Haiku Society of America Haibun Awards for 2023

Haiku Society of America Haibun Awards

Haibun Awards for 2023

Marilyn Ashbaugh & Sean O’Connor


First Place:

by Dru Philippou, NM, USA


On my way to Fuji-san, I stop by a bakery and buy their specialty tribute bread, made from the finest ingredients: Yamanashi wheat flour, Fujigane Kogen milk for its velvety richness, and Kyoho grape juice for sweetness and color. I slice through the loaf and see a striking blue-and-white rendition of the mountain. Biting into its pillowy softness, I think of the fabled Princess Kaguya, who gave the Emperor a vial containing the elixir of life before she left for home on the moon. Unable to live without her, the Emperor ordered his warriors to burn her farewell offering on the highest mountain, giving it the name Immortal. On a day like this, it could live forever.

shining through
the morning mist . . .
Fuji’s many paths

the wind of Mt Fuji
I’ve brought on my fan
a gift from Edo

Note: The haiku in italics is by Basho, translated by Etsuko Yanagibori.

~ ~ ~

Comments from the Judges

Pilgrimage is a complex haibun that continues to give with repeated readings. Its single paragraph is full of movement. All five senses are evoked in just the first two sentences. Effortlessly, the writer moves from biting bread to musing on the myth of Princess Kaguya and the dilemma of the Emperor that supposedly led to the creation of Mount Fuji and the notion of its immortality. The final tight sentence alludes to the theme of eternity and leads to a delightful ‘summer’ haiku replete with philosophical overtones.
The author’s haiku is followed by an italicized translation of a well-known, and entirely fitting, haiku by Matsuo Basho. The author unselfishly involves Basho, the principal writer in the haibun genre, and translator Yanagibori, to add a further layer of verticality to this gently complex haibun.

Second Place:

by Alan Peat, Staffordshire, UK

Corpse Way*

On this long, flat stone — the first of six where the dead were rested — I am sat with my dad, watching crows. Not crows in flight, but walking crows, the ones that move between sheep with that slow, yet determined gait, enlivened now and then with a fluttering hop. This is our regular stop: for tea and biscuits as the views open up.

dawnlight —
with no map or compass
our whole day ahead

A wicker coffin to lighten the load. Too poor for a horse and cart, his neighbors will carry him — sixteen hard, winding miles from Keld to Grinton — over tree roots, across flowing water, then up to the high ground, far from hushed hamlets, where the living might tempt a dead man back. And when they reach St. Andrew’s lichgate, the old warden will lift the lid and, if his body is wrapped in wool cloth, his bones will be fit for the consecrated ground.

less trodden path —
the unpicked berries
black and shrunk

On the last of the coffin stones I am sat quite alone. It is a fine spot to rest in the gentle lower dale, in the heart of its patchwork of drystone-walled grass. The church door marks the end of my walk. I will pass through it soon enough, but for now I am content to stay seated; happy to listen to the lapwings’ calls.

unmoved for so long —
the yew tree I climbed
as a boy

*Corpse Ways are medieval paths that remote English communities walked to the closest consecrated burial ground.

~ ~ ~

Comments from the Judges

Corpse Way is both a meditative and moving haibun on the theme of death and dying. Written in a particular English vernacular, it conveys a sense of place which the author imbues with an almost tangible history that feels so alive. Structured in three paragraphs, each connected to a haiku, the work moves seamlessly; opening with a focus on a father/child relationship and closing with the narrator turning to face their own demise having lost their dad. The central paragraph has a timeless quality, a delicate ambiguity, and a sense of the wider community and the depth of its culture. Each section of prose is supported by delightful haiku that breathe through the piece.


Third Place:

by Barbara A Sabol, OH, USA


Wide open at thirteen. It was a year of blood, of trying to fit into a bewildering body. On the doorstep of summer break, I was itching for freedom. As I pulled on my wool uniform, thoughts of sleeping late, running wild ’til the streetlights came on ... . The news of Bobby’s death rang from the transistor on my dresser. I fell back onto the bed as our house plunged off its foundation. I refused to go to school. Diagrams and fractions suddenly meaningless. Catechism, more than ever, hollow rote.

