Haiku Society of America Haiku Award for 2023 - Judges Commentary

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

Judges' Commentary for 2023

Brad Bennett & Caroline Skanne


~ First Place ~

milkweed husks
the dusk greens
with dragonflies

Joshua Gage, OH, USA

This haiku is an excellent example of how a few simple words about a simple moment can create ripples of resonance. We’ve all read haiku about milkweed husks, dusk, or dragonflies. But these words, in this particular order, create something vibrant with light, color, motion, and silence. We start with the wabi sabi of milkweed husks, those rough, whimsical, paisley-shaped containers that once held silky seeds. Then, the use of “green” as a verb is fresh and effective here. Usually, one thinks of greening as a proliferation of plant life, but this poem sends us into the entomological world. That disjunctive shift is surprising and effective. Perhaps the dragonflies are green darners (anax junius), one of the most common and abundant species in North America. While one of the first dragonflies to be seen in the spring, they are still around in the fall, circling those milkweed husks. One can almost picture the floating milkweed fluff shapeshifting into dragonflies. This poem also utilizes euphony to help create an enchanting lushness. The near rhyme of “husks” and “dusk,” the long e sounds of “weed” and “greens,” and the repeated d-sounds in “dusk” and “dragonflies” help to create softness and unity. The vivid haiku moment, the unadorned language, and the effective euphony are reminiscent of haiku penned by maestra Peggy Willis Lyles.


~ Second Place ~

unable to fit it
on one sketchbook page
the young hawk’s circle

paul m., Florida, USA

This is a focused haiku that manages to create resonance concentrating the poem around one image only, building anticipation line by line. While the first part seems almost awkward—as though the second line should perhaps be on the first line—rather than deter from the effectiveness of the haiku it fits the content. It is just the simplicity underscoring this poem that makes it resonate beyond the page, in a similar way that ‘the young hawk’s circle’ can’t be contained on ‘one sketchbook page’. I feel awe is at the centre of this poem, a complex emotion often proving so difficult to adequately express. Yet this poem manages to do just that. There’s a tactility to this haiku that effectively engages the senses and makes the poem come alive. Space is a crucial part of haiku. This poem made me smile every time I read it imagining the hand trying to fit the circles on one page but failing to do so. It took me in slightly different directions each time, exploring and discovering the various connections and relationships at play here. That between human and nature, the hawk’s movement and that of the human sketching, sky and paper, ink and wings, life and death . . . The list goes on, and will undoubtedly vary slightly depending on the reader. This to me is a sign of an effective haiku.


~ Honorable Mention ~

where the bufflehead
entered dark water
bubbles of light

John Barlow, Ormskirk, UK

This haiku uses contrast to great effect. Most noticeably between dark and light, in L1 implicitly as we encounter the bufflehead (males are black and white and females a grey-brown with a white patch), and explicitly in the two following lines (‘dark water’ in L2 and ‘bubbles of light’ in L3). But also, perhaps less noticeably so, by the use of different tenses in the same haiku. In L2 the past tense is used to recall a moment, while L3 in a way depicts the wake of this moment. For me it is that last line that makes this poem linger, as I feel a sense of solitude spreading with the ‘bubbles of light’, effectively completing the circle of past, present and future.


~ Honorable Mention ~

one log left
beside the log-splitter
a sliver of moon

Temple Cone, MD, USA

The haiku moment is clear. A person, laboring at chopping firewood (perhaps using a mechanical log-splitter), stops near the end of their task, possibly experiencing a feeling of accomplishment, and notices the moon. The repetition of the word “log” helps to emphasize the drudgery of splitting one log after another. But there’s much more . . . This poem also explores the interplay of loneliness and companionship. The line “one log left” alludes to the person splitting the logs alone. But the preposition “beside” offers a sliver of hope, a promise of companionship. Hello, “sliver of moon.” The reader is left feeling the contentment of solitude and a job well done.


~ Honorable Mention ~

desert dawn an ash-throated flycatcher

M F Drummy, CO, USA

This poem starts with fire and lack. The fire of the sun and a dearth of water. Though there are multiple kinds of deserts, they all receive less than ten inches of precipitation a year. A stark and perhaps painful way to begin. And that desiccation continues with the word “ash,” suggesting more fire and, perhaps, death. But wait, the ash-colored flycatcher serves as a phoenix of sorts, avian life rising from desert fire and ashes. And sunrises can be beautiful anywhere. And the ash- throated flycatcher happens to have a song in its repertoire specific to dawn. In five words, this poem accentuates the cycles of our days and lives.


~ Honorable Mention ~

maple stump
the sky still holding
the old treehouse

Jacquie Pearce, BC, Canada

Line one starts us off with a small tragedy: the remains of what was perhaps a beloved tree. We first look down at the stump. But then we travel upwards and backwards. We’re lifted up to the sky, a sky that is holding onto something. The former tree’s boughs and twigs, a kind of phantom limb syndrome? Sadness, loss, contentment, camaraderie? The small cut at the end of line two gives the reader plenty of room to soar. When we arrive on line three, we find memories of a children’s playhouse, built out of wood, cradled by wood. Additionally, the rhyme of “hold” and “old,” with the alliteration of “stump” and “still,” help to create echoes of fond memories.


~ ~ ~

About the Judges

Brad Bennett lives in Arlington, Massachusetts, USA. He has published three collections of haiku, A Drop of Pond (2016), A Turn in the River (2019), and A Box of Feathers (2022). Brad served as haiku and senryu editor of Frogpond from 2021-2023.
Caroline Skanne lives in Upnor, Kent, UK. She is the founder and editor of Hedgerow: a journal of small poems and served as the editor of Blithe Spirit (the Journal of the British Haiku Society) from 2019-2022.




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.