“Cradle”: Winding down …

Okay. This will be my last bulletin from the Cradle of American Haiku Festival. I hope my coverage hasn’t been too exhaustive (or exhausting). I’ve just found the whole experience so much fun and so fascinating that I wanted to give everyone who’s never been to a haiku conference some sense of what it’s all about. Also, I learned so much that I didn’t want to forget and that I thought was worth sharing.

So. We’ve reached the end of the “mostly educational” phase of the conference and are moving on to the “mostly social” phase. By this point I had met enough people and felt comfortable enough in the group that instead of cowering in a corner, I actually found myself having lots of lively conversations and making new friends. It was an amazing feeling to be in the presence of so many other people who were passionate about haiku, especially since before this weekend I’d never met another haiku poet in person. Now I know so many I can’t even remember all their names.

While sitting on the porch of Foundry Books, reviving myself after a long day of lectures and workshops by scarfing down several more of the fantastic chocolate chip cookies that I had developed a serious addiction to the day before, I had a nice conversation with Gayle Bull about her amazing garden, songbirds, and life in a hundred-and-sixty-year-old house in Mineral Point (tip: dress warmly in winter). Gayle also invited me to meet with her haiku group in Mineral Point — I may take her up on that (although I am still thinking of starting a group in Madison, if that doesn’t require too insane a time commitment).

At cocktail hour and the picnic following, Charlie Trumbull and I discovered that we had shared an undergraduate university and major and compared notes on the one professor in our department who was there at the same time as both of us. I talked to a guy from Madison whom I’d known in another context many years ago and got caught up. I had a lot of fun talking to a librarian — my current subject of graduate study — and her husband who is in (more or less) the same line of work as my husband. I got to know Lidia Rozmus, a wonderful haiga artist who is originally from Poland, and bonded with her over discussions of life behind the Iron Curtain (I spent a semester studying in Moscow before the collapse of the Soviet Union).

A haiku reading ended the evening once again. One of the highlights of this for me was Jerome Cushman’s sign language interpretations of haiku — I have a special interest in this since my sister works at a school for the deaf and is a fluent signer. He started by signing Basho’s famous frogpond haiku, asking us to guess what we thought it was (I got it — the hop of the frog into the pond and the splash were unmistakable).

Randy Brooks’s undergraduate student Aubrie (apologies to Aubrie, I don’t remember her last name*) entertained us with her haiku:

haiku conference
I’m everyone’s

Some of us indignantly retorted that we were only old enough to be her mother, not her grandmother! But it’s true that Aubrie was the youngest person there by probably at least fifteen years. I’m still trying to ponder the significance of this — is haiku something that people generally come to later in life? Or does the younger generation mostly have no interest in haiku? Are we dying out, like the classical music audience?

I read my “Seasonal Mathematics” sequence, which I thought got a slightly warmer reception than my full moon sequence of the night before. (It turns out that Lee Gurga was an undergraduate math major, so he appreciated it.) Still, I felt kind of like the freshman on the team, trying with limited success to hit the ball the way the upperclassmen do.

I was sad not to be able to attend any of Sunday’s events, which included a ginko walk and the results of the haiku kukai that was held over the weekend. It was hard to say goodbye to everyone. (Though I got lots of email addresses, so I’m hoping to keep in touch with some.) But I’m already making plans to attend the Haiku North America conference that the Brookses are holding in Decatur next summer … it’s just too much fun to be surrounded by real live haikuists.

Not that I don’t love you guys … why don’t you come too, so I can finally meet some of you?

autumn beer —
haiku poets
can’t stop talking


*Cox! Her last name is Cox! I knew that, really I did.

†Revised to remove the word “first” from the beginning of the ku, since Aubrie tells me I imagined that part.

10 thoughts on ““Cradle”: Winding down …

  1. Hi Melissa,
    I’m reading along for some time already, feeling a bit shy to comment, because English is only my second language (and I’m shy enough in my first).
    I really enjoy your blog – feeling grateful to be able to read such a detailed report of a Haiku conference in far away America.
    And I just wrote my first haibun (in German) inspired by you! I’m exited to try more. Actually, I think this blog is already some kind of haibun, mixing haiku and prose, so I don’t really believe it’s not your style.
    Looking forward to read more!

    • Kerstin, I’m so glad to hear from you! I’m so excited to have a reader in Germany. My parents lived there for a year and a half when my dad was stationed there with the army in the 60s. They loved it.

