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2nd European Haiku Conference, Vadstena, Sweden (2007)

Two years after the 1st European Haiku Congress in Bad Nauheim, Germany, in May 2005, successfully completed its work, a second gathering of haiku poets from Europe, Japan, and North America was convened in the historic town of Vadstena, Sweden. Participants included 54 haikuists from 15 countries. The conference took place under the auspices of the Swedish Haiku Society with economic assistance from the Scandinavia-Japan Sasakawa Foundation. Organizers were Kai Falkman, Florence Vilén, and Helga Härle.

Introduction to the Summary

Sweden showed its most beautiful summer face during the three days of the Vadstena haiku conference June 8–10, 2007. Blue skies, high temperatures, sun shining from 4 o’clock in the morning until 10 in the evening. The Japanese participants were fascinated by the sunset beyond lake Vättern and took many photographs of the upside-down red exclamation mark!

The name Vadstena means “stones by the water” and refers to a manor building from the 13th century. In 1346 King Magnus Eriksson donated the estate to the convent of Birgitta Birgersdotter, who in 1391 was canonized by the Pope as Sancta Birgitta. Since then Vadstena has become an important centre for Catholic pilgrims. In 1545 King Gustav Vasa built a castle here which still stands by the lake.

The conference took place in the premises of Vadstena Folkhögskola (Vadstena College for Adult Education) just by the lake. The conference hall and the dining room were in the same building, and across a lawn the lodging-houses, so the participants were closely assembled all the time.

Five minutes’ walk from the College was the centre of the town with its narrow, twisting streets preserved from the medieval town-plan.

The conference began on Friday evening with a welcome reception for 54 participants from 15 countries at Villa Örgården on a hill outside Vadstena. The villa used to be the summer residence of Swedish painter Prince Eugen (1865–1947). It is now owned by Magnus and Märta Christina Vahlquist, former Swedish ambassador to Japan, who hosted the reception.

Next morning the conference proceedings started with the reading of a message from Japan’s ambassador to Sweden, Seiichiro Otsuka, himself a poet and a singer of Swedish ballads. He said that “during my years in Sweden I have had many opportunities to witness that haiku poetry is becoming popular here as in other parts of the world…. I am confident that this conference will not only be fruitful, but also give further impetus to each of the participants today.” He concluded by saying that he was grateful to the Swedish Haiku Society “for their endeavors to enhance mutual understanding among our peoples through the art of haiku.”

The chairman of the conference thanked Angelee Deodhar [India] for a hanging tapestry that she had embroidered and sent from India as a tribute to the conference. It was a very colourful gift which, to our surprise, contained many haiku written by the participants.

The haiku were written in English and taken from a number of anthologies, magazines, and websites. This was most appropriate as this was the conference language. Keeping to one language we avoided losing time with translations from 15 home languages!

Janina Kraupe-Świderska from Kraków [Poland] showed us her haiku paintings with colourful pictures of landscapes and flowers surrounded by haiku texts (in Polish, so unfortunately few of us were able to read them.)

Several participants had brought haiku books for the Book table, where they were sold at reduced prices. Just in time for the conference Iron Press of U.K. had published Euro-Haiku, a small anthology of haiku by 80 poets, representing 26 countries, each in one of 22 native languages and in English.

Jim Kacian [U.S.A.] stated in his speech that English has emerged as the international haiku language of the 21st century: “Consider the fact that we are here assembled, poets of 15 countries, speaking in English. This reflects a world of circumstance, certainly, but it also suggests a recognition of a kind of utility. The internet has pointed out the need for such utility, a basic need to communicate. English as a unifying language serves us all.”

A dozen of the 54 participants had accepted an invitation to deliver speeches from the rostrum. In order to give room to all of them, we allocated 15 minutes to each speaker—a time limit not always observed. Anyway, we asked the speakers to give us in advance a written text so that we would be able to publish it in this summary.

The speeches opened up many different perspectives but common to all were definitions of haiku that were very close to each other.

