Perspectives Online

The poetry of insects?

Dr. Andy Deans in the N.C. State University Insect Museum.

                      /a poet seeks rhyme
                      the world of insects beckons
                      haiku is heaven/

The annual Hexapod Haiku Challenge is upon us.

What, you say, is the Hexapod Haiku Challenge? It’s the brainchild of Dr. Andy Deans, assistant professor of entomology at N.C. State University and director of the N.C. State Insect Museum in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The name – Hexapod Haiku Challenge – is self defining, sort of. Hexapoda refers to all insects and their six-legged relatives. Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry consisting of 17 moras, a Japanese phonetic unit that is similar to a syllable, in a 5-7-5 pattern. So it’s a contest for writers of haiku about insects.

This is the third year of the Hexapod Haiku Challenge and, not coincidentally, Deans’ third year on the faculty at N.C. State.
Deans notes that when he moved to Raleigh, met new people and told them what he did at N.C. State, very few had heard of the Insect Museum. He says “State has an insect museum?” was the most frequent response he heard.

That’s understandable. Because of space constraints, the museum isn’t usually open to the public, although visits can be arranged, and pieces of the museum often travel to the public. Deans says area schools often make arrangements for entomology graduate students to bring insect displays to the schools.

Yet the museum’s collection is large, and it is considered a critical entomological research resource. It’s so large, in fact, that Deans and his colleagues aren’t sure exactly how many individual insect specimens the museum houses. The most recent estimate is 1.4 million specimens, with almost 600,000 specimens identified to species.
Deans dreamed up the Hexapod Haiku Challenge as a way to get people thinking about the ways in which insects impact their lives and to create awareness of the Insect Museum. While the contest is called the haiku challenge, Deans says, “We’re not too strict about how we define haiku.”

Also accepted as contest entries are verses called senryu, which are like haiku but focused on people rather than seasons; haiga, which are illustrated haiku; tanka, which are poems that take a 5-7-5-7-7 form, and any other short so-called one-breath poems.

The first year, the contest drew 87 entries from 42 haiku writers. Deans advertised the contest on the museum’s Web site, so, of course, the entries came from all over the world.

Submissions came from Japan, England, Australia, California and an elementary school class from Fairhaven, Massachusetts, says Deans.

Last year, there were 102 entries but from fewer writers, and again many of the entries were international. Last year’s grand prize winner came from Poland. The grand prize winner, from Marek Kozubek of Zywiec, Poland:

                      /the waft of spring
                      a butterfly on the hand
                      of sumo master/

Word of the contest has apparently spread. This year, Deans received 47 entries before even announcing the contest, which he did the first week of February. The entry deadline is 11:59 p.m., March 20, the first day of spring. Entry information is online at

                      /haiku deadline looms
                      words flicker on computer
                      Hexapoda rule/

-- Dave Caldwell