One Syllable at a Time, Townie Haikus Makes Poets of Us All
On February 11, 2019, Townie Haikus made their debut post on Instagram. It was a poem that went along the lines of “Will they ever be/ finished tearin’ the shit out/ of Kenmount…racket”. Since this topical beginning, the account has veritably exploded, amassing over 750 followers in less than a month and publishing contributions from dozens of Instagram poets.
Many latent writers of our province seemed to have been waiting for this exact venue to put their words out there, celebrating the best and the worst of this town we call St. John’s. The Racket caught up with the man who started it all and learned about the inspiration behind this movement. This mystery haiku man preferred to remain anonymous to the public, thus we will refer to him as “M” from here onwards.
M shared how the idea came to him to create this Instagram community. It started the way many great works of art tend to begin: “Honest to God, a stoned thought in the shower one evening. And it’s weird, I never shower in the evenings either. Not unless I worked late doing something physically strenuous. But I was just standing there, shampooing, having a think about it all. And it just came to me. I wish there was something deeper, but sometimes you’re scrubbin’ your arse and there it is.”
As humble as they get, M never envisioned that his idea would turn into a large-scale production uniting hundreds of folks. “It's the weirdest thing. I actually remember initially thinking, ‘I'll forget about this in a week,’ and a week later, I had more submissions than I could keep up within one day. But, you know what? I've posted every single one and I always will.”
Submissions have been open to anyone and everyone. Townies and Baymen, the old and the young, people from all walks of life. From the sounds of it, contributors have been stepping up their game since the start of Townie Haikus, often braving public exposure with the first poem they have ever written. “I'm so unbelievably proud of the people who have put themselves out there to share a poem... what's crazy is it's a lot of people I know, who have no idea who I am. And I never knew they wanted to write, but here I am with my jaw dropping at how hilarious and clever and poignant they can be.”
Why haikus, might one ask? What ability does the 5-7-5 format have to capture the essence of our people?
“A haiku is such a short little capture of a moment in someone's brain. It takes NO effort. Just a little creativity or silliness. And all you had to do was send it to me and the rest is done. You know what really blew my mind? Not a single person to date asked to leave their name off or to go anonymous. One lady said she was nervous and I just reassured her she was doing great and now she's written three. I didn't invent the microphone, I just plugged it in and passed it along. It's amazing what people are willing to contribute if you just let them become the curators of their own momentary art.”
M feels passionately that the way to unite our community is through art of all forms. “Read a book and tell someone about it. There's nothing I love more than the passion in somebody's eyes when they tell me about an incredible book they couldn't put down. Or go see a play. There's so much incredible live performance happening around this city all of the time and it's even more fun running into those people around the city later. Nothing like browsing records at Fred's next to Mark Critch to remind you of what a small city this is, huh?”
Despite the intimacy with St. John’s seen in his poetry, it might be surprising to hear that M has not always lived in this town. “I actually grew up outside of the city but spent a lot of time visiting here when I was in high school. I actually started a long-distance relationship with a girl who also lived an hour further from St. John's than I did. We both came to St. John's one day and I had to take the Metrobus from the Avalon Mall to go meet her. I remember being fifteen years old, feeling so distant from my rural childhood, craving that to be my life.”
“It's interesting watching your perspective on this city change over time. I've been here almost thirteen years and watching it grow and evolve over time has been magic and frustration and happiness and sometimes just an eye roll with a quietly uttered ‘Yes b'y…’”
His preferred spots in St. John’s might be familiar to those of us who have walked these streets before. “My favorite spots are usually very seasonal, given the nature of this city/island. So, like... walking down Duckworth and Water in the winter is treacherous but kind of lovely and beautiful and lively and sweet to do on a Sunday morning with a nice hot drink. Or, obviously, Bannerman with a slice and tallboy in the summer. Or Signal Hill in the fall, particularly that little Widow's Peak spot by the Interpretation Centre. BEST sunset in the city, I'm telling you. Hands down.”
M not only writes about sights and sounds in the city; he has also included some of his treasured memories in St. John’s, including poem No. 6, which he identifies as his favourite original on Townie Haikus. “I wrote it about the best set of roommates that I ever had, these four strangers who knew each other but didn't know me. [They] welcomed me in like I had been there all along, and supported pretty much everything that I've ever done since. I know I could reach out to any of them and they'd be a listening ear anytime. And a lot of the writing and music I got involved in was born out of the confidence I built living with them so early in my adult life. There were a lot of faces in and out of our doors during those years, but... Susan, Chris, Patrick, Amy, thank you. Always.”
It took some reflection to choose his favourite poem submitted to the page. “I love them all, of course. But I have a real soft spot for No. 20. It was written by a very old friend of mine and just hits my brain like water to a hot pan.”
We asked M if he had any advice on crafting the perfect haiku. “Like my old pal Enrique used to say, ‘let the rhythm take you over.’ A haiku, as oddly abstract as it is, can sound and feel kind of natural coming out of your mouth when it's properly crafted. So I say just try writing and re-wording over and over and over until it feels and sounds great.”
If you are interested in sharing a haiku with this flourishing online community, or if your interest has been piqued and you’d like to see what all the fuss is about, visit @towniehaikus on Instagram for some heartwarming and hilarious poetry. They accept submissions via direct message or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org