RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition. He does have an amazing PATREON, but also *normal* ARTIST WEBSITE too.

Wednesday, April 3

Hand-to-Hand Haiku Tournaments a-coming

Hey great news, as I've found two local venues to commit to at least one and hopefully four Hand-to-Hand Haiku tournaments/Rojonekku Workingman readings for this year of our existence 2013, though we sort of already existed before the odometer started rolling. And both venues will be hosting their first events this month!
On Friday, April 19, around 7:00 pm or so, at Green Willow Farm, a few miles east of Charlottesville on Milton Road, we'll be holding a Hand-to-Hand Haiku tournament/Rojonekku reading on the theme of Family Traditions. Basically the theme is just a suggestion; if you come with haiku in hand they can be about whatever feels right (or wrong) to you. Thanks to Patty at Green Willow Farm, we seem committed to four events this year, roughly every two months or so, and we hope to set it off with a nice one this month. There's a $3 suggested donation, to benefit Green Willow Farm, and there will be some light refreshments (probably cornbread and beer) available, and 1000 Feathers tracts for the taking. Contact rojonekku at gmail dot com for more info, or comment below. Parking here is a little limited, so directions will not be made super-public, but I encourage you to come in packs of eager jibber-jabberers of short poems. I'll be sharing some material, including from upcoming print projects, and hosting the festivities like Mr. Rourke at Fantasy Island, so bring the midgets (meaning kids are cool).
Then on Saturday, April 27, at 7:00 pm, at Blue Padma Yoga in Scottsville, at the corner of Valley and Main, by all the restaurants, we'll be hosting the first public Hand-to-Hand Haiku tournament in my hometown, with the theme of Embracing the Spirit of the River. There will be a $3 suggested donation at this event as well, benefitting Blue Padma (I don't believe in money). I will be reading a slightly cleansed version of my tale of the Great Willie Young & the River People, as well as haiku from my forthcoming 1000 Feathers collection called Beerbox Haiku, and have 1000 Feathers tracts available as well. I hope to have four events at Blue Padma this year, and am very excited to make my chaotic beauty more known to my local community in our quiet little river town. Again, if you are interested in competing or attending or whatever, contact rojonekku at gmail dot com. Light refreshments will be available (cornbread and maybe beer) and you will be expected to take your shoes off so as to not muss up the yoga floor, so wear some chill ass socks.

Below is an in-depth explanation of how the Hand-to-Hand Haiku Tournament works, and what to expect, as a participant, judge, or innocent bystander. And it should be assumed that my fool ass will try to keep things lively. I look forward to seeing old and new faces, connecting different circles together, and spreading the joy of fighting a boring ass world with some live ass word play!

Hand-to-hand haiku is an actual thing that has existed in various forms as an offshoot of poetry slams for over a decade, but I am bringing it to the here and now wherever my chaos tornado spins because it is a thing I wish was happening all the time on every street corner around barrel and pallet fires so that I could take part. So I guess I will emcee the affair and create its existence locally.

A hand-to-hand haiku battle works as a single-elimination tournament, meaning eight people start out in one-on-one matches, where one winner advances to the next round, with eight going down to four, then four down to two, and so on. Thus, there will be four first round battles, two semifinal battles between first round winners, then a final showdown between the two semifinal winners. For our purposes, the first round will be a best of 5, semifinals will be a best of 7, and the finals will be a best of 11.
What does that “best of” mean, and how does that work? Well, that’s easy. There will be three judges pre-selected for the evening’s festivities. They will have two flags (different ones obviously, we’ll assume red and blue for ease of explanation). In each match-up, one competitor will have a red flag, and the other a blue flag. Red flag reads a haiku first, then blue, then after a brief moment of thought, the three judges, who hold both flags, raise the flag of who won that round, in their on-the-spot opinion. Whichever flag a majority of judges raises is considered the winner of that round, meaning if two out of three judges say blue, then blue wins the first round, and is up 1 to 0. Loser of any round reads first the next round, so red would read a second haiku, followed by blue, followed by judges’ decision, and so on, until one of the first round competitors wins 3 rounds. At most this would need 5 rounds to decide, thus it is called a best-of-5. The same process is repeated, but with more rounds, for the semifinals and finals.
This means for all people reading haiku, you may need up to 23 different haiku, in the off-chance the first round, the semifinals, and finals all go to their maximum amount of rounds, and that you advance accordingly. Thus, I say you need a minimum of 23 haiku, although if you are eliminated early or win rounds quickly, most likely very few of you will actually use 23 haiku, perhaps even using as few as 3. No worries; save what you wrote for the next one.
Here is the thing though: you select which haiku you read for each round, rather than reading them in a set order, so to have a larger, more varied arsenal of haiku gives yourself the freedom to choose ones that might fit your opponent or the moment more easily, to tap into the flow of the evening, or which one you would assume might strike a favorable mood with the judges. I look at it as each haiku is an arrow, and the more arrows you have in hand, the more likely you are able to find a sharp one. So come equipped as you see fit.
On a personal aside, as a man who has literally written several thousand haiku over the past decade, a method I use is writing them one per index card. This is a good method for a hand-to-hand haiku battle, as you can have your handful of index cards, mark out ones you use, and shuffle them around and use them accordingly. Just a tip; you can use it or ignore it as you see fit.

