NEW YORK – More than 70 haiku in both English and Japanese written by students of all ages are on display at the United Nations, marking a first for an annual haiku contest sponsored by a group of English and Japanese teachers for the last nine years.
“One may describe feelings directly or suggest them indirectly through the depiction of nature,” Japanese Ambassador to the U.N. Kenzo Oshima said about haiku in a message to the winners. “Perhaps this is why the art of haiku has become so popular among non-Japanese speakers.”
The Japanese mission to the U.N. became a cosponsor of the contest last year, along with the Northeast Council of Teachers of Japanese and the English and Japanese departments of the U.N. International school.
Sixteen students from elementary and secondary schools were chosen as first- to third-prize winners, while the rest of the haiku displayed at the U.N. won honorable mention out of more than 500 entries submitted by U.S. East Coast schools between last November and April.
Proud parents and relatives of the young haiku writers gathered on the first floor of the U.N. to hear the winners read their poems in both English and Japanese.
Contest judges John Stevenson and Hiroaki Sato were on hand to provide commentary after the readings.
Baraa Elhariry, 15, whose first foray into writing haiku garnered him both second and third place in the contest, said his success was “unexpected” since he wrote his first haiku as part of an assignment.
Working within the 17-syllable limit did not allow him to capture complex ideas, he said, but the ninth-grader at Midwood High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., added it was not hard to write more than five haiku to submit to his teacher.
His second-place entry describes the feeling of a fall moment:
Blow across the blades of
I turn my head
Contest judge Stevenson said: “The poet was present and sensed something. The way to appreciate such a poem is to put yourself in the same place and see what you notice. What turns your head?”
Meanwhile, Elhariry’s third-place entry captured a feeling of freedom as one leaves class:
The bell rings
I rush down the stairs
The breeze fills my coat
Stevenson said: “the breeze is something that the poet identifies with for one free moment of sensation. The breeze ‘wears’ the coat.”
“Hopefully I will write more haiku,” said Elhariry, an avid reader. “I want to be a writer of novels, children’s books, maybe a little nonfiction.”
Stevenson, editor of an English haiku journal, said he looked for students who responded in interesting ways to the assignments given by their teachers, and “celebrated their resilience” in working within their given themes.
He noted that it is widely accepted that the common English haiku format of three lines of 5-7-5 syllables each is too long, because English syllables can be much longer than the uniform sounds in Japanese. But no one can agree on a specific form or length.
“There are no perfect English-language haiku, though there is an old saying that practice makes perfect. I prefer a variation of this that I’ve heard in recent years: practice makes progress,” the judge told students in a message.
Judging the contest for the first time, Stevenson said it was touching to see parents and students respond to seeing their entries on display. “I’d love to do it again,” he said.
Japanese-language winners read their poems first in Japanese, while Sato, a leading English translator of haiku, jokingly said he would have the young poets, all of whom were ably bilingual, provide their own translations.
The haiku will be on display at the U.N. through June 15.