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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

GumptionFest IX hosts the sixth annual Haiku Death Match in Sedona

GumptionFest IX's Haiku Death Match, aka GF9HDM

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.

At GumptionFest IX, we will hold the Sixth Annual Haiku Death Match. It takes place on Saturday, Sept. 20 from 4 to 5 p.m. at Posse Grounds Park.

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.

Rules for the GumptionFest VII 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.

The Robert Spiess Memorial 2012 Haiku Awards

nautical chart
I touch the depth
of my mother’s ashes
— Scott Mason, First Prize

slave quarters ...
the shapes of their shadows
in this dust
— Duro Jaiye, Second Prize

shades of blue ...
the deer’s remaining eye
cradled by bone
— Susan Constable, Third Prize

winter dusk
my grief released
from the crow’s throat
— Margaret Chula, Honorable Mention

formation of geese —
a log opens
to the woodsman’s maul
— Michele L. Harvey, Honorable Mention

I seem to be
an intermittent shadow . . .
summer clouds
— Kirsty Karkow, Honorable Mention

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:
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."

Zombie Haiku:
Brains brains brains brains brains
Brains brains brains brains brain brains brains
Brains brains, shotgun, BAM!

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Bob Ross History" by Duncan Shields

Duncan Shields poem about Bob Ross teaching the history of North America was my favorite from the 2014 National Poetry Slam in Oakland, Calif. Shields performed the poem at the Legends Showcase. This is an earlier performance from April 5, 2014 at Astorino's, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.