Ah yes, the terribly pretentious question us westerners are forced to ask ourselves with regards to a Japanese literary tradition based on a language of characters while we speak syllables. Haiku traditionally was tied to the seasons, and the most common western translation has been a three-line poem of five syllables, seven syllables, and five syllables, which is often times seen as the truest replication of the Japanese poem. For the sake of our Hand-to-Hand Haiku purposes, to keep everybody on even ground, we are going to go with this. Now somebody may say, “Wait, counting syllables goes against what haiku actually is, Raven Mack!” Well, let me tell you, I know this form on a deep and personal level, and could tell you that haiku is not even a poetic form on its own, but is part of a larger group form of poetry called renga where the first part was called hokku and became the title of famous renga poems, thus it became its own thing as literary time passed. So haiku is not even technically what the hell it is supposed to be. So for all haiku traditionalists insulted at counting syllables, once you are holding mass parties where groups of people compose poems as a group with 100 verses per poem, you can hold your complaints to yourself. We cannot accept part of a tradition but pretend the rest doesn’t exist and call ourselves traditionalists. I mean, we could, and in fact that’s what most people do, but I’m not supporting that.
So for our sake, our haiku will be three-line poems, preferably of 5-syllables, 7-syllables, and 5-syllables. I will not count them though, and if you feel overly confined by this structure (form is good for you though), you can stretch the definition of haiku to mean a short poem of 17-syllables (or less).
Also, traditionally, these have been tied to the seasons, or nature, but I regard the act of haiku as more a meditation or habit of observation, which means all the fucked up parts of the world made by man are as natural as nature, and more than perfect for haiku. You can go traditional or you can go with observing the world around you or you can go experimental. Whatever’s clever.
And obviously, you should write your own haiku. If you have competed before in a different Rojonekku Hand-to-Hand tournament, you're expected to come with fresh material. Obviously there is no haiku police who will count syllables or be like, "Didn't she read that one before?" We, as the viewing community, will police ourselves, so if you are in the crowd at an event and it seems someone's gone long on syllables or repeating themselves, I encourage you to chatter amongst yourselves about it to create that uncomfortable buzz thing that happens in public events. If the competitor repeats these shady activities, hopefully the buzz will turn to outright booing and jeering. In fact, unlike your standard poetry reading, I encourage the crowd to make noise and respond. This is not to be a silent awe affair.

A valid question, as none of us wants to be judged, and yet judges will be involved. Honestly, there is no right or wrong way to pick a winner, and this method will always be subjective. Always. But I am going to have three judges, and attempt to curate each of them from a different angle of cultural sensibilities. Judges’ decisions will be final, and also subjective, so never take it personally. This is meant to be fun, and will be fun, so nobody needs to get all, “Damn, why wasn’t my eternal creativity of poetic greatness not properly recognized in this damn hand-to-hand haiku thing? This is bullshit!”
Judges: You will judge as you feel appropriate. Like I mentioned above, I’ll pick you because I'm thinking you'll observe from a certain perspective, but I might be completely off on judging your personality, so feel free to toss that aside completely and just go with your heart. In fact, the whole point of haiku is to go with your heart, and this whole nonsense endeavor of a tournament is meant to motivate people to go with what’s in their heart, not worry and become anxious.

Winner of the night’s tournament will receive the accolades of an adoring attending public, and I'm sure I'll find something from the Bird Tribe compound to show my gratitude to you as well. But don't expect anything in particular, or at all, because one never can predict what I'll do.
Speaking of which, as part of hosting the festivities, I'll share some of my own writing, or unique perspective, or perhaps just talk about what I've been cooking up in the kitchen. The entire motivation behind Rojonekku WFA (Word Fighting Arts) is to battle the complacency of routine life with words, and this means not just books or printed matter but stories and jokes and strange tales from stranger places and just everything and anything to be honest.

So that is how the Hand-to-Hand Haiku Tournament works. If you are interested in participating - which I hope you will be - contact me at rojonekku at gmail dot com. Even though this is a slam poetry tradition, my goal with this is to bring different styles of poets from different backgrounds into a mutually accepted format, and interact. Then we cross-pollinate each other, and everything will taste better.

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