A Haiku Victory!

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Since embarking on the challenge of writing 30 Haikus in 30 Days back in November, my obsession with the haiku form has not diminished. So, when I heard about a local haiku competition I jumped at the chance to participate.

The prompt was simple: write an Arizona inspired haiku. I must have cranked out twenty, before I settled on three to submit.

pale light follows dawn
mountains ripple in the sky
coyote’s last howl

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Summer’s end is near
clouds of dust and monsoon rain
hover in the sky

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yellow cactus bloom
withers in the summer sun
alone in the sand

Weeks went by and then I discovered an email in my inbox announcing the results of the competition. It turns out two of my haiku earned Outstanding honors and would therefore be on display at the festival at a special Haiku Expo. In addition, they would also be published in an ebook, (the first two haikus were chosen). The ebook is gorgeous and well worth downloading!

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The ebook is free! Click on the image for more information.

To say I was excited is an understatement. After failing in so many competitions, it’s nice to find myself in the winner’s circle for once! It may be a small, local competition, but it feels pretty big to me. There were over 600 entries and only 45 haikus received Outstanding status.

The competition was launched in conjunction with the Arizona Matsuri Festival – a Japanese cultural festival that has been a local mainstay for more than 30 years. I’ve gone before and have always enjoyed the bright colors, food, and cultural beauty on display.

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Arizona Matsuri Festival – Cultural Exhibits

This is the first year for Haiku Expo and they did a nice job displaying the Outstanding and Honorable Mention haikus. Each haiku is handwritten on a piece of wood, giving the nature-inspired haiku a very organic feel.

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Haikus On Display!

While at the display, I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the judges. After learning my name, he instantly knew my work – right down to how many haikus I entered. He then told me my work embodied everything haiku is supposed to be. After spending so much time immersing myself in the practice, this compliment means the world to me.

I read through some of the other poems on display and I must say I am so proud to be included among so many talented poets. Every haiku was so beautiful!

Given the success of the competition, I’m hoping the Haiku Expo will be even larger next year!

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The first Haiku Expo at the Arizona Matsuri Festival. May there be many more!

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c.b.w. 2015

Project Poetry Journal

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My recent obsession with black out poetry inspired a return to my old hobby of creating handmade journals, (See Project Art Journal and Project Spirit Journal).  After creating more than 50 black out poems, I realized I needed a better place to store them than a plastic sheet protector. It’s tough to enjoy them when they are stacked in a pile and shoved inside a pocket!

A quick search on bookbinding offered a number of choices, but one really jumped out at me – The Coptic Stitch. This stitch works great for thicker journals and it allows the journal to open flat at any given point. However, my favorite part is the ease of attaching a hard cover.

Thus, Project Poetry Journal began! Before I knew it I had a beautiful book full of black out poetry:

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Front Cover

Here’s how I did it:

Supplies:

  • cardboard
  • printed paper
  • card stock
  • brown paper sack
  • alphabet stickers
  • assorted ephemera
  • paper piercer
  • glue stick
  • double sided tape
  • thick thread
  • scissors
  • needle

The Cover:

I cut two pieces of cardboard to size and then wrapped them in a brown paper bag to create a smooth finish. Brown paper lunch sacks are the best for this process because the paper is thin and pliable once slathered with a glue stick. It’s almost like fabric and it doesn’t take much to create a wrinkle free finish.

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A smooth paper bag finish softens the edges and corners.

For the front cover, I layered a piece of printed paper that looked like an old newspaper. For the title I applied alphabet stickers that blended in nicely with the background. The letters look like they are part of the newspaper, but they jump out at the same time. To add some strength to the binding, I added a thin strip of decorative card stock to the edge.

On the inside covers, I used a brown paper sack covered in antique advertisement graphics. This served to hide the initial cover flaps and folds, while also giving the interior a little personality.  Once again, a glue stick made the paper pliable and easy to smooth out.

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Inside front cover

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Inside back cover

The Pages:

To keep my black out poems from crumbling, (I used a 1940 falling-apart novel to create my blackout poetry, so the pages are very fragile!), I decided to use card stock for the pages of my journal.  After cutting the sheets to the correct size, I created five signatures consisting of five pages folded in half. I used a bone folder to create a strong crease so the signatures would lie relatively flat when stacked.

I didn’t trim the edges in order to create a deckled edge. I like this edging because it creates a more rustic feel and it makes turning the pages a little easier.

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Deckled edge pages

Bookbinding:

I punched six evenly spaced holes along the center fold of each signature using a paper piercer. The process can be a little slow, but it’s worth taking the time to make sure the holes line up perfectly. I created a template and simply laid it over each folded sheet and put my paper piercer through the template and the page beneath at the same time.

Using the same paper hole template, I pierced six holes along the sides of the front and back covers. The holes are a little more than a .25″ from the edge.

