I recently read a story by Mike Singleton – Mikeydred where he expressed his displeasure with the frequent Haiku Challenges on Vocal.
In the story, he articulated that what many of us were submitting weren’t even authentic haikus, that even so the writing and judging rules had been broken in some, and that writers on Vocal submitting countless entries in a challenge didn’t seem ideal to him.
I also read the comment section of the post and saw many writers agreeing with his sentiments and adding theirs to the conversation.
Some including myself even though saw the points being put across and respected the opinions there, did not fully agree with some of the conclusions and recommendations put forth.
I do agree that the judges on Vocal have given us Haiku Challenges a few times in a row now which many could see as repetitive if not unchallenging at this point.
I do agree that many writers including myself have submitted countless entries each time and I’m laughing too now because I see how this could look spammy from the outside looking in.
I do agree too that a challenge of another poetry format would be well received by writers and would be good for a change.
But I am not against frequent Haiku Challenges on Vocal and the countless entries submitted by individual writers.
Hear me out.
The High-Ku was my first attempt ever at a haiku. I had read them before particularly by writers on Medium and I found them fascinating. Not enough to be inspired to try to come up with one myself, but enough to read about them and what they were all about.
The High-Ku challenge on Vocal was the nudge I needed to try creating one it seems.
And I did. Countless of them! I enjoyed writing them, and I felt they were good. I even got some encouraging comments on them.
Of course, none of them won the challenge. A decision I agreed with after reading the winning pieces. Even though art is subject to interpretation, just like the analogy of the glass being half full and it being half empty, different audiences may disagree on which art piece is the best based on their individual idiosyncrasies.
The winning haiku pieces so far seem to have answered the question better than I did. The writers created pieces that were thought-provoking. They left you feeling something. Reading them made it clear that my haiku writing needed work.
But that did not stop me from enjoying mine, the hundreds of other entries that I read, the winning pieces, and the whole writing process in general.
I enjoyed the winning pieces each time so much and was even more intrigued by them that I found myself studying them to understand what made them so good.
I particularly loved Cathy Holmes’s winning piece on the Blue Haiku Challenge. The imagery of the blue sky being a drape of the heavens. It also has twinkling stars even though blue skies usually don’t. Was the sky blue at night? I was left wondering. It was a winning piece for sure.
From a person who had never attempted a haiku to a person who has written and submitted dozens, I would say that so far, I am much better at reading, understanding, and creating haiku than I was when I first read them a few years ago. I still need to work on it, but I can honestly say that writing and submitting the many haikus to the Vocal challenges so far has been key in this.
Just like every skill, you horn your writing through practice. And writing many haikus has been helpful to me in that. I feel that my haikus have gotten better than my very first attempt. Here are some that I recently submitted for Time Capsule Haiku Challenge.
Enjoy the sunsets,
joyful trips to the stylist,
who dyes your hair grey.
The canvas you see,
was done by the artist who,
never used a brush.
Why do we write?
Core to why we writers write is to have others read our work, which we all agree is horned through practice and practice. Even though writing for ourselves can be fulfilling, having others read our work is validating. We also feel disappointed when our work goes unread. We want to be heard through our words.
When I see a new challenge on Vocal, I sometimes get a few ideas about stories or poems. I do not work on all of them, and of course, not all of them manage to get finished in time or at all even.
For this reason and more, I would want my finished work to be published. To be seen and read. If I get fifty different inspirations on a Haiku and manage to finish all of them, why should I stop myself from publishing them, and submitting all of them to a challenge? Why should there be a set limit on how much of my art I put out?
I am well aware that not all of them have the magic, but some might resonate with a reader. And most importantly, I know each time I attempt one, I get better at it. It helps me horn my skill.
I have submitted hundreds of entries to Vocal challenges. I have never won any, not even a runner-up, but I have had two of my previous entries chosen as top stories in the past. Oh, and just today as I was gearing up to edit this story, I saw that my submission to the If Walls Could Talk Challenge was chosen as a runner up. Very exciting and fulfilling. I’m grateful.
