During his 130-mile round trip commute from his Raleigh home to the University of Mount Olive, Lenard D. Moore often pulls to the side of the road and, recalling shadows on branches or bright cars zooming past, jots down a haiku.
Most remember haiku from elementary school, where teachers used the Japanese poem’s simple rules – three lines of five-seven-five syllables – to introduce cadence and form.
But this reputation for being short, simple and exotic has stopped some from considering the haiku as a serious literary form. The N.C. Haiku Society hopes to help change that during National Poetry Month with its annual conference on Saturday in Chapel Hill.
The conference features a series of haiku and senryu workshops along with a walk through nature. Among the speakers is Moore, an associate professor of English at Mount Olive and winner of the 2014 N.C. Award for literature.
“We want to bring in more people to learn about haiku, and we want people to just appreciate the haiku, and spread it to other people,” said Moore, a former president of the Haiku Society of America and current executive chairman of the North Carolina group. “It’s always evolving – I’ve written about Vietnam, I write a lot about jazz, or jazzku, and the blues.”
Haiku traditionally centered on the beauty of nature, while its cousin, senryu, is often used to depict human nature.
“Nature still plays a big part in what our members write, we’re just not slavishly following tradition,” said Dave Russo of Cary, an organizer of Saturday’s conference. “The form is wide open, it can be about a brief encounter, a street scene, the death of a mother.”
The haiku movement in America is gradually gaining traction, though Russo said annual conferences typically draw about 20 people. North Carolina has a claim at popularizing American haiku, being among the first states in the country to organize a Haiku Society in the 1970s.
“There’s been a tradition of North Carolina Haiku Society being well-known and respected in the haiku community for some time,” Russo said.
English-language haiku is evolving to become the American haiku – meaning writers will often step outside the five-seven-five syllable form, said Charlotte Digregorio, the second vice president for the Haiku Society of America and author “Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide For All.”
“We express sentiment differently in each language, and that is what haiku is all about,” said Digregorio, who with Moore is a scheduled presenter for Saturday’s conference.
Every writer has a different voice when writing about haiku, and Terri French, another conference presenter, who often writes senryu, tends to write about darker aspects of life, including death and divorce.
“It’s better to get it out some way than to keep it inside,” she said. “Then you don’t feel quite so alone.”
French keeps notebooks around the house and in her car, so that if something catches her eye, she can write a haiku then and there. Sometimes, she’ll wake up to write a dream into a haiku.
“Haiku are simple, but not easy,” French said. “You write, then ... editing, you have to play with it and get the right word.”
Moore, who writes at least a thousand haikus a year, said writing haiku is a great habit to have because it teaches awareness.
“The form helps me write with an economy of language, which is also good for writing other forms of poetry, to write vivid imagery with concreteness, and to feel a oneness with the natural world,” he said. “But haiku also get harder to write with time, because I push for originality.”
Russo also warned that with topics including death and divorce in the mix, the conference isn’t the best children’s activity.
“Sometimes, children come to our conference ... but it’s not what people think!” he said. “A parent comes by, says, ‘I think I’ll drop them off!’ But its never quite like that.”
What: N.C. Haiku Holiday Conference
Where: Bolin Brook Farm, 600 Bolin Brook Farm Road, Chapel Hill
When: 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday, rain or shine
Note: Dress for the weather. Bring a bag lunch; drinks will be provided.
Info: 919-929-4884 and nc-haiku.org