      And your English is great, don’t be shy! I’d love to hear more from you.

      And I’m so glad my account of the workshop inspired you to try haibun — if you ever want to share any my husband can probably translate, he knows a fair amount of German.

      And thanks for the comment on the blog — yes, sometimes I do think of it as a kind of haibun. But I’d really love to be able to write the real thing …

  2. Dear Melissa,

    Good to find your Post today in the Wisconsin Tag.

    My husband and I graduated from UW-Madison in 1976. Karl in engineering and me in special education. My father and I went to Poland in 1978 with a tour from UW-Milwaukee. Dad taught history and was a veteran.

    Many great haiku poets and artists in the Midwest! So kind too, as you know.

    Blessings, Ellen

    • I’m so glad you found me, Ellen! My husband is a UW grad (1989) and now I am enrolled as a grad student. We really love living in Madison.

      And yes, the Midwest seems to be chock full of haikuists, and all the ones I’ve met have been wonderful people.

  3. Hullo, Melissa:

    I saw you typing during one of the workshops, and found the blog when I got home. It’s been interesting to see your perspective from someone who has only recently begun writing haiku and entering the community. This was my first conference as well, so was definitely glad to see how friendly everyone was.

    ’tis okay you don’t remember my first name. I laughed when I read that; it’s a little mundane in comparison to my first name, but makes for a good balance. I’m just flattered that I was memorable. I was even hearing about that senryu when I got back to Millikin on Monday–word travels fast (there’s no “first” in it, by the way).

    While there is definitely a gap as far as younger people writing haiku, I don’t know if would say it’s on its way of dying out. I first took the course Global Haiku Traditions in 2008 with Randy Brooks, and was always sad that a lot of my classmates didn’t continue with writing. Two others did, but never submit anything and just share among friends. I’ve found this to be the case with a lot of Millikin students and alum; they write, but on a more casual basis without really venturing out into the community.

    I helped with the class last spring and the majority of the students returned for the writing roundtable, much to my delight. They’ve picked up on it ridiculously fast a few got published over the summer. It makes me kind of proud (but at the same time, I can’t imagine that I was writing as well as quickly as some of them are). I have high hopes for these kids, and have been introducing a lot of my friends through the internet to haiku and helping them learn to write and edit. Those that have caught on really enjoy writing it, while some just like to read. I send them books to read and always encourage them to send me things. It’s rather rewarding.

    So is it dying? I don’t really think so, but this second generation of haiku poets (third, if you count the Beats) is slow in its growth. And in some ways it’s just a matter of making connections with other people and realizing the community that’s there (which we started to push with them last semester). But mainly, I think they (the students at Millikin who have been writing) just enjoy reading and writing, and gathering with their peers to see what each of them has been doing. That’s their community. Out of all the books we read, The Millikin University Haiku anthology was most relevant to them, and they related to it–locale, age group, etc.

    ‘Tis certainly a shame you didn’t get to come Sunday. The ginko walk was fun. Hope you do make it to Decatur for HNA 2011. We’ve been kicking around some great ideas.

    • Hey Aubrie, great to hear from you! Sorry about mistranscribing your ku, forgetting your name, and all my other middle-aged memory problems … I loved many of your other ku, by the way, but of course that one was the one that probably stuck in everyone’s mind. 🙂

      It’s good to have your perspective on the next generation of haikuists; I’m glad there’s some interest out there. I also am in touch via the blog with a couple of younger poets so I guess there’s hope. We’ll see who’s showing up to conferences in 20 years…

      I also was sad to miss Sunday (but I decided my son’s birthday party was a higher priority. 🙂 ). I will come to Decatur if I possibly can, I’m still a little high from Mineral Point!

      It was great to meet you, stay in touch.

  4. ’tis not a problem. I don’t think I’m gonna live it down for a while; there were a ton of granddaughter jokes on Sunday (but yes, son’s birthday always takes priority). I’m personally fond of the impromptu senryu someone shouted out in response from the other side of the room:

    next haiku conference—
    I’m not on
    the mailing list

    (Seems they’ve edited it by the next day, but that’s what he said originally as I wrote it down right away.)

    I don’t know if you’ve looked at all, but a good place for seeing what younger poets are doing/poets-in-learning is simply the Millikin Haiku webpage It has all the classes from the last… however many years. Filled with kukai and matching contests, as well as students end of the semester collections and creative projects.

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