Wind over Water, the Fourth Haiku Pacific Rim Conference
Terrigal, NSW, Australia, September 22-25, 2009
Report & photos by Sandra Simpson
the edge of the atlas
bright autumn day
– Ikumi Yoshimura (self-translated into English from her book, white fish)
Delegates awoke on the first full day of the conference to a display of nature’s power – the ‘Red Dawn’ of Wednesday, September 23, when dust from salt lakes in the interior was swept to Australia’s east coast and out to sea by gale-force winds. A truly visible “wind over water” (and this was after two nights of powerful thunderstorms).
Never one to let an opportunity go by, conference organiser and president of Haiku Oz Beverley George threw down a “haiku challenge” at breakfast and had live-in delegates write a poem about the weather for judging by live-out Kiwi delegates Nola Borrell and Karen Peterson Butterworth.
The gentle beginning of the conference on Tuesday evening – music, launch of the conference poetry anthology wind over water edited by Dawn Bruce and Greg Piko, and many friendships made and renewed – held no hint of what was brewing in the nation’s red heart, perhaps just as well.
During the evening Minako Noma and her husband Shuji presented each delegate with a copy of If Someone Asks, a collection of haiku from the lifetime work of Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) and published in English by the Shiki Museum in Matsuyama, Japan.
in this large country
the mountains are all low
– Masaoko Shiki (written in China at the age of 28, from If Someone Asks)
Mrs Noma is a volunteer guide at the museum, one of the translators of the book and was also the organiser of the 3rd HPR held in Matsuyama. She was joined in Terrigal (about 90 minutes’ drive north of Sydney on the Central Coast) by Jerry Ball, founder of the HPR conferences and organiser of the first one in California, and Ikuyo (Ikumi) Yoshimura, organiser of the second conference in Gifu, Japan.
Cyril Childs, meanwhile, turned his room into a Kiwi conference venue on Tuesday evening before the main event – hosting a “happy hour” with wife Christine for Karen, Nola and myself. However, despite there being only four “official” New Zealand delegates, we were to discover plenty of Kiwi connections. Tasmania’s Ron Moss, for instance, was brought up in Dunedin, Vanessa Proctor, now of Sydney, likes to call New Zealand home, Margaret Grace was “a Kiwi for 21 years” and the official conference photographer, Bev Lapacek, regularly visits her son and family living near Tauranga.
But whatever the weather a schedule is a schedule, so on Wednesday we followed the programme and visited Gosford’s Japanese garden, a gift from the sister city of Edogawa. Masks were handed out and volunteer guides led small groups around the garden which features a stone garden, carp-filled pool, tea-house, stone lanterns, a small waterfall and clipped bushes and trees. Surprisingly, it is all maintained by one full-time gardener and his female apprentice who, when the weather cleared a little, were back busy clipping and tidying.
The garden, properly called a “stroll garden”, was gifted in 1994 at a cost of $A250,000 and, like all Japanese gardens overseas apparently, contains native plants to signify the host country.
A welcome to delegates came from Gosford Mayor Chris Holstein and the Consul-General of Japan in Sydney, Mr Nobuhito Hobo, who was accompanied by the Vice-Consul, Miss Kazumi Kitagawa. Beverley has previously written a haiku sequence inspired by the gardens, white pebbles, and read this accompanied by Mariko Kitakubo who had translated the poems into Japanese and added extra piquancy with notes from the hamohn (a metal Japanese instrument that is like a tuned bowl) and pairs of small cymbal-like bells.
curve into each other –
– Beverley George (from white pebbles: a sequence)
Delegates were invited to submit poems for a kukai, where all those submitting judge the anonymous poems, and after lunch results were announced and an open mike session held. As well, the Sister Cities Association had arranged an ikebana demonstration using items such as mangrove root, bark, roses and waratahs.
Wednesday afternoon and evening were at our leisure and, as the skies cleared, it was a chance to walk the biscuit-sand beach of Terrigal (complete with a layer of orange dust), swim (for the hardier souls) or explore the small beach town that was only a few minutes’ walk from the conference venue and accommodation.