Kai Falkman [Sweden] pointed out in his introductory speech that the visibility of the image is the heart of haiku. “Haiku uses concrete images to convey the essence of an experience of nature or of human situations, communicating layers of meaning of various kinds…. Haiku strives to depict a scene that shows a change, if possible with an unexpected ending or a lingering poetical atmosphere.”

Bashō’s images have lasted over the centuries because they are concrete and can be visualized by generations of readers. Abstract images are difficult to see and change meanings over the years.

Ludmila Balabanova [Bulgaria] gave us the following advice: Do not use abstract metaphorical images created in a purely intellectual manner.

Takashi Ikari [Japan] conveyed his personal experience: “Haiku describes what I see with my own eyes and I infuse it with my feelings and life, bringing it to reality with as few words as possible…. When we read a haiku we arrange it as a photo or a film in our minds.” This photo or film is not as clear as the poet’s original vision, but this does not disturb the artistic impression: “It expresses the aesthetics of vagueness.” The Japanese language has this vagueness and therefore it is well suited to haiku.

Paul Mercken [Belgium] confirmed that “traditional haiku include a concrete image.” The gist of his speech was haiku in a European context, suggesting that the ideas that bind Europeans together like universal principles of human rights, etc. are valid for all countries and should not be confined to special regions or groups of countries. Likewise, “If haiku builds bridges not walls, haiku tallies with this idea of Europe and can help to realize it.”

Bruce Ross [U.S.A.]:“Haiku may be regarded as a relation of the particular with the universal.”

Dietmar Tauchner [Austria]: “A haiku is a brief arrangement of words—using concrete language rather than abstract terms—that records an insight into nature and/or human nature (including human creations), and all relations between them…. A haiku does not give a definition, it gives a description of what exists. It does not end with a conclusion, but offers a kind of punch line.”

Max Verhart [the Netherlands] quoted Marianne Brink Kiauta, describing haiku as “a new look on common things.” He also quoted Wim Lofvers: “Haiku describes reality that surrounds me.” Verhart: “The essence of haiku is something one can point at, but never actually put one’s hand on.” Referring to a survey of Dutch poets, Verhart concluded that the core idea behind most of the definitions was a sense of life about the relationship between the poet and reality surrounding him.

So much about the essence of haiku. The conference’s two Croatian poets touched upon the role of education in haiku:

Višnja McMaster [Croatia] introduced the game of haiku-cards in a PowerPoint presentation. Two packs of 100 cards, one with a full text of the poems, one with only the first line. A leader calls out the first line from his/her pack of cards, the children search the right card from the other pack. This exercise develops haiku awareness and haiku reading and writing skills, not to mention the fun and excitement.

Zrinka Šimunović [Croatia] referred to her professional experiences of children with language difficulties using haiku as a way of learning to master written and oral language. Her methods awakened the poetic truth in children and released emotions and memories hitherto hidden.

A welcome and unusual theme was Zinovy Vayman’s [Russia/Israel/U.S.A.] “Humour in Haiku.” His overview, however, found a disconcerting lack of humour in most haiku. 

“New Technologies for Haiku” was the title of a panel discussion with 4 participants. Herewith a summary: Shōkan Tadashi Kondō [Japan]: Haiku is a machine already working. It nurtures good observation and develops adequate expressions. If we apply high technology (hi tech) to haiku, it can (1) change language, (2) change modes of communication, (3) create new relations with nature.

Helga Härle [Sweden]: New technology (1) contributes to the distribution of haiku, (2) improves the exchanges with forums, discussion groups, and sites like www.tinywords.com, (3) holds yet hardly used potentials for interactive forms of writing/reading, e.g. hypertext haiku.

Jim Kacian: Poets are looking for an audience. The power of publishers has changed with the internet, which broadens what is available. All poems can get out — independent of their quality…. Haiku has exploded. It is published in more than 50 languages. It is the world’s largest poetical form.

