The Wisconsin Sijo (WiSiJo) Poetry Contest Opens for its Fourth Year!
MADISON–Wisconsinites of all ages will have the opportunity to learn a new poetry form and possibly win a prize for doing so. For the fourth year in a row, the UW-Madison Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS), in collaboration with the Sejong Cultural Society of Chicago, will sponsor the Wisconsin Sijo (WiSiJo, 위시조) competition.
Sijo is a traditional Korean three-line poetic form consisting of a theme (1st line), elaboration (2nd line), and a counter-theme and conclusion (3rd line). Sijo traditionally explores cosmological, metaphysical, or pastoral themes and consists of 14-16 syllables per line:
So they say there was a gale and frosty snow fell last night?
And the spreading pines were all broken and overthrown?
In that case how about the flowers, what chance have they to bloom?
–Yu Eung-bu (d. 1456)
In the above poem, the first two lines are dominated by heavy, dark, cold imagery—“gale”, “frosty”, “night”, “broken.” The counter-theme in the first half of the third line introduces flowers—light and delicate—into the poem. The two discordant images are then resolved or connected in the conclusion which focuses on the fate of the flowers in such an environment.
“While sijo is not as well-known as haiku, the thematic nature of its structure translates to English better than the intricate play of Chinese characters that define Japanese and Chinese poetic forms,” said CEAS Associate Director David Fields. Fields organized the first WiSiJo competition with Sejong Cultural Society Executive Director Lucy Park in 2020 at the suggestion of Arrowhead Union High School teacher Elizabeth Jorgensen. Jorgensen, who has taught sijo for many years, and Park have recently co-edited a book on sijo entitled Sijo: Korea’s Poetry Form. Complimentary copies of this book are available for educators who teach sijo in classes in the USA. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if interested.
What started out as an experimental pilot program has drawn 767 entries from all parts of Wisconsin in the last three years. Last year’s winning sijo poems can be read here, along with bios of the winners.
Winning Submission for 2023
“Given that nearly all the entrants had to take time to learn something completely new and unfamiliar, we were blown away by the response,” said Fields.
The fourth Annual Wisconsin Sijo (WiSiJo 위시조) Competition opens today and will be accepting applications through January 15, 2024. The competition is open to Wisconsinites of all ages, offers monetary prizes of up to $400 to winning entries, and includes inducements for schools and libraries to promote participation. For details on how to enter as well as on how to write sijo, please visit the Wisconsin Sijo Competition page.
“Writing a sijo is challenging, but very gratifying,” said Fields, who writes Wisconsin-themed (often Packer-themed) sijo on CEAS Facebook page to promote the competition, including one last year on Aaron Rodgers lingering toe injury:
Six-feet, two-inches, two-hundred twenty-five pounds of toughness.
Sacked five-hundred times, all but two, he gets back up again.
But step near Aaron’s pinky toe, Lambeau holds its collective breath.
Thanks to support from the University of Michigan Press and additional funding from the Hyuk Yu Fund for Korean Studies, adult entries in this years’ competition are eligible to receive a complimentary copy of Richard Rutt’s The Bamboo Grove: An Introduction to Sijo while supplies last.
The Wisconsin Sijo Competition is funded in part by a Title VI grant from the U.S. Department of Education.