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November 8, 2017 | Fiction

The Great Iowa State Fair Haiku Contest

Gary Britson

The Great Iowa State Fair Haiku Contest photo

I am glad to report that the Great Iowa State Fair Haiku Contest was a roaring success. We had over twenty-three entries from nineteen counties, and probably would have gotten more if Alice hadn’t spilled her prize-winning boysenberry jam all over our brand-new computer. But, onward and upward, as Lao-Tzu said, I’m more or less sure.

Most of our entries pretty much understood the nature of the Haiku. It has to be seventeen syllables, give or take a few, and the first line has to be about nature. The rest of it can be about anything, as long as you can somehow in your wildest dreams tie it in with the first line.

The judge was Vern, who had a year and a half at the University of Iowa before coming home, where he belonged all along, to join his dad at the plumbing supply store. Vern took a poetry course in college, and this boy knows his way around a haiku, even though his idea of one differs a little from the official definition. Vern says a haiku is seventeen syllables of randomly chosen words, after which a bunch of stoned literature majors laugh their asses off. Vern had no truck with the University of Iowa literature department at all, apparently.

Vern says a lot of the entries were pretty good, such as this one from Mills County:

    My new SUV.
    The wife got it in the divorce.
    My shotgun waits.

I question whether an SUV is actually an object of nature, but Vern doesn’t want to quibble, since SUV’s are second nature to anyone who can stand living in Mills County. You can have it. Vern says his main concern in a poem is whether or not it packs a wallop, and this one sure does, and it comes in at an even seventeen syllables, although I’m a little worried about criminal liability for a poem that seems to contain a threat of some sort. Vern says not to worry, that the Mills County District Court has carved out an exception to Murder in the First Degree when a man’s SUV is involved. That’s good enough for me.

There was an OK one from up near Lake Okoboji. It’s not exactly an affirmation of down-home family values, but Vern likes its spirit. See what you think of it:

  My wife. Custody of all three kids.
  So sayeth the Court.
  Let freedom ring.

This one’s a syllable over the traditional seventeen, but tradition has never been much of a factor in Emmet County, and who am I to stand in the way of local mores?

We try to keep our poetry friendly. We are firm believers in the goodness of nature, just like old Bill Wordsworth. You remember Bill, my heart leaps up, rainbows in the sky, et cetera. But once in awhile somebody from Scott County transcends the genre and hits us with one we think deserves special recognition.

    My wife’s in love with Garth Brooks.
    So is my son.
    I’m moving to Idaho.

This one’s a syllable over the line, but I make it a practice never to mess with the boys in Scott County. Happy trails, Hank!

A poet in Pottawattamie County began with a haiku before his politically green consciousness took over and he caromed into blank verse, always a dicey proposition at an artistically crucial moment.
   
     Old MacDonald had a farm.
     E-i-e-i-o.
     And on this farm he dumped some herbicide
     And then it rained and got into the
     River and then the city water supply
     And now everybody’s sick as a dog.

While this one does not strictly confirm to the classical haiku form, the judge decided to let it in on account of its keen sense of public good and ecological awareness.

Since they built that fast food joint out on Route 19, some of the younger crowd has gotten a little too sensitive for their own good. Nevertheless, a man’s bound to wax existential now and then when he’s working the graveyard shift at minimum wage:
   
    I flip burgers in the night.
    Somewhere the cows are crying.
    Fries with that?

Here’s one that Vern says is universal in its appreciation of nature. I like its honest simplicity. Vern says it reminds him of e.e.cummings:

    Enormous hooters.
    Hooters that are even larger.
    Great big hooters.
   
Now for the winning entry. In my humble opinion, it reflects the judge’s slightly
biased attitude toward the agricultural life in general, going back to the farm crisis of 1984. There are those who will take umbrage with it. Nevertheless, as a firm believer in and practitioner of the belief system inherent in the Second Amendment, Vern is the final arbiter in this matter.

    Grandpa said: You want to farm?
    Get you some rope.
    Make you a sturdy noose.

Next week: The final results of the Great Iowa State Fair Thomas Pynchon look-alike contest. It was a wild and woolly scene on the catwalk. We hope you enjoy seeing it as much as we enjoyed refereeing it.

image: Tara Wray


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