■Meeting Report on the World Haiku Conference
 in Tolmin, Slovenia September 8, 2000


    Jim KACIAN

Hello Everybody: We've had an amazing time at the first World Haiku Association Conference here in Tolmin, Slovenia. Over 60 people have gathered to share poems and thoughts on poetry, and the camaraderie and energy generated has been much greater than we could have anticipated. So much in fact that many new initiatives and projects have been created, with expanding expectations of what we can accomplish to bring haiku to more people around the world, on every level. I thought I might share some of the key moments in the conference with those of you who were not so fortunate as to be able to attend. Friday September 1: People arrived in waves, first the contingent from London (site of the World Haiku Festival 2000, August 25-30) at 3am; then a large group from Japan who had spent some holiday time at Lake Bled; then many of the Balkan attendees, usually in groups of 2 or 3. By mid-day most everyone was in, and the ginko to Tolminka Gorge attracted the whole group. The weather was perfect for such a trip, sunny and warm, but cooler as we walked up the river's edge through the gorge it has carved out of the dolomitic mountains, until we passed through a cave into the dim opening from which the river issues. To everyone's credit, we all successfully completed the walk, and had many opportunities to write haiku and appreciate the splendor of the setting. We returned to Tolmin for the welcome reception, held in the Tolmin Theatre. There we were treated not only to food and drink, but also to a concert of traditional Slovenian music, wonderfully performed by the Dednina Quartet from Zagreb. Welcoming speeches from the Mayor's office (Deputy Mayor Carli), the site host (Dimitar Anakiev) and the performance director (Igor Drnovsek) were followed by a round reading of greeting haiku from about half of the participants. It was time for dinner, so we adjourned from the theatre to the dining hall of the Hotel Krn, where we ate copiously and conversed in many tongues. At the beginning of dessert, all those who had not yet greeted us with a haiku were able to do so, and after much more conversation we retired to our comfortable lodgings. Saturday September 2: Following breakfast in the hotel's dining room, we moved to the theatre for the opening session of talks. Dimitar Anakiev, our host here in Slovenia, began the day's conversation with his paper on "The Third Way". He advanced the idea that WHA is not merely a gathering of poets, but actually a seeking of a furthering of the form itself. Poised between the two models which predominate the haiku world today, those of Japan on the one hand, and the western mirroring of Japan on the other, he proposed that WHA is the beginning of a third model, which is a more inclusive form, losing nothing from the earlier two models but emphasizing the poetic element to a greater degree than has heretofore been permitted. He offered the point that the important work being done today in the form is taking this third way, and includes the development of the "keywords" concept, and a broader latitude for poetic association. This set the tone for the kind of poetry WHA values and will seek to advance. He was followed by Jim Kacian of the United States, who spoke on "The Structure of WHA". After surveying of the state of the haiku art around the world, and concluding that interest is burgeoning in many countries, cultures and languages, he asked the question of what would best serve these many and disparate people, and how WHA could be structured to accomplish this service. He advanced a design that intends to accommodate as many people as possible, on the level of their interest and involvement. First of all, he advocates the creation of a website wherein all members might have space for their own work. This site is free of charge, and available to all members, and, as membership is also free, provides an opportunity for all poets to have a voice. How this site differs from other large and usually unedited site, however, is in its management by editors who would be appointed or elected by their national or regional organizations. The mandate for these editors is to choose work which is exemplary of their place of origin, thus assuring that the local and specific is not lost in the growth of the form internationally, but rather preserved, as haiku must be, as a poem of a specific place and time. To create these positions of editor will require cooperation between WHA and local, regional and national haiku societies around the world, which constitutes the second level of the structure. Beyond this, WHA will provide the kinds of work that will help bind these societies together: the critical work of good translation (English has been adopted as the official working language of WHA, for practical reasons, but each language is encouraged to find its own best poetry in the form); outreach in the form of instruction and resources for those countries and cultures just coming to haiku (taking the form of books, magazines, and workshops, among other things); major projects which will advance the understanding of global haiku, such as those currently planned: the first world haiku anthology, the first "saijiki" based on keywords, and the history of world haiku as it has come to the many countries around the world; and finally, but not least, regular meetings where people from the many countries can come together to share their poetry and ideas about poetry for the evolution of us all. The third speaker of the morning was Susumu Takiguchi of England, who had us consider, at this most appropriate time, "Challenges of World Haiku in the 21st Century". These are many and varied, and it is important to begin dialogue on them, to find the most useful language, as well as possible direction for solutions. Included among these questions are matters such as the Japanese position in haiku in the future, the near-ubiquitous use of English in international haiku, and the predominance of what we might term "the American model" as the most common type of haiku to be found. These are not new questions which face us: how will haiku grow, how will we be able to share it, what are the repercussions to making the decisions we make. But they are issues which must be faced if haiku is to continue to grow, and remain meaningful in both artistic and personal ways, in the future. What is most heartening is that they are being answered: Japanese poets increasingly