Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards for 2006

Haiku Society of America

Merit Book Awards for 2006

Yu Chang and A.C. Missias, judges

First Place

Peter Yovu. Turn to the Earth. Saki Press, Normal, IL: Saki Press, 2005.

In the preface to Turn to the Earth, Peter Yovu writes that the haiku poet must “be lovingly vigilant over small things and subtle connections; over what is fleeting, easily trodden on, ignored, or missed completely.” And he does just that in this collection of 48 haiku, modestly sized at 5_ by 4_ inches, side-stapled in an apple-green cardstock cover with its drawing of a sunflower turning toward earth. Yovu is a contemporary haiku poet who has studied the masters closely and who truly follows Basho's dictum to “learn of the pine from the pine.” Approaching nature with eyes, mind, and heart, he captures the tiny moments of immediate observation and transforms them into timeless and universal experience. These are egoless poems with very few references to the self, yet they are haiku that resonate deeply for us all. Yovu empathizes with nature without personification or sentimentality; rather, nature subtly becomes an objective correlative for the reader's experience. While Yovu's title haiku,

heavy with seed
turn to earth

is certainly a literal observation, his imagery and diction bring to mind an overburdened human being turning to the earth for comfort, a pregnant woman filled with unborn possibility, or a person at the end of life still filled with unsown seeds. A mere seven words that connote such breadth and depth of experience is indeed a masterful haiku. Similarly, another spare haiku,

on their own

contains the entire existential angst of human life: When the sun goes down at the end of the day or at the end of life, each one of us is indeed alone. Yet, at the same time, we're in this life together. Yovu carefully and critically uses the plural: the pumpkins, not one pumpkin, are “on their own.” With modesty, generosity of spirit, and great attention to craft, Yovu has shared moments of his personal journey that ripple into our own.

motel mirror—
I too am
just passing through

The Haiku Society of America heartily congratulates Peter Yovu, who first discovered haiku in the late 60s through the works of R. H. Blyth. In addition, we acknowledge with deep gratitude the generosity of HSA charter member and cofounder Leroy Kanterman for endowing this award in memory of his wife, Mildred Kanterman, also a charter member.


Second Place (tie)

Geri Barton. Crumb Moves the Ant.Saki Press, Normal, IL: Saki Press, 2005.

Another simple Saki Press production, this book contains many sharp observations and good poems on a variety of subjects and from a variety of perspectives. An enjoyable visit.


Nina Wicker. Wild Again: Selected Haiku of Nina Wicker. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2005.

A glossy perfect-bound book, this collection reprints some poems from the author’s previous collections, as well as some newer poems. Generally strong haiku, with a number of real standouts.


Third Place

Michael Dudley. Pilgrimage. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2005.

This collection includes both haiku and a few essays, and spans a broader range of poetry types than just the well-traveled core of the haiku tradition. There are concrete poems, haiku sequences, and games played with the power of visual text or auditory rhyme. Somehow the result is an engaging flurry that is more than the sum of its parts. Worth a visit.


Award for Best Anthology (tie)

Patrick Gallagher, Pamela Miller Ness, Laurie W. Stoelting, and Karma Tenzing Wangchuk. If I Met Basho. San Francisco: Two Autumns Press, 2005.

This collection features four established haiku poets who were featured at an annual reading for the Haiku Poets of Northern California. Each poet is given a short profile and then a selection of 12 haiku—enough for the reader to get a sense of the distinctive voice of each author, and perhaps few enough to whet your appetite for other books by each. Very strong poems, displaying a variety of approaches and featuring humor, poignancy, yearning, and close observation. An enjoyable read.


Jim Kacian and Dee Evetts, Editors. A New Resonance 4: Emerging Voices in English-Language Haiku. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2005.

