Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2003

Alyson Ludek
Michael Dylan Welch's Haiku

Alyson Ludek

Alyson's Haiku

Welch Interview



Michael Dylan Welch’s Haiku:
Human Nature and Mother Nature

When choosing a haiku author to study in-depth, I was very selective. Although I can find relevance and meaning in those of the Japanese authors, at times I feel there is a cultural barrier which prevents me from truly appreciating and understanding haiku from a society different from mine. I also have more difficulty relating to haiku that focus almost exclusively on nature. Living in the suburbs for all my life, the wildest nature experience I ever had was the migration of the cicadas when I was a child. Therefore, I tend to gravitate towards haiku that contain some seasonal reference but also delve into the human world, which is where I spend most of my time. Michael Dylan Welch’s haiku provide the perfect blend of human nature and mother nature in three simple lines.

Welch was born in Watford, England, and has since lived in places such as Ghana, Australia and Canada. After living in Foster City, California (the San Francisco bay area) for several years, he now resides in Sammamish, Washington where he works as a technical editor for Microsoft Corporation. Welch was named after the poet Dylan Thomas, and thus from birth his life has been saturated with English and poetry. He first became interested in haiku in tenth grade but found the 5-7-5 pattern restrictive and awkward. His impression of haiku has since been influenced by such poets as Basho and Marlene Mountain, who stressed the importance of imagistic content rather than form.

Welch has some definite opinions on the purpose and composition of haiku. For instance, in an essay entitled “Becoming a Haiku Poet” featured online at Welch states:

The most important characteristic of haiku is how it conveys, through implication and suggestion, a moment of keen perception and perhaps insight into nature or human nature. Haiku does not state this insight, however, but implies it.” To achieve this, he advises focusing on perceptions of the senses, but to keep observations objective. Haiku should “avoid doing any inferring for the reader; instead, let the reader infer ideas and connections from the carefully juxtaposed objective descriptions you present. (viewed May 2, 2003)

In addition to his advocacy of sensory images to create descriptions, Welch also sees a link between photography and haiku. Both are objective, image-based, record an instant in time, and succeed not by subject matter, but by composition. In fact, Welch has an online haiku project, Open Window, on which he has paired some of his haiku with original photograph:

What I chose to focus on in my reader's response essay on Welch’s work was the use of sensory images and the balance of human and nature references within his haiku. My objective was to see if Welch did present insight through his juxtaposition of sensory descriptions like he called for in his essay. The following haiku are examples of Michael Dylan Welch’s work that I analyzed for this purpose.

first cold night
smell of hot dust
from the vent

Open Window

This haiku of Welch’s is remarkable mostly because of its ordinary nature. Turning on the heat that first cold night of winter and being blasted by a burst of hot, dusty air is an occurrence that nearly everyone has experienced at some time or another. It is so ordinary that one scarcely notices it has happened, yet after reading the haiku one can feel warm air seeping into the chill of a cold room. The reader can even feel the dry, sneezy feeling in their nose that accompanies inhaling hot, dusty air. This haiku is a prime example of Welch’s employment of rich sensory images within his work to relate to the reader on a personal level. Without the sensory appeal, the ordinary experience Welch depicts would be just that, but with the addition of rich sensory images Welch brings a common, everyday experience to vivid life.

toll booth lit for Christmas
from my hand to hers
warm change

The Haiku Anthology, 269

Welch begins this haiku with a seasonal association, Christmas. By creating this setting Welch not only brings to mind the toll booth, blinking and twinkling beneath a sea of tangled lights, but also allows the reader to imagine frost-caked window panes, a blanket of snow upon the ground, and a sharp knife of cold wind piercing the car once the window is rolled down. I imagine the subject of the haiku is a man, driving alone on Christmas Eve. Perhaps he is going to visit family or friends, or perhaps he is merely driving home from work, but for the moment he is alone. This is a fact vividly accentuated by the bitter cold. The warm change is a reminder that humanity does exist, even on a frigid Christmas Eve. The warm change does enhance the fact that he is alone, but also gives a little glimmer of hope that he might not be alone for long. The simultaneous feelings of solitude and connectedness signified by the change is what spoke to me about this haiku. Welch melds the seasonal reference commonly included in haiku writing with insight into human nature to create a haiku that readers can truly relate to. This technique is particularly effective and can be found often in Welch’s body of work.


