SKOWHEGAN — Downtown Skowhegan is being haiku bombed.

On store windows, in doorways, on lampposts, in businesses — even in a tavern restroom — are the traditional Japanese poems written in three lines containing 17 syllables in a 5-7-5 count.

Haiku.

Like this one about Skowhegan, by Lilac, a sixth-grader at the middle school:

“A hidden flower

in the middle of the state

unknown to people”

That haiku and dozens of others are posted in the windows of the former Holland’s Variety Drug on Water Street as part of National Poetry Month, sponsored by the Wesserunsett Arts Council. The group is “planting seeds for fertile minds,” and many of the poems are by children, said Nina Pleasants, vice president of the arts council.

The downtown haiku bombing began in early March, originally as a contest about what the Skowhegan community means to residents; but it soon spread with the help of arts council president Lolly Phoenix to libraries in Kingfield, Norridgewock, Solon and Skowhegan.

Matt L’Italien, of Somerset Public Health, was walking by earlier this week and was drawn to the large windows with the display of little poems.

“It’s interesting to see what kids want to say about their community and seeing them do it in a creative way,” L’Italien said from the sidewalk on Water Street.

He said the haiku by Lilac “is actually the one I was most impressed with.”

“I thought there was a lot of interesting symbolism there. The hidden flower was written by a girl named Lilac,” he said.

Nina Pleasants admires haiku poetry and artwork in a Skowhegan downtown store front on Monday.

Nina Pleasants admires haiku poetry and artwork in a Skowhegan downtown store front on Monday. Staff photo by David Leaming

The poems were collected via email by the arts council in March and went on display in the window of the former drugstore April 1. Pleasants said store owner Kevin Holland, who moved the business into a new building last year near the Bernard Langlais Indian sculpture, will allow the council to use the windows until the building is rented or sold. The poems elsewhere in downtown Skowhegan were placed there by the business owners or with their permission.

The haiku will remain in the windows until the end of April, offering little seeds of fun, she said.

Like this one by Solon resident Woody Woodson:

“Small store counter talk

‘snow, mild, cold, mud; it’s crazy’

Coffee brandy please”

“Haikus are just little magic seeds. They’re planting seeds in fertile minds,” Pleasants said. “You think it’s going to be easy because it’s a formula — 5-7-5 (syllables) — but when you start to do it, you get kind of challenged and then your mind starts thinking of other things that make you think of other things, and pretty soon you’ve written 15 of them.”

More than 100 haiku have been submitted by email and to the arts council Facebook page.

The windows at the former Variety Drug also feature traditional Japanese paintings by council secretary Serena Sanborn — mountains and cherry blossoms.

“It’s an easy art form that everyone can try,” Sanborn said. “They’re simple. You can have little kids do them, families doing them together. So far, every place we’ve gone they’re super-excited about it.”

Pleasants said 30 haiku have been selected for display on the council’s Facebook page. Other selected poems will be read on the WXNZ, the council’s low-power FM radio station, which operates at the Somerset Grist Mill in the former county jail in downtown Skowhegan.

She said the arts council is getting ready to launch the Somerset Cultural Planning Committee, which will apply to the Maine Arts Commission for a grant that would pay someone to create a comprehensive cultural plan for Skowhegan, much like what is being done in Waterville. Pleasants, Sanborn and Phoenix said the council has received haiku from all over Maine and from several states, and even one from Japan.

“We’ve had submissions from a 6-year-old to a 98-year-old,” Pleasants said.

Nona Young, 98, of New Portland, wrote:

“Willows wake early

Cascading private sunshine

Neighboring oaks sleep”

And then there’s the one from Phoenix:

“Who started this craze

Wesserunsett Arts Council

Just a bit of fun”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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