The Haiku Lady

Victoria Dym is a performer, poet, and certified laughter yoga leader from the Tampa area. Her character The Haiku Lady has been a fixture of this year’s Very Normal Festival, and will perform once again on Saturday, December 12 in the festival’s 6:15 p.m. EST show block. In this spotlight interview, Dym discusses the genesis of the Haiku Lady character, why haiku is so popular with the general public, and recalls her most memorable classes from her time at clown college.

We’re incredibly excited to have you with us this year! Tell us about Cuckoo for Haiku. What can audiences expect to see over the course of your bits?

Thank you so much for accepting Cuckoo for Haiku into The Very Normal Festival. Loosely based on the improv game Half Life, I will get an audience suggestion of a word and within thirty seconds come up with an haiku on the spot. The timer music is from The Jeopardy Show and my homage to Alex Trebek.

You’ll be appearing as a character called “The Haiku Lady.” Tell us about her! How did you develop the character, and to what extent is she based on yourself? 

She’s a poetry nerd like me. And a bit of a clown like me. In these Covid Times, The Haiku Lady, like so many of us has to live minimalistically and alone. It is a challenge to think small, and still be a big personality. 

You’re a bona fide haiku expert: You facilitate the annual October Haiku Challenge in Tampa and teach haiku and haibun at Polk State. What draws you to this particular poetic form, and why do you think it is so popular among the general public?

It’s easy to learn; difficult to master. Like a puzzle, it demands your time. I play relaxing Japanese music in class and Haiku takes over. It is a way to train the brain and to get back to the images of nature. 

What, in your opinion, constitutes a “good” haiku? (Besides just adherence to the format?) Or is “good” and “bad” the wrong way to think about haiku? 

A good Haikui (short form in the poetry world) is one that not only adheres to the rule of 5-7-5 but also supplants an image as well an emotion in the readers mind. And just like a button in improv, may turn that image in the last line. “Good” and “bad” — what about “publishable”?

Here is an Haiku published in my second book, When the Walls Cave In, from Finishing Line Press, available on Amazon, entitled “Impingement Haiku”:
                                                          Giant octopus                                             tree roots– cat’s claws dig deep down                                                             pain rests in shoulder.

You are a graduate of Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Clown College, which is amazing. What was the curriculum like? Did you have any memorable professors there?

My favorite class was improv, natch, taught by an actual student of Viola Spolin. Bits are “gags” in the circus, and I was lucky enough to be in a master class with Lou Jacobs, the only clown ever to be on a postage stamp. He taught us his famed “Dentist Gag”. Check me out as the dental hygienist in this rare clip from a Clown College rehearsal for our graduation show, which was a TV special, hosted by Dick Van Dyke:

My second favorite class was make-up; I am an Auguste. Personality in the ring is signaled by type of make-up. I wasn’t very good at stilts or arial, however, I earned my stripes by training the two toy dachshunds, Max and Oscar. We performed two gags that I wrote in the show, “The Long Dog” and “The Strong Dog.” Those were the days!

Finally — we are contractually obligated to ask this question — on an ascending scale from 1 to 10, how normal is your show and why?

Very Normal ~10. You may catch yourself doing Haiku during or after my shows; and then sometimes before, And then, long after the festival is over you may wake to 5-7-5.