Haiku Society of America Haiku Award for 2016 - Judges Commentary

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

Judges' Commentary for 2016

Judges: Cor van den Heuvel & Scott Mason

Judges’ general comments:

Now in its forty-first year, the Harold G. Henderson Memorial Haiku Award stands proudly as one of the preeminent awards for English-language haiku. So we felt highly honored to serve as the judging team for this year’s contest, which brought 674 entries.

The poems we have chosen for recognition are varied; and yet, looking back at our choices we were struck by one quality they all seem to share: a sense of restraint. Each poet said just enough, then stopped. In each moment presented, these entries provided us with a point of entry to explore and discover our own meaning or felt significance. To be the first allowed such access was our greatest privilege and a pleasure.


~ First Place ~

window . . . to window . . . and back . . . the cat

Celia Stuart-Powles, Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.A.

Sometimes less is more. This deceptively simple poem offers us the quintessence of “a moment keenly perceived” . . . and an object lesson in perception itself. Through the linear arrangement and progression of its mere seven words the poem morphs in its focus from object to action to process to the subject of that process. Along the way we not only read about but viscerally experience the cat’s to-and-fro movements in the haiku’s singsong cadence. Here the action is the cat in some fundamental sense, as the poet perfectly captures an aspect of true “cat-ness.” And what is it that so tantalizes this feline? We can only wonder . . . and maybe—just maybe—that’s the ultimate point. In the ample white space surrounding the poem, our cat is bracketed by the unnamed object of its observation and unnamed observers (the poet and, by extension, the poet’s audience)—observers who are offered a window into the cat’s native curiosity, and their own.


~ Second Place ~

spindrift . . .
I go where
the story takes me

Francine Banwarth, Dubuque, Iowa, U.S.A.

In his poem "Tree At My Window," Robert Frost wrote of “outer weather” (the tree’s) and “inner weather” (his own). In this pithy haiku those two phenomena comingle almost magically in the natural pairing of gently wind-blown sea spray (note the ellipsis) with the poet’s relaxed and pliant state of mind as he or she follows the story line in a beach novel. The last line both surprises and rings true, a quality that distinguishes some of our favorite poems. The prominent use here of a vivid tactile cue (“spindrift”)—relatively uncommon in the corpus of haiku—is also, in every sense, refreshing.


~ Third Place ~

drifting snowflakes
the police car’s ascent
up our driveway

Christina Sng, Singapore

As we turn from drifting sea spray to drifting snowflakes we also shift emotional registers with this powerfully portentous moment. Beginning with the sideways descent of those snowflakes, juxtaposed in the middle line with the curious “ascent” of a police cruiser, the scene seems to unfold in slow motion as if captured in some altered-reality snow globe. But any such illusion is instantly shattered in line three (most especially in its use of the personal pronoun “our”) as the poet drives the action—and our anxiety—home.


~ First Honorable Mention ~

evening breeze
through the barnboards
final bid

Roland Packer, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Suffused with wabi-sabi, this affecting poem presents a moment in which nature and some human drama seem to both combine and expire.


~ Second Honorable Mention ~

our easy silence
every puddle

Annette Makino, Arcata, California, U.S.A

Still water runs surprisingly deep in this penetrating take on a moment shared by soulmates.


~ Third Honorable Mention ~

wedding invitations
the press and release
of the nib

Robyn Hood Black, Beaufort, South Carolina, U.S.A.

As part of a task traditionally assumed by the bride’s parents, even this most minor act of physical “release” can evoke an emotional counter-tug.


~ Fourth Honorable Mention ~

paddling through stars
the wake of a boat
long passed

Julie Warther, Dover, Ohio, U.S.A.

xHere we partake in a moment of almost mystical union as vessel-borne and celestial bodies become fellow “travelers of eternity.”


~ Fifth Honorable Mention ~

pride parade
from behind a cloud
the sun comes out

Olivier Schopfer, Geneva, Switzerland

What a propitious alignment of natural and human events . . . for those open to seeing it.





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:

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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.