Haiku Society of America Haibun Renku Awards for 2018

Haiku Society of America Renku Awards
in Memorial of Bernard Lionel Einbond

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HSA Renku Awards for 2018

Christopher Herold and Patricia J. Machmiller

Grand Prize

From Branch to Branch

Alison Woolpert (coordinator), Santa Cruz, CA
Roger Abe, Morgan Hill, CA
Mimi Ahern, San Jose, CA
Dyana Basist, Santa Cruz, CA
Phillip Kennedy, Monterey, CA
Amy Ostenso-Kennedy, Monterey, CA
Linda Papanicolaou, Stanford, CA
Carol Steele, Santa Cruz, CA
Karina Young, Salinas, CA

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From Branch to Branch


early spring
a tiny bird hops
from branch to branch

Roger Abe

one pale yellow
ranunculus blooms

Carol Steele

he shows up
with a pastry
glazed like warm sunshine

Alison Woolpert

a three-legged dog romps
in the frothy waves

Karina Young

the camera club
with their lenses trained
at the rising moon

Linda Papanicolaou

in the haunted house
she turns the corner

Dyana Basist


the weatherwoman
with her long hair and cleavage:
TYPHOON brewing

Mimi Ahern

pine needles whisked into
the shape of a heart

Amy Ostenso-Kennedy

at the Apple Store
we both reach for
the same dongle

Phillip Kennedy

she claimed an affair with
Douglas Fairbank’s stunt double


I wonder
if the pills in the bottle
are enough


dispatching when they searched
Wyntoon for Patty Hearst


the strum of a guitar
long after dark
under a barefoot moon


a jardinière filled
with mosquito larvae


do we call ourselves
a democracy, a kleptocracy,
or a kakistocracy?


more guns are the answer . . . no,
more guns are not the answer


so many blossoms
taken down
by the hard rain


even the kitten
turns up her nose


prepping the wash
she finds a pocket full
of periwinkles


Sora follows Basho
on Facebook


a passenger train
climbs the mountain
into a cloud


the artist’s easel
on the precipice


everyone wishes
they could drive one
of the Zambonis


watching Shaun White
win his third gold medal


a Denisovan man
might have looked like
the Great Khali


tickets for Wagner, he says,
for marital harmony


folding the tarp
toward each other
they glance away


the marriage counselor
suggests trading chores


by moonlight
Gandalf utters “Mellon”
(“friend” in Elvish)


on the window screen



with a mighty leap
a silver salmon
clears the ladder


sisters name their daughters
after each other


the solemn chants
of white-cowled monks
at evensong


our neighborhood coyote
slowly saunters down the street


I will see you
cherry blossom


up . . . over the playground fence
                     . . . soap bubbles



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The Haiku Society of America sposors this annual award for renku of 36, 20, or 12 stanzas.

See the contest guidelines for the HSA Renku Awards.

For more information about the goals of this contest, download a copy of the HSA Renku Contest Committee Report (pdf) published in Frogpod XIII:2 (May 1990).

Awards by year:

| 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 |


2018 judges commentary:

The Process:

There were 17 renku submitted to the contest this year: nine nijuin (20-stanza) and eight kasen (36-stanza). We started by looking at how well each submission conformed to the chosen form. This screening resulted in seven poems making the cut. Each of these renku featured especially memorable stanzas. We both agreed that renku is a poem that celebrates diversity so we began by looking for variety in tone, subject matter, rhetoric, and high moments with quiet ones. But to be successful the renku has to hang together. So along with variety, the next most important aspect is how it reads as a poem. Does it cohere even as it moves and shifts? How does it sound when read aloud? We both feel that a strong opening and a strong closing are important and in these two aspects “From Branch to Branch” succeeded above the others. Finally we looked at how many “rules” were broken. Major flaws would be repeating words in the hokku elsewhere in the renku; breaks in verses other than the hokku; repeating syntax, subject matter, pronouns, proper nouns, etc. within a six-verse frame. We also looked at how well the the seven finalists moved from inside scenes to outside throughout the work, if the senses were adequately represented, and whether the presentation of human and nature references progressed in a balanced manner. The difficulty in judging renku comes with the weighing of regulatory conformity against poetic strength. To what degree does straying from guidelines result in distractions that weaken a poem’s lyricism and ow? Is the poetic energy sufficient to quell whatever distractions are present?

