James Brett

Michael Dylan Welch's Haiku

Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2001

James Brett

See Molly McLinden's
Response Essay on
Michael Dylan Welch

Michael Dylan Welch's Contributions to Haiku

Michael Dylan Welch is one of contemporary haiku’s greatest artists and contributors. Through his use of photography and language, Welch is able to illustrate perfectly clear images of solitude, revelation, revelry, spontaneity, and every possible human emotion often times through nature based haiku. In addition, his work in the haiku community as a leader has helped advance the haiku art form in the United States to new levels.

Michael Dylan Welch was born in 1962 in Watford, England. In addition to growing up in England, Welch also lived in such places as Ghana, Australia, and Canada while he was growing up. He began enjoying haiku in high school where his English teacher, George Goodburn, taught Welch about haiku. At the time, this form of poetry was introduced to him as a seventeen-syllable nature poem, simple and strict. This would soon change after graduating college with a communications/media and English major. He then went on and received an M.A. in English in 1989 where he focused on twentieth-century poetry and fiction. After graduate school Welch was employed as a technical writer, publications manager, and mainly as a freelance book editor. He also worked at IDG Books Worldwide, which is the publisher of the "For Dummies" series of computer books. His history of jobs includes being a lifeguard, a ski patroller and ski instructor, a disc jockey, and a summer camp counselor.

A few ears after he achieved his Masters degree, he bought his first haiku book at a Japanese bookstore. This book was a collection of Basho’s haiku in English. He greatly enjoyed it and he continued to purchase haiku related literature. Soon he came across Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology, which, with the works of Marlene Mountain and others, entirely expanded his understanding and freedom of contemporary haiku. Contemporary haiku seemed to emphasize the content over the form to Welch.

Michael Welch’s haiku in general has a very direct relation to nature. A vast majority of his haiku has directly inspired nature lines working in harmony with seemingly non-nature like images. He has an ability to bring about the nature and purity of any given event or situation. Welch’s haiku often has a clear, direct connection to nature, possibly because he enjoys hiking and witnessing nature eye to eye, and also due to the fact that he is also an accomplished photographer. Being a photographer, Welch has a keen eye for observation and accessing an image to find its beauty. This is highly visible in his haiku, which at times can be very observational. Not always containing immediate action, some of Welch’s haiku are to just imagine as if it were a picture in a photo book.

landing swallow—
the ship’s chain
dips slightly

In this haiku, we are given an image of a small innocent bird trying to live in our built up industrialized/constructed world. It illustrates the animal’s effect on our world—the ship’s chain, dipping down a bit under the weight of the just-landed bird. One can picture the sky as gray and overcast with a slight breeze, unaffecting the swallow. It is very observational though, there is no immediate inspiration to embrace the joys of life, or to realize its pains. It is a simple, pure, observance of nature and man. Though Welch is versatile in his haiku that he can and does write those haiku that inspire.

spring breeze through the window . . .
stains on an apron
left at the counter

This is a simple image of a used apron laying on the kitchen counter below an open window with a warm breeze gently blowing the kitchen curtains in and out like a gentle heartbeat. The strength of the image comes from the fact that one can assume that the apron has recently been abandoned by a woman/wife/mother/all of the above who has given up her duties temporarily to go outside and take advantage of the beautiful weather.

morning bird song—
my paddle slips
into its reflection

Back again, to a very picturesque illustration of paddling in a pristine, undisturbed, quiet lake on a still morning. A bird’s song soars above the quiet trickling of the paddle breaking the water, in and out, slowly paddling along, aimlessly, without destination. This is strong image of solitude in purity. It is not apparent that there is anyone else in the boat, and that the paddler is taking a moment to sit back and revel in the simplicity of a bird’s song echoing off the shores.

first on the trail—
the pull of a spider’s strand
across my face

This haiku is obviously inspired by Welch’s hiking experiences. It offers that electric feeling of anticipation to get a bright and early start on that trail you’ve been dying to embark upon. As you begin to walk the trail, you find yourself walking in between a couple of bushes or some trees upon which a spider has spun a web. You take a step into the invisible string and feel it stretch across your face for a moment. In this case it seems to be a guarantee that you are in fact the first person to start this trail today and will encounter no one ahead of you, it is all yours to enjoy.

clouds of pollen
drifting through sunbeams—
a sparrow’s sudden flight

Here is another example of Welch’s clear imagery at work in this hiking haiku. Here, one can imagine that the hiker has just rounded a corner and startles a sparrow. As result, the sparrow bursts off into flight, sending clouds of pollen exploding into the air from the brush from which the sparrow came. And for a few seconds, in the rays of sunlight, the pollen is visible and floating quietly in the golden spotlights.

