Haiku: A Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world.
When I was in the seventh grade, our creative writing class learned how to write different styles of poetry. I particularly enjoyed the rhythmic way haiku poems rolled off of my tongue.
I wrote four pieces of haiku that school year; three of which my instructor and parents selected to enter into a contest. My favorite piece, ‘The Wind Speaks’, was not submitted.
Later that summer, I came across an ad in the back of Teen magazine for a national writing contest, hosted by Cader Publishing. The contest was open to all types of short-form writing and there were no age requirements to enter.
I decided to give it a shot. And what better to enter, than my haiku that had been previously denied the opportunity.
My parents did not share my enthusiasm. Being that I was only 13 years old, I needed one of them to sign the submission form for my entry to be considered, but my Dad, a creative writing teacher himself, was certain that the contest was a hoax.
Finally, after a week of pleading and mild harrassment, I convinced my mom to sign and mail the entry form.
A month or so after entering, I received a call from Cader Publishing. They had selected my haiku as the grand prize winner for not only the youth division, but for the adult division as well!
My parents, of course, were still skeptical. They didn’t believe it was real when the paperwork arrived with the waivers to sign for PR … nor when the check arrived in the mail … and I’m still not convinced they believed it after the check had deposited into my account.
I, on the other hand, could barely contain my excitement.
At the age of 13, as an eighth grader from podunk, middle-of-nowhere, Scranton, Kansas, I had managed to win a national writing contest … and I had bested hundreds of entries from writers of all ages throughout the United States.
My short, 17 syllable, three-line haiku that had previously only been favored by me, resulted in a grand prize of $1,200. That’s a chunk of change for a 13 year old! I also went on record as the youngest writer in the history of the publishing company to win both age divisions.
I was proud, and incredibly grateful that I had convinced my parents to let me enter.
My creative writing instructor, Ms. Lilja, was thrilled to learn about the award. I was thankful that she had introduced me to haiku; I also appreciated that she and my parents hadn’t selected this piece to enter into the prior competition, because in doing so, she had inspired me to enter it later on my own.
As part of my winnings, I received a copy of the hard-cover Laureates book of writing that the company published. Enclosed in this book were the hundreds of entries submitted to both age divisions of the contest.
On page one, my grand prize entry was centered in the middle of a stark white, otherwise empty space.
The Wind Speaks
Leaves rustle in Fall;
unfamiliar voices, like
whispers in the wind.
I remember opening the book and thinking, “I did that. Plain-jane, small-town, 13 year old, me. That was some hoax, huh, Mom and Dad?”
I also wondered if my parents had thought my haiku wouldn’t stand a chance against others across the country. But it did — and the experience proved a very important point.
If you believe in something strongly enough, you need to see it through … because in spite of all the reasons why it might not work, all it takes is one reason why it will.