Better than Ice Cream

The following text is the introduction for With Cherries on Top: 31 Flavors from NaHaiWriMo, published by Press Here as a free online PDF book in 2012.

“NaHaiWriMo gets me writing every day.”

—Johnny Baranski, Vancouver, Washington

“NaHaiWriMo is an endless inspiration!”

—Kashinath Karmakar, Durgapur, India

“This is why I love NaHaiWriMo: challenge, inspiration, community, opportunity, learning, sharing . . .”

—Stella Pierides, Neusäß, Germany

Is haiku better than ice cream? Many participants in National Haiku Writing Month probably think so. This poetic feeding frenzy happens every February—the shortest month for the shortest genre of poetry—and attracts thousands of people who try writing one haiku each day for the entire month. February may be the shortest month of the year, but maintaining a daily haiku-writing discipline for this length of time is harder than it seems. And on Facebook, where National Haiku Writing Month is known as NaHaiWriMo, daily writing isn’t limited just to February. Writing prompts encourage more than a thousand fans to write haiku each day of every month, all year long. A different guest prompter provides the prompts for an entire month, supporting and inspiring a growing community of haiku poets around the world. With all this enthusiasm and the flavors represented, haiku must be better than ice cream—and maybe NaHaiWriMo is too.

As rewarding as it has been for me to work with various poets to scoop out daily prompts and post them on the Facebook page, in August of 2012 I wanted to try something different, and you’re now reading the results. Instead of having one person supply writing prompts for the entire month, I thought I’d ask 31 different people to provide one prompt each, which I then posted to the NaHaiWriMo Facebook page—a different flavor each day, whether French vanilla, pistachio, or pralines and cream, so to speak. Participants not only had the pleasure of discovering each fresh prompt, but of learning who each prompter was, and it motivated a great increase in participation and discussion, at one point with a reach of nearly 17,000 people.

But there was more to the plan. I also asked each daily prompter to monitor all the poems posted on Facebook in response to his or her prompt, and to choose at least five favorite poems to send to me for an online-only book, a form of publication that’s been a growing trend in haiku publishing. Some prompters sent just five poems exactly, occasionally with the addition of their own poem on the theme of the day. Others sent me dozens of selections. It was then my job to make final choices for this book, starting with the poems that each daily prompter chose to begin with. I’ve sought to balance poetic quality with a representation of as many participants as possible, while also showing variety and range in the ways poets responded to each daily writing prompt. The prompts, of course, were wonderfully varied in themselves, but the flavors of haiku they produced greatly exceeded my expectations. Even so, a hundred scoops certainly isn’t enough.

In its first two years, NaHaiWriMo has become an inviting and energizing community, a sharing space for both poems and poets. Perhaps it’s not too different from a corner ice cream shop, although a lot bigger, where a community enjoys hanging out together. NaHaiWriMo certainly has that celebratory mood that we so often associate with ice cream—and at NaHaiWriMo, every day is a special occasion worth celebrating. This collection by 79 contributors of 31 writing prompts and 190 haiku and senryu, all posted to the NaHaiWriMo page on Facebook in August 2012, is a taste of 31 flavors of haiku from around the world—with cherries on top. My thanks to each of the daily prompters, to all monthly prompters in prior months, and of course to all the poets for sharing their haiku and the flavors of their lives. As participant Merrill Gonzalez once commented, “NaHaiWriMo is like a conversation among friends.” Welcome to the ice cream shop, and welcome to the conversation.

Michael Dylan Welch

NaHaiWriMo Founder and Proprietor

Sammamish, Washington