This tells me that the frequency of my writing and submission is somehow improving my imagination and my writing enough to have someone feel they are worthy of a top story and now a runner-up.
Yes, we can create and publish non-challenge haikus about tornadoes or volcanoes. We don’t have to wait for a Vocal prompt. Just like we write many non-challenge fictional or life-inspired stories. But we can agree that there is that something about it being a challenge entry that brings us here. Whether it is to create the best piece, win the top prize and feel the joy of the validation and appreciation of our talent and hard work or even have a ready audience for our stories.
All these reasons combined make me bullish on the continuation of Haiku Challenges on Vocal and the no limit on the number of entries per writer.
Should the judging rules be strict?
Yes, haikus in English might not meet the standards of haikus in Japanese. But art is not rigid. Neither is its beauty and interpretation. And shaking or even breaking the rules is what makes art innovative and riveting.
Rock and Roll evolved from African Americans twisting other genres of songs such as folk, gospel and country. And hip-hop from them adding melody to rhyme. If people would have been up in arms saying that hip-hop wasn’t art or music even and that it shouldn’t be produced, the world would have missed out on some of the greatest songs ever in the history of music.
Van Gogh achieved little success with his painting in his lifetime. He attended several art schools and visited many galleries attempting to learn to paint in the style of other painters before and of his time. His despair at never achieving much, commercially in particular, might have contributed to him putting a bullet in his head.
Today, his paintings are not some of the most praised but are also the most highly-priced pieces of artwork ever produced with the most expensive one, Portrait of Dr Paul Gachet, selling at $83m, in 1990. We can only guess how much it’s valued at today.
I feel his paintings are evocative because Van Gogh stepped out of trying to follow the rules of how others were doing it and developed his own distinctive style that was unmistakably distinguished as his own.
“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.”
– Vincent van Gogh.
The paintings in his unique style, the swirls and twirls of brush strokes on canvases that are mostly in blue are what he will always be best known for.
If all artists followed all the rules, art forms would never grow. They would never evolve.
That’s why I feel that a great haiku challenge entry should not be disqualified from winning simply because we all couldn’t agree on the number of syllables in a word especially since we all pronounce words differently. As long as it meets many of the rules, a contentious pronunciation should not stand in its way because great art speaks for itself.
And also that haikus in English or other languages shouldn’t be done because they can never really match the great standards and art form of haikus in Japanese.
Vocal as a tool
I am currently having a laptop issue, but the minute I get hold of a new laptop, I am going to rework all my countless Vocal challenge haikus and compile them into an analogy and publish the compilation on Amazon Kindle. I even plan to do originals on other subjects. I plan to do the same to my fictional short stories. These compilations and ideas would probably not have existed, to begin with, were it not for the haiku and other challenges on Vocal or the encouragement to submit as many entries as I was inspired to create.
I wouldn’t even know how to practically write a haiku!
As I enjoy my Vocal experiences, in the long run, I plan to use them as stepping stones and building blocks for more. I look at the platform as a tool just like I see all the platforms that I’m on as compliments on my journey as a creator. And I find it fulfilling that I can utilize it with little limitations as long as I am compliant with platform rules.
I have noticed that fewer entries are getting submitted in each subsequent Haiku challenge which I believe is because writers are now focusing on producing quality as opposed to quantity, unlike in the first challenge where coming up with a few words seemed easy. And here I see some validity in Mike Singleton’s sentiments - the focus on quality over quantity.
I know the moderators on Vocal heard the writers’ opinions. I have no idea the decision they will settle on, but I would hope that they do not rule out haiku challenges entirely moving forward or limit the number of submissions per writer.
I would also hope that any writer or reader on Vocal who would not find a particular challenge interesting and would not wish to participate in it would maybe pass it up for the moment and participate in the one that interests them and not ask that the challenge be done away with completely.
And closer to home, I would also hope that they would encourage other creators to participate in the challenges they enjoy whether they themselves enjoy it or not and push them to produce more output and not less to bring fulfilment and horn their skill. Because that’s core to why we are here and that’s also how we all get better.
I know I have.
I do enjoy haiku challenges and I would wish for them to continue.
What about you?