Open Window

Whereas most of Welch’s haiku are built around content or scent links, this particular haiku contains word links. With the first line, “night,” Welch brings to mind an inky black sky, scattered with stars, and a moon peeking out behind hazy clouds. With the second line, “falling,” the image instead turns to a sunset sky, filled with intense reds, oranges, and pinks while a firey sun sinks below the horizon. The final line, “snow,” turns the image back to an inky sky, but this time the image is filled with gently falling snow instead of stars. The structure of the haiku, one vertical line, also mirrors the path of falling snow. The combination of linking and structure work together in this haiku to create striking visual images for the reader while employing only a minimal number of words.

spring breeze—
the pull of her hand
as we near the pet store

The Haiku Anthology, 270

The format of this haiku is similar to that of the toll booth haiku in that Welch first creates a setting with a seasonal reference, then continues to delve more into human nature. The first line, “spring breeze,” brings to mind a fresh, windy day early in the season, a slight chill from winter still faintly lingering in the air. The following lines continue to add to the story by way of a content link. What I imagine is a young couple, perhaps newly engaged or married, going to a pet store together. She’s excited not only by the prospect of a new puppy or kitten, but also because it is the first important thing that they will truly share together. The freshness of their relationship and a new pet echoes the freshness of the breezy spring day. The overall tone is one of rebirth and hope, feelings that everyone can relate to even if they cannot relate to the content of the haiku. Welch’s tendency to focus on insight into human nature while still incorporating mother nature is particularly noticeable and effective in this example.

clicking off the late movie . . .
the couch cushion

Tagged With Ribbons, a broadside from the author

While reading this haiku, what I imagined was someone alone for the night, camped out on the couch with a blanket and a bowl of popcorn. The room is dark, and the only other life come from the TV as it illuminates the watcher with light and sound. The movie on TV is an old one, seen dozens of times before, but there is nothing else to watch that night. The movie is almost like a comforting old friend on a lonely night. When the film is finally over, very late in the evening, the watcher finally gets up and goes to bed, and the couch cushion reinflates from being under the weight of their body the entire night. The watcher then thinks, “Wow, was I really sitting there that long?” It is a vibrant illustration of both the time spent that night and also a reminder of the solitude of a long evening alone. Like the spring breeze haiku, it is not necessarily the visual image contained within, but the feeling expressed by the description of that image that readers can relate to. Nearly all of us have spent some time alone in front of the TV at one point or another. For some it may have been lonely; for others, a welcome retreat, but nearly all have experienced this situation. It is in this way that Welch creates the “ah-ha” moment commonly found in excellent haiku.

From the examples found here, it is readily apparent that Michael Dylan Welch does indeed succeed in creating insight for the reader with his employment of sensory descriptions in careful juxtaposition. Welch’s heavy reliance on objective images, along with his pairing of humans and nature, work together to give the reader a unique haiku experience that is deeply satisfying and thought-provoking. In his Open Window project, Welch likened haiku to a window into ourselves and into the world around us. His own haiku are clearly a shining example that haiku can bring insight to humans and nature alike.

Van Den Heuvel, Cor, Ed. The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English. W.W.
Norton & Co.: New York, 1999.

Welch, Michael Dylan. “Becoming a Haiku Poet.” ( May 2, 2003.

Welch, Michael Dylan. Open Window ( Brooks Books, 2000.

Welch, Michael Dylan. Tagged With Ribbons. Welch: Foster City, CA, 2002.

—Alyson Ludek

©2003 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors