Haiku Society of America Haiku Award for 2021 - Judges Commentary

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

Judges' Commentary for 2021

Julie Warther Schwerin & George Swede


~ First Place ~

a year at most . . . 
we pretend to watch 
the hummingbirds

Tom Bierovic, Florida, USA

A poem which juxtaposes the human condition with one of nature's small wonders and leaves room for the reader to experience at once both the despondency and the joy.

365 days can be too long to feel real urgency, yet not long enough to accomplish all one had hoped. The slipperiness of time and the futility of it can result in a paralysis of sorts. What does it matter what I do? Is it worth it? Did I accomplish anything worthwhile while I was here? Will I be remembered? How will I be remembered? Is there more? It is the wonder of haiku that ten simple words can lead to such existential questions and pondering. The ellipsis at the end of line one allows the reader to pause and consider these questions along with the poet.

The second line is intriguing as well. "we pretend to watch". The reader is not told who "we" is or why they are pretending or who they are pretending for. This is the openness that allows the reader to enter in and fill in the blanks. For me, it was my mother's terminal diagnosis with pancreatic cancer. Conversations with my parents and brothers had come full circle. There were times it felt as if we said all that could be said, and to avoid retreading the same conversational ground, we turned our attention to other things; sometimes a television show or a sporting event or the dog's antics. Well, I know it wasn't really my attention. I would stare in one general direction but would be so deep in thought that I saw nothing. Yes, it could be said I was pretending. And we all pretended not to know the others were pretending too.

How striking to juxtapose this state of numbness and inactivity with hummingbirds; little birds who lives in the fast-lane with 1260 heartbeats per minute, whose lifespan is only five years, whose days are spent flitting from one food source to another just to survive. I imagine as the poet watches the activity at a feeder or flowers, he reflects on the times he spent bustling here and there, filling his time with activities and distractions to avoid the big questions. A terminal diagnosis, whether our own or a loved one's, has a way of placing things in perspective. Faced with the unthinkable, sometimes all we can do is watch the world go by, realizing for the first time perhaps that it will keep going even after we are gone. ~Julie Schwerin


~ Second Place ~

Mars landing
cardboard softens
the subway grate

Scott Mason, New York, USA

Note: See the next commentary below the "daisies" haiku for Swede's commentary on both the second place and one of the third place haiku.


~ Third Place ~ tie

learning to live
in a crowd again

Tony Williams, Scotland, UK

What makes a good haiku? Foremost is an unexpected juxtaposition that creates wonder. Next is an aptly chosen vocabulary. Both “Mars landing” and “daisies” possess these qualities. The second-place haiku surprises us with an association between an element of nature (Mars) and poverty (homelessness) thereby making us question where our resources should go—for rockets or to the unfortunate among us. The third-place haiku reveals an unforeseen association between daisies and the human need for the company of others, thus reminding us how COVID isolation caused mental health problems for many. Both haiku belong on the podium. ~George Swede


~ Third Place ~ tie

open meadow
a monarch hinges 
on a milkweed

Brad Bennett, Massachusetts, USA

A timely and important poem for our days. This haiku seems to hinge on the word "hinge" in the middle of the poem. What a delightful verb and gentle wordplay. The poet presents a strong visual image of the monarch's wings opening and closing. Perhaps it has just emerged from its chrysalis and is drying its wings, pumping fluid into them, gathering warmth from the sunlight. As milkweed provides the primary food source for monarchs in their larva stage, one can literally say that their very existence hinges on milkweed. There seems to be a gentle nod to the butterfly effect in this poem as well. The butterfly effect is a property of chaotic systems (such as the atmosphere) by which small changes in initial conditions can lead to large-scale and unpredictable variation in the future state of the system. The concept is imagined with a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a typhoon. In this case, the loss of open spaces leads to the loss of milkweed and subsequently the loss of monarchs which we know are wildflower pollinators and an important food source for birds, small animals and other insects. The decrease of monarchs parallels other declining pollinator populations, which in turn impacts human food systems and our planetary health. I can't help but hear an echo of William Carlos Williams as well; so much depends upon a milkweed plant. ~ Julie Schwerin


~ Honorable Mention ~

blossom to blossom 
a bee tips the fate 
of the world 

June Rose Dowis, Louisiana, USA

There is an immediacy and freshness in the movement in this poem. And similar to our third-place winner above, this poem suggests the fate of the world and the food we eat rests in a honey bee's pollination. As bees are found on every continent except for Antarctica, in every habitat on the planet that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants, this is hardly an exaggeration. ~Julie Schwerin


~ Honorable Mention ~

sand dollars
all that’s left of 
her summer job

Margaret Tau, North Carolina, USA

A tongue-in-cheek reference to Basho's "summer grasses” poem, "summer grasses / all that remains / of soldier's dreams". Perhaps the subject of this poem was a lifeguard or concession worker, or part of the beach maintenance staff. Regardless, the job was temporary and likely didn't pay much.  There is something refreshing in being completely spent at the end of summer but still holding a wealth of memories. ~Julie Schwerin


~ Honorable Mention ~

whether or not you forgive me—forget-me-nots 

Laurie D. Morrissey, New Hampshire, USA

I appreciate the proximity of "forgive" to "forget" and the space in the poem for hard choices. I feel a bit of hope knowing that forget-me-nots are self-seeders. Whether or not they are intentionally replanted, they will likely be back next spring regardless, to serve as a reminder and perhaps a second chance at forgiveness. ~Julie Schwerin




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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