Those roaming the streets of downtown DC may have noticed some new additions to the neighborhood. Thanks to a recent area competition, 60 haiku poems, printed onto orange-and-yellow signs, are now on display in dozens of tree boxes throughout downtown. But one poem is getting more notice than the rest.
my garden Buddha
The author behind this haiku is Susan Burch, who is 39 and lives in Hagerstown, Maryland. Her piece took first place in the December contest, held by the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District in conjunction with the Japan Information and Culture Center. The prominent placement of her poems arguably makes Burch the most famous haiku poet in all of downtown DC.
Burch works at a library during the day, but in her free time, she explores obscure poetry forms and participates in local and international haiku competitions.
Her journey to downtown flower beds began two years ago, when she started toying with tanka, a 31-syllable, five-line poem. She then took an online haiku class with Alan Summers, an award-winning poet in the United Kingdom, and gained a newfound appreciation for the form. “I thought it was about the syllables,” Burch explains in an email. “Real haiku is not like that at all. It’s about capturing the moment.”
Her success was swift. In addition to earning mentions in several contests, Burch has been published in tanka journals and webzines. She learned about the Golden Triangle competition in the Haiku Society of America’s newsletter and was later thrilled to hear about her big win. “They really do brighten up the flower boxes,” she says.
Burch’s poetry, which touches on everything from weight gain and divorce, can be funny, clever, and, occasionally, dark. Last year, in an international competition, she submitted a haiku about abortion and earned a spot among the runners-up.
where do I go
from here —
Burch has recently gotten into scifaiku, which she describes as “regular haiku, but science-fiction themed.”
on talking to you —
every Darth Vader
says he’s my father
Burch has a personal goal of writing at least one short poem a day. “If I’m lucky,” she says. “I’ll write more than one at a time!”