Thursday was the “business” day of the conference with 13 papers delivered, ending with a performance of tanka by Amelia Fielden, followed by Mariko Kitakubo who had her works translated and read in English by Amelia. The papers included a presentation by Sharon Dean who is writing as her PhD thesis a biography of Janice Bostok, the doyenne of haiku in Australia, which she plans to publish for the general market.
The presentation touched on a very personal topic and it is testament to Jan’s character that she had been so honest with Sharon and was then prepared to sit in a room with some 70 others and have that tragedy exposed.
Jan herself later took the stage and spoke off the cuff about how she came to be involved in haiku and what it has meant to her. She picked up where Sharon had left off and began by talking about her husband’s attempted suicide – and had her audience in fits of laughter!
Afterwards she said: “I don’t know where those lines come from, they just pop into my head”. Astonishingly, she also revealed that her haiku come into her mind fully formed and that she rarely edits a poem. A remarkable woman indeed.
threads its way
– Janice M Bostok (from wind over water)
To make things nicely circular, Beverley presented the Haiku Dreaming Australia Awards on behalf of John Bird – with first prize (cash and a haiga of her work by Ron Moss) won by Sharon Dean. Several New Zealanders have been selected to appear in the contest anthology.
Cyril Childs spoke about haiku in New Zealand in “Haiku 45 South”, and had cannily taken along recordings of kokako and bellbird song to illustrate his talk.
The conference dinner was a lively affair in a lovely restaurant and included the special treat of music by classical guitarist Giuseppe Zangari, a Sydneysider who is a rising star. The dinner was also an opportunity for pure socialisation – a roomful of haiku poets is not a quiet room! However, the diners at one table found the energy to put their heads down and write.
so far from its cage
– Michael Thorley (from wind over water)
Friday was the final day and the attention to detail by Beverley and her sidekick David Terelinck that ensured everything ran like clockwork was evident as we arrived at a venue earlier than scheduled (we’d been right on time for other visits)!
First stop was the Australian Reptile Park at Somersby where we had a behind-the-scenes tour that included watching a venomous snake being milked. According to the keeper, Australia is home to the world’s most venomous snake, the inland taipan, and the world’s fourth most venomous snake, the tiger snake, which is the one we saw being handled. The park has been collecting venom from native snakes and spiders for 60 years and is the principal supplier of venom to CSL Laboratories which manufactures anti-venom for all the country’s hospitals.
After having the living daylights scared out of us with funnel-web spiders, fresh-water crocodiles and American alligators, as well as the snakes, it was off to the more placid surrounds of the Crommelin Arboretum, a 4.5ha area of native trees and plants that is cared for by volunteers at Pearl Beach. It was unfortunately razed by bush fire in 1990, along with three homes in the coastal village, but is back to its former glory and home to a variety of birds, with sightings this day including the Australian brush turkey, butcherbirds, whip birds, a kookaburra and a sulphur-crested cockatoo soaring overhead. Visitors were also enchanted by the Sydney red gum (Angophora costata), a tree named for its pinkish-red new bark and habit of “bleeding” red sap down its trunk.
along the bush track
we walk in and out of
each other’s shadows
– Pauline Cash (from wind over water)
Delegates were asked to write haiku about both the reptile park and arboretum for posting and judging at the Pearl Beach Community Hall where yet another delicious lunch was put on. All over bar the shouting, as they say, but what an enriching few days it had been. To sit in a room full of people who are all enthusiastic about haiku or tanka, many of whom are leading writers and editors, was stimulating and extremely rewarding.
Some new directions and challenges had already been taken up by conference end, and the after-effects of the event will ripple on for some time as participants re-read the proceedings and our many notes and jottings.
Beverley and her team did a fabulous job with the programme and have set the bar high for the next conference, which may be in Seattle or Vancouver, although that’s very tentative. There’s talk of the one after being held in New Zealand.
Author’s note: I have added links to other websites where I think they may be of some interest. Please be aware that this is a personal view of the conference, not an “official” report. I would like to acknowledge grants from Creative Communities (both Tauranga City and Western Bay of Plenty District councils) that met my conference registration fee.