I had had my schoolgirl crushes, my disappointments. This was a different kind of heartbreak. A rip in the seam of the world I was just getting to know.

bird bone flute
the hollow sound
wind makes

What I remembered about his brother’s assassination five years earlier was that it made my impassive mother cry for days. Then the never-ending funeral procession on television. Otherwise, my childhood world remained intact. That was the same year my uncle fell from a ladder and lay for the rest of his days staring at the ceiling in the Veterans Hospital.

But mom still put dinner on the table every day, dad kept going to his job at the mill, and I would learn how to find a common denominator that bound together fractured things.

lightning-split redbud
and yet

~ ~ ~

Comments from the Judges

Kintsugi is a coming-of-age haibun set during the 1960s political violence in the United States. The assassination of Bobbie Kennedy in June of 1968 produces “A rip in the seam of the world I was just getting to know.” The hollow feeling of heartbreak is poignantly expressed in the first haiku.

The author then reflects on President John Kennedy’s assassination five years earlier that made her “impassive mother cry for days”. The national tragedy is echoed by a personal one. Although the author asserts her childhood world remained intact, one feels the heavy weight of grief within this girl’s heart. Through it all, life goes on and healing occurs: the lightning-split redbud in the second haiku does blossom.


Honorable Mention:

by Ellen Lord, MI, USA

A Poet in Winter

January ends. Lake-effect skies yawn on. The Irish call it ‘the drearies’. I bundle up and walk into a new-snow meadow. How I love the hush of a soft winter’s morning. I stop to gaze at faces in the clouds. Today, they all look like strangers, perhaps a clown or two. I whisper my poems to a crow in a jagged pine. He doesn’t seem to care. He reminds me of that poetry critic from a workshop I attended last week. I smile. I wonder who will remember me—and what—and why—and why not—

Then I realize, it really doesn’t matter at all. Such a welcome reprieve to be alone on this long rising road in Michigan.

so much pending
under a shroud of snow

~ ~ ~

Comments from the Judges

In A Poet in Winter, terse sentences reflect the poet’s footfalls in “a new-snow meadow. . . on a long rising road in Michigan.” Earth joins sky as cloud faces morph from strangers to clowns. A crow casts doubt on some whispered poems as the poet moves inward. The interior meander briefly recalls a poetry workshop, then continues into musings of remembrance. Walking out of this inner-space, the poet returns to earth with an intriguing and potent haiku.

About the Judges

Marilyn Ashbaugh's haiku, haibun, haiga and tanka appear in journals and anthologies dedicated to these forms, including haikuKATHA, The Haibun Journal, #FemkuMag, hedgerow, The Heron's Nest, Modern Haiku, and The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku. Her awards include: Tejasvat Award (2023), Kiyoshi & Kiyoko Tokutomi Haiku Contest (2021, 2022); Akita International Haiku Contest (2019, 2020). A haiku of hers was shortlisted for the 2021 Touchstone Award for Individual Poems. Ashbaugh is the new haiku editor at Under the Basho. She resides in Edwardsburg, Michigan, and Gulf Stream, Florida.

Sean O’Connor is an award-winning poet, author and editor based in rural Tipperary, Ireland. He is the founder and editor of The Haibun Journal and was editor of the Irish print journal Haiku Spirit 1998-2000. He was a member of the judging panel of the Japan-based Genjuan International Haibun Contest for two years (2020 and 2021). O’Connor’s work has been widely published, translated, and anthologized worldwide. He co-wrote Pilgrim Foxes with Ken Jones and Jim Norton, published by Pilgrim Press (2000). His first solo collection Let Silence Speak (Alba Publishing 2016) was shortlisted for the Touchstone Distinguished Books Award 2016. A year later his title Even the Mountains: Five years in a Japanese Village (Alba Publishing 2017) was well received by reviewers. He won the HSA Merit Book Award: Best Haibun Book 2021 for Fragmentation (Alba Publishing 2021) and his haiku ‘nights drawing in’ won second place in the HSA Haiku Award 2022. Also in 2022, his book The God of Bones was awarded Honorable Mentions in both the HSA Merit Book Award and the Touchstone Distinguished Books Award, 2022. In 2021 and 2022 he was awarded Literature Bursaries by the Arts Council of Ireland. In 2023 Alba Publishing released his latest book, A Patch of Earth.





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.