Running a Haiku Group: How Windrift does it

by Nola Borrell & Karen Peterson Butterworth

Are you a haiku poet who wants an opportunity to improve your writing in a congenial environment? Say, monthly or bi-monthly meetings of about 3 hours in the comfort of writers’ homes, with much fun and laughter. Not to mention afternoon tea or supper. Why not start a haiku group?

Windrift, Wellington’s Haiku Group, has been travelling for about 13 years. It was launched after Ernest Berry organised the Haiku Sounds 1997 Picton gathering. That had Australian haiku matriarch Jan Bostok as guest speaker. Afterwards, Ernie invited interested poets to the City Life hotel in Wellington to discuss the forming of a haiku group. There the name Windrift was decided.

At first, we met quarterly, with host/convenor Ernie coming with his wife, Triska, from Picton to the ‘Berry/Blumenfeld suite’. Poets’ haiku were attached anonymously to a branched pot plant – the haiku tree – taken off one by one and discussed. Ernie designed flourishing multi-type invitations to ‘haikuing, fat chewing, funning ….from high noon – till we drop’. We were asked to bring an original haiku for the haiku tree (a pot plant), and write haiku using a phrase such as ‘roadside shrine’, ‘framed by the window’ or ‘patches of snow’. Haiku were ‘plucked, applauded and critiqued before the writer confessed’.

In about September, 1999 the venue shifted to the Wadestown home of Jeanette Stace, and Linzy Forbes became the invitation writer. Since Jeanette’s death (2006) members have taken turns to host meetings.

Our practice, inherited from pioneer Ernie, is to email invitations to each workshop. Invitations continue in slightly toned-down style, and invite all sorts of sensory and seasonal/ NZ kigo and haiku sequences, with some branching out to tanka, haibun, even renga. Members are asked to bring news, competitions, articles, magazines and books. Frequently, invitations include ‘star’ haiku as well as news. Ernie is a lively and constant email member, whose inimitable style is recognised by today’s members with delight.

How do people find out about us? We have developed the habit of writing a short account for a fine line (and prior to that the NZPS Newsletter). The call for a ‘reporter’ generally is met by silence – or a groan – but someone always ‘rises to the occasion’. We boosted our profile by holding a national conference, Haiku Festival Aotearoa, in March 2005 at Stella Maris in Wellington. Buoyed by that success, Windrift launched into the lengthy project of collating and editing the taste of nashi (2008, edited by Nola Borrell and Karen P Butterworth), a collection of NZ haiku from the previous 10 years.

Then there are en route local events for our participation such as Ikebana International 2006, haiku workshops at Hutt-Minoh House in Lower Hutt, and a haiku contest at the 2009 Festival of Japan, part of an Asian Festival organised by the Wellington City Council. We have a small ‘library’ which is housed in cardboard boxes (under Nola’s desk!), much of it a legacy of Jeanette, and added to from time to time.

Nola Borrell has been the group’s most constant influence following Ernie and Linzy’s leadership, taking on various roles as Convener, Secretary, Treasurer, and initiator of Haiku Aotearoa and the taste of nashi. For several years she led Windrift in a triumvirate with Jeanette and Karen. Now Nola shares leadership of the group with Bevan Greenslade, who joined just after Haiku Aotearoa 2005. Bevan has done much-appreciated work as secretary/treasurer and will be much missed when he stands down in August this year (2011).

Nola is currently the group’s contact on the NZ Poetry Society website. New members contact Nola, or are recruited at other haiku or poetry events by group members. We lose members from time to time, sadly, through death, illness, or retirement to other centres (although some remain corresponding members). Past members include Bertus de Jonge (d 2001), Veronica Haughey (d 2008 ), Irene Ruth (d 2010), Linzy Forbes (Dunedin), and, of course, Jeanette Stace.

Obviously, Windrift (and Ernie) built on haiku interest already stimulated by the 1993 and 1998 haiku anthologies edited by Cyril Childs, and the pioneer work of John O’Connor. And earlier on, David and Wilhemina Drummond of Palmerston North were largely responsible for introducing the NZPS international haiku competition which is an annual event.

We enjoy support from the New Zealand Poetry Society, most notably Laurice Gilbert, current president and executive officer, and a Windrift member. As well, since Haiku Aotearoa 2005, Sandra Simpson has maintained vibrant and informative haiku pages on the society’s website. Then there’s the very visible Katikati Pathway. These have contributed greatly to the maintenance of haiku interest. You’ll know that! Visits from overseas haiku poets help too. Remember the haiku workshop with Jim Kacian (USA) at the 1999 Picton Sounds Spring School, and visits from Claire and Patrick Gallagher, George Swede and Anita Krumins (2009), all from USA.

If we have any recipe for success, it is the constant presence of one or more members with drive, enthusiasm, hospitality, and ideas, plus our periodic appearances on the local poetry and Japanese culture scenes. We hope many other centres will find the same ingredients, and enlarge the present small count of New Zealand local haiku groups (ourselves, Small White Teapot in Christchurch, and the haiku interest fostered within the Tauranga Writers’ and Picton Poets’ Groups). If that can occur, the somewhat static number of haiku practitioners in New Zealand could expand and blossom. We heartily recommend haiku as a pleasurable and communal poetic form.

The group doesn’t have to be big. The more people, the less opportunity for each member to talk! You need a core of keen regulars, however, to keep the group going. To date, our public presence has been visible enough to maintain viable membership levels.

What are you waiting for?

Editor’s note: This article was written especially for Haiku NewZ.