Višnja McMaster: The poet publishes in order to promote his ego. At the same time, he/she has a wish to communicate in order to reach a communion of feelings and to learn by communication. Three months ago I started a haiku blog. Since then I have had 7,000 visits! The blog reaches new audiences, especially young people, who seldom get printed haiku material in their hands.

The panel discussion was a very lively event, especially when Helga held up large wrapping papers where she had sketched in Indian ink the workings of digital technology to show some seven of the options available in an interactive production like the hypertext haiku: The process of reading as well as writing here means examining different ways of linking individual poems, e.g., by using some of the words within a poem as links, so that each of the chosen words leads to a different poem — thereby altering the background/foreground against which each single poem is perceived. (The resulting non-linear, rather holistic way of writing/reading might remind one of the workings of renku. as one might create links based on association as well as contrast, etc.) 

The last day of the conference. Sunday morning, started with a presentation by Florence Vilén [Sweden] of the winning poems in the haiku contest. The winners were asked to read their poems from the rostrum and to receive typical Swedish gifts — somewhat unexpectedly, several of the winners were Swedes! (See the report on the haiku contest below.) 

The conference ended with a renku session led by Shōkan Tadashi Kondō. The participants were divided into six groups at six tables. Kondō described the rules of how to link the poems, where seasons, heavenly bodies, travel, human affairs, emotions, forbidden repetitions, and several other items had to be strictly followed. The game, a modern renku form called “twelve tone,” was not easy but led to intense discussions and much laughter.

The good thing about the panel discussion and last day’s haiku contest and renku session was that everybody got involved. So, my advice for the next European international haiku conference is: Fewer speeches from the rostrum, more items on the program that involve all participants and stimulated activity.

What about the future? At Vadstena no decision was arrived at concerning where and when the next conference should take place. David Cobb [England] suggested that England would be a very popular choice “if we could manage it in 2009”. He said that he has been “authorised by the British Haiku Society to investigate the possibility of our hosting the third conference.”

Paul Mercken invited the haijin in the audience to join his proposal to “establish a permanent secretariat for pan-European haiku affairs. Such a secretariat can start humbly with keeping a list of interested individuals, preferably or rather necessarily with an e-mail address, and later on build a database of haiku societies, websites and publications.” The audience showed a positive interest in this idea.

Author: Kai Falkman

Source: Falkman, “Introduction to the Summary,” Haiku in Vadstena (2007)

Haiku Presentation

A feature taken over from the workshops of the Swedish Haiku Society was the reading of haiku offered anonymously. Every participant was asked to contribute two haiku of his/her own and most did so. Then the haiku were distributed without a name and everybody could vote for the two (except his/her own) that he/she found most appealing.

Of 79 contributions, the winner got seven points. In the conference proceedings volume, Haiku in Vadstena, all contributions were printed with names given; here are presented only the top 12. The span of styles was striking, which was true also for the most popular haiku. The overall winner, Helga Härle, gave succinct scenes from nature, combining different impressions. Some others had a humorous touch. Metaphor was represented as well as a freer, more allusive style.

fish jumping
all night
shooting stars 
Helga Härle, 7 points
crowded beach—
a kicking baby
in a belly         
Max Verhart, 6 points
The old lady
wipes her window
I wave back
Lars Granström [Sweden], 6 points
frozen bay —
still the sound
of the sea         
Helga Härle, 6 points
his voice
deep purple     
Ludmila Balabanova, 5 points
The white pigeon
picking grains
for its shadow
Kai Falkman, 4 points
my life becomes
a dream
Dietmar Tauchner, 4 points
meditation bell—
in the master’s place
a scabby dog   
Johan Bergstad [Sweden], 4 points
the patter on planks
of children’s bare feet—
the distant sea
David Cobb, 3 points
sharpened pencil—
Hiroshima Day again
Kenichi Ikemoto [Japan], 3 points
The ancient pine
reaches the sky
standing still   
Johan Bergstad, 3 points
Graylight in spots.
The red line—
Christer Duke [Sweden], 3 points

More than half of the haiku received at least one point.

