This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 670,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Friday, July 31, 2009

GumptionFest IV will have a Haiku Death Match

GumptionFest IV's Haiku Death Match, aka GF4HDM

A Haiku Death Match is a competitive poetry duel that is a subgenre of poetry slam. The Haiku Death Match is a prominent feature at the annual National Poetry Slam, replete with full costume for the host, Jim Navé from Taos, N.M. or Daniel Ferri.

At GumptionFest IV, we will attempt to hold a Haiku Death Match as similar to the NPS version as possible.

What is haiku?
Haiku (俳句) is a form of Japanese poetry consisting of 17 syllables in three metrical phrases of 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables.

Japanese haiku typically contain a kigo, or seasonal reference, and a kireji or verbal caesura. In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line, while haiku in English usually appear in three lines, to parallel the three metrical phrases of Japanese haiku.

What is slam haiku?
Slam haiku used in a Haiku Death Match is far simpler: Use of three or fewer lines of 17 syllables. Slam haiku can be anything from a single 17-syllable line or simply 17 words. Two of mine:
Traditional 5-7-5 haiku
Serial Killer Haiku
Funny you should ask
my trunk can fit two Boy Scouts
and a grandmother

American 17-syllable haiku
Grammar Haiku:
Why isn't "phonetic" spelled phonetically?
While you think, let's make out

A standard Haiku Death Match is conducted thus:
The host randomly draws the names of two poets, known as haikusters, from the pool of competitors.
The haikusters adorn headbands of two colors: Red and Not-Red (white).
Red Haikuster and Host bow to each other.
Not-Red Haikuster and Host bow to each other.
Red Haikuster and Not-Red Haikuster bow to each other.
Red Haikuster goes first.
The Red Haikuster reads his or her haiku twice. The audience does not clap or make noise (usually, though, they laugh or vocalize, but, of course, we must pretend that this is completely unacceptable).
The Not-Red Haikuster reads his or her haiku twice. Again, the audience does not clap or make noise.
The host waits for the three judges to make their choice for winner, then signals them to hold aloft their Red or Not-Red flag.
Simple majority (3-0 or 2-1) determines the winner.
The host asks the audience to demonstrate “the sound of one hand clapping,” i.e., silence, then “the sound of two hands clapping,” at which point they can finally applaud. The mock ceremony involving the audience is half the fun.
The winning haikuster then goes first.
Depending on the round, the winner will be best 3 of 5, 4 of 7, best 5 of 9, etc., of a number determined beforehand for each round.
After the duel, Red Haikuster and Not-Red Haikuster bow to each other and shake hands. The next duel begins.
Haiku Death MatchRules for the GumptionFest IV Haiku Death Match:
  • Titles: Haikusters can read their haiku titles before they read the haiku. (This gives the haikusters technically more syllables to put the haiku in context, but the haiku itself must still be only 17 syllables. While this is not “pure” Haiku Death Match rules, it’s much more fun for the audience.

  • Originality: Poets must be the sole authors of the haiku they use in competition. Plagiarized haiku are grounds for disqualification. We all love Matsuo Bashō, but he’s 300 years too dead to compete.

  • On-page or memorized?: Poets can read from the page, book, journal, notepad, etc.

  • Preparation: Poets can have haiku written beforehand or write them in their head while at the mic. As long as the haiku are 17 syllables, we don’t care how, when or from where the haiku originates.

  • Rounds: Will be determined by the number of haikusters who sign up to compete.

  • Quantity of haiku needed: Depends on the number of rounds. 30 haiku will likely be enough for poets who push rounds to the last haiku needed and go all the rounds, but 50 to 100 gives haikusters enough material to be flexible in competition. Most veteran haikusters have several hundred to compete with.

  • Censorship: Adult themes and language are acceptable. There may be children present so you may have to deal with their parents afterward, but that’s your call.

  • Register: E-mail me at or GumptionFest at
What’s the Best Strategy to Win?
  • A winning haikuster is flexible.

  • If your opponent reads a serious or deep haiku, read one that is more serious or more profound, or go on the opposite tack and read something funny.

