Haiku Society of America Haiku Award for 2011 - Judges' Commentary

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

Judges' Commentary for 2011

Judges: Jim Kacian & Billie Wilson.

Judges’ general comments:

We found much to like in many other poems, but these stood out for us. The pairing of the background hiss of the aurora with the white noise scratchings of LPs struck us as particularly novel and well-considered in “northern lights.” We felt the first two lines of “tasting the well” were sharp and interesting, though the seasonal tag didn’t do quite enough for us to elevate it into a prize-winning position. For a “big dipper” poem to win a prize it must certainly carve out new territory, and this one doesn’t quite, but is refreshing and enlarging enough to share with you. There is a justesse to “summer passing” that is inescapable, and so we felt we needed to share this one as well. It’s the referencing of wildflower seeds that elevates “Mother’s Day” from the welter of such poems and makes this one worthy of consideration. The mechanical indifference of the respirator is compelling in “glint of sunlight,” and its formal construction is also expertly handled. And finally, “a recurring escape” is a wonderfully formed escape of its own, with the poem moving past us so quickly we hardly notice the möbius-like extrication the poet has managed through a few choice words. It was a pleasure to find ten such worthy poems to be able to bring to your attention.


First Place

Navajo moon
the coyote call
not a coyote

Garry Gay

This is a complex poem that invites the reader to first believe otherwise. The Native American name for a moon phase comes from a non-Anglo sphere of influence, a different view of time and space, different gods and destinies. Into this space comes a coyote call—but it’s not a coyote. The easy explanation is that a human, beguiled by the moon just as a coyote might be, is imitating a coyote’s call. Left there, this is already a wonderful poem, an interspecies sharing of response to a natural stimulus. But there’s more: while the poem says the coyote call is not a coyote, it doesn’t specify a human. Yet, what else would respond like this? Another canine, possibly, but it would then be recognizable as hound or wolf. So it must be human. Unless the coyote is not a coyote—but Coyote, the trickster god of the Navajo and other Native American people. It would not be beyond his mischievous nature to simulate the coyote’s call, but just different enough to make the listener believe it’s not a coyote. This brings the first line into play once again: by setting us in that non-Anglo world space, this reading becomes a possibility in a way that it would not be if it had been, say, Hunter’s Moon, or simply full moon. The poem is filled with ineffability and magic: what is, is not what seems, and maybe it’s just a human after all...

Second Place

deleting words
from the eulogy
falling leaves

Mark Smith

The spareness in the wording of this poem beautifully mirrors its powerful message. As falling leaves reveal the tree’s essen- tial bareness, as everything is pared down to its essence, the absence of the person being honored becomes even more pronounced. Most of us find ourselves lost for words at a funeral or memorial service. We wonder what to say—or not to say. (For technical reasons, this poem does not quite achieve its full potential: the addition of an em-dash after line two would eliminate a possible interpretation that it is the leaves that are deleting words as they somehow fall on the eulogy.)


Third Place

calla lily
the sound of a ladder

Cherie Hunter Day 

The synæsthesia of the sound of the ladder and the image of the beautiful lily work splendidly together with what Basho called a scent link, almost like snatching it out of thin air. As the lily, in its reach toward the sun, opens to its season, human endeavors open simultaneously.





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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