THE LOOP — Haiku Festival
For Kids From 8 to 14
Is at library.
That's the city's central Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State St., which will play host to the 10th annual Haiku Fest at 10 a.m. Saturday.
From its origins attracting 75 entrants 10 years ago, the Haiku Festival now processes more than 3,000 entries a year and has dealt with 15,000 submissions overall. In fact, the first winner, India Lucas, of the Bellejoix Conservatory for Higher Learning, is now a doctoral candidate — in chemical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
"I didn't even think about it until it was upon us," said founder Regina Baiocchi. "You just keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone and you look up and it's like, 'Whoa.'"
Baiocchi said Haiku Fest grew out of an annual event for kids Illinois poet laureate Gwendolyn Brooks used to hold at the Museum of Science and Industry before her death in 2000.
"When she passed, it seemed that no one was taking up the torch," Baiocchi said, adding that she was befriended by the poet when she was 7 and they became pen pals.
"That was very special to me," Baiocchi said, "and I wanted to pass that on to other kids."
She settled on haiku as the organizing theme because of its surface simplicity and her own fondness for the form.
"I really resonate with haiku because it's something I can write when I'm on the bus or the train or sometimes in church," Baiocchi said, with an irreverent laugh. "I learned haiku as a child, and I think it's one of the forms children tend to resonate with."
In fact, a children's picture book titled "Basho and the Fox" imagines the classical haiku poet in a competition with a fox.
The traditional format the festival insists on is three lines adding up to 17 syllables, in a 5-7-5 allotment.
"It also keeps a lid on the program," Baiocchi added. The brevity allows for a maximum of readers in a short amount of time, she said, in contrast with poetry slams, which can go on forever with the competition for young poets to outdo one another.
For all its Eastern serenity, however, Haiku Fest is also competitive, although largely offstage. More than 50 kids are expected to read Saturday, winners selected from the 3,000 entrees submitted before the deadline at the end of February. There are cash prizes for the top selections, and schools that enter en masse have best poems chosen for each school. All submissions, however, earn a certificate in return.
Chicago produces most of the entrants, but many come from neighboring states and some even from Haiku, Calif., and as far away as Southeast Asia, even though the festival asks that entrants be prepared to come to the award ceremony if selected as a winner.
A South Loop resident, Baiocchi is a poet, writer and composer who has also taught sessions in Chicago Public Schools and the city's parochial schools. She makes sure each annual award ceremony has a musical element as well, and Saturday's event will include performances by the Tsukasa Taiko Japanese Drummers and 14-year-old viola prodigy Michelle Manson, as well as readings by poet Sonia Sanchez.
Admission is free, although Baiocchi will also be selling a 10th-anniversary anthology of the best Haiku Fest poems for $5.