  • If your opponent reads a funny haiku, read one that is funnier, or go on the opposite tack and read something serious or deep.

  • If your opponent makes fun of you, make fun of yourself even bigger or make fun of them. A good head-to-head haiku can work wonders and often wins a Haiku duel. For instance, my “Damien Flores Haiku,” “Easy way to win: / Damien is 20, Officer, / and he's drunk."

  • If you’re on stage and you get an idea for a haiku, feel free to write it down immediately. That might be the next round’s haiku that wins you the duel.

  • Have a good time. Even if don't get past the first round, it's still a great time for all.
Still Scared of Haiku?
Don't be, they're easy to write. Haiku Death Match haiku are not likely to be remembered centuries from now, so don't stress out. Write short poems that you find entertaining and enjoyable.

Take these examples and see how easy haiku can be. Anonymous haiku:

Haiku are easy
but sometimes they don't make sense ...

she dances lithely
seduction under the moon
I ... hey, a nickel!

My life is Jello
Sitting, waiting in the bowl
Patiently to gel

"Doom" Haiku:
Frag demons for hours
Stare at the screen with red eyes
it's time for class

Cat haiku:
You never feed me.
Perhaps I'll sleep on your face.
That will sure show you.

Cat haiku:
The rule for today
Touch my tail, I shred your hand
New rule tomorrow

Dog haiku:
You must scratch me there!
Yes, above my tail! Behold,
"Elevator butt."

And some of my haiku:

Traditional 5-7-5 haiku
Jedi Haiku
We are Jedi Knights
our words are our lightsabers
our Force is the Word

Mother's Day Haiku
I blacked out last night
no, this isn't my blood but
happy Mother's Day

Nicholas is in the Will; I'm a Footnote Haiku
I thought my mother
loved both her sons equally ...
until I saw the will

Heavy Pause Haiku
Then, years afterward,
I realized the problem was ...
... I hesitated

American 17-syllable haiku
Dirty Old Man Haiku
And old man told me
the way to stay young
is sleep with 18-year-olds

Ella Garrett Haiku
We copy editors judge you,
when you use bad grammar

Crucifixion Haiku (stolen from a joke by Dan Seaman)
Why did Jesus Christ
die on the cross?
Because he forgot the safe word

Bruce Haiku
Fathers should suffer
labor like mothers so they
don't bolt on their sons

Why I Act Like a Child Haiku
The older you get
the younger you feel.
At 40, I'll be fetal

Pudenda Haiku
My hand rests on your cleft:
the moist doorway from where
poems and poets are born

Theory of Relativity Haiku
The illusion of light
traps believers in the past
must move faster

Emigration Haiku
America is taxing my dreams
so I'm moving
to Canada

Arboreal Haiku
A tree falls in the woods
and no one is around.
Termites have no crowd

Insurance Haiku
"Drop your pants
and give me $100."
I hate my HMO.

Call Center Haiku
Work is so boring today.
I'll liven it up
with a homicide

Lisa Haiku
Somehow you can make
the words, "fuck me"
the most romantic phrase I know

Atheist Haiku
You ask why I am an atheist?
Fathers are our models
for God

Punk Rock Chick Haiku
Punk band patches
tats, pink hair, pierced attitude ...
I want her to break me

Nearsidedness Haiku
I should have seen
fucking you was dumb;
my testicles need spectacles

Thanksgiving Haiku
Before we start, I
want to say I hate you all.
Pass the salt, aunt Beth

Was it True Love Haiku
Loving you was
endless disappointment
with moments of denial

Head to Head Haikus
Damien Flores Haiku #1
Damien is cocky
about his haiku
but he still can't buy beer

Why it's Hard to Kill Aaron Johnson With My Car Haiku
God damn lefties!
Aaron Johnson hitchhikes
facing oncoming traffic

1 comment:

Shae Sveniker said...

ha ha i like that last one about aaron. btw not to be a buzz kill, but just be glad i found you before danny solis did, as there is a major difference between haiku and senryu, and that guy is *adamant* about it.