With my signatures and covers hole-punched, it was time to stitch. To guide me in the process of sewing a Coptic Stitch, I found a great tutorial on youtube.

It took a few tries, but I eventually got the hang of it! The result is beautiful binding that holds everything together.

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Coptic Stitch Binding

The Content:

Once my book was bound, I could fill the pages with content. First, I created a title page to pay homage to the source material of my black out poetry. I cut apart the title page of the original novel and attached it to a discarded library book pocket. In addition, I added my author credit to a discarded library due date card, along with a symbol associated with my source material. The use of discarded library materials is a nod to the idea of found art and upcycling.

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Upcycled title page

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Inside the pocket

From there, I added the poems. Due to the fragile nature of the poetry pages, I used double stick tape instead of a glue stick. I made sure the tape was very close to the edges so no part of the paper could lift off the card stock when pages are turned.

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Black out poetry affixed to a page

I had so much fun with this project, another poetry journal is already in the works to house the haikus I wrote for the 2014 November PAD Chapbook Challenge.

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Special Note: Three poems from this book have been posted, (See Black Out Poetry) and I will continue to post more. Stay tuned!

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c.b.w. 2015

The Haiku Debate

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As more and more haikus are scribbled into my journal, it’s entirely clear to me that my interest in the form has turned into nothing less than an obsession. Naturally, I set out to learn as much I could, which means I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the subject of haikus and collections of haikus.

Between backtracking to the classics and getting a sense of the modern aesthetic, my understanding of the form has changed significantly. All my life I’d been taught that haiku is essentially a rigid form: three lines with 17 syllables arranged in a 5-7-5 layout.  Imagine my surprise when I realized that this is almost completely wrong!

It’s true Japanese haiku is poetry consisting of 17 beats (technically not syllables), but that beat count applies to the Japanese language which naturally falls into that rhythm. The idea of a syllable count came about when haiku migrated to the English language and it was seen as a excellent way to teach children how to count syllables.

Even more surprising is that the concept of three lines is quite the myth. Most Japanese haiku is written in a single line, which is usually vertical. Once again, the idea of three lines in the 5-7-5 layout evolved from the translation into English. While a misnomer, the format stuck until English language poets began to experiment and break out of the three line division.

At it’s core, haiku is about capturing a single moment or experience. Nature usually serves as the backdrop, but modern poets are even pushing that traditional boundary, by mixing humanity with natural elements. Modern haiku ignores syllable counts and focuses instead on clean, crisp language that hones in a small detail. The resulting poem is often far less than 17 syllables with no set line count.

Polar opposite visions of haiku naturally lead to a debate. On one side, there’s the 17 syllable, 5-7-5, 3 line format and on the other there’s the modernist approach with few restrictions other than maintaining the essence of haiku. As a poet enthralled with the idea of haiku, I find myself stuck in the middle.

The so-called traditional 5-7-5 layout has been around for a long time.  Even though the connection between this format and the original Japanese haiku is shaky at best, it’s a form that everyone knows. It’s part of the poetic psyche and allows just about anyone to be a poet, (how cool is that?).

On this side of the argument, I feel my childhood holding tight to what I’ve been taught. I like the rigidity of the 5-7-5 layout. The finite quality of it forces me to work within certain parameters and choose my words carefully, but it also pushes my creativity to go to places I never would have considered.

Most modern haiku poets have dismissed the 5-7-5 layout as passé, given it’s disconnect to the traditional Japanese form. They certainly have a point as the whole idea of 17 syllables is an invention rather than a hardcore sentiment of tradition. Hence, there’s no point in counting syllables if they are kept to a minimum.

As for line counts, modern haikus are all over the place. Some poets prefer single lines, while others will employ three. There’s no steadfast rule, so words and/or subject matter dictate how lines are constructed. For modernists, line divisions can have meaning that goes beyond form.

I like the fact that modern haiku is sparse and poignant. Like the “traditional” 5-7-5, the challenge of operating with limited syllable and line counts pushes me to be particular about my words and focus on small details. However, the complete lack of a set syllable and line count creates a sense of uncertainty that can be a little daunting. In many ways, it’s that daunting element that reminds me to keep an open mind and embrace the freedom.

The verdict: There’s something beautiful about both. I find myself dabbling in the rigid form of the 5-7-5 haiku, while also wandering into the new waters of modern haiku. Despite the fact that the majority of modern haiku writers discredit the 5-7-5 form, I believe it still has a place on the poetic stage…

Birch bark peels; white curls
summer breeze, fluttering leaves
silver branches sway

Yet, one the same page I’ll happily write two lines with 4 syllables each …

Wind scattered leaves
life’s broken pieces

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Recommended Reading:

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c.b.w. 2014

Book Review: Look Up!

