Missouri Poet Laureate Maryfrances Wagner encourages Missourians to explore poetry through the Missouri Haiku Project
Missouri's Poet Laureate Maryfrances Wagner of Independence is concluding her two-year term with the Missouri Haiku Project, whose goal is spreading poetry by Missourians themselves throughout the state. Wagner will be presenting a workshop, one of many she has hosted over the past few months during this effort, at Columbia's Unbound Book Festival on Saturday, April 22nd.
"I have been very pleased with the support around the state, particularly Columbia. I've received haiku from people in Fulton, Nixa, Columbia, St. Louis, Springfield, Theodosia, Moberly, Kirksville, Maryville, and all around the greater Kansas City area. I've received haiku from students as young as five to seniors in their 80's. Many have written their first haiku with this project. People have sent them to me via email, snail mail, and handed me their business cards with a haiku on the back," Wagner said.
Wagner chose the super-short form of haiku, which originated in Japan, as a type of poetry that everyone could create. English-language haiku is often written as three lines with a 5-7-5 pattern of syllables. Wagner emphasizes that “more important is the image. A haiku is the fewest words, one to three lines, that appeal to the senses and focus on nature.”
The process of participating is simple: follow the guidelines (Missouri-Poet-Laureate-Haiku-Project_guidelines-tips-and-examples.pdf (missouriartscouncil.org)), write a haiku, and send your poem to Wagner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Governor Michael L. Parson appointed Independence poet, teacher, and community arts leader Maryfrances Wagner as Missouri’s sixth Poet Laureate. She is serving from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2023.
The Missouri Poet Laureate enriches Missourians’ lives throughout the state by fostering the reading and writing of poetry, through public appearances, readings, workshops, and digital and social media.
Wagner has published 10 collections of her poetry, most recently Solving for X in April 2022. Other books include The Immigrants’ New Camera, Salvatore’s Daughter, Light Subtracts Itself, Dioramas, Pouf, The Silence of Red Glass, and Red Silk, which won the 2000 Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award. Her poems have also appeared in dozens of magazines and anthologies.
Wagner has co-edited several poetry anthologies and the New Letters Review of Books. She has co-edited I-70 Review magazine since 2010.
Her poetry “is accessible in the best sense of the world—straightforward, lucid, concrete,” says William Trowbridge, Missouri Poet Laureate 2012-16. Her poems, says Arizona poet and author Gary Gildner, bring readers “stunning moments with children, with family and feelings, the stuff of this world unfolding as natural and necessary as a flower—the loves and losses, the albums in the attic, the meals of ravioli—stories simple and splendid.”
In 2020, Ms. Wagner was named the Individual Artist honoree for our Missouri Arts Awards, the state’s highest honor in the arts.
The Missouri Haiku Project encourages Missourians to try their hand at creating their own haiku poems. Wagner said this project has been one of the most successful and fulfilling during her term as poet laureate.
"I have been moved over and over by the support and by meeting new people. People have put their haiku on photographs and paintings. Columbia embraced the project and have melded it into the Unbound Book Festival. The library there had a haiku high tea and then put the poems and teapots in a display case. Teachers have gone into ten classes from first grade through middle school to have children write haiku. In the Writers Place's In Our Own Words program, we included having the students write haiku. Blue Springs High School turned all of their haiku into a mobile they hung."
"I have taught five haiku workshops, two in Columbia, one for the Writers Place, and two at Woodneath Mid-Continent Library. We had a haiku event at Prospero's bookstore where people were able to read their haiku to an audience. We've posted haiku on Facebook every day since Jan 1, and I've created haiku on marbled paper as well as printed haiku cards. Ten thousand haiku cards are being passed around the state. A professor at UCM had her students write haiku and chalk them on the sidewalks around campus. A teacher in Theodosia had his students write them on the sidewalk and the side of the school building. People hung them on bulletin boards, posted them in unexpected places, and I've been leaving haiku cards everywhere I go," Wagner said.
There are also several displays and haiku cards and tiny books people can take at the Woodneath branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library.
"The project has been the most rewarding of the four I've done as there is so much more interaction with people. I've met so many people through this project, and I've loved seeing what children come up with because often their sense of observation is so vivid," Wagner said.
The Missouri Haiku Project is the last of four projects completed by Wagner during her term.
"My first project was ten Podcasts that are posted on Apple, Spotify, and Anchor. People can google them on their computer as well. They are listed as The Literary State. Ten Missouri poets each answered two questions about the craft of writing, offered a writing prompt, and then read two of their own poems. Each is about 10 to 20 minutes long, and people could listen to them in their car on the way home or sitting at a table with pen and paper. I hope, as well, that teachers will use them in their classrooms to teach students more about poetry."
The Tiny Books project was Wagner's second project, which featured twenty more Missouri poets. Each tiny book has one poem in it, designed by Richard Hansen of California.
"The third project was two anthologies of yet twenty more poets published by Spartan Press. The Missouri Haiku Project is the fourth, and it began on January 1st through May. The more I reached out to people the more poets I realized lived in this state," Wagner said.
As Wagner reflects on her term as Missouri's Poet Laureate, she hopes her work throughout the state has changed mindsets many have around poetry.
"My two goals during my time as poet laureate have been to promote Missouri poets and put poetry in the hands of people who don't usually read it or even think they like it. I hope I've changed some minds on that."
For more information on the Missouri Haiku Project, visit Home_page (fieldinfoserv.com).
Missouri Poet Laureate Maryfrances Wagner is concluding her term encouraging Missourians to create and share haiku poetry through the Missouri Haiku Project. “The goal is to spread poems all over the state and show how important poetry can be for the human spirit.” Photo credit: Andrea Brookhart