Friday, August 20, 2010

Haiku Contest: Perfect for Teachers - but hurry!

What did you do over summer vacation? Haiku about it! National Wildlife Federation's 'Be Out There' Haiku contest, like summer, is short. The deadline for submissions is August 31.

Entrants must be 18 or older but parents and/or teachers can submit haikus from minors. What a great writing exercise for the first day of school, eh? Find all the details here:      

(More about the haiku form below photo)

Don't worry if you're a bit fuzzy on Haiku form, they're easy to write. Actually, the original Japanese form is quite difficult, but the modern, simplified English version is a snap, consisting of three lines. The first line should contain five syllables, the second will have seven, the last line has five. No need to fuss over rhyme or meter. For the purpose of this contest, that's about all you need to know.

Literary sticklers will point out the Japanese haiku isn't a "short, easy" form of poetry; rather it's a "complex condensed" form.* A work of art, not a formulaic exercise. The key point non-Japanese poets miss is that the haiku is not a poem of 17 syllables, but one made of 17 syllables or less. And there are many other rules! A fundamental one: the haiku should be pure observation - no metaphoric images - and the observation(s) should concern an element of natural beauty. 

Another wrinkle in the American/English version of haiku is that, obviously, the form is designed around the Japanese language. The English translation of 'syllable' is a loose one, intended to describe a sound depicted by a single character, and a line in the Japanese language is not written left-to-right, but top-to-bottom.

None of which should take the fun out of haiku. Or the contest. Enjoy!

* Sagan, M. Unbroken Line: Writing in the Lineage of Poetry, (c) 1999 Sherman Asher Publishing.

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