Ukiah Festival Celebrates Haiku Poetry.
Perhaps it was coincidence, or perhaps it was the fact that the palindrome for the word, “Ukiah” is “Haiku.” Regardless of the origin, the 17th Annual Ukiah Haiku Festival takes place on the last Sunday in April 2019.
At first blush, Ukiah may not seem like a gathering place for poets. Yet Mendocino County’s largest city houses so many bards that a poet laureate has been recognized for well over a decade. Armand Brint was Ukiah’s first. About 16 years ago, he collaborated with the county library, educators and community members to create Ukiah’s first Haiku Festival.
“We did a test run and were very surprised at the interest. We received 200 entries – local residents, students, and adults” Brint explains. “I remember thinking, “How can we not do this? We have that Ukiah palindrome,” smiles Sherrie Smith-Ferri, retired director of the Grace Hudson Museum and member of the Ukiah Poet Laureate committee.
The festival is held in conjunction with National Poetry Month and promotes Haiku as an accessible form of poetry for young people while celebrating the internationally recognized art form. The City of Ukiah generously allows the use of its facilities for the event.
Harumi Blyth was a nearby resident and the daughter of distinguished poet and scholar of Haiku and Zen Buddhism, Reginald Horace Blyth. Through Harumi, the committee met Jane Reichhold, an internationally renowned author and Haiku poet. Prior to her death in 2016, Reichhold had been an honored guest of the Empress of Japan at the Palace of Tokyo’s Imperial New Year’s Poetry Party. She was the recipient of countless national and international awards. Better yet: Reichhold lived in southern Mendocino County and was delighted to assist the Ukiah Haiku Festival committee.
“Jane mentored us, encouraged us and conducted workshops – mostly for teachers. She was very involved with our committee, and educated us in terms of where Haiku was going internationally,” notes Smith-Ferri.
“Jane generously offered to judge an international category open to people from all over the world. Winning a contest judged by Jane was a very prestigious honor. Last year, we received over 500 entries in her category,” she continues. “Armand won’t mention it, but he has received the International Prize, which is blind-judged,” smiles educator and long-time committee member Cathy Monroe.
“Before we connected with Jane, we had a passing acquaintance with Haiku. In the beginning, judges counted the syllables. But Jane explained that in the Japanese language, there are no syllables. There are sound units,” explains Brint.
The “5-7-5” English syllable format used for Haiku is a rough approximation of the Japanese form. “Jane felt a better correspondence was three lines: short, long, short. So that’s how we judge,” says Smith-Ferri.
The expression of seasonal themes and moments in nature comprise classical Haiku. “We’re more flexible. We’ll receive entries addressing contemporary themes and issues,” notes Brint.
“Bill Churchill is one of our poet laureates. Bill is bilingual, and he’s developed a Spanish Haiku category,” Brint continues.
una montana se ha derretido
en la niebla
above the trees
a mountain has melted away
in the fog
-Karina Orozco, 1st place,
Spanish Language under 18
The festival introduces children to poetry and what Monroe calls “thinking in Haiku.” “It’s definitely more accessible than writing a sonnet. It’s a very concrete process that young kids understand. Haiku encourages concrete, imaginative, spontaneous use of language. It plays into other academics. Haiku connects kids to nature and themselves. It’s a snapshot of their lives. I’ve used Haiku as almost a diary,” Monroe explains.
The event generates many entries from private and charter schools, and the committee wishes more public institutions would participate. “We make a big deal of the kids. It’s about the children – the enthusiastic audience, the self-esteem boost for the winners. And it’s not unusual for a children’s Haiku to be the best in the entire contest,” notes Brint.
“We make sure at least two sets of eyes judge every Haiku. We create ‘no,’ ‘maybe’ and ‘yes’ piles. We winnow each ‘yes’ pile down to the Top 10 and then negotiate. It’s not completely scientific,” Smith-Ferri smiles.
“It should be non-scientific. Haiku speaks to something interior,” Monroe agrees.
Following Reichhold’s death, esteemed poet Michael Dylan Welch now oversees and selects the winner of the Jane Reichhold International Prize. A prolific poet, professor, and author whose work has been published in over two dozen languages and hundreds of journals and anthologies, Michael publishes his comments on the winning Haiku on his blog.
“With three little lines, you can say a lot,” smiles Monroe.
The 17th Annual Ukiah Haiku Festival takes place Sunday, April 28th. For submission guidelines and more information about the festival visit online at: www.ukiahaiku.org