Haiku Society of America Haiku Award for 2006 - Judges' Commentary

Haiku Society of America Haiku Award
in Memorial of Harold G. Henderson

Judges' Commentary for 2006

Judges: an’ya and Michael Rehling

Judges’ general comments:

The honor of being chosen to judge a haiku contest with the history of the Henderson is only muted by the honor of reading the 694 haiku that comprised the entries for this year’s Award. It is often said by judges that there were many deserving haiku, and that is true again this year, but it is also true that even given the sheer number of entries, the final judgments for the first, second, and third place winners were the result of our consensus. However, the honorable mentions represent selections from each judge’s final “short list.”

Reading this volume of haiku is an experience that shapes your own intentions as a judge. There is a wonderful sense of surprise and contentment that comes from reading any good haiku, but reading hundreds of them creates a cumulative experience that sticks with you long after the judgment of “winners” has been made. So many images presented in this large grouping of haiku were of generally similar events, an inevitable occurrence, but each was offered in its own context and in its own framework of meaning. Such is the power of language.

To those of you whose work is not represented on these pages, we offer this advice: “keep on writing haiku.” Our experience as judges confirms to both of us that words in general, but your words in particular, can have real impact. Thank you all for the pleasure you’ve given us both, and to those of you whose work is listed here, we offer our sincere congratulations and special thanks for sharing with us your wonderful images in the form of haiku.


First Place:

season of lights
the postman
leans to the wind

Ellen Compton

Judges’ comments: 

Often times, the simplest and most concrete images are the best for haiku, which is true in the case of this one, albeit, there are numerous layers to the moment. For instance, starting off in line 1, this author “doesn’t” directly give us a specific holiday, rather only a “season of lights,” leaving it open to anyone’s interpretation of any holiday season, or any other season of lights for that matter.

Line 2, gives us only the subject, which is “the postman”—but “aha,” line 3 lends ear to that old phrase “the mail always gets through,” and could bring to mind, images of the pony-express, stagecoaches, town criers, etc. It might even bring to mind that favorite character of many people, Cliff on the television series “Cheers,” which adds the ability to make one chuckle . . . and I’m sure the list could go on and on.

Lastly, but most importantly, this haiku ties man to nature. The relationship, thus unity, between the season and its wrath; the obviously strong wind and the postman leaning in to it—pressing on.

The unobtrusiveness of this haiku reveals the profoundness of man against weather, in the ordinary everyday occurrence of mail delivery. This haiku isn't overly ornamented with the author's opinion, nor does it seem contrived; it just brings us an experience.


Second Place:

having no thought
we've come to see them—
dogwoods in bloom

Michael McClintock

Judges’ comments:

In this haiku the poet and companion(s) come into proximity with the blooming dogwoods. This tree, which puts out each spring large colorful bracts that surround its blooms, has not set out to impress the poet, and the poet has not set out to view the dogwoods. But in spite of the fact neither intended it; both take on new roles the moment their paths meet.

The dogwood cannot help but impress with its annual color show, and the poet’s original intentions when stepping outside are set aside in the moment the dogwoods come into view. This powerful sign of early spring provides the inspiration for a wonderful haiku, with as many layers of imagery for the reader as there are colors of dogwood blooms.


Third Place:

turning tide—
placing intact clams
back in the water

C. R. Manley

Judges’ comments: 

Tides turn, and in their pull to a new direction they alter the fate of clams. High tide brings the food important to their survival. Low tide finds them buried in the sand, but exposed to probing in their hiding places by birds and humans, who can dig them out of their hiding spots on a newly exposed beach. There is a repetition of this cycle of “risks” and “rewards” that are an integral part of the life of a clam.

Is the poet here performing or observing an act of charity toward these clams? Placing the “intact clams” back into the water allows them not only to feed, but to stay out of the grasp of any predator. Without this intervention from either tides or man, the “risk” portion of their life cycle is lengthened. The word “intact” gives us the clue that these are surely not empty shells, but living clams being placed “back in the water.” Thus, this poem takes a natural occurrence of the tides, or the intervention of humans, that is especially welcomed by nature. This act preserves these particular clams until, through the movement of the moon, the risk/reward proposition repeats itself with the next change in the tides. A simple moment presented in a way that opens us to more complex thought.


Honorable Mention:

mallard pair
he rocks
on her wake

Alice Frampton

Judges’ comments: With one simple observation, this poem allows a reader to fill in many meanings. This is a haiku about “relationships.” The male and the female, the ducks and the water, the effect of a single action on everything else in the universe are compared in this short haiku. The mallard male is seen both as passive to the wave, and aggressively pursuing the female. The female, is she pulling away or leading him on? There is so much in this haiku to think about after just eight syllables.


Honorable Mention

filtering in
with the night air
a skunk's warning

Lois J. Funk

Judges’ comments:  What a typical experience, and yet this haiku moment is made unique by the author’s last line. Not just “a skunk's smell”—rather “a skunk’s warning.” This is a good example of how one person’s haiku will stand above a hundred other haiku that are written on the same subject. Note also, the unusual format (that worked,) with the action verb in line 1, the setting in line 2, and the subject in line 3. A skillfully written haiku.


Honorable Mention:

stone in my pocket—
the brook cuts deeper
into the mountain

Merrill Ann Gonzales

Judges’ comments: This poem connects the everyday action of picking a stone from a brook to the greater consequences for the mountain. The removal of this stone, that fits so easily in our pocket, changes the dynamics of the brook and thereby the entire mountain. It is an image repeated every day, and as such, without preaching or remonstration the poet ties our smallest actions to the larger world.


Honorable Mention

a bee chose
the rose I meant to pluck . . .
empty vase

Joan M. Murphy

Judges’ comments: A fine example of how to include “self” in a haiku in a “selfless” way—nature taking over the spotlight so-to-speak as a bee lands on the flower. Like looking in a mirror, one sees many things, some in the foreground and some in the background. In this haiku, the author is present but only in the distant, whereas the bee is the first thing we see in this haiku mirror. Then finally in line 3, we see an “empty vase” (but understand why,) and the “image of that rose,” . . . is left on the bush.


Honorable Mention

soba noodles . . .
the new year
slips in

Sandra Nickel

Judges’ comments: Just as the deliciousness of “time” slips from us if we do not pay close attention, soba noodles made with buckwheat, often slip from our chopsticks several times before we get to taste them. Has paying attention to the noodles, caused the poet to miss the exact moment of the New Year?


Honorable Mention

hazy dusk . . .
no one bothered to plow
the graveyard road

Bruce Ross

Judges’ comments: The sense of soulful loneliness in this haiku is down-reaching. The first line had me thrown at first, trying to relate the kigo “hazy” to the road plow. Getting through that and passing it off as a "spring snow," the whole feeling of the haiku came through. Perhaps no one bothered to plow because it was the last snow which would soon be melting, or perhaps as my original reaction, just because no one cared. Nevertheless, whatever one gets from it, this haiku is a winner. In addition, this particular write  might be considered a "statement-type" haiku insofar as, we cannot dispute the fact its author has stated-and that is, ( no one has bothered to plow the graveyard road.)


The number and kind of honorable mention was at the discretion of the judges. The judges elected not to rank these. Congratulations to the winners and to the many outstanding entrants!





These awards for unpublished haiku were originally made possible by Mrs. Harold G. Henderson in memory of Harold G. Henderson, who helped found The Haiku Society of America.

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See the complete collection of award-winning haiku from all previous Henderson Haiku Award competitions

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