Haiku Society of America Haibun Awards for 2022

Haiku Society of America Haibun Awards

Haibun Awards for 2022

Jennifer Hambrick & Rich Youmans


First Place:

by J Hahn Doleman, California, USA

Tree of Fortunes

The same one all the children in the village played under before the war. The same one they hung the partisans, the gypsies, and the Jews from when the war was nearly over. Up into this same one I climb higher, ignoring the voices in my head telling me to come down, telling me I won’t make it, that I’ll fall to my death, or worse, be punished. But, I’ve done it before. I know just where to reach, where to grab hold of the cool, hard skin, and just when to let slip a branch to reach another. Hand over hand, legs and feet lending support, I’m almost there now, across the smooth sections burnished by hundreds of ropes now gone, and I’ve arrived. In the wide crook of two branches I settle in for takeoff, waving to all the others below — the envious ones, the admirers, the resentful. Doesn’t matter. A breeze is already lifting me inside my cockpit, and I feel my back pressed into the trunk, my fuselage, as we float up into the blue-green firmament from where I survey frontiers, do battle with the enemies of hope, and discourse with birds and clouds. 

afternoon shade
among the acorns
a bullet casing

~ ~ ~

Comments from the Judges

In a story of profound consequence, an adult looks back on his or her childhood memories of climbing a tree to escape the horrors of war. The powerfully decisive prose describes the tree referenced in the title and narrates step by step the speaker’s climb through the branches and up above the fray. Rich sensory details place the reader in those branches with the “cool, hard skin,” with the haunting “smooth sections burnished by hundreds of ropes now gone.” Then at just the right spot up in that tree, childlike imagination becomes the means to freedom—the tree magically transforms into an airplane, and the speaker imagines at once flying away from the war and fighting in it as a guardian of good. The final sentence of the prose leaves us up in the stratosphere and on a higher emotional plane. Then comes a masterstroke of cinematography: the first two lines of the haiku step us down from the wide shot of those lofty heights to a medium shot on the earthbound shade of an oak tree, and finally to a tight shot on a bullet casing amid a scattering of acorns. The tree allowed the speaker’s younger self to escape, if only moments at a time and only in make-believe, the trauma of the war-torn world, but the real fortunes of “the partisans, the gypsies, and the Jews” were far more grim. All of these fates resound in the haibun’s title and echo in the dark twist in the haiku’s final line. Masterful haibun storytelling, this piece ultimately delivers a sorrowful and profound message: the trauma the child aimed to escape through imaginative play remains embedded in the memory, woven in the psyche, of the adult speaker. Our fortunes are so often bound to the deeds of others.  ~Jennifer Hambrick

A compelling haibun about war’s inhumanity and the resilience of the human spirit, about destiny and hope and the beauty (and limits) of imagination. The first line of the prose flows naturally from the title and pulls us immediately into the narrative, into the brutality that took place under that tree (where the victims found not good fortune but their own individual fates, after being targeted for their political, cultural or religious beliefs). The evocative language then sweeps us skyward as the narrator—a defiant, determined boy—finds in the tree branches a haven for his imagination, and a way to combat the helplessness and horror of the war-torn land into which he has been born. The prose ends on a note of uplift, but the haiku brings us down to earth, literally, reminding us of the horrors that once took place there (and could again). A
masterful work. ~Rich Youmans

Second Place:

by J Hahn Doleman, California, USA

Mood Swing

Lately these nights it’s our joints creaking more than the bed rails, slipping in and out of their sinews with startling sloshes and squeals, replacing that repetitive, urgent thumping with something more soulful and rich, as if the banal pop song of our youth has transformed into a spontaneous, syncopated jazz duet that leaves ever more to the imagination.

