Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards for 2023

Haiku Society of America

Merit Books Awards for 2023

Jim Chessing and Sondra J. Byrnes, judges

Thank you for the privilege of reading the over 70 haiku and haiku-related books published in 2022 and submitted in this year's contest. The experience of evaluating so many fine books was daunting. However, this assignment revealed to us just how much excellent work is taking place in the haiku world.


First Place

Where Rain Would Stay: The Haiku Poetry of Peggy Willis Lyles, Edited by John Barlow & Ferris Gilli, Snapshot Press, 2022

Where Rain Would Stay is a beautifully produced hard-bound volume of 236 haiku written from 1976 until Lyles’ death in 2010. The poems have all been previously published but uncollected until now. Quoting Barlow from the Introduction: “[Lyles’] haiku are infused with a naturalist’s empathy, an artist’s eye, and an innate understanding of the human condition, blending accurate observation and attention to detail with an intuitive knack of getting to the heart of things.”

southern drawl
smoldering underbrush

While each haiku is perfect and complete on its own, the editors have sequenced the poems in four chapters that move seamlessly through the seasons, with the final haiku linking back to the first. In addition to a comprehensive introduction which brings Lyles to life and provides context to her career, detailed appendices describe the selection process, seasonality and ordering. Not only have Barlow and Gilli provided a lovely collection of haiku poetry at its best, but they have also given us a text book on the art of reading and writing haiku in English.

snowed in—
the artist paints
blue irises

~ ~ ~

Second Place

Peter Newton. Glide Path. Winchester, VA; Red Moon Press, 2022

Peter Newton’s book presents a fresh and almost tender look at the world—both the natural world and our human nature. While his touch is light, the reach is deep.  This collection presents quiet truths and astute observations. Over 120 haiku—each with Newton’s particular perspective and sensitivities—exhibit enormous range and a clear grasp of what makes an excellent haiku. Nudging homely situations and scenes into haiku that resonate, Newton opens those experiences for the reader

an open door
for the wind’s company
old habits

breaking news
the crow’s whole body
into its caw

~ ~ ~

Third Place

John Hawkhead. Bone Moon. Uxbridge, UK; Alba Publishing, 2022
John Hawkhead’s second collection of haiku, Bone Moon, takes the reader from spring to winter with a keen eye for the unlikely and the likely in unlikely ways. Hawkhead’s lovely pen and ink drawings periodically surprise yet create perfect pairings with the haiku. Subtle sequencing throughout—with facing-page haiku—amplify the story and create a third spark. For example, the facing pages below:

sitting together
we share a quiet moment
in different dreams

moving apart
we still hope to share
long silences

~ ~ ~

Honorable Mentions (not ranked but in alphabetical order by author)

Brad Bennett, A Box of Feathers, Red Moon Press, 2022
Readers familiar with Bennett’s work appreciate the care he takes to make his haiku sound interesting. His article, “Euphony in Haiku,” published in Modern Haiku, catalogues the artful ways in which sound qualities can enhance a haiku, and such talents are on display throughout a box of feathers.

summer sky
how could nothing
be so blue

Throughout, Bennett treats the reader to his keen observations of the natural world with compassion and insight.

first grade recess
the future loam
of falling leaves


Bill Cooper. Rounded by the Sea. Winchester, VA; Red Moon Press
Organized by Child, Water, Land and Air, Cooper’s latest haiku collection offers pathos, joy, surprise, and plenty of witty humor. The subjects of baseball and teaching get special treatment.


Bruce H. Feingold, Everything with an Asterisk, Red Moon Press, 2022

winter drought
our grandson safe in
his amniotic sac

In Everything with an Asterisk, Feingold chronicles accommodations we made to living with the Pandemic. In the face of an unseen killer we did our best: We noticed flowers, turned seventy, celebrated a wedding and a pregnancy, responded to the tug of a rainbow trout on the line. We abided the admonitions to wear a mask and stand six feet apart, to find new ways to work, to grieve over the people and habits we lost, all the while treading water in the ever-present anxiety.

Labor Day
the sixth grader’s
worry lines

The Pandemic has inspired troves of haiku which have been published in the journals, but what Feingold has penned, perhaps, is a memoir of all of us.


Aaron Barry, Eggplants & Teardrops: A Haiku Collection, Independently Published, 2022
John Stevenson, in his foreword, writes: “Barry’s work is an expression of the next generation’s most distressing, beautiful, and vulgar experiences, rendered through an ancient poetic tradition ... [he] has written a collection that seeks to bring about a new iteration of haiku and senryu that doesn’t shy away from the topics that truly matter to him and his Millennial/Gen Z contemporaries.” 
a gingerbread house in this economy

[fragment] [punctuation]
[juxtaposed phrase within
established context]

Barry’s poems are not to be confused with the legions of uninformed spamku that pervade the internet masquerading as haiku. Love it or hate it, eggplants & teardrops is a funny but serious poke at the status quo.

