Local poets fuse English haiku with Japanese Garden

Fusion. Whether this word makes you think of food, music or the way your neighbor's living room is decorated, a rich diversity is splattered throughout Seattle's restaurants, art galleries and record stores.

Even Seattle Parks and Recreation has joined in by hosting a summer haiku-reading series at the Washington Park Arboretum's Japanese Garden. The Haiku Garden reading series will provide a delicate stage for the reciting of haiku by local poets.

Not your typical haiku

This is not the haiku taught in high school. Series coordinator Michael Dylan Welch deconstructs the assumption that haiku is three-lined poem, bound by a 5-7-5 syllable structure.

Instead, he points out that, haiku, traditionally a Japanese form of poetry based on an observations of nature, has taken a new form in English.

"It's like saying a you'd take 100 yen for a 100 dollars," Welch said, pointing out that like exchange rates, haiku must be converted to fit the English language.

Welch, vice president of the Haiku Society of America, created the reading series two years ago, when he saw material about training for volunteers. It occurred to him to contact the library about a poetry reading.

According to Welch, it was a perfect fit for haiku as a natural surrounding.

A natural connection

Michael Evans, who will read at the Arboretum on Aug. 15, agrees, calling the gardens much more mood-setting than a typical coffeehouse: "The [Japanese] Gardens are the perfect location for reading haiku, because most haiku are either nature poems or poems about man's connection to the world of nature."

Evans describes a moment at the June reading when haiku literally blended with nature: A blue heron waded the lake while one of the poets read.

"Many haiku poets feel that in order to be haiku, the poem must have a nature, or seasonal, reference," Evans said.

The Japanese Garden itself is a 3-plus-acre formal area, created in 1960 by Japanese designer Juki Iida.

Evans didn't even know what haiku was when he began writing three-lined verse. After retiring in 1990, he recalled a short form of poetry used by the beat poets of his high-school years.

Not until later did he learn that these poems were called "haiku" and have certain guidelines.

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