Molly McLinden

Michael Dylan Welch's Haiku

Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2001

Molly McLinden



Michael Dylan Welch's Haiku

The haiku of Michael Dylan Welch intrigued me because of its complexity. What intrigued me was that he is able to take every day experiences that his readers are likely to be familiar with, and then take these ideas and put them into a meaningful verse. Welch captivates his readers by making an image so fresh in their minds. He need not use exaggerated words and images in his haiku to paint a sharp picture for us. Rather, his choice to be simple is what makes his haiku more complex than those of other haiku authors. I found him to be most effective when it came down to his excellent balance between his perception of reality and his ability to leave some haiku "open" for purposes of imagination.

The process of choosing just one haiku author on which to study in depth and report on had seemed like it was going to be a difficult choice for me initially. I had noticed that a large number of haiku authors used much detail in their haiku: using a variety of words that described place, color, time, etc. Although I found this type of haiku enjoyable, as a reader I like to be able to incorporate my own experiences and thought into them. When you can relate to something, it becomes so much more meaningful. When I read a certain haiku by Michael Dylan Welch, there was no doubt in my mind that I had found my author!

grocery shopping
pushing my cart faster
through feminine protection

(Haiku Anthology, 271)

This haiku demonstrated that Welch had a good sense of what your average person experienced. As a reader, you laugh because you can sense the anxiety of going down the "feminine protection" aisle—afraid that someone will see you taking some off of the shelf!

I liked how Welch was straightforward and told it like it was. The way he portrayed feelings in this haiku was by use of a strong image: the fast pushing of the cart. This gave the reader a sense of uneasiness—even urgency. I found this particular haiku to be a refreshing change from the common flowery language, "all about nature" haiku that I often come across. This haiku made me laugh—because I know what a common experience this is for everyone! True, it may not be deep or filled with emotion——yet, the emotions (nervousness, shame, embarrassment,etc.) are able to be brought upon by each reader relating and remembering how they felt when they encountered this type of situation.

One might assume that some readers would enjoy seemingly "simply written" haiku like those of Welch, because it would require less thinking on their part. I completely disagree. Rather, I believe Welch’s stark imagery leaves the reader with an open book in their imaginations. By writing his haiku in his simple style, he allows each reader to draw from either their own life experiences or imaginations to give the haiku more personal and perhaps deeper meanings.

summer moonlight
the potter’s wheel

(Reflections: a Haiku Diary)

This haiku makes the reader ask themselves why the potter’s wheel is slowing. Perhaps he or she is slowing to admire the moonlight. Maybe they are slowing down because it is late at night and they are very tired. Again, the simplicity here serves as a springboard for many new ideas to come from!

Besides the fact that Welch’s haiku allows for creative freedom, his haiku
has another type of simplicity that is special. This time, the simplicity in his writing is wonderful because of the EXACT images he paints with his words. A reader , might find that often the most effective haiku is haiku that says little with words, but more with image. I believe that a large percentage of Welch’s haiku is like this, but this one in particular is striking to the reader:

blowing leaves...
the shiny hearse
turns the corner


The image is hardly a cheery one, yet it is all mapped out for you in your mind: the funeral on a cold autumn day . . . the sense of loss, of having to start a new chapter in your life. It is highly likely that if you read this haiku aloud to a group of people, that they would all come up with similar words to describe what they got from it. Perhaps you would hear "darkness," "loneliness," "bitter cold" and similar things when asking about this particular haiku. The point is that Welch is able to accomplish so much in his writing because he truly knows how to reach his audience. When you "just know" what the haiku is about, the author has gotten his message to you.

Because Welch’s haiku is quite simple, sometimes there is little to speculate on. Sometimes, his haiku does not allow you to ask "why" . . . because it stands on its own and is what it is! I like how Welch varies his haiku in this way, and will choose to write some haiku that is nothing more than what is intended to be a sharp image in the reader’s mind.

after the quake
the weathervane
pointing to earth


In your mind, you see a ruined landscape with a weathervane pointing into the ground. You see only that, nothing more. You cannot get emotions from haiku. Rather, the purpose of this haiku is to serve the reader with a powerful image. I find the thing that is wonderful about Welch’s image haiku is that he gives you an exact painting of a scene, and he didn’t even have to use an abundance of adjectives to accomplish this.

That type of haiku is certainly a contrast to Welch’s haiku that is meant to be
emotionally touching.

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

(Haiku Anthology, 272)

This haiku is similar to the "feminine protection" one in that it is probably
written about a common human experience— yet this one is special and different because it is meant to be deeper. When I read this haiku, I pictured a father and his daughter going for a walk one afternoon. She has suggested a route that goes by the pet store that has the puppy she wants so badly. It being spring, she is more likely to be enjoying the outdoors, and naturally wants a playmate to share this with. She sees the store and pulls her dad towards it. She will get her way, it being spring when moods are better and everything looks promising and good. I just really enjoy this haiku because it made me smile. The image of a little girl with a love for a pet . . . and the other image of a dad who really cares for his daughter—is effective and leaves and reader with a warm feeling. This haiku serves as proof that Welch can accomplish a very wide range of emotions from his readers by being simple in his writing style.
The final aspect of Michael Dylan Welch’s haiku that I enjoy is the way that he uses the concept of contrast in his haiku. As it is in all of his other haiku, Welch is simple when using contrast. The final product is always quite subtle-yet it strikes you just the same.

the comb’s broken tooth
disappears down the drain
first morning light


The contrast here lies in the loss of both the broken tooth and in something going down the drain with the start of something new: the morning light. What is impressive is how Welch picked such simple, stark images and was able to come with something so meaningful in such few words. This is no doubt a haiku that requires thinking from the reader. Welch left open a lot of room for interpretation—but the bottom line is that he wanted the reader to pick up on the two contrasting images. It is subtle, but when you get it- it is enough to make make Michael Dylan Welch become a favorite haiku author of yours.

Welch caught my eye by being simple and to the point in his haiku. After reading more of his haiku and thinking about it, I realized that there was a lot more to his haiku that met the eye. The complexity lies not in his number of words or length of haiku- it lies in his choice of words and in the images he creates in our minds. Unlike other haiku authors, he reaches the reader in an easier way by being less descriptive. His style is an invitation for the reader to become part of his haiku. That is essentially why I picked Welch as my author, and that is why I continue to believe that his haiku style is unique, enjoyable, and perfect to share with other people.

—Molly McLinden


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