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lookup-ccIn a fast-paced world that often makes us forget our humanity, we need to be reminded that life is more than work and paying the bills. Life is about breathing and soaking in the magic that comes with being alive. Jennifer A. Payne’s book, Look Up! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, offers both an exploration and reminder of how nature can save us from ourselves.

A simple walk through the woods is all it takes. Payne’s meditative journey begins on a wooded path surrounded by trees and with a question, “And how have I missed this before?” The wind through the trees and the crunch of leaves beneath her feet suddenly became the missing pieces she craved.

Look Up! is unique in that it combines quotations from the likes of Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau with spiritual thinkers such as the Dalai Lama and Krishnamurti. In between lines of poetry and philosophical ponderings are Payne’s personal essays that explore her meditative journey to reconnect with nature and ultimately herself. Her candor and wit makes her personal journey relatable and universal to anyone who feels overwhelmed by the pressures of modern life.

Payne’s use of diverse perspectives serves as a reminder that meditation isn’t a one size fits all kind of thing. For some achieving total mental stillness is a possibility, but for others the mind never stops ticking. In one of her personal essays, Payne puts out the idea that a constantly ticking brain isn’t necessarily a bad thing in terms of meditation.

Meditation is all about slowing down and redirecting all of our energy towards something that isn’t a to-do list. If we take the time to slow down and simply be, we might just learn something. Dragonflies and even a mushroom can carry a valuable lesson that is worth seeking and contemplating.

In addition to carefully selected quotations and essays, Look Up! includes beautiful photographs of Payne’s interactions with wildlife. Everything from raindrops on water to slithering snakes to autumn leaves elevates this little book into something very special. It truly invites the reader to take a personal journey. Whether it’s on an actual trail or vicariously through the pages, the meditative path is one worth pursuing.

I read Look Up! in three sittings, but I highly recommend treating it as a daily, weekly, or monthly devotional. It’s divided into months and seasons reminding us all that a journey takes time and patience.

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Click on the image to purchase Look Up! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness

Visit Jennifer A. Payne via her blog: Random Acts of Writing [+art]

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c.b.w. 2014

The Genre Game

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It turns out the hardest part of writing a query isn’t trying to fashion a snapshot synopsis, (although that is definitely not an easy task). The hard part comes in the “logistical” paragraph. Right after the title and word count, agents want to know what genre fits your novel. That’s a toughie for those of us who write something that doesn’t exactly fit into a precise pigeonhole.

The genre section of my query letter is a sentence with a blank space until I figure out what genre best describes my novel. I have a few choices that include sub-genres of YA: fantasy, paranormal, romance, urban fantasy, magical realism or a combination of two or more.

I decided the best place to start my research was at my neighborhood bookstores. The Young Adult section is divided into Fiction, Fantasy, Fantasy & Adventure, Romance, and Paranormal. I looked at various books on each shelf to find anything that had any sort of reference to Greek mythology or re-imagined myth. One bookstore had those books shelved under Fantasy, but another had them shelved under Paranormal. Yet another, had them shelved under Romance. Clearly, there is dissension among the ranks.

Now even more confused than I was at the start, I went online and researched general definitions for fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal and magical realism. These are the four genres I feel have the strongest relationship to my work, but after researching them I’ve discovered the line dividing them is much thinner than I previously thought.

Fantasy: commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as primary plot element, theme or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic and magical creatures are common.

Urban Fantasy: sub-genre of fantasy defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times and contain supernatural elements. However, the stories can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, and the settings may include fictional elements. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city.

Paranormal: encompasses elements of the paranormal, such as ghosts, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, and any sort of magical or otherworldly creatures. This type of fiction often goes beyond fact and logical explanations to speculate about the things that cannot be seen or proven.

Magical Realism: magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment. Magical realism portrays fantastical events in an otherwise realistic tone. It brings fables, folk tales, and myths into contemporary social relevance.

Hmmmmmm. A story about a girl who falls in love with a male muse could easily fit into both fantasy and magical realism. Plus, the fact that the bulk of the story takes place in a modern city gives urban fantasy a point as well. Heck, we can even give YA Romance a point! The only one I think I can safely eliminate is paranormal because it seems a little darker in subject matter. Muses aren’t remotely scary like a vampire or werewolf.

The Muse takes place in the real world for the most part, but also in a fantastical world towards the end. It includes human characters and magical beings. And mythology is re-imagined and ushered into the modern era. I’ve got fantasy on one hand and magical realism in the other. Can it be both??

Why all the fuss about genre? Agents are pretty picky about they want to see in their inbox. If I don’t label my novel correctly, it could end up in the slush pile without a single look.

What’s a writer to do?

I have no idea.

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c.b.w. 2014

Genre Information courtesy of Wikipedia and http://www.wisegeek.com