Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards for 2014

Haiku Society of America

Merit Book Awards for 2014

Deb Baker and Adelaide B. Shaw, judges

The Haiku Society of America is pleased to announce the winners of the 2014 Kanterman Book Awards, for books published in 2013, judged by Deb Baker and Adelaide B. Shaw.

As with judging every contest the first reading is usually quick with only tentative selections made. Subsequent readings reinforce some choices, omit some and add others. It's a narrowing down process requiring rereading, careful repeated analyses and frequent e-mails between judges. After doing all of that, here are our choices.

Congratulations to the winners and thank you to all the poets for contributing their work for this contest.


First Place

Tom Clausen. Laughing to Myself. Rochester, NY: Free Food Press, 2013.

Clausen bookAs editor Michael Ketchek says in his introduction, “Tom [Clausen] was a pioneer in the haiku movement that let haiku not only roam through the natural world, but let it into our cities, homes, and other aspects of our modern world. ... "[Tom]… has so openly let the reader into his life and into his heart."

The haiku span 24 years of writing, but many are characteristic of recent developments in haiku–gendai haiku with no kigo or reference to nature, and, as such, the difference between haiku and senryu becomes blurred.

in the tent
talking ourselves
to sleep

Ketchek also writes, "Tom, while retaining his individual voice, manages to convey the aspiration and angst of all of us. Who live in this moderm world and does so with a wry and whimsical smile.”

quiet evening
a spider walks its shadow
from where it fell

Some poems are senryu and are hilariously true.

staff meeting
I identify
with the last donut

Clausen can summon a lot of emotion in a few words as in

standing at this window
I remember mother
standing here

There are personal poems and poems attuned to the elements of nature:

river walk
the silence
between rapids

reading into it
as much as I can
               my life

and his family poems are beautiful little gems as well, especially

next morning
her yawn doesn’t sound

The best thing about this book is that re-reading it is as much a pleasure as the first reading, and that’s an unusual treat. In all these poems we see something of the poet as a man who can understand the worries we face and laugh at some of them.

In the minds of the judges there is no doubt Laughing to Myself was the best haiku book in this year’s contest.


Second Place

Dietmar Tauchner. Noise of Our Origin. Winchester,VA: Red Moon Press, 2013.

This collection is written in German and English, with the German translated by the author. The author writes about time, space and distance, our relationship and position relative to each of these, the known world and the unknown. Here is a poet trying to understand his presence in the universe. The haiku show concern, joy, hope, and much more. They provide thought provoking material, but are rooted firmly here on earth in everyday human experience. Falling in love, losing one’s parents, taking a walk, going to work, tasting a beer, noticing a budding flower all of these things inspired Tauchner to juxtapose the ordinary with the fantastic, the galactic, the awe-inspiring. For example:

dark energy
father leaves
the earth

where the weather ends
light on its way
to the end of time

first warm day
the toy cup fills
with sunlight

opening buds
the tender odor
of beginning

Sometimes the human presence is simply the mental interplay between writer and reader:

5% cosmos
the anonymity
all around

column of creation
dreams back
to the first man

One of the judges felt that the arrangement of the poems in this collection is a drawback. The one-liners stretching across two pages over the seam of the volume and the inconsistent placement of the English and German versions were a distraction. Despite that and despite a few poems the judges didn’t “get,” the beauty and power of Tauchner’s writing ultimately urged re-reading and further savoring his work. In the final haiku the poet gives an apt summing up of where we are in the universe and how we got here. For some, it is just noise; for the poet the noise is a challenge he is trying to understand.

new radio
of our origin


Third Place

Charles Trumbull. A Five-Balloon Morning. Santa Fe, NM: Red Mountain Press, 2013.

Trumbull bookThe haiku in this book, as Trumbull himself points out in the introduction, are "bits and pieces" from his childhood home, from his leaving and his trips back. Although a few of these haiku could have been penned anywhere, many others are imbued with a strong sense of place—the Southwest and specifically, New Mexico.

With all the haiku, including a section, “Trinity,” inspired by a 2011 trip to the site of the first atomic bomb explosion, Trumbull’s poems take the reader through the Land of Enchantment and also through a range of universal emotions

raking into piles
leaves from the tree
I climbed as a boy

cloudless plains sky
my soul completely
exposed to God

bend in the trail
a juniper branch
worn smooth

ponderosa pine
reaching to the cliff tops
winds of the ancients

heading and healing
a cowboy loses his hat
in the summer sun

over the Sandias—
a five-balloon morning

The haiku in the Trinity section are calmly objective with images as the site is now, providing a chilly contrast to the events of 1945.

scraping the dirt
with my toe—
a grain of green glass

This section, with its own introduction, is like a separate chapbook within the collection and could have been set apart more distinctly, perhaps by placing it at the end of the book.


Best Book of Haibun

Peter Newton. Welcome to the Joy Ride. Winchenton, MA: Imaginary Press, 2013.

