I discovered Kukai contests in much the same way I’ve discovered everything of worth in cyberspace: by serendipitously following links. The first Kukai I discovered was the Shiki Monthly Kukai. What is a Kukai? Simply put, it is a peer-reviewed haiku competition, in which anyone who submits a haiku gets to vote.
Here’s how it works, in more detail. The Shiki Monthly Kukai has two divisions: the “Kigo” and the “Free format”. In the former, the kigo provided must be included in the haiku, along with a seasonal reference. In the “free format” section, the haiku may be set in any season. Sometimes the word provided must be used verbatim; other times, the only requirement is that it be “strongly imaged or implicit”. A writer may submit one haiku to either or both sections.
Shortly after the submission period ends, ballots are distributed to each participant with the haiku listed anonymously. Each participant has 6 points to distribute, in increments of 1, 2, or 3, and they may not vote for their own haiku. Finally, the votes are tallied, and the haiku are listed in ranked order, along with the writers’ names, points, and any comments they may have received. In addition to the Shiki Monthly Kukai, two other Kukai that I regularly participate in are the Sketchbook Kukai and the Caribbean Kigo Kukai. These are some of my favorite Kukai entries from this year:
night sky –
eclipsing the moon
1st place, Shiki Monthly Kukai, July 2010
3rd place, 8th Annual Shiki Poets’ Choice Kukai, October 2010
strains of Mendelssohn
the groom fiddles
with his carnation
1st place, Caribbean Kigo Kukai #13, May 2010
the dogwood’s leaves
2nd place, Sketchbook Kukai, July/August 2010
What is novel about Kukai contests, is that unlike traditional haiku journals or competitions with a single judge, Kukai are “judged” by all of the participants, creating a kind of vox populi effect. Kukai are also inclusive—anyone can participate, and everyone is made to feel equally welcome—whether this is their first haiku, or they have been writing and publishing haiku for years. The best way to get started with any of these Kukai is simply to familiarize yourself with the rules, read the past few months of results to get the “flavor” of that particular Kukai, and start writing!
Cara Holman lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, the youngest of their three children, and their two cats. She finds inspiration for her haiku in the garden and on forest trails. Visit her blog, Prose Posies, for links to all of her writing, including her creative nonfiction.