Haiku Festival Aotearoa 2008

copyha22This happy bunch comprises most of the poets who were at the launch of the taste of nashi at Haiku Aotearoa in Christchurch. The picture was taken by Beverley George and supplied by Cyril Childs.

Back row, from left: Nola Gazzard, Owen Bullock, Elaine Riddell, Shirley May, Jeffrey Harpeng, Sandra Simpson, Helen Bascand, Lynn Tara Austin, Elise Mei, Joanna Preston, Helen Yong, Rosemary Scott, Janine Sowerby.
Middle: John O’Connor, Andre Surridge, Karen Peterson Butterworth, Greeba Brydges-Jones, Richard von Sturmer, Helen Lowe, Sally Holmes Midgley.
Front: Judith Walsh, Margaret Beverland, Kirsten Cliff, Nola Borrell, Barbara Strang and Cyril Childs.

By Sandra Simpson

The Small White Teapot haiku group organised the April 18-20, 2008 conference in Christchurch, and offered a full programme of discussions, workshops, a ginko, the launch of the taste of nashi (the third New Zealand haiku anthology), and a screening of Tanka Films by Richard von Sturmer. (The group also managed to turn on some fabulous autumn weather for the 30 participants.)

HA08 co-ordinator Barbara Strang welcomed everyone in front of a board full of small white teapots made from paper, each one containing its own haiku, while SWT member Nola Gazzard had provided two bowls of ikebana flowers, one for each workshop room. Others on the organising committee were Helen Yong, Judith Walsh and Anne Edmunds.

Cyril Childs made the keynote address on Friday night to open the event: The State of Haiku in New Zealand. As well as discussing some of the things happening here, he also described the state of haiku in Britain (in 2001, read the article he quoted) and, with the aid of overhead transparencies indicated where haiku might fit in terms of ‘mainstream’ poetry – in NZ closer together and with more overlap than in the UK, but nowhere near as cohesive as in Japan. An Australian visitor felt their situation was different again, with ‘molehills’ of activity and strength, but desolate plains in between.

At the end of his thoughtful speech, he was compelled to right a wrong with “an explanation, an apology and a presentation”. In 2002 he and Joanna Preston co-edited the SWT anthology, listening to the rain. It went on to win a Merit Book Award from the Haiku Society of America. However, for various good reasons, Cyril had never given Joanna her certificate. So, just 5 years late, he was able to set things right.


Joanne Preston receives her award certificate from Cyril Childs. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A surprise event was the display of a miniature haiku book made by SWT member and hobby bookbinder Alan Clarke. He has made six of these treasures, one for each of his grandchildren and one for himself (in fact he made nine, but not every one met his standards). The poems are printed in 2 point (yes, 2 point) and collated into a 44-page book, which then sits inside a book-like case, which itself sits inside a slip cover. Alan brought along magnifiers so we could all share his labour of love.


Alan Clarke with one of his tiny creations. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Saturday was a busy day: First up a choice of workshops (beginners led by Kerrin Sharpe; or experienced led by Karen Peterson Butterworth and Nola Borrell); then a choice between tanka led by Owen Bullock and a discussion on creating a NZ sajiki led by Barbara Strang. In the afternoon more workshops (haibun led by Joanna Preston; or renga led by Jeffrey Harpeng) before a discussion between Richard von Sturmer and Owen Bullock on ways to get work published, both conventional and less so.

The sajiki, by the way, is going to be co-ordinated by Joanna Preston and will, eventually, find a home on this site. HA08 participants certainly got it off to a rolling start with a whiteboard filled with suggestions.

A highlight of the festival was the launch of the taste of nashi – over 200 poems by 60 writers from around the country – published by the Windrift haiku group of Wellington and edited by Karen and Nola. Festival numbers more than doubled as writers, family and friends arrived for the launch.