blackout curtains
a mockingbird blends in
with the saxophone

~ ~ ~

Comments from the Judges

What happens when the years of rampant fertility and our efforts to make the most of them fade away? Maybe, for some, a sense of lost passion moves in. But the speaker in this haibun takes stock of his or her state somewhat later in life and notes a change for the better. No longer is intimacy driven by the throbbing backbeat of bubble gum pop. Instead, sex takes on a new rhythm in jazz duets improvised behind closed curtains and measured in the steady give-and-take of syncopations, in waves of aching blue notes, in the pent-up tension of one chord releasing into another. So sensuous is jazz that the word itself was, in a different era, bandied about as slang for “sex.” And the rich and complex musical language of this style is a potent metaphor for the seasoned intimacy in the later-life relationship the speaker describes. “Jazz is feeling,” the great jazz pianist Bill Evans once said. This haibun has plenty of both.
~Jennifer Hambrick
Growing old is not for sissies, as the saying goes, but it offers its own rewards, as this haibun illustrates. With a nice mix of ruefulness and humor, the narrator begins by addressing a lover about their bodies’ inevitable failings (the alliterative “slipping in and out of sinews with startling sloshes and squeals” aurally conveys that downhill slide). The narrative then turns to a more reflective, hopeful, and accepting note. Or perhaps “notes” is a better word, since the haibun relies heavily on sound and song to make its point—those earlier “sloshes and squeals” of the two lovers are now jazz improvisations, which have their own sophisticated language of call and response. The haiku adds a poignant but positive summing up: no matter how much we may want to ignore the effects of aging, they’ll find a way to make themselves known (and maybe mock us), but with the proper outlook we can learn to appreciate the beneficial transformations that aging offers—a process that ultimately leads to a “mood swing.” (The “swing” could refer to the style of jazz dance music especially popular in the 1930s, although it also happens to be the title of an album by jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman.) A delightful reverie.
~Rich Youmans


Third Place:

by Evan Vandermeer, Tennessee, USA


She woke up right when I did, eager to tell me about her dream. In it, she's at our unborn daughter's high school volleyball game, and as she's about to cheer her on she stops short, remembering we still haven’t decided on a name.

Suddenly lucid, she approaches the coach and says, "Excuse me, where is Alice?" The coach tilts her head, confused. "Sorry, I meant Lyra. Where is Lyra?” Again, confusion. She asks once more, this time using the third and last name in the running.

Smiling big, the coach turns and points.

knowing now
what we didn't know then—
full moon

~ ~ ~

Comments from the Judges

This haibun tells a delightful story about the magical way an expectant mother comes to learn the name of the daughter she’s carrying. Full of enchanting moments and written in a clear and unassuming narrative voice, the storytelling grabs me from the intriguing first sentence and paces me through a breadcrumb trail of clues to the wondrous revelation—conveyed in a classic image of pregnancy and motherhood—in the final line of the concluding haiku. That revelation leads back to the title—the daughter’s name communicated supernaturally in the mother’s dream. That the story is told in the voice of the mother’s spouse or partner, who shares in the wonder of the pregnancy experience—“knowing now / what we didn’t know then . . ."—invites the reader into the family circle for this extraordinary moment. The story deals with the universal theme of the mystery of new life yet is fresh in its details. And with just the right amount of weirdness, it perches on the wire between the dream world and waking reality. Uncanny, yet believable, this haibun is a fun story well told. ~Jennifer Hambrick

Just like the couple waking up, the reader is immediately propelled into the story of the dream, which unfolds guess by guess as the expectant mother ticks off the possible name choices. The author deftly connects the title to the end of the prose, allowing the reader to make that final connection and complete the circle. In some ways the haiku is like a satellite orbiting this circle, offering its own resonances. The first two lines suggest not just the mystery of the unborn daughter’s name, but also everything that any expectant mother or father must learn as they embark on parenthood—I picture it being said long after the daughter has grown. And while the ‘full moon’ image is a familiar one, it gains meaning in this context: the moon is often associated with fertility and motherhood. The haiku in general leads me to picture the unborn daughter now fully grown, and her parents’ glowing pride. A tender haibun. ~Rich Youmans


Honorable Mention:

by Matthew Caretti, Pennsylvania, USA

A Church Organ Through Banana Leaves: Island Poem

The supply chain disruption of stevedores singing the blues. Still the fresh avocados and the fruit seller’s smile. Her eyes where the stream becomes sea. Her knowing hands and the rough of the cassava. The Valentine’s Day hug of a container ship stuck on the horizon. Perhaps it was the stowaway who ate my chocolates.