~ ~ ~



Andrew Riutta. Blessed. Winchester, VA; Red Moon Press
The subtitle: Modern Haiku on Almost Every Despair, tells us what to expect. This haibun collection walks us through much of a life. Thoughtful titles, crisp prose and haiku that bring the reader to special realizations. In many of the haibun, the prose of despair is (almost) resolved by the lightness of the haiku. And, Riutta is a gifted storyteller. We meet a number of characters along with stories about the author, each offering insight into what would otherwise be the ordinary aspects of a day.

Honorable Mention

Sean O’Connor. The God of Bones. Uxbridge, UK; Alba Publishing, 2022
The God Of Bones addresses the cruelty we inflict on one another—war, displacement, hunger. While portraying the fragility of life, O’Connor gives us hints throughout that remind us of importance of present moment awareness. In one haibun, he says “The illusion of the constant readily blinds. Yet, there is a constant . . . the uniqueness of each moment.”

~ ~ ~



Jim Kacian, editor, String Theory, Red Moon Press, 2022.
This anthology gathers the best haiku, senryu, linked forms and essays. Along with detailed indices, String Theory spells out the process used to create the collectionboth how material is gathered and then how it is selected for the anthology. As a result, String Theory is a comprehensive look at the current state of English-language haiku (and related haiku forms) around the world.

Honorable Mention

Tuning Up the Violins: Haiku Anthology, Compiled and Edited by Ludmila Balabanova, with Illustrations by Irina Karakehayova, Scribens Publishing, 2022
Tuning Up the Violins is an anthology of 128 Bulgarian haiku by 53 poets arranged in 14 sequences, each headed by a famous western poem. The poems are printed in Bulgarian (top) and English (below). The opening sequence begins with the last four lines of Yeats’ poem, “Among School Children,” which concludes with the question: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” The haiku by Diana Teneva:

waxing moon
all the answers
in a lullaby

Unlike other anthologies which provide a wide diversity in style, tone, subject matter and skill, Tuning Up the Violins reads like the work of a single author in terms of those same qualities. It’s a nod to the high quality of the poems themselves, as well as to the deft editing and sequencing of Balabanova. A haiku by Iliyana Stoyanova:

slow dance
heartbeat ahead of
the rhythm

~ ~ ~


Lenard D. Moore and African American Haiku: Merging Traditions, by Ce Rosenow, Lexington Books, 2022
Rosenow has crafted the first book-length treatment of the haiku poetics of Lenard D. Moore, “the most prominent contemporary African American haiku poet.” She divides his work into five chapters, in which she explores the richness of his haiku experience: his haiku sequences,  jazz poems and jazz haiku, ekphrastic haiku, elegiac haiku and haibun. In Chapter Two: Jazz Poems, Jazz Haiku, and Jazzku, she digs into the technical aspects of his poetics.

bobbing and bobbing
on the jazz club wall
the bassist’s shadow

Rosenow points out how the repetition of “bobbing,” introducing the assonance of “o” sounds and the alliteration of “b” sounds, carries the underlying beat in synchrony with the visual image of the bassist cast against the wall. On the surface it’s a simple haiku, but like the music that inspires it, it rises out of a deep and often intuitive structure. The chapter on his elegiac haiku, which tradition is as old as the poetry itself, is moving for Moore’s honesty and vulnerability. Writing in honor of Francine Porad, who died in 2006, he reflects on their relationship:

rereading the renga
we wrote a decade ago . . .
my name: her name

This book, like Where Rain Would Stay, is not only a tribute to a master haiku poet (in this case, one who’s still alive and writing), it’s a source of technical knowledge and inspiration that will reward novice and experienced poets alike. 

~ ~ ~


About our 2023 judges:

Jim Chessing is a semi-retired clinical psychologist who has been writing haiku since his senior year in high school, in 1970. In 1988 he was one of 12 Top Selections in the Japan Air Lines English Language Haiku Contest, and in 2003 he took First Prize in the inaugural Robert Spiess Memorial Haiku Contest. He began writing tanka in 2005, and in 2010 he won first prize in the Tanka Society of America International Tanka Contest. His poems have appeared in many of the leading print and online journals since 1971. One of the original members of the Haiku Poets of Northern California in 1989, he is now the organization’s bookseller.

Sondra J. Byrnes' haiku has been published in Frogpond, Modern Haiku, The Heron’s Nest, Acorn, Bones, among others; she was included in A New Resonance 10. Byrnes has served as Secretary of the Haiku Society of America and as co-chair of the Haiku North America conference in Santa Fe. With Charles Trumbull, she started a haiku study group in Santa Fe. Along with haiku, Byrnes is interested in ikebana and chanoyu. Byrnes is a retired law and business professor at the University of Notre Dame.

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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.