About the Winning Poem:

What captivates us about “From Branch to Branch” is its lively energy. The clever links and shifts and some verbal acrobatics make it clear the poets are enjoying their word-jazz. The opening jo folio is particularly enjoyable. From the start, we were drawn in. The visually uplifting hokku, a tiny bird hopping from branch to branch, deftly evokes the season: early spring. The scene illustrated in these first two stanzas is quiet and welcoming. The glazed pastry offered up in the daisan is enough to make one salivate, and after that, a dog romps in the waves mirroring our response to the pastry. We imagine the camera club using tripods to hold their cameras steady, linking playfully to the unrestrained three-legged dog. “Turning the corner,” in the final stanza of the jo folio ramps up suspense, setting the stage for what’s about to come in the ha folios: a world of Zambonis, of a marriage counselor, pills in a bottle, a kleptocracy, and the Great Khali. The beginning stanza of these sections is hilarious, and because the cut at the end of the second line of the stanza serves so well to intensify the desired effect, it isn’t bothersome.

The love sequence comes slightly sooner than commonly prescribed, but how could a poet resist being set up by that weather woman? “More guns are the answer... no/more guns are not the answer ” is followed by “so many blossoms/taken down/by the hard rain.” Have you ever seen “taken down” used as a description of fallen blossoms? The usage is wonderfully creative and provides a chilling link to the political debate going on in the previous stanza.

The topic of current events is covered effectively here. There are also quiet moments: “pine needles whisked into/ the shape of a heart,” “the strum of a guitar/long after dark/ under a barefoot moon,” the latter wonderfully evocative both visually and auditorily. And, to begin the second ha folio, while “prepping the wash/she finds a pocket full/of periwinkles.”

This renku comes to a quiet, yet cleverly written, upbeat close. Verse #34, “our neighborhood coyote/slowly saunters down the street,” is followed by a jaunty “I’ll see you/tomorrow/cherry blossom.” And then the final verse (ageku) written with ellipses, is almost a tease: “up... over the playground fence/... soap bubbles.” Placed in a school yard, this verse transforms the “cherry blossom” of the previous verse into a child. Delightful. A big pleasure in reading this poem is the variety of voices—the differences add to the liveliness, and yet, there’s a harmony here. You can tell these writers were enjoying the process, and each other. That maybe why, in their exuberance, they let in so many proper names, especially in the second ha folio. While this many so close together could be considered a rule-breaker, they do add to the energy of the whole.

The feeling of camaraderie among the poets who collaborated on “From Branch to Branch,” their creativity, and the obvious fun they derived from linking and shifting, was enough to override the flaws we encountered. And it was this positive energy that ultimately won the day.


About the Judges:

Christopher Herold has been writing renku for nearly 30 years. Before the advent of the World Wide Web, he wrote with various poets by way of snail-mail. Email made the process easier and much faster, but the great majority of his collaborative writing experiences take place with groups who meet in person. He feels that face-to-face renku parties are by far the most satisfying. His linked-verse experiences began back in 1991 with the Marin Renku Group, perhaps the first such group outside of Japan. In 1998, when he moved to Washington State he and his wife, Carol O’Dell (also a long-time renku poet) began attending meetings of the local haiku group. Soon after, they helped form The Port Townsend renku club which meets almost every month. The 2018 H.S.A. contest is the fifth he’s co-judged, the third time with Patricia Machmiller. In addition to renku, he writes in most other forms of haikai. In 1999, he co-founded The Heron’s Nest haiku journal, for which he was the managing editor until 2008. He writes lyric poetry as well as haikai and for the past few years has been writing fiction.

Patricia J. Machmiller started writing renku in the early 1980s. She had the opportunity to write with some of the masters: Tadashi Kondo, Kris Kondo, Hiromi Fujii of Kanagawa, Japan, Toshio Asaka of Tokyo, and Shinku Fukuda of Sado Island. On one memorable trip, she had the honor of writing renku with the Milky Way Renku Group. To commemorate that visit the renku, “Lemonade,” written by the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society, a renku in which she participated, was translated by Mr. Fukuda and hung in the temple on Sado Island.