Haiku Society of America Haiku Award for 2013 - Judges Commentary

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

Judges' Commentary for 2013

Judges: Margaret Chula and Johnny Baranski

Judges’ general comments:

Reading the 554 entries submitted this year for the Harold Henderson Contest, we were treated to a wide range of topics, images, and emotional tones. In this modern age, it’s not surprising to see the focus of haiku begin to shift from nature to technology and current events. Each of the haiku we chose illustrates the poet’s keen awareness of things around him/her, activities or sounds that most people would not notice: flies under a cow’s chin, the saw changing tune, the earth marked by fallen angels. These eight winning haiku offer intriguing layers of interpretation through an economy of words.


First Place

flies wait it out
under a cow’s chin
spring shower

Temple Cone

This spare haiku delighted us with the poet’s surprising observation of a moment in a fly’s life. To think that huddling beneath a cow’s clean sweet-smelling chin would be a temporary refuge, rather than its usual buzzing around the hindquarters, is humorous. The use of the word “shower” gives us the expectation that this shelter under the cow’s chin will be short lived. The phrase “wait it out” shows the enduring patience of flies, a quality we don’t often associate with them. [MC]


Second Place

the saw changes
its tune

Michele L. Harvey

Very few people who have cut wood have listened to the subtle change in sound as the saw moves through its layers toward the center: the heartwood. The heartwood is older, darker, and harder than the outer layers. It’s where the tree began its life. The saw could be a metaphor for the rhythmic march of time and adversity as it moves towards our hearts. We liked the reference to the idiom “changes its tune” leaving us to wonder whether the person sawing will also change his tune—alter his approach or attitude. [MC]


Third Place

snow field
the earth marked
by fallen angels

Elizabeth Steinglass

The thing that immediately jumps out of this haiku is the image of purity. One thinks of the earth at the beginning of time, how fresh and unsullied it must have been. Then along comes humanity with its imperfections, shown by the juxtaposition “fallen angels.” Making snow angels evokes a simpler time, a time of innocence, yet with deeper implications. We must grow up and leave our mark on the world, for good or bad. Still, as long as we live, there will be another snowfall—a chance for redemption, a time to start over. [JB]


Honorable Mentions (unranked)

setting sun
an accordion squeezes
the night air

June Dowis

The scene could be of a busker on a noisy city street or a person on a porch glider in the countryside. In either case, the accordion gets the spotlight—squeezing the night air, an enchanting image. The person, of course, is present. He/she may be playing a serenade to the end of day, hoping to earn some pocket change, or even wooing someone. “Squeeze” is an excellent verb choice, leading us to believe that he/she would rather be squeezing a lover. [MC]


no moon
the click of stilettos
on cobblestones

Ernest Berry

Suddenly we’re in a film noir. Dark city alleyway (“no moon”) in an old part of town (“cobblestones”). A woman wearing stilettos is walking or running. We hear the sound of her heels on cobblestones. Stilettos, with their pointed heels, are difficult to walk in, even on sidewalks. Danger lurks, both that imagined by the reader and the real possibility that she may twist her ankle. The punctuated consonant sounds—“click,” “stilettos,” and “cobblestones”— add to the ominous atmosphere. “Stilettos,” with its double meaning of “switchblades” or “daggers,” intensifies the drama. This haiku is evocative yet wide open to the reader’s imagination. [MC]


flowing estuary
native languages
long gone

Mike Blottenberger

An estuary is the transitional place between a river environment and a maritime environment, subject to both saltwater and freshwater influences. This is a sad poem, reminiscent of the struggles of cultures where the old language and traditional customs bump up against the ebb and flow of modern-day influences. [JB]


in the hot tub
my eyes on her floating breasts
Hunters Moon

Neal Whitman

This entry walks that fine line between a haiku and a senryu. We were both immediately drawn to it for its clever wordplay. It also has the requisite kigo for a haiku (“Hunters Moon”), even though the moon is not what we’re looking at. Juxtaposed against the “floating breasts,” the “Hunters Moon” takes on a whole new purpose: to highlight the woman’s round white breasts and to express the poet’s delight. [MC and JB]


rosebud unfolding
the seed packet left behind
in Revelations

Scott Mason

In this haiku we have the seed packet, the kigo, serving as a bookmark in Revelations. Revelations is about evolution, change, a new heaven, a new earth, the building of a new society in the shell of the old, reincarnation. The rose is starting to bloom but it will pass. The seed packet represents new life. This is the “aha” moment on which the poem turns. [JB]





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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