Monday, July 25, 2011


Our contest judge, Darla Crist, has officially chosen Toby Bielawski's Five Kinds of Fences as the New Word Order Publishing Project winner!  Here's what Crist had to say about the book:

Meaningful poetry manages to be simultaneously universal and deeply personal, and this difficult goal is certainly accomplished in Five Kinds of Fences.  This is a highly imaginative collection of poems, perhaps best described in “A Crown of Safe Spaces,” where the poet writes, “It’s as if I’m in a cabin in my head, with one glass wall/Looking out over a setting that changes whenever my pen/Decides to shift mood or meaning…”   And indeed, there are reality shifts in these poems, where the audience is asked to reconsider what constitutes a fence, or what would happen if letters were landscapes.  Careful attention to form, language, and metaphor directs the work in this collection, even if “Truth is terrain that cannot be steered.”  But truth can be found in “Scrap,” where the speaker is sorting her father’s belongings in the basement:  “All of this (interstate rebar, toilet-tank float ball)/All of this (fittings, fan blades, copper spike)/Was for all the things you would have fixed/In your depression-era dreams./Now, with nicked hands I sort and deal --/Called all around/It's just a penny a pound for steel.”  And truth can be found in “Rectification of Names”: “Resilience is bread broken and shared,/Jealousy the meat and the wine/And patience a stone herm/Listing towards the spine’s left side. /Souls are a thick mystery, mine and/Yours the same, just your mystery/Is a few inches more strange.” Here’s to truth, and here’s to mystery, two key elements in life, as well as in Five Kinds of Fences.

Here are our runners up:

A World Called Little Jimmy, by Christine Ong Muslim

Postcards from the Less than Important West, by Brent Schaeffer

Randonnées, by Adrienne Drobnes

We want to thank all 36 people who submitted chapbooks-- your interest has inspired us to look into a reprise of the contest in the future!  Additionally, thanks to our contest sponsors:

Great People ($5+)

Jamie Lushbaugh
Chris Dolle

Awesome People ($10+)

Taylor Lampton
Brad Walrod

Great Honored Benefactors ($25+)

Tom Carbaugh
Linda Boan
Travis Durbin
Haley Salitros

We couldn't have done it without you.  The books will be headed to the printers soon-- stay tuned!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Five Questions for a Folk Hero: Eli Van Sickel

We'd like to start off Volume Two's series of community interviews by interviewing a man who straddles the line between fact and fiction, anonymity and pure legend.  He's Eli Van Sickel, and he's one of the great heroes of the Terre Haute, Indiana, indie folk scene, and he was published in our first issue.  (Yes, Terre Haute, the city that gave to the world Eugene V. Debs and took from the world, by way of the Federal Death Row, Timothy McVeigh.)  Let's see what he has to say...

1. How many songs would you say you've written and performed?

I've written about 20-25 songs since I started playing and writing almost 6 years ago. I've performed most of them live.

2. What are some similarities between playing acoustic guitar and writing haiku?

There is a spirituality about it that people tend to forget. It is very open to interpretation and the player/poet has incredible creative freedom, though the rules of the style have to be meticulously followed.

3. You're about to begin your master's in Theater at Illinois State University.  Are there any types of theater you would associate with haiku? 

Well, Japanese theatre, obviously. I am fascinated/intimidated by Noh plays; it's a very dense, beautiful style of theatre that hasn't changed in centuries. I'm also a huge fan of dramatic/poetic realism, minimalistically staged; that kind of stuff really doesn't hand the audience much on a silver platter, but rather requires them to interpret the work.

4. How will the Legend of Eli Van Sickel read in 20 years?

Hopefully it will say that he is happily married with children, serves as either the artistic director of a non-profit theatre or the chair of a university theatre department, and continues to write and perform music. Also, his books Deaf Theatre In America and The Theatrical Legacy of Clifford Odets are both New York Times Best Sellers. A Tony Award or two would be nice as well.

5. Do you think Terre Haute's diaspora of wayward artists will ever truly be able to come home?

I think Terre Haute is definitely growing as an artists' home. Slowly but surely, it is becoming safer to "let your freak flag fly," as it were, and create. However, many of us (myself included) find that there's only so much that you can do in Terre Haute and so long you can stay here before it's time to take the next step and move on; but I think you'll find that anywhere.

ELI VAN SICKEL is going to send us a bio.  For now, check out his music here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Editorial: 5-7-5 Does Not Make a Haiku

What's that, you ask?  What's that?  Why are we printing an editorial almost diametrically opposed to our mission statement?

