▲ Jack Quinn recites his haiku while host Jessie Dishaw looks on. Photo by Britt Neufer
And then there was one. Sean Ferguson is officially the ‘kuest’ in Jeju. The island played host to its first “Haiku Death Battle” this month, and of 16 participants, Ferguson whipped out the wittiest 17-syllable phrases of the lot according to a three-person panel of judges. The purpose of the competition, though, is more meaningful than winning or losing according to Stephen Smith, event creator and competitor.
“A poetry event is a great way to build community. Really, getting all sorts of people together from different places and backgrounds to share their thoughts and reflections on life, giving people a platform from which to speak and be heard, to share and reflect, it’s an amazing thing ...” said Smith.
This is the fourth event Smith has attended and the third he helped to organize. “The idea of the ‘Haiku Death Battle’ specifically, was something I came across at The U.S. National Poetry Slam held in Madison, Wisconsin a few years back. I brought the idea of doing a haiku battle to Jessie Dishaw at one of her open mics back at the end of the summer. We both got really excited about organizing it I think for a number of reasons.”
Jessie Dishaw is well known on the island for helping organize fundraisers with The Furey Foundation. Once a month you can find Jessie hosting an open mic at The Haebyon Concert Hall, also the location of the haiku battle. Here foreigners from around the island are given a portal to express their creativity. Haiku can be read as well. However, these events are non competitive. The Haiku Death Battle asked each contender to prepare 20 haiku. For those unfamiliar with the structure of a haiku, it is three lines. The first line is five syllables, the second is seven syllables, and the third is also five syllables. If a poet were to make it to the final round he or she would more than likely have read all 20 poems.
Dishaw said she was initially a bit worried about whether or not the Jeju crowd could calmly listen to hours of poetry and remain respectful. She was pleasantly surprised.
“I was confident that the writers involved would do an amazing job … But they still managed to far exceed my expectations, and they made the show a hilariously good time. I feel really blessed to live in a place where an event that features hours of poetry can pack a bar full of people. Jeju has a really amazing wealth of talent and culture, and I can’t wait to put together another Haiku Death Battle in the late summer or early fall.”
Sean Ferguson, the winner of Jeju’s Haiku debut competition, said this was also his first battle.
“I was terribly nervous and I was confident that I was going to lose. I wasn’t sure about the level of competition I was going to face, and it exceeded my expectations. The other competitors were fierce,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson said he got a few boos but felt that in general his poems were well received.
“I separated my poems into two different categories: funny and serious; however, there wasn’t any overarching theme.”
Ferguson wore all black, but his face was fully animated during his delivery. He and Stephen Smith battled their verbiage to the final round.
Smith said he noticed several themes throughout the evening.
“There was everything from the preposterously crude and offensive to the most sensitive and delicate. There were reflections on life and teaching in Jeju, on global pop culture, politics, nature, sex, love, and even haiku about poetry itself.”
Smith said he enjoys seeing the reactions his poems elicit from the audience.
“Hearing the laughter from the more comical statements, but especially that sound that you can sometimes hear after you’ve read something you wanted to touch people at a different level ... a sigh, a gasp, a grunt ... It’s very satisfying to sense that someone really felt it.”
A book from the battle will be published, with each poet allowed two pages to showcase their eight best haiku. The book will be sold at the Open Mic on March 26, and all proceeds will go to the Ugidongmul Animal Shelter in Ara-dong. The Haiku Death Battle already raised 307,000 won for the shelter.
Smith and Dishaw said plans for another battle are in the works. Smith said there are plenty of sports-related events on the island to feed the competitive impulse, but few are offered in the arts arena.
“Haiku is just the perfect poetry format I think. Only 17 syllables. You really have to make every word count. And haiku is something that’s easily digestible for an audience and also not so intimidating to someone who’s never performed poetry before. Somebody reads a poignant haiku, and the listener thinks, yeah, I could do that too.”
I prefer solace over the smoke soot bull**** of poor company
Long distance loving my fingers type softly like breeze on nape of neck
camera held tight maybe someday all he’ll have are his memories
thousand clapping hands the ocean is always there to applaud your poems -Stephen Smith
It’s your birthday? Eat some mother-f*****’ cake before I eat it.
Let it resonate as the music fills your bones and plays your heart strings.
Dearest Valentine: My heart’s magnetic field bursts joy, as you walk by. -Brady Paron
Friends’ smiles, father’s voice Miles begin to disappear Sunday morning Skype -Angela Jacobus
a famous girls group said confidently shut up boy you dont know me -Josh Fisher
A Revolution What once was, will never more For Egypt is free -Sean Ferguson
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