G-20 Haiku Contest | Program Notes

G-20 Haiku Contest

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A curious little facet of Pittsburgh's grassroots poetry scene got some love in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday when reporter Timothy Aeppel wrote about this Pittsburgh Filmmakers contest.

Haiku is of course the perfect form to welcome a summit of international finance ministers. For while nobody has the foggiest idea what those people are going to be talking about inside the Convention Center, a haiku -- unlike, say, a sonnet or a villanelle -- is something everybody thinks he or she knows how to write. Moreover, the concept of haiku (like that of mime) is often a punchline, and mocking the G-20 in one way or another is tempting.

The Journal printed numerous entries, including at least one from overseas. One got attention in the CP offices because it was crafted by regular contributor Manny Theiner:

No movies tonight
The drama is in the streets
See yinz on Monday

Pretty good. Theiner also got points for his beautifully snarky response to Aeppel's phone call. ("If you aren't calling to tell me I won, there's nothing for me to talk about.")

The entry by contest winner Angele Ellis (which will grace the Harris Theatre marquee during the summit) has special resonace for locals because Ellis is both a respected poet and a longtime social activist:

we harvest leaflets
blown like autumn leaves: our hopes
speak truth to power

It's a skillfull little metaphor that emphasizes those hopes while also suggesting their fragility.

I'm partial to another entry the Journal printed, by local software engineer Jean Kirby:

what country am I
dying of hunger and thirst
number twenty one

Sure, it's earnest. But like all good poetry, it manages to do a lot in very little space.

It draws us in, riddle-like. It reminds us of the suffering the leaders of the world's 20 biggest economies are nominally supposed to confront, and probably won't. And it deftly emphasizes (at least to me) that while those 20 countries are responsible for some 80 percent of the world's economic production (in the crude way we measure it), there is a whole other "world" out there -- the one inhabited by most of its people.

Nicely done, Ms. Kirby. 

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