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New to Haiku: Interview with HSA President Jay Friedenberg

In late April, Julie Bloss Kelsey, of New to Haiku, had the pleasure of speaking with Jay Friedenberg, current president of the Haiku Society of America. Jay has been meeting with subgroups within the HSA and spoke at a meeting where Julie was in attendance. She was excited to learn that the organization has recently set up some programs for those new to haiku and invited Jay to spread the word here. What follows is a lightly edited version of their conversation. Enjoy!

Welcome to New to Haiku, Jay. I am working on helping new haiku poets feel more welcome to The Haiku Foundation and I’ve gathered that inclusion is something you are interested in as well. Can you tell me a little about HSA and how it can benefit people who are new to haiku?

The Haiku Society of America has been around for many decades. Our purpose is to expand modern English-language haiku in the United States and abroad – we have a pretty substantial international community of members as well. We promote the understanding and the writing of haiku and other related Japanese forms. That’s been our mission [since our inception].

Can you tell me about your new HSA mentoring program?

Sure! The mentoring program is something that I started up about a year ago. The goal of this [program] is to pair people who are new to haiku – whom we are calling mentees – with experienced poets (most of whom have some teaching experience) whom we are calling mentors. The idea is to get together in small groups; I’ve limited it to three students per group. I fixed the number of students at three because it’s a size where in one hour, each of the three students can workshop at least two poems. We want this to be a very close, interactive experience. The goal is for these newcomers to present their poems and have them be critiqued in a constructive and positive manner by the mentors. The minimum requirement was to get together for one hour a month and I’m very happy to find out, based upon recent feedback, that people are going way above the minimum requirements. They are meeting twice a month, in some cases even more frequently than that, and they’re not just doing haiku poem critiques, in many cases they have homework assignments and assigned readings. I am not closely monitoring the way this works; the individual teaching methods are left open to each instructor. I am, however, soliciting feedback from both ends and it has been overwhelmingly positive. We are promoting a diversity of different pedagogical styles, if you will.

When I heard about the HSA mentoring program previously, I had assumed that it was a one-on-one program. It sounds like this is one-on-three. Do they meet in groups of four?

Yes, it’s three students to one teacher. It’s not one-on-one. There’s too many people who want to do this and there simply wouldn’t be enough teachers to support that. There’s attrition that takes place on both sides. The number of students is always far greater than the number of teachers. We are looking for new teachers. If you know of somebody who’s interested, let me know!

Do you have a waitlist right now for people wanting to join the mentor program?

No, we’ve been keeping up with demand. Right now, we have two students who need a teacher and I am putting out feelers for instructors to try to relocate them.

How many people do you currently have involved in the mentoring program?

In the mentoring program, we have about 60 students and 20 instructors.

So, if someone was interested in joining as a mentor or a mentee, whom should they contact?

They can contact me since I’m the one who is currently managing the program. Send me an email at jay.friedenberg@gmail.com and I will do the assignments and explain the program to them. We try to match people up in the same time zones to make scheduling that much easier. Having said that, we have one person on the east coast who actually has two students from India!

That’s awesome! Can you tell me about your new under 40 Zoom meetings for younger members? Who is your point-of-contact for this program?

Sure. This is really the most recent program that we’ve started at HSA. We’re calling it the Haiku Social Club. It’s exclusive in the sense that it’s for members who are under 40 years of age. The reasoning for that is that the majority of our organization is over 65. We are looking to recruit people into the haiku community that are the next generation – people who want to continue to learn and write and participate in haiku over a longer time horizon. There are already regional organizations and other groups in place to serve the current population so that’s why we have this program centered for the under 40s. The person who is organizing and running this group is Aaron Barry. His contact email is aaronteacher1@gmail.com.

What do they do during Haiku Social Club, Jay? Since you and I are not allowed in?

It’s a secret! I can’t tell you! All jesting aside, it was designed to be more social rather than a structured activity. Mentoring is more for working on haiku; Haiku Social Club is about getting together and socializing and doing fun activities. They have had speakers – Chuck Brickley and I have given talks. They also have workshops every meeting with small breakout sessions to go over each other’s poems. They use Google Meet. The total meeting size is about 25 and they split up into smaller meetings of 3 or 4 people. The goal is to be more fun than educational.

That’s cool! Now that you are president, what new directions do you want to take HSA?

Well…We took your [HSA subgroup’s] comments seriously about inclusivity so at our next executive committee meeting we’re going to bring up the issue of how we get underserved populations to participate. We have been doing things like sending out free copies of Frogpond to libraries and high schools and we’re maybe going to try to step that up as well as trying to organize Zooms with high schools and community organizations to try to expand the participatory population of HSA. The other big thing is our national conferences. We’re scaling those up. We have the next one set for June 12-13, 2021. We already have a bunch of speakers lined up and we’re expanding it to two days with a greater variety of activities – we’re going to have some renku workshops, poetry readings, socialization breakout sessions. It’s not going to be just PowerPoint lectures – it’s going to be more interactive than that.

For the 2021 HSA national conference, do you have to be a member to attend?

I’m not going to say no to people who want to attend who are not members. Part of the reason for that is that we have expanded our Zoom capacity to 500 people. Last year, it was only 100 people. We already have more than 150 applicants signed up so we think that participation will reach 500. HSA members should get first priority, obviously, but we’re not going to shut the doors on anybody. I think we’ll be able to accommodate everyone who wants to attend.

How do you sign up for this year’s HSA conference?

If you are an HSA member, you should have received a special email announcement with instructions on how to sign up. Information has also appeared in our newsletter and it’s up on Facebook. Erin Castaldi, our social media manager, put out the announcement on Twitter and Instagram. We’re trying to get the word out. If you’d like to come to this year’s HSA conference, send an email to Ignatius Fay at hsabulletin@gmail.com. If you want to present, give a workshop, or moderate at the conference, email me at jayfriedenberg@gmail.com. We have a training session to train people how to be Zoom hosts.

That all sounds really good, Jay. Thanks for your time!

It was a pleasure.

Jay Friedenberg is President of the Haiku Society of America and served for two years as Associate Editor of the organization’s journal Frogpond. He is a member of the Spring Street Haiku Group that meets monthly in New York City. Jay has had his poetry accepted in numerous U.S. and international journals and has published several book collections of his work. He has won multiple U.S. and International haiku contests.

Julie Bloss Kelsey

Julie Bloss Kelsey is the current Secretary of The Haiku Foundation. She started writing haiku in 2009, after discovering science fiction haiku (scifaiku). She lives in Maryland with her husband and kids. Julie's first book of poetry, The Call of Wildflowers, is available for free online through Title IX Press. Connect with her on Twitter @MamaJoules.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Great interview as always! Nice to know the H.S.A. is trying to reach out to younger people. We all know haiku is on par with all other forms of poetry, but it seems like the general population doesn’t. Getting haiku in libraries and high schools seem like a great idea. I would also suggest having some readings/zooms at elementary schools. Spread the word that haiku is more than syllable counting. Looking forward to the conference! I’d never be able to go if it wasn’t on zoom. Keep up the great work on the interviews!

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