Street Haiku

Haiku Roadsign Project posts poetry around town

See a nine-foot-long construction sign with the blocky black letters perched outside a random business on a busy road? If a little bus icon with the Axle Contemporary insignia sits atop, get ready for some Japanese-style poetry and innovative art.---

The Haiku Roadsign Project, an art project in which juried haiku grace a roving sign, is in its fourth week and will change its message throughout the summer.

"The sign came before the idea,"  Axle Contemporary co-owner/director Matthew Chase-Daniel, who spotted the beat-up sign leaning against a shed at Ace's Towing in Pojoaque, says.

After a goose chase in which the sign was sold to someone else on accident, Axle Contemporary—a mobile gallery of contemporary art based in Santa Fe—purchased the sign.

Chase-Daniel has been driving around town looking for businesses willing to put the sign in their lots for a week, he tells SFR.  An auto repair shop, inn and art supply store have hosted the movable sign so far.

"We're open to all kinds of businesses," Chase-Daniel says, adding that he's still looking for a few more locations for the sign (interested businesses should contact him).

Axle Contemporary worked with Santa Fe’s Poet Laureate Joan Logghe to select 32 haiku from over 230 entries from nearly 100 New Mexico-based poets.

Not all the poems strictly follow the five-seven-five syllable structure of traditional haiku, Chase-Daniel says.

"There are a lot of different definitions of haiku. The ones that we chose didn't necessarily follow the standard form," he says.

Logghe was excited about the range of poetry they received.

"We have everything from beginners to some of the finest haiku poets in America…it's very democratic," she says.

Renowned poets Miriam Sagan, John Brandi and Charles Trumbull—editor of the journal Modern Haiku—are among the winners alongside unknowns.

Axle Contemporary handed over the poems to Logghe with the author's names removed, and she set to work selecting the winners.

"I went to an Asian restaurant—which I won't name—had a margarita, and went through them very quickly as a first read," Logghe says. "Then I went through them again the next day and spent deeper, calmer time with them."

Logghe, who has been reading haiku for 50 years, has honed her aesthetics for the haiku form. "I was mainly looking for poems that had sharp imagery from the outer world, and that had a twist or a turn or a surprise," she says.

Haiku about piñon trees, ice cream and snakes grace busy roads from Cerrillos to Old Pecos Trail, and new poems will continue to appear mysteriously around town through mid-September. Currently, the sign is stationed at Santa Fe Auto Repair, 2650 Sawmill Road, at the corner of St. Francis Drive.

The order in which the haiku come up will be done topically. For example, haiku about roasting green chile or thunderstorms appear when the first chiles sizzle and the first raindrops fall (if this dry spell takes mercy on us, that is).

The project will conclude with an event Sept. 25 at the New Mexico Museum of Art where poets will read their work aloud and two poetry anthologies—one black and white, one in color—will be for sale.

“It fits my vision of poetry, that it is not a precious academic art form and belongs on the streets,” Logghe says. “It’s guerilla haiku.”


Axle Contemporary

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