Well, for starters, we here at High Coup Journal have been spoiling for this fight for a long time.  But we also want to foster alternate viewpoints, and so we'd like to start off Volume 2 of the journal with a polite but well-researched explanation of everything that is wrong with our lovely journal.  Mr. Boyer has proven to be a great sport about all this, and we encourage responses to this editorial, yea and nay.  Do some research of your own and dish it right back, and we'll be happy to print your editorial as well!


This editorial is part one in our continuing battle over the nature of the haiku.  Read part two here.



I would like to start by thanking Mike Miller for this opportunity. I’d also like to thank A. Jarrell Hayes. It was my comment on his post at Reddit that got this whole thing rolling. I clicked on the link he provided to the February issue and made the comment that what I was seeing really wasn’t haiku. I said it was more in line with senryu or zappai*. I don’t mean to lessen anyone’s enjoyment of this journal. I just need to stand up for the haiku tradition.

Haiku is one of the most amazingly powerful verse forms ever invented, but it’s in the unfortunate position of being poorly understood even though everyone thinks they are familiar with it. Part of the blame for this goes to our early education, where the overly simplistic 5-7-5 paradigm was instilled in all of us. I know I stared this way, and wrote 5-7-5 for a long time.

My interest in haiku took off when I bought a copy of The Haiku Anthology. It was a book full of interesting, vibrant poetry that I didn't have to sweat over, as with the T. S. Eliot or E. E. Cummings that I had been reading. When I started to really get into the anthology, it was a revelation. So many moments where my breath was taken away. You know that moment when you're reading a poem and something just clicks, you have an Aha! moment or maybe you get goosebumps? Haiku was able to give me that again and again. I also saw, for the first time, the breadth and depth of haiku. People wrote in 5-7-5, sure, but there was so much variety that I quickly realized the 5-7-5 structure was not really important.

Lee Gurga (an award-winning haiku poet, former president of the Haiku Society of America and former editor of Modern Haiku) writes in his Haiku: A Poet’s Guide: “A majority of people among both poets and the general public seems to believe that haiku poetry is synonymous with haiku form, and that anything written in the three-line form they remember from elementary school is automatically haiku.” He then goes on to quote the Japanese scholar Shigehisa Kuriyama, who says “The 5-7-5 pattern by itself does not make a haiku.”

Gurga also gives the Haiku Society of America definition of haiku in his guide: “A poem recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived, in which nature is linked to human nature. Usually a haiku in English is written in three unrhymed lines of seventeen or fewer syllables.” The “moment keenly perceived” is the important thing here. A haiku is the essence of a moment, the poetry of a moment, in just a few impressionistic brush strokes. In good haiku there is always more unsaid than said:

clearing out
their mother’s house
last leaves on the maple
--Jack Barry

This poem give us a picture of the end of things, just moments before the season ends, before the house is no longer really their mother’s house. But in those ends we can see a glimpse of a new beginning, perhaps. The tree that will grow new leaves, the house that may become a home for another family. This is from the most recent issue of Modern Haiku, Volume 42:2, summer 2011. A few more examples may help:

transit of Venus...
something struggles
in the orb weaver’s web
--Lorin Ford

It’s a very rare thing to catch a glimpse of Venus moving against the face of the sun, just as it’s a rare thing to see an orb weaver at work with its prey. Visually, we can see the two small orbs, Venus and the spider, moving against the much larger forms of the sun and whatever the spider has caught. Though nature is beautiful in its diversity, we feel the passing of time and shiver.

at the Playboy Mansion
the plastic trees
--Gregory Hopkins

This one hardly needs an explanation. It’s a good showcase of how haiku poets use nature to talk about human nature, and how with subtlety you can say much more than with a direct statement. The poem would be much less of a poem if the poet had said something like

at the Playboy Mansion
plastic trees and silicone breasts

This version gives too much away, it makes what was implicit explicit and destroys the poetry of the original.

from the big bang to my funny bone
--Christopher Patchel

I don’t know if I can do this one justice, but as T. S. Eliot so rightly said, “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” To me, this poem, with the laugh of a Buddha becoming enlightened, takes in the entire universe through the perspective of one small bone in one small human body. Banging your funny bone (and seeing stars, no doubt) is related to the Big Bang and suddenly the universe expands through this exquisite and ludicrous pain. That’s one of the real gifts of great haiku and great poetry: the sense of expansiveness, that there are larger things we are a part of. When you finish a great poem, regardless of the length, and you’re left with a wow on your lips or your mind reeling with possibilities and implications, then poetry has done its job.

a lightning-blasted pine in my pencil the black spine
--Peter Yovu

There is such powerful drama in this piece and such powerful peace. The blasted tree, a rough mirror of the pencil in the poet’s hand, which he uses to memorialize the same tree. And I think the rhyme (it’s quite rare to see rhyme work well in haiku) makes the poem sing.

panties tossed on the melon rinds wet in spots
--Chris Gordon

The heat of summer, and all that implies, comes through in every syllable. You almost feel a bit breathless reading this.

