Duncan man takes top poetry honour

coastal fog —

the way mountains flow

into the mountains

— Devin Harrison

This small poem has netted a Cowichan Valley man a big honour.

Duncan’s Devin Harrison has written poetry all his life, and often enters his work in various competitions he hears about through an online network of poetry enthusiasts and organizations he’s connected with through the decades.

“I get the buzz,” he said.

Four months ago he put in his submission for the prestigious Japan-Russia International Haiku Contest, now in its third year, sponsored by the Akita International Haiku Network.

As the name suggests, entries may be in Japanese, Russian or English.

Harrison had forgotten about his submission when he got a notification this month that he had not only placed in the competition, but won over hundreds of other entries.

“It sort of came out of the blue, all these months later,” he said.

Harrison, who has a degree in Japanese studies, started writing tanka (five-line verse) first, then about two years ago he turned his talents to the even shorter form of haiku.

“It’s a much subtler form, than I think most people realize,” he said.

“For one thing, very few people are writing it five-seven-five anymore; it hasn’t been used for decades expect in the schools,” he said referring to the traditional haiku form of three metrical phrases written on three lines with five, seven and five syllables respectively.

“Currently the majority of haiku are written in 11 short syllables in a three-five-three format,” concurs the AIHN website.

“True haiku is an observation of nature, right, but they also have other forms that are haiku-like that might have some sort of human overtone in it,” Harrison explained. “Where you actually put yourself in the poem.”

“I write in all these several forms, but I realized for this contest I should make it as ‘haiku-like’ as possible,” he said.

His strategy paid off.

But winning contests isn’t why Harrison writes poetry, including haiku.

“Poetry has sort of an essence to it, good poetry does,” he said. “There’s something significant in the centre of it. Sort of like a little ball of light that you get together and get a sense of. If it works. If the poetry works.

“Haiku takes that to the utmost degree,” Harrison said.

His prize for the win will be bragging rights, a certificate and a small Japanese artifact.

There is an award ceremony in Japan on Oct. 25, but the competition only offers airfare from a major Japanese airport to the event, not travel costs all the way from Canada, so Harrison will wait to get his prize in the post.

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