Haiku contest unites Weybridge residents

CELEBRATED AUTHORS JULIA Alvarez and Jay Parini congratulate Esra Anzali, 11, for her second-place finish in the Second Annual Weybridge Haiku Contest on Saturday at a community picnic. Esra’s sister, Narges, took first place in the contest, which has become a creative, uniting force for the town.

Weybridge haiku test
draws a lot of good entries
applaud the winners
The above haiku wouldn’t win a prize, but far better ones did at the Second Annual Weybridge Haiku Contest, a celebration of community spirit through the traditional Japanese verse form characterized by three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables.
The contest drew a combined total of 101 entries from 22 local poets divided into youth (14 and younger) and adult divisions. Weybridge’s co-poet laureates — celebrated authors Julia Alvarez and Jay Parini — judged the entries and announced the winners at a community picnic on Saturday, July 13.
“I thought they were wonderful,” Alvarez said of the overall quality of this year’s submissions, some of them coming from folks she never knew were poetry enthusiasts. “It was amazing to see the talent, the sense of playfulness.”
Resident George Bellerose — affectionately known as the “haiku master” — has become chief organizer of the annual showcase of local literary dexterity.
Alvarez, who came up with the idea, summed the friendly competition up: “A community playfully sharing vivid linguistic snapshots and coming together. It’s a group effort. Break bread, but also break ‘soul bread’ together, too. I love that.”
Contest directions were simple: Write one or more haikus about Weybridge — a moment in a season, a particular encounter, or a vivid, sense-based snapshot. It could also be an observation about an event that happened in Weybridge, or perhaps something about Weybridge’s past or a look ahead at its future.
Entrants, according to contest rules, must have a connection to Weybridge. Haikus were due on June 30.
It was far from an easy assignment. Haikus are short and thus require the author to make the most of 17 syllables.
“You’re working within a very limited form, so concision is the main thing; to say a lot in a few words is the essence of a haiku,” Parini explained.
“It’s deceptive simplicity,” Alvarez said of the essence of a successful haiku.
Fortunately many Weybridge folks met the challenge, making it tough for the judges — so difficult that they named more than a dozen “honorable mentions” in order to celebrate the many entries that didn’t place first, second or third, but were still worthy of attention.
“We argue a little bit and then we make a decision,” Parini said of his judging partnership with Alvarez. “When you’re judging something like poetry, it’s not like mathematics … It’s all testing it on your pulse, whether it’s moving and memorable and stays in your mind, are really the criteria. Poetry is ‘memorable language,’ so it has to stick in your brain.”
“He had some favorites and I had some favorites and we kind of had some overlap,” Alvarez added. “It was tough.”
In addition to providing a creative outlet for Weybridge residents to extol the virtues of their town, this year’s haiku contest and picnic gave residents another chance to grieve the loss of one their young neighbors — Tilly Boulanger, who lost her life after being struck by a car on Weybridge Road on April 25.
It was in fact Amy Mason’s touching “Haiku for Tilly” that took first place in the adult division. The special poem, which sums up some of the young girls’ favorite things and her joie de vivre, serves as a balm for the collective soul of a close-knit, mourning populace:
Mismatched sock wearer
Lover of books, skates, sprinkles
You dance in our hearts
“It was so timely and so moving; how could you not have it as number one?” Parini said of Mason’s entry.
Mason said her thoughts of Tilly “rose to the very top of my heart” when thinking about her community this year.
“It seemed like a way to help remember Tilly’s spirit,” Mason said of the inspiration for her haiku. “It was a sad and sweet challenge.”
Thirteen-year-old Narges Anzali, whom the Independent profiled last April following her submission of an essay about experiencing Islamophobia, took first in the youth division for her series of haikus titled, “Weybridge Is.”
Weybridge is the 
Sweet smell of lilacs 
In a brief spring, 
Is glittering dragonflies 
Swooping against ruby colored 
Summer sunsets
Is the crunch of 
Fresh-picked apples, 
The taste of fall,
Is ice covered
branches lining dirt roads 
A winter wonderland, 
Is a million different 
Moments all condensed 
Into a feeling of home. 
Anzali, a repeat winner of the Weybridge contest, could not be reached for comment for this story. And it should be noted that Narges’ sister, Esra, 11, took second place.
“They have a lot of talent,” Alvarez said of the Anzali sisters.
For her win, Anzali will received a copy of Alvarez’s young adult novel, Where Do They Go?
Mason will receive a copy of Parini’s Why Poetry Matters.
The winners will also receive gift certificates for the Vermont Bookshop, and all submitters will get a certificate of participation.
Plans call for all of the top haikus to be posted on the town website,
Alvarez noted National Public Radio recently took a page out of Weybridge’s book in holding its own haiku contest. She proudly said she found the Weybridge contest entries to be as good, if not better, than many of the haikus aired by NPR.
“The best poems come out of noticing the things that are small and seemingly ordinary, and celebrating them,” Alvarez said. “It’s part of a small-town zeitgeist to do that. We don’t have the big-time distractions of Broadway and 20 movies within three blocks.”
Parini has no doubt the haiku contest will be around for awhile.
“We’re going to keep it going,” he said. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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