The following conference participants also submitted their work to the haiku presentation:

  • Ulf Åberg [Sweden]
  • Annie Bachini [England]
  • Marlène Buitelaar [the Netherlands]
  • Iréne Carlsson [Sweden]
  • Jan Dunhall [Sweden]
  • Hideo Ebihara [Japan]
  • Sven Enander [Sweden]
  • Antonella Filippi [Italy]
  • Rob Flipse [the Netherlands]
  • Hanne Hansen [Denmark]
  • Anders Holmquist [Sweden]
  • Zdravko Karakehayov [Bulgaria]
  • Yasuomi Koganei [Japan]
  • Kate Larsen [Denmark]
  • Marcus Larsson [Sweden]
  • Lea Nielsen [Denmark]
  • Margareta Palmqvist [Sweden]
  • Marianne Pettersson [Sweden]
  • Annette Seimer [German, residing in Italy]
  • Marianne Ståhlberg [Sweden]
  • Sten Svensson [Sweden]
  • Pietro Tartamella [Italy]
  • Judit Vihar [Hungary]
  • Gian Maria Vinci [Italy]

Sources / Further Reading

  • Falkman, Kai, Florence Vilén, and Helga Härle, eds. Haiku in Vadstena: Summary of the International Haiku Conference in Sweden 8–10 June 2007. Stockholm: Svenska Haiku Sällskapet, 2007. Proceedings of the 2nd European Haiku Conference; in English.

Conference presentations; texts published in Haiku in Vadstena

  • Balabanova, Ludmila. “Metaphor and Haiku,” 9–11.
  • Bachini, Annie. “On Haiku and Education in Britain,” 12.
  • Cobb, David. “Clever Haiku,” 13–15.
  • Falkman, Kai. “Haiku in Sweden—Visibility of the Image,” 16–17.
  • Hansen, Hanne. “Danish Haiku 2005–2007,” 18.
  • Ikari, Takashi. “Japanese Tradition, Culture and Haiku,” 19–20.
  • Kacian, Jim. “State of the Art: Haiku in North America 2007,” 21–23. Available online at http://www.gendaihaiku.com/kacian/state-of-the-art.html.
  • Kondō, Shōkan Tadashi. “Junichō (Twelve Tone) Renku Form,” 32–33. Handout.
  • Kondō, Shōkan Tadashi. “How to Make the 72 Seasonal Spells (with handouts),” 24–31.
  • Kraupe, Janina. “Paintings with Haiku,” 34.
  • McMaster, Višnja. “Haiku Cards: A Poetic Path to Reading Competence,” 35–37.
  • Mercken, Paul. “Pan-European Haiku,” 38–40.
  • Ross, Bruce. “The Essence of Haiku,” 41–46.
  • Šimunović, Zrinka. “Poetic Truth by Children with Language Difficulties,” 47– 50.
  • Tartamella, Pietro. “Haiku: Transversal Poetry,” 54–56.
  • Tartamella, Pietro, Antonella Filippi, and Annette Seimer. “Haiku in Italy—The Experience of Cascina Macondo,” 51–53.
  • Tauchner, Dietmar. “X-Plain: Back to the Realm of the Infinite,” 57–59.
  • Thunman, Noriko. “Haiku and Translations,” 60–63.
  • Vayman, Zinovy. “Humour in Haiku,” 64–66.
  • Verhart, Max. “The Essence of Haiku as Perceived by Dutch and Flemish Haiku Poets,” 67–70.
  • Vilén, Florence, coordinator. “Haiku Presentation,” 76–83. 79 haiku presented at the conference.
  • Wirth, Klaus-Dieter. “Haiku Life in Germany—Historical Background and Present Situation,” 71–75.

1st European Haiku Congress, Bad Neuheim, Germany

Author: Florence Vilén

Adapted from Vilén, “Haiku Reading” Haiku in Vadstena (2007)

Updated on November 26, 2023