This series attempts to introduce “emerging” haiku poets—those focused on work in this genre, but who have not yet published a major solo collection. Thus they can comprise a mix of familiar names with virtually unpublished poets, each with enough representative poems to give the reader a meaningful sense of the writer’s perspective and voice. This collection, as with its predecessors, offers a wealth of strong haiku and a promising set of poets worth watching.


Honorable Mention Anthology

Brandi, John & Dennis Maloney, Editors. The Unswept Path: Contemporary American Haiku. Buffalo, NY: White Pine Press, 2005.

This book is quite different from many of the books given awards this year, because it is clearly attempting to accomplish something specific, as is hinted at in the preface by William J. Higginson:

Rather than strictly attempting to show a selection of outstanding haiku, as might be agreed by a consensus of specialists, it catalogs the wide range of voices and approaches that can be found identifying their work with the genre. As a result, it is unlikely that every reader will find agreeable every poem or even every authorial viewpoint represented here (and presented in alphabetical order with little additional guidance), nor will a newcomer get a clear sense of what unifies these poems under a single name. But unmistakably many outstanding poems appear here, and perhaps it is time to come face to face with the margins of our tradition, if for no other reason that to be prodded to reexamine our assumptions and self-imposed limits. A worthy addition to the literature.

around the bell
blue sky
           —John Brandi

You too slippery
For me. Can’t hold you long or
Hard. Not enough nites.
           —Sonia Sanchez


Best Serial Book

Jim Kacian, Editor. Tug of the Current: Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2004. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2005.

A system by which each poem must get the votes of at least half of a discriminating panel of judges once again yields an excellent crop of haiku and related works (gleaned from most serials and books published in English). This series continues to stand as a touchstone of the best of contemporary haiku, and is always an enjoyable and illuminating read.

Award for Best Book of Haiga:

Jeanne Emrich, Editor. Reeds: Contemporary Haiga 2005. Edina, MN: Lone Egret Press, 2005.

The publication of haiga (the combination of haiku with visual art) is demanding, and Reeds does an excellent job of rising to the challenge, yielding a volume that gives the art high-quality reproduction that shows each piece as the artist intended, whether it’s a traditional ink-brush drawing or modern computerized collage. A range of approaches appear here, both in the medium of the art and in the linkage to the poem, where some are closer to illustrations, while others create an unexpected spark between words and images, yielding additional meaning.

There is also something intimate about seeing the original handwriting of some authors or artists as they worked the text into the piece themselves; this effect is even more striking when balanced against calligraphed kanji (also translated below the piece) and variously typeset pieces. A couple of essays and an interview, as well as short contributor biographies, round out the collection. Overall, this publication (the third in an annual journal series) serves as a wonderful introduction to the haiga genre, as well as offering a range of wonderful explorations for those who already appreciate this art form and its unique attributes.





The purpose of the Haiku Society of America's Merit Book Awards is to recognize the best haiku and related books published in a given year in the English language. Every year sees a fresh crop of fine individual collections, anthologies, translations, critical studies and innovative forms.

In the past, the HSA Merit Book awards were partially supported by a memorial gift. Leroy Kanterman, cofounder of the Haiku Society of America, made a gift to support the first place award in memory of his wife Mildred Kanterman. See the archives of Merit Book Awards.

The Merit Book Awards competition is open to the public. Books must have been published in the previous year and must clearly contain a printed previous year copyright. A member, author, or publisher may submit or nominate more than one title. At least 50 percent of the book must be haiku, senryu, or haibun, or prose about these subjects (books mostly of tanka, for example, are not eligible). HSA will also consider collections that have only appeared in an e-book/digital book format. Two print copies of the digital book may be sent by the publisher. Books published by HSA officers are eligible for this award. Books published by the national HSA organization, however, are not eligible.

Winners by Year (with judges' comments):

2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998 | 1997 | 1996 | 1995 | 1994 | 1993 | 1992 | 1991 | 1990 | 1989 | 1988 | 1987 | 1985 | 1983 | 1981 | 1978 | 1975 |

See the contest rules for entering the next Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards competition.