embrace international haiku, and even Japanese haiku societies are coming to recognize the value, importance and necessity of working in a larger sphere; English certainly has been adopted world-wide, and this is not without problems, but it also seems apparent that any choice would be fraught with the same considerations, and that English offers some things, such as the number of users and its currency in other realms, which offset whatever disadvantages it might offer; and the creation of entities such as WHA ensures that other models will have good exposure in the international world, and that not a single model will be recognized to the exclusion of all others. So there is much reason for encouragement as we come to meet these challenges that await us in the years to come. Most significant of all for the morning session was the spirited question and answer period which followed. Many broad topics were discussed, and it was enlightening to all to hear the many points of view regarding each. Only through this kind of interchange can we hope to know the full breadth and depth of the issue at hand. And only at such a colloquy as WHA made possible can this breadth and depth be made available. Following lunch at the hotel, the second session was begun in the theatre by Ban'ya Natsuishi, who spoke on "Our Basis for World Haiku in the 21st Century". Ban'ya acknowledged that many problems face world haiku in the next century, but explored one of the ways in which these problems might be overcome, or at least faced. He chose the keyword "dream" and, through examples and commentary, suggested how poets from around the world-Joanne Morcom and Jim Kacian of the United States, Sumie Aihara, Tohta Kaneko and Saki Unui of japan, Dimitar Anakiev of Slovenia, and Miroslav Klivar of the Czech Republic-find a wide range of material, but ultimately a commonality of spirit and being. Conceding that the entire basis for the new haiku could not be known at this time, it is at least possible to see how it can work amongst people by calling forth shared realities, and appreciating the deep feelings each poet expresses and therefore shares. Marijan Cekolj of Croatia then addressed some of the philosophical issues concerned with the position of haiku as zen. He considered the position from the point of view of what it was like when zen was taken to be essential to the understanding of haiku, and drew many conclusions which arise from such a consideration. Ion Codrescu of Romania then spoke on "Communication through Words and Images in a Time of Globalization". In his talk, Codrescu advanced the idea that haiku is primarily a visual poetry, and that just as we create energy through the juxtaposition of images transmitted verbally, so too can we accomplish this between poem and image through the medium of haiga. There followed a discussion of how haiga functions, of how what is missing is equally important to what is presented, and of how we might share meaning across borders when the verbal suggestions is accompanied by visual cues. Zinovy Vayman of Russia then considered the new haiku cultures in Russia and Israel, both of which he has had a hand in fomenting. The emergence of haiku culture in such places, rich with literary tradition and with great passion for culture, is critical for the growth of world haiku. That haiku understanding and community have begun here, and in so many other places, is the mandate for an organization such as WHA. To conclude the session, Serge Tome of Belgium spoke on "Haiku, a Poetic Form Adapted to the Present World". He first considered how information is taken in by the mind, and how it is processed, and then used this information to suggest how haiku works. This comparison to other information-processing systems was provocative and prompted lively discussion. We adjourned at this point to the theatre lobby where samples of local food and wine, and more lively conversation, was waiting. Again the sounds of many languages, and many intonations of English, floated in the air. In addition, rain had come up during the afternoon and fell heavily without. It was with reluctance that we finally moved ourselves to the city museum, where we were to have readings from our many participants. Our reluctance was changed to appreciation, however, as the reading were full of enthusiasm and enjoyment. They were commenced by Ban'ya Natsuishi, who read, with the aid of Dimitar Anakiev (Serbian and Slovenian), Alain Kervern (French) and Jim Kacian (English), in 5 languages, selections from his book "A Future Waterfall", published (in English) in 1999 by Red Moon Press in the United States. This was followed by readings from the many present who appeared in the recent anthology "Multilingual Haiku Troubadours 2000", these too in at least Japanese and English, with Jim again doing the honors. Then readings from "Our Dream", another recent anthology on the theme of the keyword "dream". And then all others sharing at least a poem or two with the assembled gathering. From one piece of theatre to another: the group once again returned to the theatre (and it must be said that all these buildings, the theatre, museum and hotel, are adjacent to one another, and so transport was a matter of only a minute or so) for a presentation of haiku music, arranged by Igor Drnovsek. Included on the program were several pieces of music, all inspired by haiku, included "Seven Haiku for Piano" by John Cage; a trio of pieces by contemporary Slovenian composer Neved Valand-"Birds" for piano solo (based on selected Balkan haiku), "Slika ya Klavir" ("Picture for Piano") for piano solo (based on haiku by Gordana Valand), and "Leprsa Ledena Cipka" ("Trembles the Frozen Lace") for soprano, piano, violin and percussion (based on haiku by Gordana Valand); selections from "Jasmine Tea" by Grace Asquith, for mixed voices (based on haiku by Ebba Story); and "Seasons" by Russell J. Courter (setting classical Japanese haiku for soprano and harp). At its conclusion we walked through the balmy night to dinner, conversation, and a nightcap on the hotel piazza. Sunday September 3: Again the day begins with breakfast at the hotel, but this time following it we move to the Mayor's conference room. This to accommodate the slightly different program for the day which is to include a round-table discussion. But first we are treated to Alain Kervern's paper "The Haiku and the Poetry Almanac: Can this Formula be Transposed Elsewhere?" Besides being a fine summation of what a saijiki is and is intended to