After-dinner mints
Passed around the table
. . . slow falling snow

This haiku is another strong image of our everyday lives in harmony with nature. The image offered here is possibly of a family gathering around a dinner table, perhaps during the holidays. The meal has just concluded and there is light conversation going back and forth between members at the table and simultaneous bursts of gentle laughter while the bowl of dinner mints is passed around the table person to person. Meanwhile, outside in the night, the snow falls quietly onto old layers of snow. Everything outside is paused and silent. Life is paused for these few hours so that this family can have these moments to sit and enjoy each other in simplicity without out rush hour traffic, or cell phones, or bills. Everything is paused for them in the winter night.

Michael Welch has been writing haiku for about 25 years. Throughout the years, his work has evolved and his importance to the art of haiku and its community has also increased. He has made and continues to make great contributions to the advancement of haiku appreciation in our society today through all of his achievements.

The year 1989 was a big year for Michael Welch. He began editing Woodnotes and served on the Haiku Poets of Northern California committee that year. That was the freshman year for his publishing company called Press Here. The first book published was entitled Egret, a collection of Welch’s own works. 1989 was also the year of the famous San Francisco earthquake.

In 1990 Welsh published two compilations of his own works. The Haijin’s Tweed Coat is a short sequence of haiku hiding the names of various haiku journals in its poems. Tremors is a collection of earthquake haiku and a haibun written in response to the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco. Welch also helped out compiling HPNC membership anthologies that would continue to be released one after another over the next few years: After Shock in 1990 (an anthology of earthquake haiku), The Gulf Within in 1992 (Gulf War haiku), Playing Tag Among Buddhas in 1993 (a membership anthology), and All Day Long in 1994 (a membership anthology of haiku based on times of day).

With the help of Garry Gay, Jerry Ball, and David Wright, in 1991, Welch helped to begin the biennial Haiku North America conference. This was an every-other year meeting of haiku poets and readers from around the world to come and enjoy, discuss, and inspire haiku. Press Here has published a collection of HNA haiku each year it has been held.

1992 was the year in which Welch helped out Garry Gay to write the first ever "rengay". This was a new six-verse form of thematic linked verse Gay invented. Since then Welch has promoted the form in a number of articles, and helped judge the first rengay contest in 1995. In 1995, Garry Gay, John Thompson, and Welch privately published the first rengay anthology, entitled Hammerhorn.
In 1995 and 1996 Welch served as the California regional coordinator of the Haiku Society of America. Here he would put on two weekend-long haiku events as part of national HSA meetings held in San Francisco. 1995 marked the beginning of the "Haiku City" reading series at a bookstore in San Francisco, featuring different haiku poets. He also conducted haiku workshops at the Hakone Japanese Gardens in Saratoga, California.

In 1996, Michael helped set up the American Haiku Archive in Sacramento. This achievement was an important accomplishment for Welch because of its importance to the world of contemporary haiku poets today. The library serves as the continent’s premiere permanent archive of English-language haiku literature.
By this point, Welch had been working on Woodnotes for eight years to make it one of North America’s best haiku publications. And in 1997, it was replaced with a new haiku journal called Tundra.

In recent years, Michael Welch has created a couple online, web anthologies of his own work. One of these is titled Thornewood Poems, which is a highly concentrated outdoor based collection of haiku mainly inspired directly by nature. His other online anthology is titled Open Window. This anthology pairs poems with photographs using renku-like linking techniques. "I believe both haiku and photography are a window to the amazing world around us. I invite you to open these windows." states Welch in the Open Window artist’s statement. Haiku and photography are both very similar in that haiku are quick still moments captured by an artistic medium, just as photographs are. "Many of the best photographs succeed because of contrast, juxtaposition, color, subtle shades, or through various compositional techniques, so too of haiku." Welch claims. Photography is another great passion of Welch’s. He is highly involved in this form of artistic expression as well. His photography has been published in calendars, magazine covers, and bookcovers. He prefers working in color and is a member of the Peninsula Colorslide Club.

By utilizing his many talents and creative strengths, Michael Welch has distinguished himself as one of the country’s most prominent contemporary haiku poets. Through his own photography, poetry, publishing company, and established haiku associations, Welch has made great strides in the advancement of haiku appreciation in the United States.

—James Brett


©2001 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors