NaHaiWriMo is a web site focused on the pursuit of writing a haiku a day, every day in February and there’s still plenty of time to join in! The site includes daily haiku prompts and tons of haiku related resources, including links to other haiku organizations.
I wondered how and why this annual haiku project came to be, so I asked founder Michael Dylan Welch and he kindly replied. See my interview with Welch, learn how to participate in this year’s NaHaiWriMo!
HOPKINSON: What is NaHaiWriMo?
WELCH: NaHaiWriMo stands for National Haiku Writing Month, and it challenges participants to write at least one haiku a day during February every year. It’s important to do it every day, rather than writing 28 haiku on just one day, to help you get into the haiku habit. This is one reason the writing prompts are provided one per day rather than ahead of time. Many people have found that having the haiku habit helps them see the world around them differently, with greater attention. To get involved, just commit to writing one haiku day. For those on Facebook, the NaHaiWriMo page offers daily writing prompts and is a prime place to share your poems (whether they follow the prompts or not). You can ask for feedback too, and the community is very generous and supportive. The Facebook page has about 3,000 likes, and engages poets around the world.
HOPKINSON: How/why was NaHaiWriMo originally started?
WELCH: I’ve done National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) three times, and the first time was in November of 2010. The month before, it occurred to me that there ought to be a month for haiku, so NaHaiWriMo was born. And I thought February would be perfect for it—the shortest month for the shortest genre of poetry. And I do mean “genre.” Haiku is widely thought of as a “form,” but form is just one aspect of this poetry, and the form in English is widely misunderstood, usually to the detriment of haiku’s more important targets such as a seasonal reference, a two-part juxtapositional structure, and using primarily objective sensory images. So the logo showing “5-7-5” with a slash through it is meant to encourage a rethinking of what haiku is. I’m not really against 5-7-5 so much as I have an issue with many people thinking that counting syllables is the ONLY target for haiku. The vast bulk of literary haiku published in English is actually not 5-7-5, tending to be shorter (for the same reason that “haiku” counts as two syllables in English but three sounds in Japanese — they count sounds, not syllables, in Japanese haiku). Instead of counting syllables, like a paint-by-number painting, these poems aim at more important targets that are usually much harder to hit. I write more about this at my “Why ‘No 5-7-5’?” essay at http://www.nahaiwrimo.com/home/why-no-5-7-5, and my personal website offers additional insights into haiku form and content at the http://www.graceguts.com/further-reading and http://www.graceguts.com/essays pages. The literary community of haiku writers takes this poetry seriously.
HOPKINSON: I noticed prompts are posted year-round, how does one become a prompter?
WELCH: On the first day that NaHaiWriMo started, on February 1, 2011, someone asked if there was a prompt to help inspire people to write. I immediately offered one, and continued to do so for the rest of the month. Near the end of the month, the community was so enthusiastic that it asked for prompts to continue year-round. I started asking for volunteers who would take on future months, and the community has grown around the world. We’ve been offering writing prompts every day now for nine years straight. To become a prompter, it helps to have been involved with the Facebook page for at least six months to a year. I put out occasional calls for prompters, and schedule people many months in advance. A few people have done this task multiple times. Since January of 2014, I’ve also been doing short interviews with each prompter, and these have been added to the website during their month. Check them out at http://www.nahaiwrimo.com/home/meet-the-prompters.
HOPKINSON: Do you publish haiku on the web site or blog?
WELCH: Participants are encouraged to share on the NaHaiWriMo Facebook page (it’s a public page), or to post on other social media outlets, such as Twitter, using the #nahaiwrimo hashtag. Many journals consider this sort of public sharing to be publication, even if one is “publishing” them yourself, but some journals don’t. Beyond that, though, we’ve done two books. The first one was With Cherries on Top. It was published in 2012, as a free ebook in PDF form, and it’s available at http://www.nahaiwrimo.com/home/with-cherries-on-top. The second book, Jumble Box, was in print. You can read more about it at http://www.nahaiwrimo.com/home/jumble-box-anthology, or order it from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Jumble-Box-Senryu-National-Writing/dp/1878798391/. Both books have arranged selected poems by the writing prompts used in particular months, which gives the books thematic sections. Other than these special collections (and there may be more in the future), plus selected poems included in the Meet the Prompter interviews, we haven’t actively sought to publish the work that poets produce, although we do want to empower them to seek publication elsewhere. It’s been gratifying to see so much of this work in various haiku journals over the last decade.
HOPKINSON: You held a free-to-enter haiku contest with cash prizes in 2018, will you be having other contests in the future?
WELCH: In May of 2018, in response to an option on Facebook to seek donations, I set up a donation page. The next morning I couldn’t believe it when donations had reached $1,000, and kept growing a bit more after that. The success of NaHaiWriMo on Facebook had completely surprised me years before this, but here it surprised me again. I sought these donations to cover website costs and a few other miscellaneous expenses, and participants were far more generous that I would have dreamed. As a way to use some of this money, I set up a free-to-enter haiku contest, and offered $100, $50, and $25 prizes for the top three poems. The contest was named after Johnny Baranski, who supported NaHaiWriMo almost every day of its existence with daily poems until he died in January of 2018. Paul Miller, editor of Modern Haikumagazine, judged the contest, and his selections and commentary are online at http://www.nahaiwrimo.com/home/johnny-baranski-memorial-haiku-contest-winners. Although the contest was a pleasure to do, it was a lot of work, and I have no immediate plans to repeat it. But I do hope we might do it again sometime.
HOPKINSON: What are some of your favorite lit mags/journals?
WELCH: In the haiku realm, I particularly like Modern Haiku, Frogpond (the Haiku Society of America journal), Haiku Canada Review, Mayfly, Acorn, Bottle Rockets, Blithe Spirit, Presence, Hedgerow, Tinywords, and The Heron’s Nest, among other current journals. In tanka (I’m also founder and president of the Tanka Society of America), I enjoy the society’s journal, Ribbons, as well as Gusts, Tanka International, Atlas Poetica, and Red Lights. Beyond haiku and tanka, I especially enjoy Rattle, Bacopa Literary Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Raven Chronicles,Poetry Northwest, and others. Hummingbird is also a pleasing journal that welcomes short poetry in addition to Japanese forms. I’d love to see more mainstream poetry journals welcome haiku that seek more than just to count syllables.
HOPKINSON: If someone has a question, how can they contact you?
WELCH: I can be reached at WelchM@aol.com, or through my Michael Dylan Welch profile on Facebook, and people can see more of my work at http://www.graceguts.com (essay, reviews, haiku, tanka, longer poems, translations, and more). I encourage everyone to give daily haiku writing a try, as it can help your longer poetry as well as fiction writing, especially by honing in on images and experiences that affect you emotionally. But as I say in my workshops, don’t writing about your feelings. Instead, write about was caused your feelings. NaHaiWriMo can serve as an inspiration to help you do this every day.