Haiku Death Match (NuKu) Retrospective

Well, I didn’t even advance past my bracket (best of five poems), but I did manage to hang in there by besting my very skilled competitor twice. But in the end, she beat me soundly. I knew it was going to be a rough road because the poet in question is very good and experienced. To say I wasn’t intimidated would be a lie. I’d seen her work the previous two years and I knew I was in for a tough challenge. But, I admit, it was easier going head-to-head with her than the two kids–yes, literally, kids–who were also in the competition (which made me rethink my sexy poems; however, I slowly realized that children of poets are exposed to far more indecent language and corrupted thoughts than I could expose them to that night).

The kids were “stand-ins” for two poets who didn’t show up. The little girl was so damned cute, like a young Drew Berrymore with her blonde, curly hair, pinched cheeks, and small, giggly voice. When she laid down a ‘ku that was a sales pitch for buying girl scout cookies, I was especially glad she was not my opponent. What judge in their right mind is going to take down a little girl scout? I knew that I would suffer shame and embarrassment if I had to tell people that some little seven or eight year old girl beat me in a poetry contest. Yes, it was much better to have lost against a fully adult poet with mad skill. Ultimately, much less humiliating.

I’m glad I stood up and competed, even though I didn’t get very far. Yeah, it was admittedly disappointing. I had to talk myself through feelings of failure, remind myself that this was not final judgment on my skills as a writer. Poetry is subjective and it really depends on delivery and the mood of the judges. There’s a lot of pressure in the moment to find the right poem to present and I’m sure I had some failing in my strategy on some level. But that really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that I did get up and do it. And, also, the fact that I would definitely do it again. So the experience did not drive me away from public performance or presenting my poetry (or writing). In fact, it invigorated me. It challenged me. It gave me something to strive for next year. Maybe, just maybe, I can get to the second round. If not next year, maybe the year after that? I have some things to think about.

After losing so quickly, and having over 30 poems, I decided to sign up for open mike so that I could present some of the poems that didn’t get heard. I decided to present the five poems I call Requiem Haiku for 9 Years which I wrote in memory of Mike last year on the “anniversary” of his death. That seemed to have been received nicely. My only wish that I had been a little smoother in my delivery; for some odd reason, I got more nervous during the open mike than I felt during the competition itself. I don’t know what happened there. Perhaps I was a little thrown off my game (verklempt?) by Joanna’s highly complimentary introduction to me before I got up. (Not that I didn’t need that pumping up, Joanna; thanks so much for the kind words.)

I ended my open mike set with my favorite poem of the year–the much lighter “Cycling Freak.” That one seemed to go over well, too, and I think I recovered myself enough to at least deliver it with some passion. Every once in awhile, I’m truly inspired without pressure to write a really great poem and I think that is one of them. Which is interesting because I also really like “Leaves” which I performed at open mike last year along with “Black Beauty” (mentioned in the previous blog entry)–both of which were inspired by cycling. I truly do find cycling meditative; quite often my best writing is composed while riding. (Remembering it to write it down is often the hard part.)

So once again begins a year of writing haiku. I don’t just do it to have something at NuKu… I honestly enjoy writing haiku. I think it’s fantastic to have had so many to choose from should I have had the chance to use them in subsequent rounds. I think I could grow to enjoy performing them. It’s just another way to put my writing out there. Despite not getting beyond my bracket, I actually do feel more empowered about my writing. I could see reactions, I got feedback; it was really, really fun. Somehow getting beaten was still enough of an ego boost that I feel inspired to keep trying.

This year, as I listened to the other people perform in their brackets, I actually thought about how people used the 5-7-5 syllable limitation and I started to think of some knew approaches to the way I come up with mine. I can already see how being around other writers can help change aspects of your own writing. Which is why I’m starting to think about joining a writing group or something. I think it would be great to have a goal to work with people and to get feedback on my stuff while giving others feedback on their writing. I remember that my favorite thing about writing when I was a teenager was that I had a good friend, Jennifer, who also wrote. We used to call each other on the phone and read to each other what we’d written that day. It was really fun and exciting because I would want to share what I’d done with the story and hear her reaction right away; likewise, I would listen raptly to her story because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. We would leave each other with cliff-hangers because neither of us had yet written the whole story. We even critiqued each other’s work. It was validation to both of us that we were on the right track with our stories, that they were interesting. It also kept us in the routine of writing because we would remind each other–like work-out buddies–to work on our stories. In fact, we used to write during study hall and classes we found boring, and then pass each other our next sections in the hall between classes. (I once got a section from my “novel” taken away during German class because my teacher thought I was writing notes to friends. Ha! If only I were just a regular teenager like that.)

