Clark State Community College Associate Professor Chris Bays has been honored for his poem “Despite Rising Seas” which took 1st place in a national poetry contest. Haiku Society of America sponsored the contest for Best Unpublished Haibun of 2017.
The haibun, a hybrid form, combines prose poetry with haiku. It has a tradition spanning from the 17th century to modern times and includes poets Matsuo Basho of Japan and Pulitzer Prize winners John Ashbery and Robert Hass of the United States.
“I entered the contest because I wanted an objective reading of my work. In other words, the two judges did not see my name when they selected it,” said Bays. “Since I have published extensively using Asian poetic forms, especially the haibun as a vehicle for conveying my imagination, I wanted the poem to be judged on its merit alone.”
Bays said there were 127 entries in the poetry contest; while he was surprised to learn he had won, Bays is no stranger to recognition for his work. In 2016, his senryu received special mention, as it was short-listed to the Top 10 out of 436 entries for the British Haiku Awards, which included poets from around the world. His haiku received honorable mention in the 14th annual Robert Frost Poetry Festival at the Key West Heritage House in Florida in 2009. In 2010, Silenced Press nominated his minimalist sonnet for Best New Poets.
His latest poem, the haibun, was inspired by a talk Bays heard on TV by the philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky. “Noam mentioned that the greatest threats to the human race are nuclear war and climate change,” he said. “I wanted to contrast the innocence of youth with the harshness of reality in this poem--which also goes along with a theme found in most of my poetry: how women and children are affected by war, violence and destruction.”
Bays said he was competing against people he looks up to in the poetry world. “It felt good to be acknowledged for my hard work by judges who have been Merit-Book prizewinners,” said Bays. “My next goal is to get my book of poems published. Since I work in both shorter Asian and longer Western poetic forms, I will have to see how to sell this idea to some presses. It will be my next adventure into the poetry world.”
Born in Germany to an American military father and a German mother, Bays’ first language was German. He went to Berea College in Kentucky with a double major in German and English; he earned his master’s degree at Wright State University in English and TESOL.
Bays has been teaching Creative Writing at Clark State for 13 years. His class focuses on short stories, poetry and plays. “I enjoy teaching students how to write because I know how important writing will be in their lives,” he said. “Writing will help them to gain access to higher-paying jobs, reveal to them various pathways to creativity and analytical thinking and open channels of communication to diverse people that they will work with or befriend--often from afar through the internet.”
He received a cash prize and his latest winning poem was published in Frogpond. The poem is available online.