Peter Newton takes us with his haibun along on his journey through life, his appreciation of poets, his resilience, his hopes and expectations, the people he meets, his connections and disconnections with friends, neighbors, strangers, with life in a small town. These observations are presented sometimes in a lighthearted tone, sometimes in a cynical tone and all presented in sharp detail. Whether or not the poet is writing about himself or as another person doesn't matter. What matters is that the prose and haiku fit together smoothly. These haibun show us life as it is, not as we always want it to be. There is both suffering and joy. Peter Newton's prose is accessible to all readers, regardless of their experience with reading haibun. The haibun in Newton’s collection manage to combine wisdom, humor, and simplicity—such as “The Deli Clerk,” “Unspeakable,” “Simple Folds,” and “One Thing.” Newton’s observational skills, his clear, well-crafted prose, and his ability to write haiku that enhance, rather than repeating, the themes he’s addressing, make this collection a fine one.


Honorable Mention Book of Haibun

Mike Montreuil. from the journal of a perpetual dreamer. Northing, Charleston, IL: Northing, 2013.

Montreuil uses a concise, almost enigmatic prose in these poems. There are no titles in this collection, just journal dates, and some poems seem to be no more than that, the personal notations of a diarist. The prose is natural, as if the poet is talking to the reader, recounting his day of nothing special. Yet, we want to read on, to know what the poet will do tomorrow and the next day. The haibun have one or two haiku which provide a deeper understanding, move the narrative a step further or increase or change the mood. Although each haibun is marked with a date going in chronological progression during a year, the year is not given. It doesn't matter whether or not these haibun are from the same year or different years. They hold up individually, and do not require a continuity with the previous one. They reveal a responsiveness to the world, poems in dialogue with the human condition. April is an especially strong section.

April 10

And that was Easter weekend . . . Another four days of violence in the world . . .

walking towards me
in the grass
abandoned cat


Best Anthology

Allan Burns, Editor. Where the River Goes: the Nature Tradition in English-Language Haiku. Ormskirk, UK: Snapshot Press, 2013.

Allan Burns presents English Language Haiku and its celebration of nature since the beginnings of the English Language Haiku movement in 1963. He identifies, as suggested by George Swede, three types of haiku: "nature-oriented haiku with no reference to humans or human artifacts, haiku that explicitly reference both humans or human artifacts and the natural world, and human-oriented haiku with no reference to the natural world." With well-written and informative essays in the introduction and literary biographies introducing each writer’s work, this anthology is perfect for both informed haiku readers and those who know nothing about the form. The writers included are mostly well known, and the work included is top notch. This book is accessible, edifying, and delightful, everything an anthology should be, and should be included in library and school collections throughout the world.If, as a haiku poet, you wish to "get back to nature" this is the book to read.


Honorable Mention Anthologies

Lenard D. Moore and Roberta Beary, Editors. 7. Jacar Press, 2013.

In the preface to this small anthology, Richard Krawiec explains, “At a meeting of the North Carolina Haiku Society, the subject of numbers came up. Can someone write and publish too many haiku? . . . I asked Lenard D. Moore . . . how many of his published haiku he thought would survive beyond his death. He considered it for a while then answered, ‘Seven.’” Hence the title and the premise of this book. Kraweic went on to contact editors asking them to send a list of the best haiku poets. He culled a list of 100 suggested writers to 14 and then asked for their ten best haiku, and then the editors, Beary & Moore (whose own work is included) chose seven for each poet. Despite this somewhat convoluted selection process which conjured memories of school elections, the work in this volume is certainly very good, and it’s interesting to know the authors themselves chose what they feel is their best work. The haiku resonate with familiarity and the universal appeal of the experience and/or the image.


Best Chapbook

Stanford M. Forrester, Editor. lonely together. Windsor, CT: Nut Wagon Press, 2013.

This chapbook is both lovely and thematically pleasing. We all experience some loneliness some time in our lives, sometimes often, sometimes only occasionally. The five contributing poets all address the idea of loneliness, particularly the sense of being lonely in our interconnected contemporary world.


Honorable Mention Essays

Richard Gilbert. Disjunctive Dragonfly. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2013.

This treatise is an update and expanded version of an earlier paper in which Gilbert identified seventeen disjunctive modes. In this version he identifies twenty-four. With several haiku as examples, Gilbert illustrates each disjunctive mode and explains how it works. The author is thorough in his analyses, and one wonders if the poets who composed these haiku were aware of what disjunctive mode they were using. Sometimes knowing too much about how something works lessons the enjoyment of it. If the haiku poet or reader wants to know how to analyze a haiku, this is the book to read.


Honorable Mentions for Book Design & Aesthetics

Lidia Rozmus. Art and Design, for Moon Dance by Marian Olson. Santa Fe, NM: Deep North Press, 2013.

On these dark blue pages the moon is present in all its shapes.


Bob Arnold. Book Design, for Our Waves Meet the Ocean Waves by Gary Hotham. Green River, VT: Longhouse, 2013.

This is a cream sheet of paper folded into a sage green heavier cover wrapped with a strip giving the title and the author's name. This little package is about twice the size of a credit card and would be a charming gift inserted in a greeting card.





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.