Haiku Society of America Haibun Awards for 2016

Haiku Society of America Haibun Awards

Haibun Awards for 2016

Joan Zimmerman and Gregory Longenecker

It was a privilege to read the haibun submitted in the HSA 2016 Haibun Contest. We received each haibun identified by number and not by author’s name. Independently, we read over all the entries and we each compiled a long list of the work we considered strongest, commenting upon particular strengths of poems that we responded to the most. Our long-list selections had many overlaps and many differences. We looked for strong haiku (rather than senryu) and for prose that moved us. Also, we preferred work where the haiku was not a duplication of something in the prose. A title was not a requirement but was usually provided. We tended to prefer a title that augmented the haibun rather than just repeated a phrase.

We then winnowed our choices down to a combined short list. At this point, we enlisted the help of contest coordinator Patricia J. Machmiller. Because we wanted to make no more than one award per poet, we sent to Patricia our short-listed haibun, requesting that she let us know if any poet had more than one haibun on our list. Furthermore, because it can be easy to write a haiku that is accidentally “too similar” to someone else’s, Patricia offered to send to Charles Trumbull all haiku appearing in our final short list, for him to check against his vast Haiku Database. The results included several “similar but different” hits.

The three haibun that appeared on both independent short lists became our three prize winners. In addition, we each awarded an honorable mention to a poem that appeared on our own short list only.

Thanks to Patricia and Charles for helping us with our concerns. And thank you to all who submitted your work.

First Place:

by Nicholas M. Sola, New Orleans LA

Lemon Meringue

It’s early evening on the back patio of a shotgun, and we’re drinking beers, sitting around a table, a lit citronella candle in the middle. The bugs stay away except for this one bee. We all take turns gently shooing it away from our faces and beers. The bee, without any help from us, goes to the base of the candle, then the lip, and drops down into the wax. The woman sitting across from me, a vegan baker by profession, picks up a bottle cap, and scoops the bee out of the wax and onto a brick paver. The bee is still alive, wings covered in wax, and the chef and another vegan talk about mercy. I offer to do it for them, and after getting their approval, I stand up, walk over to the brick paver, and discreetly step back onto the bee. 

Independence Day—
the dog chews
another Xanax

~ ~ ~

On first reading “Lemon Meringue” both Joan and Greg rated this a favorite. It is a brilliant poem of companionship and of taking care of business to save others from suffering, to the extent that we are allowed and to the extent that we can. The tasty title invites. It resonates with the rich and sensual bittersweetness of the prose, the color and aroma of the citronella wax, the glint of pollen that might still dust the bee, and the profession of the baker.

Every word is important in this diamond of a poem, and one of the most crucial appears early: “shotgun.” In this context it is not the weapon, though it does raise the idea that there might be a death. But here the word describes an inexpensive house with a straight passageway right through it. It foreshadows the protagonist, who sees most clearly what must be done, obtains the agreement of the others, and takes a life. Everything is companionable and gentle, and then death.

The haiku that follows the stunning prose introduces totally new material that resonates surprisingly yet perfectly. The companions are together on Independence Day. In this night of shocking lights and explosions, a previously unseen companion, the dog, must also be relieved of suffering, in this case by medication. If there were a “best haibun of 2016” anthology, this would surely be included!

Second Place:

by Terri French, Huntsville AL


She smelled sour. Of sweat and sleep, vinegar and Pablum. Without the talcum coating of a newborn. The scent only the very old carry. When I hugged her neck good-bye it wove itself into my hair and settled into my shirt's collar.

pollard willow
beneath its swollen knuckles
another year

~ ~ ~

I found this a very difficult haibun to read. The smell of sweat, vinegar, and sourness pervades the entire prose section and I wanted to reject it out of hand. Experience has taught me, however, that such a reaction deserves more careful consideration. On subsequent readings, I’ve found reasons for my discomfort: the dislike of smells that are sour, the recent death of my mother, and my own aging.

The haiku portion helps us understand the patient. This person suffers from a debilitating arthritic or immunodeficiency disease. Their knuckles are swollen like those of a pollarded willow; they must find it difficult to move, to walk about. The last line of the haiku, “another year,” suggests the visit coincides with, probably, the patient’s birthday. I infer sympathy and compassion on the part of the visitor for this person despite their own discomfort at intimacy of closeness and touch.

A title other than “Visitation” might have been better. It’s a little too close to the prose section and almost explains what is happening. Still, once you’ve read the prose and haiku sections, the title asks you to reconsider what the visit is all about. There are many possibilities that the reader can fill in from their own experience in similar situations. “Visitation” is a very touching and effective haibun and deserves the second place award. [GL]

Greg had such a strong visceral response to this haibun that we decided to write separate comments. This haibun was on my final short list because it is so well written in every part. The title “Visitation” works particularly well for me, with its echoing of biblical visitations that can not only bring blessings but also afflictions. Both can be present when one visits someone who is entering their final years and perhaps months. The specifics of what the visitor carries away – the sour smells that “wove … into my hair and settled in my shirt’s collar” – can resonate with readers long after they have moved on into their lives, just as they do for the visitor in this poem. [JZ]

Third Place:

by Amelia Cotter, Chicago, IL


I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder if my life could go on without you. I imagine that you die, because those of us who live with anxiety are encouraged to imagine the disasters we obsess over not obsessing over. I visualize announcing your death to our friends and family on Facebook, requesting not to be private messaged about it, and being frustrated when everyone private messages me anyway. I visualize deleting my Facebook account…and the radio silence that follows. Meanwhile, you lie sleeping next to me, very much alive. I place my hand on your chest and feel your heartbeat. I cherish this heartbeat, but feeling it in my hand makes me uncomfortable.

my overuse of white-out
  lake-effect snow

~ ~ ~

One doesn’t often find two-line haiku in a haibun, but the writer has used one here and it is excellent. It echoes the entire prose section in just two lines. The overuse of white-out is a notion familiar to those who have used that typewriter fluid to cover up mistakes. Lake-effect snow also buries everything so that, for a time, all is lost.

