. This includes repeat views, but it's still a staggering number. I set the page to be openly viewable to the public (as opposed to being viewable just to people who "Liked" it or being a closed group), and the site averaged a monthly userbase of a little less than 500 people (including folks who regularly visited the site but didn't happen to click the Like button, although most of them did). About two-thirds of participants were women, and the majority were age 45 and older, according to the site statistics that Facebook made available to me as site creator/administrator.

haijinx
volume IV, issue 1
March 2011

entrée

welcome

haikai

haiku | haiga | haibun

about this issue

acknowledgements
contributors

fin

haijinx IV:1 (March 2011)

Copyright © 2001-2011 Mark Brooks (haijinx). All rights reserved.

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