Nola Borrell (sitting) and Karen Peterson Butterworth with copies of the book. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Enjoying the launch, from left, Joanna Preston, Laurice Gilbert and Ursula Rose. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The honours were done by NZ Poetry Society president Laurice Gilbert with thanks for this much-anticipated volume flying in appropriate directions. All poets in the volume who were present were invited to read – from well-known names such as John O’Connor and Greeba Brydges-Jones, both of Christchurch, to the newer voices of Kirsten Cliff and Margaret Beverland, both of Tauranga.

Poems were also read on behalf of other authors who couldn’t be present – the late Bertus de Jonge, the late Bernie Gadd, the late Veronica Haughey, 12-year-old Harry Frentz, Frankie MacMillan and Ernie Berry, among them.


Elaine Riddell chats to John O’Connor. Photo: Sandra Simpson


A group from the Western Bay of Plenty, from left, Kirsten Cliff, Margaret Beverland, Sandra Simpson and Shirley May. Photo: Beverley George

Catering was done by Anne Edmunds (SWT) and Nola, and it was a lively, happy affair. Good book sales too, judging by the number of people clutching their copies.

Tanka Films is a collection of 26 short films that accompany the live reading of his tanka by Richard von Sturmer. It was shown last year as an installation piece at the National Film Archives in Wellington and was a superb addition to the HA08 schedule. Richard said afterwards that none of the natural events filmed had been staged, although he occasionally used friends to create certain scenes. One viewer described the piece as “mesmerising”.

A ginko was a grand way to begin Sunday – especially with a frost being beaten back by bright sunshine. The Bishop Julius Hostel backs on to Ilam Gardens, a lovely set of spaces, including a leafy riverside walk, a lawn area of specimen trees, the former Ilam homestead (now the University Club) and an expanse of playing fields. Beverley George was startled sniffing tree bark by a passing dog walker, but the prize went to Owen Bullock and Jeffrey Harpeng who found a $10 note floating in the stream. Owen was fastest and got to it first but then presented it to Jeff for a copy of his book on sale inside! Richard von Sturmer, meanwhile, was as busy collecting film images for his next movie as mental images for his poems.


Andre Surridge captures a moment. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Patsy Turner and Jeff Harpeng on the ginko. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Nola Gazzard (front), Cyril Childs and Mary Fitzgerald. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Many haiku were written and shared, with discussion on them taking place amid a sense of fellowship and fun.

A final discussion ended the formal proceedings – Where are we Going? The panel comprised Sandra Simpson (editor of Haiku NewZ webpages), Laurice Gilbert (NZPS president), Jeffrey Harpeng (Queensland haiku poets) and, a late addition, Beverley George (president of the Australia Haiku Society aka Haiku Oz). The idea of a separate haiku society was bandied around once more and, once more, found few takers. Sandra encouraged any of those present who were not NZPS members to sign up, while Laurice revealed that Creative NZ funding for NZPS had been halved this year. However, she is determined to reach out to all areas of the country and remains committed to making the society a truly national organisation. Feedback on this website was uniformly positive. (For notes taken at this discussion, see below.)

Judith Walsh summed up the weekend on behalf of SWT – looking desperately tired but elated nonetheless – and gave a round of thanks to all involved. She said her instinct to stand up at Haiku Festival Aotearoa in Wellington (2005) and offer to host the next one may have been rash, but they had all enjoyed making it happen.

There was one more unscheduled event for those lucky enough to be around when it happened. Cyril Childs had brought an audio tape of Billy Collins talking about haiku and reading his haiku-inspired poem Japan which, thanks to Joanna Preston and her machine, provided a fitting finale.

the path
that everyone takes

– Nola Borrell, after Basho
(with a tiny edit from Sandra Simpson)

Where is haiku in New Zealand going?

Plenary Session, Haiku Aotearoa, April 20, 2008, Christchurch. Notes provided by Nola Borrell.

Barbara Strang (chair) opened the session and briefly introduced the panel: Sandra Simpson (compiler HaikuNewZ, NZPS website), Laurice Gilbert (national co-ordinator/president NZPS), Jeffrey Harpeng (Brisbane) and Beverley George (president HaikuOz). and invited members to talk about their positions.

