Tattoo-Haiku wants to make its mark on Denver. Joseph Carman, founder of the 555 Collective, which promotes the arts and also raises money for trauma victims, is advertising a haiku contest on fliers posted around town. To enter, you must pay a $5 submission fee -- which Carman plans to give needy veterans.
And the winner of the contest is in line to get a diamond ring, and also the honor of seeing the winning haiku tattooed on Carman's arm.
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Carman graduated with a bachelor's degree from Texas Women's University in 2001, majoring in art, psychology and philosophy. He was interested in what he calls "the study of evil," and ended up in the University of Denver's forensic psychology master's program, interning at a federal prison and working as a guard at Lookout Mountain. After that, he worked as a social psychologist evaluating newly committed youth in Texas.
Through his experiences, he says, he learned that the "biggest roadblock to our sense of well-being as humankind was the idea of trauma, because it effects our sense of meaning and robs us of everything that we hold dear that makes our lives worthwhile." The best way to eliminate that roadblock, he determined, was art. He moved back to Denver this spring, hoping to spread his ideals to a slightly more forward-thinking crowd than he'd found in Texas.
Westword: How did this contest come about?
Joseph Carman: I've done a haiku contest before with limited marketing on Craigslist all over the world called Haiku for Humanity, and we got a lot of feedback. For a writer, a haiku is really not a lot of time and energy. Each week we had a $100 winner for the haiku of the week. I'm thinking if we do this on a larger scale, we can get a lot of entries.
The haiku format is perfect for a contest, and I'm fascinated by the mixture of precision and poignancy it tends to bring out in writers. The tattoo component is meant to underline my level of commitment to this venture. Using art to address pain is, in my opinion, what it was meant for. Think of all the aspiring writers, visual artists, musicians, etc., out there, and all the energy they create in their endeavors. If we could harness that energy and channel it towards the support of trauma survivors, it'd be using humanity's most powerful resource to address our biggest challenge to a sense of well-being.
Why are you donating specifically to veterans?
It seems like a good place to start. We want to work for all victims. When I started in Texas, my main focus was victims of violent crimes. I think at this time in this city, people are more open to veterans. I think you could just say homeless people or all members of trauma but logistically, if you can give the public something very tangible to understand like homeless veterans, it allows people to focus. The main motivation was an interview I did with the great-grandson of Sitting Bull. He has a fascinating story. He's a Vietnam vet and he ended up in Denver and he lived homeless for a few years under the 38th Avenue bridge. He and these guys couldn't reintegrate because normal society didn't make any sense to them. They banded together under the bridge and had their own little troupe and each had their own mission. At the end of the conversation, he suggested I focus on veterans.
Why did you add in the tattoo?
Just another logistical sort of thing. I mean it makes sense. I was sitting on my couch one day and realized that tattoo rhymes with haiku, so I thought about it for about a month and decided I could just tattoo it on my arm. It's more motivation for writers.
Where does the diamond ring fit into all this? Why not donate that?
I own the ring. It's the most valuable thing I have that I can give away. I actually don't know what it's worth, but you have to get people's attention somehow. As far as the story behind the ring, my marriage is ending and it's the ring I took back from her. People thought it'd be interesting if I gave the ring away. But 555 is based on contests, so hopefully we can get people to donate items so we don't spend money on prizes.
The funds for everything so far have come from my 401k. I had this idea back in 2010 when I cashed it out, and I've been building on it. It wasn't until this spring that I was comfortable moving forward.
Want to help Carman keep moving forward? Submit a haiku here.
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