The prose feels overloaded but it gives us the minutiae that accompany anxiety and it lets us experience what this disorder is like to one who suffers from it. The prose section is similar to a guided meditation in which the meditator is gradually drawn from their normal state of consciousness and away from daily thoughts. In this case the author is drawn away from harmful thoughts. The final words of the prose, “…makes me uncomfortable,” suggest however that the writer might be close to repeating the entire psychological process at the heart of the haibun.

Anxiety as the title is not as excellent as the rest of the piece. A different title could have added something more. Nonetheless, this is a fine haibun and has earned its place in this year’s contest.

Joan's Honorable Mention:

by Doris Lynch, Bloomington IN

Quintuple Speed

By the time his doctor moves my father to an Alzheimer’s unit in a Pennsylvania nursing home, he’s forgotten all eight of his children’s names.  He knew my sister Joanne’s, his baby—until a month before he died.  When I come to visit for the last time, he tags Joanne, Honey, and me, Honey’s friend.

By then he’s lost much of his ability to converse.  Or concentrate. No more books or movies.  When they play old-favorite Sinatra tunes after dinner, Dad no longer smiles. The only time he engages with me is when I pluck his Iwo Jima cap off the mirror and ask, “Dad, you were in the Navy, right?” In some deep part of him, recognition strikes, old rivalries rekindle and he barks out, “Hell, no!” before holler-singing the “Marines’ Hymn.”

Somehow he chants it super-fast, never missing a syllable. My sister and I stand next to his bed and attempt to join in, but whenever we do, his pace quickens until the loops happen faster and faster.  Over and over, quicker than we’ve ever heard anyone talk or sing, FromtheshoresofMontezumatotheshoresofTripoli . . .

snow’s silence
penetrates deep within
the nursing home

~ ~ ~

“Quintuple Speed” is my favorite of the remaining haibun. It tells an attractive story with a rich assembly of specifics and a liveliness of quoted speech. The revelation in the final paragraph is both heart-wrenching and heart-healing, when the ex-Marine demonstrates that he can — and shall — beat them all to the finish line. The title supports the haibun without simply quoting what is already there. At the end of the prose, I am drawn back to the title. Because of that, I would prefer the haiku to open rather than to close this haibun. Nonetheless the haiku does well where it is, delicately balancing the rowdiness at the end of the prose with the silence of snow. While a juxtaposition of snow and nursing homes is not uncommon, “silence” and “penetrates deep” drive the haiku and hence the haibun into the memory and the heart. I am pleased to award this poem my choice of Honorable Mention. [JZ]

Greg's Honorable Mention:

by Anita Curran Guenin, San Diego CA


I didn’t know it had gone so far. Then, there it was, her earring in the bottom of his shave kit. That’s when I couldn’t not know any more. 

the dent
where your ring used to be
rogue wave

~ ~ ~

I very much enjoyed this haibun. It’s a short piece, but contains all the elements one looks for in a fine haibun. The fact that another woman’s earring is found in the bottom of her husband’s shave kit echoes the drowning of the title. The almost double-speak of the final sentence, “I couldn’t not know any more,” echoes the appalling emotion the writer felt on having to admit her husband’s infidelity.

The haiku returns to those emotions without repeating them. The writer finds her husband’s ring finger without a wedding band to be like a rogue wave that unexpectedly appears and drags her from her moorings.

And the title, “Drowning,” summarizes the entire experience for the writer. The whole episode of discovering her husband’s unfaithfulness, seeing his now bare wedding band finger, it all coming out of the blue like a rogue wave, leaves her feeling as if she is drowning. Very well drawn haibun. [GL]


About the judges:

J. Zimmerman, winner of the Mary Lonnberg Smith Poetry Prize, was a 2013 New Resonance haiku poet. Her haiku, haibun, and tanka are published internationally. Her articles on haibun include: "What Haibun Poets Can Learn From Non-haikai Western Poetry Practices" (CHO, 2013) and "What English-Language Haibun Poets Can Learn From Japanese Practices" (CHO, 2014). She adapted from Yosa Buson the practice of writing ten haiku daily for a hundred days, and co-authored with Gregory Longenecker "A Disarmingly Simple Challenge: The Buson One Hundred" (Frogpond, 2014) on experiences with that practice.
The work of the poet Gregory Longenecker has appeared in such publications as Acorn, bottle rockets, Cattails, Ershik, Frogpond, Mariposa and Shamrock and has been featured in A New Resonance, #9 (2015) by Red Moon Press. Two editions of the Red Moon Anthologies of English-language haiku have carried his work (2013 & 2014) as has Modern Haiku Press's Haiku 2014 and Haiku 2016. Gregory has been editor of the Southern California Haiku Study Group’s anthology, is on the editorial staff of the Living Haiku Anthology, and is currently Contest Chair for the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society’s Annual Tokutomi Haiku Contest.





The purpose of the Haiku Society of America's Haibun Awards competition is to recognize the best unpublished haibun submitted. Authors may submit up to three unpublished haibun, of no more than 1,000 words, not submitted for publication or to any other contest. Publication is defined as an appearance in a printed book, magazine, or journal (sold or given away), or in any online journal that presents edited periodic content. The appearance of poems in online discussion lists or personal websites is not considered publication. Judges will be asked to disqualify any haibun that they have seen before..

Winners by Year (with judges' comments):

| 2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 |

For details about the contest rules, see the Haiku Society of America Haibun Awards guidelines.