be, Alain places the origins and uses of the saijiki within the historical context in Japan, and within the larger context of similar works around the world, notably the English tradition of pastoral calendars which often took the form of extended works of poetry. He went on to consider the problems of kigo in the contemporary world, the diminution of the role of kigo, and ultimately the emergence of keywords as a critical element in the forward movement of haiku. At last, he spoke of the importance of the Tokyo conference held in 1999, which ratified the use of keywords and bridged the gap to the future of haiku. Vladimir Devide next addressed the assemblage, speaking on Croatian haiku. His concerns highlighted the need to maintain the local and the specific to be found in each country's haiku, without which the form would become homogenized and bland. He concluded with some anecdotal definitions of haiku, which were an excellent conclusion to our many talks, being light and refreshing and often amusing. Which led us to the featured part of Sunday's meeting, the round table discussion. This, in my opinion, was the most important single event on the WHA calendar, as it was an opportunity for the many people present, and the many languages and cultures they represented, to voice their opinions and concerns on a wide range of issues facing contemporary haiku. And it did not disappoint. While many issues were discussed, the conversation was concentrated in three major areas. The first of these concerned the saijiki: is it merely a local phenomenon, a cultural and literary history of a people, or can it have a more sweeping impact? Can it, indeed, transport itself across national borders? What has been the success of saijiki which have attempted to do just that, such as William J. Higginson's Haiku World? Each of these points was discussed in detail, with, as might be expected, a particularly generous amount of information supplied by the Japanese contingent. The consensus was that a saijiki was an historical phenomenon, and that its effects upon the haiku were enormous, but that the needs of haiku poets in contemporary times are different. All of which WHA finds encouraging as it moves to bring forth the first saijiki based upon the concept of keywords, currently in process. Such a book should be broader than a saijiki in that it will convey kigo, indeed, but also other categories heretofore not generally included in such volumes, and in a more inclusive fashion, utilizing the shared traditions and poems of all haiku cultures. Only such a volume can make the claim to cross national borders and serve a truly world poetry. Many surprising things came out of our conversation about haiku education. Of course many grassroots attempts to foster a deeper appreciation of haiku as a form have been attempted, in the west as well as in Japan. But perhaps most interesting was that the Japanese are finding the teaching of haiku to their children to be a difficult matter. Standards of teaching haiku in Japanese schools have decreased in recent years, to the point where an average student might now know 2 or 3 haiku by the 4th grade, as opposed to 50, 100 or more only a few years ago. But perhaps the biggest surprise came when Associate Professor Ikuyo Yoshimura said that the most successful way of teaching haiku to children of late has been to introduce them to English-language haiku (!). Because English, especially American, culture is seen as "cool", haiku issuing from America might be seen to be cool enough for Japanese kids to know something about. So the circle has closed, in a way, and the wave laps back upon Japan which had once been started there. A final key issue of conversation, especially of interest to the japanese contingent, was the organization of Japanese haiku, especially as this affects public haiku life in japan. What emerged from the conversation was that, contrary to public opinion, Japanese poets are quite interested in the movement of haiku into the world sphere, although Japanese haiku hierarchies have been slow to embrace this movement. It was apparent, however, that the feeling amongst the assembled poets was that of interest and cooperation. This brought us, sadly, to the final round of readings. Each of the poets shared a moment from their time and varied experiences in Tolmin. The full collection of these poems will be made into a volume of commemoration by Ban'ya Natsuishi in the next couple months, but perhaps I can share with you my own farewell poem. I wore a shirt upon which was imprinted the kanji for "buddha" as the morning session began, Sagicho Aihara, President of the Gendai Haiku Kyukai (the Modern Haiku Association), came up to me to greet me, and also to read my shirt. And so I must thank him for playing the major role in creating my poem: reading butsu on my shirt a man lays his hands on my belly We adjourned for lunch, following which the Japanese contingent boarded their bus for a brief tour of Kobarid, and then return to Ljubljana and their flight home. Others among us lingered a bit longer, sharing conversations and a last drink, before dispersing. Finally only Dimitar and I are left in Tolmin, but we are happy to say that we've heard from nearly all to say they have arrived home safely and happily. And now we have work to do: we move forward on creating the website, the gathering place for national societies, and the book projects which we feel to be crucial to the future of haiku around the world. What we found to be the most important message of the first WHA meeting is that communication between haiku poets must improve, that people want to know what is going on in other parts of the world. And such a gathering as we have had, face to face with other poets, sharing with them poetry and food and conversation, is the most important means at our disposal to supplying that communication. I look forward to seeing you all at the Second World Haiku Association Conference, in Tenri, Japan October 3-5 2003. p.s.: The whole of the proceedings was filmed by NHK, National Television in Japan, with an eye towards producing at least two different programs for viewing in Japan, and possibly for export to other places. The first is a study of haiku in the Balkans, and to this end the TV crew followed Dimitar through most of his daily rounds. The second was a general overview of WHA and this historic first meeting. Expected time of airing of these programs in Japan is December, 2000.


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