Haiku Society of America Haiku Award for 2019 - Judgers Commentary

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

Judges' Commentary for 2019

Judges: Carole MacRury & Christopher Herold

Judges’ general comments:

We’d like to thank the Haiku Society of America for honoring us with the task of assessing the nearly 800 poems submitted to the 44th Harold G. Henderson Memorial Award contest. We also thank Beverly Acuff Momoi for coordinating our efforts. We are grateful for your confidence in us as judges. Many long hours were spent finding the haiku we feel best represent the gifts that the genre has to offer. We strove to do this without partisan leanings to either traditional or modern approaches to craft. Naturally, the final stage of our process was the most arduous. Interpretation, recognition of haiku aesthetics, and personal taste all came into play. After at least three run-throughs, nearly forty poems still remained on our lists of about twenty each, all of which are deserving of praise. At last we narrowed the list to three top choices and seven honorable mentions and we now offer them to you. Additionally, we are happy to report that throughout the culling process we’ve consistently concurred with one another’s choices with virtually no disagreement. In short, our collaboration has been a joy. We offer congratulations to the winners. May you all enjoy finding your own favorites among this list of exemplary haiku.

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


~ First Place ~

the thump of a bee
against the window

Raquel D. Bailey, Jamaica

Our first-place choice maintained its position after multiple readings. We are delighted by the connection the poet makes and also appreciate that its emotional impact is achieved through metaphorical language. There are several uses for ultrasound technology, but the thumping of the bee immediately brings to mind the monitoring of a heartbeat, especially that of a developing fetus, or perhaps the increased heartbeat of a patient undergoing a procedure to detect disease. There is also room for readers to choose whether the bee is striking the outside of a window or the inside. Either way this might be seen to distract the poet, perhaps even be perceived as an omen. Two humorous interpretations are possible as well. The bee’s perceived desperation seems to yell “let me in! I want to see too!” Or, if striking the window from inside, the bee wants out, like the fetus. As a kigo, the bee grounds us in spring, a time of beginnings, of giving birth. Musically speaking, the doubling of “th” sounds in line-two (then repeated once, pianissimo, in the final line) strengthens the connection of sounds made by both bee and heart.


~ Second Place ~

high summer
the slow drift
of a heron’s landing

Michael Morell, Havertown, PA

Not a word could be removed from this fine haiku without reducing the sensory effect of heat at the height of summer combined with the slow glide of a heron. There is a sense of relaxation, as if the poet rests in a hammock watching the scene unfold, feeling empathy with the heron’s drifting descent. Time seems to slow, and then to land, as though the clock stopped for a few moments on a hot, humid day. The repetition of voiceless vowels (‘high’ and ‘heron’), and the sibilant “s” sounds: (‘summer,’ ‘slow,’ ‘heron’s’) add to the pleasure of joining the poet to steep in an appreciation of nature.


~ Third Place ~

fireflies rearranging bedtime

Michele L. Harvey, Hamilton, NY

Ironically, our third-place haiku consists of three words. What’s more remarkable is that these words can be read three equally valid ways, depending upon whether you read the poem with a cut between the first two words, the last two words, or with no caesura at all. First focus on the poem as a sentence: Fireflies are doing the rearranging. Now with the cut after “fireflies.” Who is doing the rearranging? Finally, make the cut before “bedtime”—Yes, the fireflies are in a perpetual state of rearranging themselves. There is also space between the words that can be filled by the reader’s knowledge and experience of fireflies. The poem is an ephemeral moment, especially if one realizes this annual display of blinking lights lasts only about two weeks, in early summer, the time fireflies gather to attract mates. They use light as a means of communication. We can also sense from the flickering that the life of a firefly is short. In the light of eternity, we humans are also mere blips. With just three words humanity is connected with the rest of nature. What’s more, “rearranging bedtime” suggests that, regardless of what age we might be, there are times to break with routine in order to linger in the moment, especially regarding phenomena that happen infrequently. This haiku reminds us of the beauty and the transience of all things


~ Honorable Mention ~

       alone together
              with our phones

Paul Kulwatno, Falls Church, VA

A contemporary haiku that speaks to our umbilical link with cell phones, even in the presence of what might be a deluge. The downpour may well be of the sort that about drowns out old- fashioned talking. At the very least, it provides a continuous background noise that reflects the continuous whisks and taps so many of us perform on our devices. The second line says it all. To be together, yet to be alone—side by side, engaged with our screens but not with each other. The poem begins with a downpour of rain, and ends with what could be construed as a different sort of downpour, the one that comes through “our phones.”


~ Honorable Mention ~

dawn chorus
all the birds
he used to know

Jacquie Pearce, Vancouver, BC, Canada

A day that opens with birdsong and a man who has long been enchanted by birds but whose memory is impaired so that he can no longer identify them. Or perhaps the man has already passed away. A wistfully poignant juxtaposition.

~ Honorable Mention ~

frosty night . . .
the horse’s breath
melts a star

Martha Magenta, Bristol, UK

This haiku takes us far from city lights, to a field or a paddock. With the use of sensory and evocative words we can see a warm cloud of horse-breath puff up and momentarily obscure a star. That horse and poet are so close on such a cold night might imply good husbandry. A blanket could be being cinched on, or hay being offered. The surprising observation at the end serves to bring the time and place into sharp focus. For a split- second what is impossibly far away is replaced by what is so very near, right in front of us. That such a brief moment is noticed, appreciated, and skillfully shared, is the hallmark of a good haiku.


~ Honorable Mention ~

barn owl’s cry:
the darkness
pierced with wounds

Temple Cone, Hyattsville, MD

Set in the darkness of night, the sensory power of this uniquely creative haiku comes through suggesting sounds through the use of figurative language. The final line brings us the prey’s agony without telling us explicitly what to hear.


~ Honorable Mention ~

it ends
with a text
april rain

Matthew Markworth, Mason, OH

The brevity of this poem gives us the distinct impression that what is ending has been important. The brevity also points to the way relationships can end quickly, simply by tapping out a text. The month in which the experience occurs intensifies the poet’s experience. April. A time when rain nourishes the earth and blossoms appear, a time when relationships so often begin or renew themselves.


~ Honorable Mention ~

crack house
even the shadows
have shadows

Roland Packer, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

A true-to-life, unflinching observation. The dark mood is enhanced by the double use of “shadows,” inviting readers to enter through their own experiences or to imagine for a moment what it would mean to be inside such a house. The words fit together perfectly and ring so true.


~ Honorable Mention ~

to lead a life
of such purpose . . .
ants in a line

Annette Makino, Arcata, CA

An image that speaks of a social organization wherein each member works instinctively towards the benefit of the whole. What ants are born to do is a given, pure and simple. Such a sharp contrast to the choices and consequences humans must make individually in order to discover and to live a life of purpose. By watching ants closely, a deeper appreciation is gained of what it takes to keep a colony alive and functioning harmoniously as a unit. This is something we humans must learn to do much better if we hope to nurture life on our planet. We relate to the sense of hopeless resignation evoked in this poem.





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.