Haiku Society of America Rengay Awards for 2021 - Judges Commentary

Haiku Society of America Rengay Award
in Honor of Garry Gay

Judges Commentary for 2021

Judged by
John Thompson and Jacquie Pearce


It was a pleasure reading through the forty-four rengay submitted in this second year of the HSA Rengay Contest in honor of Garry Gay. We were delighted with the many strong and intriguing sequences. The difficulty in our task came in narrowing down and selecting the winners. Although several rengay rose to the surface as our personal favorites, the quality of those not selected was also very high.

What made our top rengay choices stand out was originality and consistency of theme, as well as strong individual verses that worked together to create a single poem with a flowing sense of movement, or arc. We also looked for sequences that contained more than one theme, which engaged us intellectually and emotionally, and which deepened with each subsequent reading.



2020 First Place


Plein Air

first rays of light
through ripening raspberries 
mixing colors 

palette of blue
six eggs in a robin's nest

thunder showers 
stippled droplets on roses
watercolor scent

charcoal smudges
in sunlit storm clouds
a fingerprint 

staccato reflections
beneath my brush sounds of rain

so full
the moon among shadows
my inkwell spills 

by Joan Fingon and Orense Nicod 


This winning rengay engages all the senses while seamlessly weaving together several themes. There is a sense of gradually accumulating colors and nature images observed throughout the day as the artist adds paint and brushstrokes to the progressing painting, as well as movement from sunlight into rain, from morning to night, and from light to building darkness. But it is not an ominous darkness (at least not in our interpretation). In the final verse, “so full” seems to refer to more than the moon. There is a sense that the inkwell is full and spilling over, and the artist/poet is also joyfully full and brimming over with the day’s experiences and the creative process. The act of seeing and creating becomes a kind of light in the darkness, or a “fingerprint” on storm clouds. The verses work individually, and also link and shift to compel the reader through the almost cinematic story of an artist’s day of outdoor painting.


2020 Second Place


Bending the Light

holding back tears
the fullness
of a gibbous moon

those ghosts I know
I have to live with

the orchid stems
after the bloom
longest night

each star
as if second chances
were real

the bend of light
through water

morning as it opens
a new window
of hope

by Julie Schwerin and Angela Terry


This rengay took us on an emotional journey, moving us through a long night of tears, loss and self-reflection into the first light of morning and a new sense of hope. What caused the poets’ pain is left unsaid, which leaves room for readers to layer their own experiences into the rengay. We recognize and respond to the emotional struggle, which has the capacity to empty us, and also to fill us with new awareness and appreciation for life. The voices in this rengay blend gracefully together as they explore and affirm the personal and universal experience of deep grieving and recovery. The mystery and haunting quality of the writing and imagery also tempers the darkness, showing us that we need shadows to recognize the light.


2020 Third Place


backyard bird call
lands on Mars

blast of solar wind
the dank of withered reeds

Venusian clouds
a biplane circles 
the sky above me

the half-moon betta
       sipping air
Europa’s hidden seas

cardinals at the feeder
snowfall on Pluto

Kepler’s star
the iron in my blood
blood red        

by Deborah P Kolodji and Billie Dee


This audacious dual-theme rengay stretches our imaginations across the universe, yet at the same time, keeps us firmly grounded on our home planet—a brilliant mix of science and poetics full of intriguing leaps and links. The verses combine an objective scientific tone with underlying emotional tensions associated with the contemplation of the diverse possibilities of life. There is also a sense of playfulness with the surprising comparisons and images. “Venusian clouds” are juxtaposed with a circling biplane, an already antiquated technology that represents one of the first steps in our reach for the stars. A fish with a stellar-sounding name (a “half-moon betta”) leaves its water environment to momentarily “sip air,” perhaps suggesting that we are like fish out of water in our journey into space, or that there may be mysteries to uncover in the hidden seas of Jupiter’s moon. At the same time, it subtly reminds us (whether intentionally or not) of our own evolutionary history of arising from the sea, evoking a sense that we are just at the beginning of our journey. The rengay concludes with “Kepler’s star,” a supernova that would have produced heat and chaos so intense it may have created new elements such as iron, which is a basic part of our bodies and of our environment (used in the creation of tools of war and other technology). The references to “iron” and “blood” (with its red color and associations with blood-loss) return us to Mars, the planet of the first verse, and the god of war. Chaos can either be an end or a beginning. Perhaps as we reach for the stars, we need to recognize that the stuff of stars is already here around us and inside us.


2020 Honorable Mentions (unranked)

There were so many strong rengay, we felt unable to limit the honorable mentions to just three. We selected five equally compelling rengay, and could easily have included two or three others. While we were not asked to comment on the honorable mentions, we wanted to honor each one with a few words.

A Fading Memory 

pen and paper
not where i left them

a word for maple seeds
takes flight

her face 
so familiar
rosemary or lavender

our day
to visit cherry blossoms
missing keys

dandelion clock
time drifts away

thieving sprites
borrow my bouquets
twilight thickens 

by Marilyn Ashbaugh and Jeanne Cook


A poignant yet playful handling of the theme of memory loss, which allows the reader to engage deeper by reading between the lines, laughing at ourselves in recognition and sympathy.




solstice moon
his planchette roams
my ouija board

each kiss summons ghosts
from the secrets of her curves

endless moans
the rise and fall
of our sheet

deepening shadows
the lights flicker
to our rhythms

on the wall
handprints linger

shuddering orgasms . . .
we exorcise
our inhibitions

by Lori A Minor and Joshua Gage


Splices together supernatural motifs with a sexual encounter, both building to a parallel “climax” — campy fun, full of smart wordplay and double entendre.



Golden Joinery

the path we follow
marked with deer droppings
first moccasin flowers

seed bombing
a vacant lot

rosy sunset
clouds above the smokestacks
just clouds 

the warmth
of the Earth on our backs
Lyrid meteors

a trash bag bulging
with roadside returnables

piecing our broken world
back together

by Kristen Lindquist and Alan S. Bridges


An insightful theme of beauty and positive actions emerging out of negative, following the metaphor of the Japanese tradition of mending broken pottery with gold. A lovely concluding haiku that emphasizes the theme.



Letting Go

apron strings
the tender undoing
of knots

his kite unfurls
in the wind

spring break
sailboats on the bay
meander at cruising speed

macrame hammock
the shape of a day
measured in margaritas

water rings
on the burlwood table

enough for dinner
he loosens the slipknot
on the smallest perch

by Carol Judkins and Lorraine A. Padden


Clever and subtle insertion of the “knot” theme into each verse (including knots in string, wood, and boat speed), while giving a sense of a life moving from childhood through youthful independence to a kind of maturity as the adult lets the small fish go.



The Eye of a Loon

spring in the blood
a spruce grouse drums
on a mossy log

abandoned orchard
sap wells ring an apple tree

wild strawberries
the waxwings have left
a mouthful

in breeding plumage
a scarlet tanager sings
in the canopy

two cranes bend their heads
to the fresh-cut hayfield

a long yodel
the autumn sun sets
in the eye of a loon                             

by Kristen Lindquist and Alan S. Bridges


Very strong nature haiku focusing on birds through the seasons of spring to autumn, subtly threading the color red through the verses with a skillful and rich use of language, rhythm and word sounds.

~ ~ ~





These awards for unpublished rengay are sponsored by the Haiku Society of America in honor of Garry Gay, the inventor of rengay.

Winners by Year: | 2021 | 2020 |

See the complete collection of award-winning haiku from all previous Rengay Award competitions

See the contest rules for entering the next Haiku Society of America Rengay Award competition.