forever home
questioning again
the ocean

Hunting coconut crabs an old islander clings to tradition. Finding foolscap in the heirloom desk. A first draft of his grandfather’s memoir. They wheel him into earshot of the king tide. He reflects on Tagaloa’s hymn. Inside his mirror the blind spot of my own age spots. Here where another family quits their ancestral land homes become hammersong.

static swarm
a slow dissolution
into space

There atop the ancestor graves Sunday leis encircle the island. Then a Bible school for the young to learn by rote what’s nearly been forgotten. A high stakes game as fan palms shuffle the morning moon. The monochrome cat coming home. Mewling. Crossing the bar soon my own footprints too will be washed away.

sunrise swell
the stars tire
of twinkling

Gale force rooftops tumble toward the sea. The timbre of the village bell just before rain. Through the deluge plash of an emerald dove’s cut and clarity. I think of the old hermit who furnishes a seaside pillbox with flotsam. Listens to the whisper campaign against him by strafing gulls. Recalls lessons by the missionaries. She sells sea shells . . . He questions it all. A scrawl of white sand punctuated by pumice.

death dream
even sea defers
to rain

Almost always never this supermoon and my gaze. An arc of insomnia as the harbor wake exposes cracks in the moon. Mixes with them the chant of more rain. A kintsugi of light and water. Palm silhouettes before an antipodal eclipse of the coconut. I reinvest in the clouds. Stretch time till retirement along the longitude of this towline.

no tap tap
of the tatau needle
they call me naked

A saltwater baptism by fire and ash where lava skies liquefy the horizon. A stabilimenta designs the paths of coming cyclones. Everywhere morning birds don’t alight. A note to self about the flight of frigatebirds. About the wings of island gulls shaping wind. About village dogs and my preference for the one that chases its tail.

by subtracting
ukulele song

~ ~ ~

Comments from the Judges

The haibun prose is a tidal wave of sensory impressions of an exotic island. The imagery is vibrant and rich—so rich that, reading the piece, I feel completely inundated with a welter of sights and sounds that come so fast and furiously they leave me breathless, and for the considerable length of the piece, I’m left treading water in a vast sea of images. This haibun takes the reader to an extravagantly beautiful exotic land. The addition of a human story told as deeply and with as much color and richness might have made for a true journey and a haibun tour de force. ~Jennifer Hambrick
In rich, evocative language, the author paints a memorable picture of life on an island (perhaps Samoa, given the reference to Tagaloa). It’s not easy to sustain such prose over the course of a long haibun, and though at times the hurtling sentences can require a bit of “buckling up,” the author manages to sustain the tone and offer enough compelling images to keep a reader’s interest throughout. The haiku offer welcome moments of pause and reflection.
~Rich Youmans


About the Judges

Jennifer Hambrick - Four-time Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee Jennifer Hambrick is the author of the poetry collections In the High Weeds, winner of the Stevens Manuscript Award of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies; Joyride (Red Moon Press), winner of the 2022 Marianne Bluger Book Award from Haiku Canada; and Unscathed (NightBallet Press). She was featured by former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser in American Life in Poetry; was appointed the inaugural Artist-in-Residence at historic Bryn Du Mansion, Granville, Ohio; and has received numerous awards and prizes, including First Prize in the Haiku Society of America's Haibun Award Competition, First Prize in the Martin Lucas Haiku Award Competition (U.K.), the Sheila-Na-Gig Press Poetry Prize, and many others. Hambrick is a frequent recipient of poetry commissions, and her work appears in literary journals and invited anthologies around the world. A classical musician, public radio broadcaster, multimedia producer, and cultural journalist, Jennifer Hambrick lives in Columbus, Ohio. jenniferhambrick.com.
Rich Youmans is the editor in chief of contemporary haibun online and formerly served on the Haibun Today editorial team. His publications include Shadow Lines (Katsura Press, 2000), a collection of linked haibun with Margaret Chula; All the Windows Lit (Snapshot Press ebook, 2017); and Head-On: Haibun Stories (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2018). He and his wife, Alice, live on Cape Cod.





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.