Haiku Society of America Haiku Award for 2018 - Judges Commentary

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

Judges' Commentary for 2018

Judges: Lorin Ford & Lee Gurga

Judges’ general comments:

As judges of the Henderson contest, we had the privilege to read what poets in 2018 see as their best haiku. We looked for haiku that were an invitation rather than merely a picture, that must take us beyond the scene itself; that were not just cause and effect; that had an effect that would move the heart or mind in some way not sentimental to nudge, hint, inspire the reader to feel or see some new connection; that in haiku with more than one image, the second or third image must add something material to the first, rather than being merely "tacked on"; that in haiku with humor, the humor should be incidental to the overall effect. In other words, we didn't want to see "just irony" as the point of the haiku. In addition, we preferred haiku with a seasonal or nature image and were particularly interested in haiku that offered an invitation rather than instruction.

There were many fine haiku in the group that we were privileged to consider. Not all were equally good, though. We found it is interesting, and a little disheartening, that 50 years into the history of the HSA a substantial number of the entries showed an understanding of haiku merely as a 17 syllable verse, often in the form of a complete sentence or two complete sentences or even three, or of haiku as merely a container to display wit or tell a story, an exposition rather than in invitation.

We are delighted to recognize the following haiku for their excellence.


~ First Place ~

sun-bleached billboard
the gravel road ends
at peaches

Joe McKeon, Strongsville, Ohio

We both immediately recognized this as an exceptional haiku. The billboard is a sign of welcome that somehow has become more relaxed or casual with time: sort of, "You are welcome to visit or drive on as you please, we’ll get by either way." If we do accept the invitation and take a spin down the gravel road, it leads us to a world where the human and natural elements are living and working in harmony. The haiku moves from the two dimensions of the billboard down a one-dimensional road to a single point of contact between pilgrim and poet, a movement that is reflected in form through the decreasing length of the lines. The billboard, gravel and peaches provide delicious tactile and visual contrasts, with a juicy treat at the end. Here we have a casual invitation, an offer a fellowship, and delight without sentimentality.


~ Second Place ~

    flute notes

Brett Brady, Haiku, Hawaii

A delicate and enchanting haiku with an interesting pivot that crosses from sound to sight. Sound also subtly plays its part in the structure of this poem: alliteration and “slant” assonance (flute/fluttering) support the content, as does the layout of the poem. There is a mysterious presence, too. Air, in the forms of breath and breeze, is the spirit, unseen and unheard, that moves both petals and flute notes. Might Ariel be passing by?


~ Third Place ~

the rill's trick
a greenfinch moves
its green around

Alan Summers, Chippenham, Wiltshire, England

The sound of this haiku is a delight. The rill (in a village Green or a field, we imagine, of spring-green grass) reflects its surroundings as it trickles along. The little green bird, busy catching small insects along the rill to take back to its nest, is detectable only by its movements. The repeated assonance of the small i sound and the two instances of “green” add to the rhythm and make this haiku sing like a birdsong. One could whistle it! This is a fresh haiku which illustrates Basho’s “karumi/ lightness” aesthetic very well indeed. A puzzle is presented to the reader: what is the “rill’s trick?” Perhaps the rill reflects the bird and this tricks it into perceiving there’s another greenfinch, a competitor: the greenfinch may very well be trying to chase its own reflection away!


~ Honorable Mention ~

the first stroke
of the ink brush . . .
ravens in snow

Ron C. Moss, Tasmania, Australia

Simple, evocative, seasonal. Lightly sketched, as the best haiku are. With a single stroke, art and nature become one. What more could one ask in a haiku? 


~ Honorable Mention ~

evening prayer
the sediment
begins to settle

Jayne Miller, Hazel Green, Wisconsin

The first image puts us alongside the poet, then leads us to a second image which can be interpreted both on literal and figurative levels, offering an opportunity for us to take a sip of wine (not mentioned!) and ponder what is in our own hearts and minds. Here is a haiku that nicely ties together the sacred and the personal.

~ Honorable Mention ~

a turnstile
going around by itself—
winter rain

Barry George, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“Winter rain” sets the mood through which we interpret the strong image of a turnstile doing what a turnstile usually does, but without the usual human interaction. The image captivates the poet and it captivates us, too. Almost animate, the turnstile might evoke a sense of pathos. The poet has left significant space for reader interpretation. Could this turnstile be a symbol of the way that we, too, may sometimes follow habitual routines just to feel we have a purpose, to fill in time, keep going, keep warm or ward off loneliness? Strangely, this haiku about a turnstile, a thing, evokes much of the less acknowledged aspects of human life.  


~ Honorable Mention ~

winter solitude
lost in the hum
of my computer

Sam Bateman, Everett, Washington

Here, the poet is “lost “in the busy hum and the humdrum of the computer and, unlike the old Japanese hermit poets, this recluse has the computer to connect with the outside world: the downside of “winter solitude” is somewhat eased. In this way, the haiku nicely alludes to the “heart meaning” of the Japanese kigo, "winter solitude." A multivalent haiku that leads us to the interesting question: is it the solitude or the poet that is lost?





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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