As the weather warms and islanders seek solace and reflection outdoors, what better place to head than Mukai Farm & Garden, where entries to the organization’s first Haiku Festival and Contest are now on display?
Through June, haiku enthusiasts can stroll the grounds and enjoy the emerging spring garden along with the profusion of poetry.
The outdoor poetry exhibit has 11 different stations, spread out around the gardens to encourage social distancing and quiet contemplation.
There were 280 submissions to the contest, from poets on Vashon; Zagreb, Croatia; Jalisco, Mexico; Brooklyn, New York and Santa Barbara, California. The poet’s ages ranged from 3 to 99.
The panel of jurists included social activist and poet Dr. Lawrence Matsuda, poet and philosopher Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma, writer/editor Michael Feinstein, a member of Vashon’s Mondays at Three Haiku Collective, and Mukai Board President Rita Brogan.
“We were all blown away by the beauty and brilliance of so many of the entries,” said Feinstein.
The oldest winner, Yvonne Belshaw, 99, took the contest’s top prize in the Nature category.
Belshaw and her late husband have long owned a house and property on Vashon, and her two children, Mary and Bill Belshaw, both live on the island presently.
Yvonne’s simple, evocative haiku is but the latest in her lifelong vocation as a poet, playwright and author. Her published works include “Z is for Zucchini,” “With Love, It’s Raining in Seattle,” “Toby the Flying Cat” and “Rocks in His Socks.” She has also won awards for her plays, “The Autumn Crocus,” and has written a musical, “Age Only Matters If You’re Cheese.”
And this isn’t the first time Yvonne has won a haiku contest — she also picked up prizes in the Japan-America Society Haiku Contest in 1972 and won second place in the same contest in 1970.
In addition to her life as a writer, Yvonne worked for 35 years as the advertising director of her family’s business and was a world traveler, trekking from the Arctic to Antarctica, and many countries in between.
In an interview for this article, conducted by her daughter Mary, Yvonne said that she started writing poetry in the fifth grade.
“I learned to write haiku when the family went down to the ocean and I found a magazine that described how to write haiku,” she said. “I thought ‘this is easy.’”
When asked what were the rewards of a writer’s life, Yvonne was reflective.
“A sense of accomplishment, getting the idea and then writing it out,” she said.
Then, she joked, “I didn’t know I was a writer.”
The complete list of prizewinners and the first-place-winning poems follow.
Heritage: Jennifer Gogarten, Vashon, First Place; Brit Myers, Vashon, Honorable Mention
Nature: Yvonne Belshaw, Seattle, First Place; Ann Spiers, Vashon, Honorable Mention
Emotion: Mel Goldberg, Jalisco, Mexico First Place; Melissa Urushidani, Port Orchard and Shirley Ferris, Vashon, Honorable Mentions
Funny Bone: Ronald Simons, Vashon, First Place; Pat Minier, Vashon and Chris Bollweg, Vashon, Honorable Mentions
COVID-19: John Okamoto, Seattle, First Place; Debbie Butler, Vashon, Honorable Mention
Youth: First Place winners are Pre-K Wilfred Gogarten, Vashon (in the new Toddler category); K-6 Ella Odegard; 7-12 Jolyon Gogarten, Vashon; and Regina May Obnial, Vashon, Honorable Mention
People’s Choice: Ariel Koering, Tacoma, K-6 First Place; Sadie R, Vashon, K-6 Honorable Mention
Mukai Farm & Garden celebrates Vashon’s Japanese American and agricultural heritage. To find out more, and see all submissions to the organization’s haiku contest, visit