High Coup has printed some poems that I think are in the tradition of haiku. Each of the following are carefully and vividly presented scenes, and each leaves you wanting more, asking what else is going on or what led up to this:

from June 2011:
A white seagull floats
above the turbulent waves
of the parking lot.
--Michael Morris

February 2011:
Whispering tender
Terms of endearment in
My frostbitten ears.
--Megan Milligan

However, reading High Coup I find most of the poems are along the lines of little jokes or fortune cookie type sentiments, that tend to just stop at the end of the line, with little or no resonance.

William Higginson and Penny Harter in The Haiku Handbook say that writing a haiku is saying “It is hard to tell you how I am feeling. Perhaps if I share with you the events that made me aware of these feelings, you will have similar feelings of your own.” Haiku don’t tell you how to feel, they show you a scene and hope that you will come along.

In the end, what I’m trying to say (and what I say to myself every day) is, don’t limit yourself! Don’t settle for just writing jokes and a blind adherence to 5-7-5. Haiku can be so much more.

DAVID BOYER's haiku have appeared in Frogpond, Modern Haiku, Mayfly, Acorn, bottle 
rockets, Presence, Heron's Nest and other haiku journals. He was a featured poet in A New Resonance 5: Emerging Voices in English-Language Haiku.

* “A senryu is a poem, structurally similar to haiku, that highlights the foibles of human nature, usually in a humorous or satiric way. Many so-called "haiku" in English are really senryu. Others, such as "Spam-ku" and "headline haiku", seem like recent additions to an old Japanese category, zappai, miscellaneous amusements in doggerel verse (usually written in 5-7-5) with little or no literary value. Some call the products of these recent fads "pseudohaiku" to make clear that they are not haiku at all.” (From the Haiku Society of America.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

High Coup Journal - July 2011 Issue

(Photo by Ann Wright, Plymouth, IN)



James Dye (Dubuque, IA)

Jack Granath (Kansas City, KS)

Amy Harris (West Lafayette, IN)

Lex Joy (Amherst, MA)

Jamie Lushbaugh (Terre Haute, IN)

Amit Parmessur (Quatre-Bornes, Mauritius)

Geoff Pope (Renton, WA)

Miriam Sagan (Santa Fe, NM)

Mitzi Sicking (Midland, TX)


Editor's Note:

Each birthday a door
to new, unseen hallway
ending in a door.


Lex Joy 

Philosophy class--
One more angry German man
says we know nothing...


Amit Parmessur

Yellow cars speeding;
Farting thin cancerous clouds
like a wintry mouth

Bonnet on my head,
As a king on a tall stool
I watch worlds drying

With a toothless mouth
My multi-colored moustache’s
A dusty toothbrush

Two pharmacy bombs
sending me to paradise,
my doctor to hell


Geoff Pope


I heard my mom say
“Shit!” only once in her life —
door crushed ring finger


Amy Harris

Sarah Palin: the
evolution of man will
not be televised.*

* RIP Gil Scott-Heron


Jack Granath

Her body sculpted
by a summer dress--so much
for non-attachment.

She laughs, the purse strap
between her breasts, a lesson
in geography.


James Dye 

An intense debate
Does not deserve metaphors!
Fuck! You get the point?


Jamie Lushbaugh

Your sandpaper tongue
licks my face after your ass.
Thanks for the gross bath.

At Petsmart, select
The three-figure, plush cat tree.
He plays in the box

Um, no, officer.
I don't know whose pot that is.
You sure it's not yours?


Mitzi Sicking 

Unneeded finger
When you, my fellow driver,
Ran the stop sign.  Jerk.


Miriam Sagan 

to escape the smoke
as ten thousand acres burns--
movie with mermaids

cherry blossoms float
on the edge of this haiku's
silent green pond scum


July 2011 AWESOME SAUCE: Geoff Pope

do you suck and chew
on tips of the alphabet
until your mouth bleeds?


Send birthday money
or at least some more haiku
to assuage your guilt.

highcoupjournal {at}