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VOL. 131 | NO. 230 | Thursday, November 17, 2016

Vic Fleming

20th Haiku Conference a Good One


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Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry that traditionally was written in three lines, featuring two images juxtaposed. Always with a syllable-count of 17, parsed as 5-7-5. There are other rules as well.

I include a two-hour block on haiku in the Law & Literature seminar. For one good reason: brevity. Anything to curb law students’ tendency toward verbosity. When I started teaching haiku, I’d had no contact with it for 30 years. But … I dived in head-first. 

I joined the Haiku Society of America and the Arkansas Haiku Society, and began attending conferences. As well as reading as much as I could make time for on this literary genre, which is one of the shortest known to humankind. Along with the crossword clue. 

I have just returned from the 20th annual Hot Springs Haiku Conference. It was held at the grand and historic Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on Nov. 4-5. I’ve been attending for 10 years, maybe 12. This year I was a co-chair of the event.

I won’t say we had record attendance, but I wrote down 24 names, and that’s the most that I can remember. Places represented included Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, California and New Zealand. 

One of the featured speakers was Fay Aoyagi, of San Francisco by way of Japan, president of HSA. Fay is a freelance Japanese interpreter. In addition to reporting on haiku societal matters (upcoming events and such), she read from her work and discussed the subtleties and nuances involved in being a bilingual poet. 

A line from the introduction to her first book caught my attention: “I don’t write haiku to report the weather. I write haiku to tell my stories.”

In her 2011 book, “Beyond the Reach of My Chopsticks,” are these haiku: 

long night 
I distort the globe 
with Photoshop 

the winter moon wins 

Looked up “Rochambeau”!

Professor Jianqing Zheng, chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages at Mississippi Valley State University (Itta Bena), presented on the topic of haibun, a form in which a very short story – one paragraph, say – introduces a haiku. Dr. Zheng is widely published as an author and editor.

Doc Drumkeller lives in Oxford, New Zealand. His sojourn to Hot Springs was part of a tour that began in Mexico and would end in El Salvador. Born in the States to a New Zealander mother, dual-citizen Doc edits and publishes “Catalyst,” a literary journal, teaches creative writing, and is a widely published poet and talented musician.

Doc’s recent book, “Beyond the Borderlands,” features 70 haiku–in English, Bulgarian, and Greek. Here are a couple of examples:

the friendship bridge 
two stray dogs 
cross the border 

street cats meow 
under the cafe 
table talking politics

Other presenters included 

• Prof. David Lanoue of Xavier University of Louisiana, who spoke about his upcoming book, “Issa and Being Human.” Lanoue is widely published and has translated 10,000 of Issa’s haiku from the Japanese.

• Juliet Seer Pazera spoke about and read from her book, “the dad project.” A New Orleans resident, Juliet is a psychic, a healer and an animal rights advocate.

This column would not be complete without giving credit to the event’s primary co-chair, Dr. Judy Michaels, a retired physician from North Little Rock, who presented a tribute to her mother, Johnnye Strickland, a longtime HSA member and leader, haiku poet extraordinaire and retired educator.

It was quite an event. I’m sorry if you missed it. Watch for it next year. Look for it on Facebook now: Hot Springs Haiku. 

Vic Fleming, a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law, can be reached at vicfleming@att.net.

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