Haiku Society of America Haiku Award for 2015 - Judges Commentary

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

Judges' Commentary for 2015

Judges: George Dorsty & Tom Painting

Judges’ general comments:

Put two aging haiku poets, both of whom happen to identify as men, in a room. Give them 657 previously unpublished haiku. Instruct them to choose a winner and not to come out until the task is complete. In the process their conversation drifts to include the Beats, the ’60s, Transcendental Meditation, and Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” They conclude that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But, since each fancies himself a teacher, they say this in a more eloquent way and soon the task is done. And, from the many fine haiku submitted for the 2015 Henderson Haiku Contest, they have agreed on six. Days later, they emerge with the winner, but not before discussing the merits of the other finalists.

So it all comes down to this: if we shuffle the deck, choose two other judges, the result will in all probability be somewhat different.

To all of the haiku poets who entered this year’s contest we extend our appreciation. The task of judging was enlighten- ing and inspiring. Taking a deeper look at each of our final selections we uncovered nuances and subtleties that further delighted us as readers.


First Place

stone cairns
a faded cap drifts

Debbie Strange, Winnipeg, MB

Take our first-place winner “stone cairns” for example: In an- cient times piled rocks were called “stone men.” So cairns can also be seen as human effigies. In our time, cairns are mostly used to mark trails for hikers. But what of the faded cap drifting down the river? On a symbolic level, the hat is to the cairn’s permanence what the river is to transience. As the philosopher Heraclitus said, “You can’t step in the same river twice.” So the human-made trail markers are contrasted to the meanderings of the river, which is part of the natural world.

The success of the haiku “stone cairns” lies in the contrast between the permanent and the transient. The hat reminds us that human beings, while we may appear permanent, like the “stone men,” are really transient and always changing like the river. This comes close to interpretation of the poem, but we must remember that for the poet the connection was “felt” rather than reasoned. Her/his task was to place the three— cairns, river, and faded cap—in juxtaposition so that we as readers might be able to make the same felt connection. And, maybe that’s enough. The rest, as Shakespeare said in another context, is “dross.”

In her new book, Voices in the Ocean, author Susan Casey says this regarding the great religions: “Even the great religions, with their millennia of wisdom, are more like gateways to unknown journeys than roadmaps of an entire terrain.”


Second Place

jasmine beyond
the honeycombed lattice
          a call to prayer

Scott Mason, Chappaqua, NY

Our second-place haiku “jasmine beyond” perfectly illustrates Casey’s point. The fragrance of the jasmine, geometry of the lattice, and resonant voice of the petitioner create an ethereal quality. The poem allows for each of us to contemplate matters of the heart.


Third Place

sand dunes
by morning
a different dream

Renée Owen, Sebastopol, CA

“sand dunes” reminds us that our journey into consciousness is often preceded by a time of shifting awareness as we sleep. As the physical world takes shape, so do our desires and intentions. Abstractions become tangible and provide landmarks upon which we often stake our future hopes and dreams.





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.

Download a PDF file sampler of Henderson Awards.

Winners by Year:

| 2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 20102009 2008 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998 | 1997 | 1996 | 1995 | 1994 | 1993 | 1992 | 1991 | 1990 | 1989 | 1988 | 1987 | 1986 | 1985 | 1984 | 1983 | 1982 | 1981 | 1980 | 1979 | 1978 | 1977 | 1976

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

See the contest rules for entering the next Haiku Society of America Haiku Award.