In Seattle with Elvis

Elvis (aka Carlos Colon) and one of his admirers


One of the highlights of this summer was attending the Haiku North America conference in Seattle from August 3-7. The Organizing Committee: Michael Dylan Welch, Tanya McDonald, Dejah Leger, and Angela Terry along with a long list of volunteers put on a memorable weekend. Haiku North America provides not only an opportunity to talk about haiku and related forms, but to reunite with old friends and learn about their new projects through readings, presentations, and panel discussions. Previous conferences have been held in Boston, San Francisco, Toronto, New York, Chicago. Portland, Ottawa, Port Townsend, and Winston-Salem. I’ve attended nearly all of them.

This year’s theme was “Fifty Years of Haiku.” To commemorate this gathering, I chaired a panel entitled “Who Wrote That? How My Haiku Has Changed Over Three Decades,” inviting three haiku luminaries and longtime friends to be panelists: Jerry Ball, Garry Gay, and Penny Harter.

Our stories of following the haiku path were both hilarious and poignant. We began our discussion on a light note by reading our first haiku, thus demonstrating how far we’ve come! Over thirty years, our haiku have been influenced by place, life changes, losses, and aging. One of my stories relating to place was about returning to the U.S. after twelve years in Japan and feeling that I would no longer be able to write haiku. My reaction during a calamity proved me wrong.

Michael Welch (Introducer), Maggie Chula, Garry Gay, Penny Harter, Jerry Ball

There I was, watching my house burn and writing a haiku—not a great haiku, or even a decent senryu—but it reassured me that I would continue writing haiku.

Some of the high points of Haiku North America for me were Wanda Cook’s “Some Like It Hot: Erotic Haiku” workshop; a haibun reading by Cor van den Heuvel; the Memorial Reading for haiku poets who have passed away; and “Between a Word and a Brush Stroke,” ahaiga talk by Lidia Rozmus. Lidia is a talented artist and poet and her haiga have been exhibited all over the world.

Maggie and Lidia Rozmus in front of her exhibition

The grand finale of the conference was an expected appearance of Elvis during the banquet held at a  restaurant on top of the Space Needle. What an appropriate place for Elvis—on top of the world. That old hound dog, Carlos Colon, had us howling with laughter as he gyrated to the beat of his Elvis senryu. His fans lined up for photos afterwards. Here are a few by Elvis:

not myself tonight
my belt missing
a rhinestone

home in Tupelo
feeding the birds
my golden voice

Labor Day
a spot of barbecue sauce
on my white jumpsuit

you feel them even
if Ed Sullivan won’t let you—
swivel of hips

not as long
but the girls still like it
army haircut

bachelorette party
an Elvis cut-out draped
with lingerie