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Arts & Culture

Quarantine in Seventeen

Haiku Contest Looks for Quick—but Poetic—Insights on Life at Home

By Sala Levin ’10

Illustration of man in bed with laptop on lap and dog at feet

Illustrations by Valerie Morgan

The #HaikuFromHomeUMD contest asks participants to condense their time staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic into the traditional three-line poem, covering everything from Zoom meetings to gazing out the window to extra time with your dog.

In 17 syllables, capture something essential about the experience of life under stay-at-home orders, whether it’s your dog’s apparent boredom, the spring scenery outside your window or the cycle of muting and unmuting yourself on endless Zoom meetings.

Illustration of person looking out the windowThat’s the task set forth by the UMD Department of English and University Libraries with #HaikuFromHomeUMD, a contest celebrating National Poetry Month that asks participants to condense their time staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic into the traditional three-line poem. Three winners will receive Vigilante coffee and treats from Chesapeake Chocolates to perk up and sweeten their quarantine.

“We wanted to create a creative outlet and invite the community to have a moment to just sit and contemplate what is happening right now and write a haiku to kind of process everything,” said Aaron Ginoza, social media coordinator in University Libraries.

Illustration of person in a Zoom meetingThe short and sweet haiku offered the perfect medium, with a simple format and brevity that makes it hyper-tweetable—plus a twist on the everyday that matches both the monotony and the surreal quality of life during a pandemic. “In a lot of ways, there’s kind of a mundane side to haikus, but … it’s kind of about having an elevated new perspective on something very mundane,” said Ginoza. 

Some entries focus on the new reality of virtual meetings and working remotely. “I’m always Zooming / And yet I’m never moving / COVID paradox,” reads a submission from Marilee Lindemann, associate professor of English. “Two profs in one house / Me downstairs and him upstairs / Will bandwidth allow?” asks Carly S. Woods, assistant professor of communication.Illustration of stairs and two speech bubbles, talking about Wi-Fi/service

Others have highlighted the challenges of isolation: Marie Thoma, assistant professor of family science, wrote: “Social distancing / Coffee water wine repeat / What day is today?” And from Eric Bartheld, formerly of University Libraries: “He gave me some space / Was it social distancing / Or my pet tiger?”

A few poets have turned outside for inspiration. From the Memorial Chapel account: “The Chapel bell still tolls / with only squirrels to hear / and the garden blooms.” Tom Leggett combined popular themes of pets and nature: “Canine, curled by feet / yawns in air decorated / by fragrant jasmine.”

Illustration of person working at table with dog at feet The contest, judged by Creative Writing Program Coordinator Lindsay Bernal and Professor Joshua Weiner, is a way for people stuck at home to try something they might never have considered before, said Karen Nelson, director of research initiatives in the English department’s Center for Literary and Comparative Studies.

“People should all start writing haikus from home,” she said. “I thought I couldn’t do it—I’m not a creative writer at all, but it turned out to be fun.”




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