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“2015 Haiku Year-in-Review”

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Editor’s Note: On Electricity and the Contrapuntal Poem

Waves, currents, the movement of time and actions. 2015 was charged with many moments that felt big. Here, those currents surge up into poems, assert their energy, spark memory.

Looking at the submissions for this year’s haiku, the conversation among the stories and issues—from natural disasters to climate change talks to the refugee crisis to Black Lives Matter and broader questions of social justice and responsibility—began to seem more and more connected.

What would happen if these concise, compressed haiku responses spoke to one another—creating a still compressed but also polyvocal conversation about 2015? We asked the poets if they would mind our presenting their haiku as a singular poem to be read either across or down. The result came together so naturally it almost feels as if the original authors intended it.

—Elizabeth Bradfield & Alexandra Teague

Meet the Poets

A group that spans the continent, a group that loves poetry and works as trail builders, naturalists, and advocates. We asked them to tell us about themselves, and to also look back on 2015 and share their most memorable moment, be it personal or public.

BETH FELDMAN BRANDT (Haiku: Charleston AME Church shootings & Syrian refugee crisis): Beth Feldman Brandt writes a haiku every day as her poetry vitamins. She is a frequent collaborator with other artists including for her books Sage and Solace, her song cycle “Wind Rose” and her upcoming evening length show, RetroLove. You can read more poems of varying syllables at brandtwords.com.

2015 Memory: My Aunt Pat was my haiku buddy. She was a writer, a mountain climber, and a confidante. She loved following hiking trails wherever they would lead and seeing who she might meet along the way. Pat was a deep soul who taught me about patience, mindfulness, and kindness. Always kindness. And how much meaning you can make from 17 syllables. 102 haiku for Pat in 2015.

CHRISTINE BYL (Haiku: Emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement): Christine Byl is the author of Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods. Her prose has appeared in Glimmer Train, Crazyhorse & The Sun, among others. Byl lives in Alaska on a few acres of tundra north of Denali National Park, where she owns and operates a small trail design and construction business.

2015 Memory: A collective memory informs this haiku: my year-long reading of Black American poets and writers during a time of both rising racist violence and rising resistance. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen was particularly profound. Interviews, performances, and pieces by Etheridge Knight, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Danez Smith, Audre Lorde, and important conversations with my friends and family members of color, helped me understand the effects of institutionalized racism in a more personal way than I ever have before.

ERIN COUGHLIN HOLLOWELL (Haiku: Protests in response to Freddie Gray’s death): Erin Hollowell is a poet and writer who lives at the end of the road in Homer, Alaska. She was the Rona Jaffe Scholarship winner in poetry for the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference in 2010. Currently, she is the executive director of 49 Writers, a statewide writing organization, and on the faculty of the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference. Her work has most recently been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Weber Studies, Terrain: A Journal of the Built and Natural Environment, and in Prairie Schooner. Pause, Traveler released by Boreal Books in 2013, is her first book-length collection.

2015 Memory: 2014 was a tough year for me. I lost two friends, my seventeen-year-old dog, and both of my parents. All of that grief made me feel skinned before the sorrow in the world in 2015. Each new horror, police brutality, racially motivated killing, terrorist attack, natural disaster, I no longer saw from the outside, but felt the very real grief of the individuals involved.

PEPPER TRAIL (Haiku: Climate change talks in Paris): Pepper Trail’s poetry has appeared in Atlanta Review, Rattle, Spillway, Borderlands, Kyoto Journal, and many other publications, and has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net awards. His recent collection, Cascade-Siskiyou, is a finalist for the 2016 Oregon Book Award in Poetry. He lives in Ashland, Oregon.

2015 Memory: In November I was fortunate enough to visit Easter Island and stand before the great stone heads, the moai. They gaze over a treeless island, stripped of its once-great palm forest. Their presence speaks undeniably of power—a power their makers were willing to destroy the island to maintain. As I stood in the wind-whipped grass, how could I not reflect on our own limited world, ever more in the grasp of a heedless, powerful few?

BRIAN ORTH (Haiku: Nepal earthquake): Brian Orth holds an MFA from Wichita State University. His poems have appeared in Bayou, Cutthroat, The Midwest Quarterly, and elsewhere. Recently, his piece “The Grid” was selected as a finalist for the 2015 Artlines Ekphrastic Anthology. He resides in Wichita, Kansas and is at work on completing his first full-length book Scarecrow Country.

2015 Memory: In the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake, I was struck by how indifferent we as Americans can be toward the tragedies that happen outside our own borders. This haiku was not only a way of honoring a fellow Wichita native who lost his life during one of the relief missions, but also a portrayal of how the human heart has grown numb and silent in a world inundated with suffering.

A Little Background, if You’re Curious…

In the United States, from about 1720 to the early 1900s, newspaper carriers would present their subscribers with a poem on New Year’s Day. These broadsides (ahem) were called Carriers’ Addresses. Illustrated with engravings, they would chronicle the year’s events. See images and information at Brown University’s special collection.

The origins of haiku have a tie to the annual through their traditional seasonality. A mention of the moment is a critical element to classic haiku. For those unfamiliar with Haiku, here’s a link to a site that discusses traditional formats.

Broadsided Press’s commitment to street-worthy art and writing leads us to combine these forms into a modern incarnation that borrows a bit, too, from the graphic spirit of the comic book.

2015 Guidelines (if you want to know how it all happened)

We’re doing things a little differently than in years past, so pay attention:

1) Think about this past year and the events that have dominated a given season.

2) Write a haiku that captures the essence of one of those moments, illuminating such an event. Below are some suggestions to get you thinking.

  • Leonard Nimoy dies (Feb. 27)
  • Freddie Gray’s death/Baltimore protests (April/May)
  • Nepal earthquakes (April 25 and May 12)
  • Ireland becomes the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in a national referendum (May 22)
  • Shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina (June 17)
  • South Carolina removes Confederate flag from statehouse (July 10)
  • New Horizons spacecraft flyby of Pluto (July 14)
  • Cuba and the United States reestablish full diplomatic relations (July 20)
  • Automaker Volkswagen is alleged to have been involved in worldwide rigging of diesel emissions tests (Sept. 19)
  • A stampede during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, kills at least 2,200 people (Sept. 24)
  • Paris & Beruit terrorist attacks (Nov. 12)
  • Climate change talks in Paris (Nov.-Dec.)

Your haiku should embrace the tradition of the form and be evocative, not didactic. Surprise us!

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