Sandra Simpson outlined the history of Haiku NewZ web pages. The project was initiated at Haiku Aotearoa 2005. After an unsuccessful attempt to create a separate NZ haiku site, a decision was made to accept an invitation to post haiku news on the  existing NZPS website. Haiku NewZ began in June, 2006. Sandra warmly thanked Laurice (and Gillian Cameron, former NZPS president) for their welcome and support and expressed appreciation for the abundant space provided. She emphasised that the website is “owned” by the haiku community and welcomed any suggestions for improvements.

Laurice Gilbert gave a brief history of her position and expressed her enjoyment of her work, despite funding being halved by Creative New Zealand (CNZ). Her key goal is to make NZPS a national organisation – a departure from its Wellington origin. She works with a small national committee with members throughout New Zealand. About 100 new members have joined during her time in office. Laurice said that the “haiku group fits in well” and that the “biggest number of hits on the website come from haiku writers”. She expressed appreciation to Signify, which donated the original website and gives help when requested. She also welcomed more input from members.

Jeffrey Harpeng noted the similarly disparate geographical distribution of haiku writers in Australia: A few groups plus individuals. Pardalote Press of Tasmania is the main producer of haiku books. Jeff recommended the use of closed blogs for mutual editing, as well as for displaying finished work. He saw this as a ready way for NZ and Oz writers to work together.

Beverley George also expressed her wish to work more closely with NZ. In her former role as editor of Yellow Moon she had a policy of being equally welcoming to Australian and NZ writers. HaikuOz was founded by Jan Bostok and John Bird two years ago when “things were foundering”. Members on her committee include: Lyn Reeves (vice-president), Robyn Smith (webmaster), Graham Nunn (secretary), as well as regional/state representatives (NSW, WA, SA, Tasmania, Queensland). Beverley reminded the conference of the Pacific Rim Haiku Conference, September 22-25, 2009, where speakers will include Martin Lucas (UK) and Jim Kacian (US).

The following comments were made from the floor in response to Barbara’s invitation.

1. Praise for website haiku pages (Karen Butterworth, Nola Borrell, Cyril Childs).
Owen Bullock found the site useful for Wairakei students, but noted that the site was “often” down. He also recommended the addition of bibliographic haiku references.

2. National emphasis. Owen said he was “encouraged” by the national emphasis of NZPS. (Sandra – and Karen – invited further membership.)

3. CNZ funding for NZPS. Cyril Childs asked if CNZ gave reasons for reducing funding for NZPS. The short answer: No.

He inquired if “the firm” providing services (Signify) planned to remain in business long-term? Laurice said she was “hopeful”, though much was pro-bono work.

4. Support for blogs. Karen thought this idea useful for beginners and a way of redressing the big regional gaps, as well as for Oz-NZ communication. She made a special plea for Auckland haiku writers to be involved.

Jeff said that Skype was inexpensive technology for “group talking” and could be downloaded. Jo Preston indicated the free websites available.

5. Publication (hard copy) of archives on the website “some time” was advocated by Karen.

6. Trans-Tasman haibun anthology planned. Jeff and Jo will give information to Sandra for the website.

7. Whether to establish a separate Haiku Society in NZ?
Jo argued that it would make it easier to apply for funding and to get publicity. “Was there any good reason why not?”

In response to Karen’s question, “Who will lead it?”, she replied that work is already done on a national basis (conferences, anthology).

Bevan Greenslade pointed out that a registered organisation has to “keep the books”.

Jeff referred to the Writers’ Centre in Queensland with 6 staff members.

Several members referred to the difficulty of getting funding (Sandra, Richard von Sturmer – who noted parallel difficulties in getting funding for film, Karen who suggested lobbying NZ Society of Authors).

Bevan asked: “Why breast-beat re CNZ? We have products’ to sell!”, whereupon Karen challenged Bevan to follow through. Bevan hastily retreated, but said he would be willing to do legal work.

Nola underlined the value of having a national contact person for the NZ haiku community: both for NZ writers and for overseas haiku communities.

Lack of time meant that this discussion was not developed further.