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January 14, 2011 > Last call by the county's first Poet Laureate

Last call by the county's first Poet Laureate

Residents encouraged to write "Haiku-ish" poems during January

Submitted By Gwendolyn Mitchell and Lingxia Meng

Santa Clara County's Poet Laureate Nils Peterson invites county residents to engage in poetry by writing "haiku-ish" poems about what they observe daily in the county during the month of January. The Poet Laureate will select the best poems and post them online. This will be the last call from the County's first Poet Laureate who was appointed in March 2009 and will finish his term in March 2011.

"In effect, we're creating a new form, borrowing from Haiku," said Peterson. "The haiku has certain formal requirements for line length. I'm asking area residents for 'haiku-ish' poems, a relaxed, casual approach to haiku."

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, most commonly consisting of 17 syllables, in three phrases of five, seven and five syllables respectively. (The new Santa Clara county form will omit the specification of the number of syllables per line.) Haiku is written in meaningful and compact form and language to "paint" an image in the reader's mind. Haiku does not rhyme.

In Japanese, haikus are traditionally printed in a single vertical line and tend to take aspects of the natural world as the subject matter, while haikus in English often appear in three lines and deal with nature, feelings and experiences.

Previously called hokku, haiku was given its current name by the Japanese writer Masaoka Shiki at the end of the 19th century.

The Poet Laureate's requirements for the "haiku-ish" poems include: three lines; up to 17 syllables; topics be related to Santa Clara County.

Peterson offers the following examples of relaxed "haiku-ish" poems, with or without titles:

"At the Coffee Shop"
muted trumpet playing
molto espressivo
over dark coffee

"A Modern Church"
No angels, no saints.
The stained glass - abstract,
yet light passes through, blesses.

"December, Santa Clara County"
A narcissus blooms.

Examples without titles:

on the reservoir
immense water beetles.
No, a racing of shells.

The boy,
slightly smaller than his backpack
manfully sets off for school.

bed. dark morning. rain.
heater comes on. world waits.
blankets whisper, not now.

Poets may use different line breaks to yield different effect:

dark morning. rain. heater comes on. world waits. blankets whisper,
not now.

"Our esteemed inaugural Poet Laureate has created a number of great opportunities to engage the community in both enjoying poetry and creating a poetic identity for Santa Clara County," said Supervisor Liz Kniss, District 5, champion of the County's Poet Laureate program. "This casual haiku project will contribute to the body of poetry available for all of us to enjoy."

Peterson said traditional haiku fit the requirements and are welcome but experiments are welcome, too.

To participate, submit no more than three poems for consideration by February 7, 2011 to

In March, the Poet Laureate will post 2-3 poems a day on his laureate website at: Those whose poems are selected will be acknowledged at an event in March.

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