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.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

GumptionFest V will hold a Haiku Death Match on Sunday, Sept. 12

GumptionFest V will hold a Haiku Death Match on Sunday, Sept. 12

When GumptionFest, Sedona's annual grassroots arts festival returns for its fifth year, one of the poetic elements for the festival will be a Haiku Death Match, returning again from last year.

The festival organizers need Haiku Death Match competitors, or “haikusters” to start writing now and have roughly 20-30 haiku each by the time of GumptionFest, Saturday Sunday, Sept. 11 to 12.

There will be a cash prize for the winning Haikusters.

A descendant and subgenre of poetry slam, a Haiku Death Match is a competitive head-to-head poetry duel. The Haiku Death Match has been a prominent sideshow feature at the annual National Poetry Slam since in the mid 1990s.

GumptionFest V will hold a Haiku Death Match as similar to the NPS version as possible. Kimonos, katanas, nunchaku and sumo diapers may be included.

The Haiku Death Match debuted at the 2009 GumptionFest and was featured in a documentary on the festival shot by director and producer Gregg Ensminger.

Haiku is a traditional form of Japanese poetry consisting of 17 syllables in three metrical phrases of five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables. Haiku in English usually appear in three lines, to parallel the three metrical phrases of Japanese haiku. Slam haiku used in a Haiku Death Match is far simpler — just 17 syllables.

Slam haiku can be anything from a single 17-syllable line or simply 17 words, such as “Haiku are easy / but sometimes they don't make sense ... / refrigerator,” “Why isn't "phonetic" spelled phonetically? / While you think, let's make out” “America is taxing my dreams / so I'm moving / to Canada.”

The Haiku Death Match ceremony is as much part of the fun as the bout itself. The host randomly draws the names of two poets from the pool of competitors. The haikusters adorn a red or white headbands and bow to each other, the host and the three randomly selected judges.

The red haikuster goes first, and reads his or her haiku twice. The audience does not clap or make noise, and then the white haikuster reads his or her haiku twice.

The host waits for the three judges to make their choice for winner, and then signals them to hold aloft their red or white flag. Simple majority determines the winner. The host asks the audience to demonstrate “the sound of one hand clapping,” then “the sound of two hands clapping,” at which point they can finally applaud. The winning haikuster then goes first.
Depending on the round, the winner will be best five, seven or nine haiku.

GumptionFest’s Haiku Death Match rules:

Haikusters can read their haiku’s titles before they read the haiku. This technically gives the haikusters more syllables to put the haiku in context, but the haiku itself must still be only 17 syllables.

Poets must be the sole authors of the haiku they use in competition. Poets can read from the page, book, journal, notepad, etc. Poets can have haiku written beforehand or write them in their head while at the microphone. 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. Thirty haiku will likely be enough for poets to compete in all the rounds. More haiku is always better.

Be flexible and include a mixture of serious and funny haiku. Adult themes and language are acceptable.

The Haiku Death Match will take place at GumptionFest V in the early evening on Sunday, Sept. 12.

For Haiku Death Match tips and haiku examples, visit

To register or for more information, e-mail host Haiku Death Match host Christopher Fox Graham at foxthepoet@yahoo.

For more information about GumptionFest IV, e-mail to

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