Archive for July 4th, 2011

Poetry jumps species: Koko the Gorilla turns 40, announces and judges a poetry contest

Monday, July 4th, 2011
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Will cats be next? Can a poem incorporate a purr?

Haiku as a poetry form has become international. Now it’s taken a step beyond that – it’s jumping species altogether.

Today marks the 40th birthday of Koko the Gorilla. To celebrate, she announced a twitter-based poetry contest.

She also judged it.

The winning poem was announced today:

Gentle lady ape
Nimble fingers share her thoughts
Teaching us to love

The winner, in this case the twitter-user met314, gets an “fine art reproduction” of an original painting – also by Koko – titled “Love.”

Second prize for TanyaOsterman:

When I was little
Koko showed me that humans
Did not really know

Third prize for KokoLove40:

Art by Koko

Signing love polite
Koko’s gifts of heart and mind
Change the world for good

Honorable mention for coda1229:

Koko is our own
Example of life’s beauty
She shows we are one

The contest defined the haiku form as 17 syllables total, with three lines of 5-7-5 syllables, “expressing your birthday wishes to Koko,” and submitted via a tweet @kokotweets account with the hashtag #kokohaiku in the message. “Each line of the Haiku poem must be separated by period, comma or slash mark.”

Third prize

Well, that’s a minimalist understanding of haiku, which was as exactingly rule-bound as chess – in fact, more so.  And the rule about punctuation is a new one on me – presumably they meant to preempt mindless enjambment.

I recently spoke with a Japanese scholar, Steven Carter, who expressed the cheering, disconcerting, and dispiriting effect of the universality of haiku. We now have baseball haiku, pregnancy haiku, redneck haiku – you get the picture.

As Tom Stoppard, whose birthday was yesterday, by the way, claimed:  ‎”Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.”  Somehow haiku has become the self-esteem form to assign to elementary classes, which is both a good and bad thing.  In any case, Koko’s haiku-writing fans had to be 18 to participate in the contest.

Second prize

Animals reading and critiquing poetry, of course, sends us into a whole new arena.  I wonder if they’ll be better than some of the current lot.  It’s possible.  Like haiku, the bar isn’t high.

Koko not only speaks American sign language, she is able to share jokes, create and name works of art, and even read written words – not bad, for a gorilla purchased more or less at random from the San Francisco Zoo.  The mind boggles, really, at the implications.

Whatever. Picture of Koko and birthday here.  Picture of Koko enjoying a book on the same link.  Send a birthday message to Koko here: koko@koko.org Subscribe to Koko’s email newsletter here. And donate to the Gorilla Foundation here, to “help Koko save her species” – because Koko is, as well as writer, reader, connoisseur, critic, and artist, a humanitarian … or should we say gorillarian?

Happy birthday, Koko.

Perhaps I ought to send a reputable translation of Bashō?

Postscript on 7/6:  My interview with Steve Carter on “haikumania” is online today, here.