So I either need to find a friend like that again, or I need to find a group of writers with whom I can share a two-way writing relationship such as this. I am realizing I need little goals to force me to get moving. I think once I get into a routine, this will not be a problem. I also love writing when I get my mind involved in it. Every writer will tell you that it’s still a chore to start and a chore to keep going, even when you love it. But accomplishing writing is about making it routine, doing it even when you don’t want to do it. (This, by the way, was the original mission of my blog, but I’ve fallen short of it recently.)

Anyway, overall, it was really a great time at NuKu. I must mention, also, that Joanna is really a natural MC. She has this amazing ability to entertain and charm (yes, charm) the audience with her sense of humor and her easy laughter. She thinks incredibly fast on her feet and is able to recover quickly from any surprise that occurs without hesitation. I know that public speaking is not a natural talent–that everyone’s scared and nervous at some point–but the real trick is making it look like it’s easy and Joanna definitely does that. I’m impressed and, quite frankly, envious of her skills as a public speaker. I  hope one day I can look as at ease as she does in front of a microphone.

I was also impressed by Diane’s (another college friend) performance during open mike. She presented one haiku and a really great (“regular”) poem about how she and her husband met each other. Even though I had the advantage of knowing the back story of their meeting, the poem really held its own to an audience of strangers and it seemed to be really well received. Part of the reason, I think, is that Diane is also one of those people who can speak in front of an audience with an air of confidence, even though I know that she really is as nervous as I am. But that doesn’t matter–delivery is all that matters. She did an awesome job and it impressed the heck out of me. I wasn’t surprised, granted; I’ve seen her perform her own work before. Still, I find myself re-impressed every time I see her boldly shine in front an audience.

I’ll end this entry with the poems I used during my one and only round during the Haiku Death Match, minus the last one since it was the most derogatory and may offend a few readers of my blog. I really can’t seem to remember which poems won the round, though. My mind went kind of blank as I was focused on the task of deciding which poems to use. I think I’ll have to go to the tape (they video recorded us) to figure out which two won.

Fear (02/18/2010)
My words reek of fear
I struggle to give them birth
Stillborn on my lips.

I think “Fear” did not win, though I was encouraged when I heard several mumbles of “true-ku!” from the audience.

Tenacity (01/19/2011)

I am grit and steel,
Barred teeth, dried tears, smiling pain;
Storm’s fury in drought.

I know “Tenacity” did not win. I think it was a bad choice to throw this one down because I was never completely happy with it and I struggled for three days with the last line. It was everything from the simple “You cannot break me” and “Angry resilience” to the need for a metaphor that was poorly executed: “Thunder crack with snow,” “Thunder in the winter,” “A mad gale in drought,” and “Brute force in fury.” I’m pretty sure it’s an example of over-thinking an idea. I’m still not happy with it.

Former Alaskan Governor (03/02/2010)
I sincerely wish
Sarah Palin would vanish
Poof! Gone forever…

Did “Former Alaskan Governor” win?? I remember the audience groaning or something, which I took as negative feedback and then was afraid to use my “Tea Party” one that I had on the back-burner.

Satisfaction (01/08/2011)
Sometimes all you need
Two fingers, fantasies, and
Two minutes alone.

“Satisfaction” is the only one I remember as having won. Am I right? Okay, not even sure about this one…

The final one was cruder than “Satisfaction.” It didn’t win anyway and it was probably a bad choice because my opponent threw down a really crude one that was similar and she did a better job. I should have went with one of my pretty ones, like “Winter,” (see previous blog entry) or another political one to stand out from hers. (And also used one I would feel comfortable showing online.) Oh well. Such is life.


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