Not-exactly-annual Haiku Death Match set for April 8

In the 2015 Haiku Death Match, former CH Council Member Jeff Coryell faced off against Dianne Borsenik.

Poetry, theater, talent show and jousting match rolled into one: Heights Arts presents its fifth Haiku Death Match on Saturday, April 8, at 7 p.m., at Dobama Theatre. Eight of the region’s best and bravest writers of the ancient Japanese 17-syllable form will battle one another in a fierce competition for audience approval.

Competing in pairs, two poets will each read an original haiku aloud, and the audience will vote for the poem they like best. Low-scoring contestants will be eliminated, and the last poet standing will be declared Haiku Death Match Master.

“This is a contest where your vote really counts,” said Cleveland Heights Poet Laureate Christine Howey, who will be on hand, though not competing. “The audience decides who deserves to be the 2017 Haiku Death Match Master, and believe me, every syllable matters!”

The last Haiku Death Match was held in October 2015. The event takes place in April this year, to celebrate National Poetry Month.

According to Rachel Bernstein, executive director of the nonprofit Heights Arts, “It makes perfect sense for Heights Arts to mark National Poetry Month by putting on the Haiku Death Match, since we were one of the first—if not the first—city in Ohio to have a poet laureate. Heights Arts has a full calendar of literary activities including the popular Ekphrastacy series of poetry and artist talks. Proceeds from the Haiku Death Match support these programs and pay participating poets.”

Marc Zeale, the dark-horse winner of the 2015 Haiku Death Match, is not competing this year. Returning contestants include Dianne Borsenik, poet and founder of Night Ballet Press; Michael Ceraolo, retired firefighter/paramedic and writer; Celeste McCarty, artist, writer and performer; Ray McNiece, actor, poet, and former Haiku Death Match champion; Mary Turzillo, poet, science fiction writer and fencing champion; and Geoffrey Landis, NASA physicist, poet and science fiction writer. Rookie contestants are Christine Donofrio and Cordelia Eddy.

In the competition's first half, poets will read their contemporary haiku on five subjects: personal relationships, politics, animals in our life, the daily grind, and all things Cleveland. Poets with the highest scores advance to the second half, in which they will read only classical, nature-oriented haiku. The winner of the classical round will become the 2017 Haiku Death Match Master.

“The Haiku Death Match has always been a lot of fun,” said Bernstein, “for the poets, of course, but also for audience members who get to participate. They might not think of themselves as big poetry fans, but as the competition heats up, they get really involved."

This year, with the help of Robert Conrad of radio station WCLV (104.9 FM), Heights Arts is reaching out to a broader audience. Conrad attended the 2015 Haiku Death Match and was so taken that he decided to feature it on his weekend radio show, an hour-long mix of music, humor, culture and unclassifiable oddments, that airs every Saturday night on WCLV.

Tickets ($15 for the general public; $10 for Heights Arts members) are available at Heights Arts, 2175 Lee Road, online at, or at Dobama Theatre on the night of the match ($15 at the door). For more information, call 216-371-3457.

Meredith Holmes

Meredith Holmes is a former poet laureate of Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 10, Issue 4, Posted 5:41 PM, 03.30.2017