Traveling poets take up residency in Southern Berkshires, offering free haiku

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WEST STOCKBRIDGE >> Sitting at a table at the No. Six Depot Roastery & Cafe in West Stockbridge one afternoon, Lisa Ann Markuson and Peter Tiso composed haiku for the public on their light blue vintage 1970s typewriter.

"The Berkshires are analogous to haiku," Markuson said. "There's a timeless feeling to both the area and the art."

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry known for its unique pentameter. The structure of a haiku has three lines. Each line of the haiku has a specific number of syllables: five, then seven, then five again.

The Haiku Guys & Gals, as their business is known, began working together three years ago as an integration of two similar businesses in the Washington, D.C., and New York City areas. The businesses produces a type of public poetry, setting up with typewriters at markets, fairs, or for private businesses and writing haiku for people passing by or guests. They type out haiku on demand on 3x5-inch cards, taking inspiration from onlookers' suggestions. The haiku generated are free — unless the band of traveling poets are hired to be at a specific function.

It's like a fun party magic trick, but with words instead of colored scarves.

On a recent visit, they were inspired to write a haiku for this reporter's dog:

within her forests

wild canine goddesses rule

with human sidekicks

— for Freya

D.C.-based Markuson met New York-based Erick Szentmiklosy and Daniel Zaltsman at the Wanderlust Yoga Festival in Vermont in 2013. Markuson and the two men hit it off and decided to become a trio of public poets. The poetry was a side business for two years, but in August 2015 Markuson decided to take on running the Haiku Guys & Gals as a full-time business. It's been a productive, and successful, year, she said.

"When you pitch public haiku it sounds strange to people," Markuson said. "But once you see it in action, people's faces light up."

Tiso joined the crew in 2014. He met Markuson in the Greenpoint art scene in Brooklyn after she moved to New York to pursue haiku. After a successful audition, he was in.

But Tiso felt himself pulled toward the area where he went to college — the southern Berkshires. Tiso is a graduate of Simon's Rock College of Bard in Great Barrington. He bought a house in New Marlborough last year.

"I kept a lot of connections here," he said. "This feels like home."

Tiso wrote this haiku for his home in the Berkshires:

Thousands of roommates

Most of whom you've yet to meet

Make yourself at home.

He has returned to Simon's Rock, as well, as an adjunct faculty member, teaching geographic information systems.

Markuson said she also feels a connection to the area. She comes to the Berkshires regularly now that Tiso lives here. It's her goal to establish a deeper connection to the county and the people in the region.

"It's a tucked away rural area," she said. "My goal is to know the people here more, do more events and good work on an interpersonal level."

Tiso agrees. He sees the public poetry as a contribution to the area's art scene and the community at large.

Part of the appeal of the Berkshires to the work, he said, comes from the ability to have one-on-one moments with people. That lends itself to a real connection and real work.

Plus, the aesthetic fits the bohemian lifestyle of the southern Berkshires. The area's unique placement in the center of urban power centers like New York, Boston, and Albany makes having what Tiso describes as a functional community a special and delicate balance.

"This area is like a diamond in the forest," Markuson added. "I'm grateful to be exposed to it."

Haiku for hire

The Haiku Guys & Gals can occasionally be found roaming through the Southern Berkshires with their typewriter looking for inspiration — occasionally showing up at spots like the Great Barrington Farmers Market. They can also be hired to entertain with haiku at weddings, parties and work functions.

For more information, visit www.thehaikuguys.com.

You can also submit a request via the website for your own #freehaiku


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