2012 HSA Senryu Contest Judges' Commentary
Susan Constable & Susan Antolin
It was an honor to be asked to select the winners of the 2012 HSA Senryu Awards for the best unpublished senryu for the Haiku Society of America. As judges who have never met in person, it was also an added pleasure to work together and get to know each other through our many exchanges during the selection process. In reviewing the approximately 350 entries, we were pleasantly surprised how easily we settled on the first place poem. The other poems fell into place as well, but not until we had each called the other judge's attention to poems the other might have overlooked. We were drawn most to poems with originality and understated language, as well as poems that caused us to take a fresh look at something we thought we knew well.
We hope you will enjoy these winning poems and appreciate, as we did, the way in which these senryu (in the language of the official HSA definition) “highlight the foibles of human nature.”
First Prize ($100)
she dies peacefully
in their sleep
On our first and every successive reading, this poem came to the top of our independent lists. The strong first line sets the scene and emotional context, while line two offers us some comfort in a painful situation. With the one unexpected word in the final line, however, the poem becomes very ironic and deeply poignant. It’s not uncommon for a loved one to die while we are out of the room or have dozed off from mental and physical exhaustion. This senryu captures this profound human experience without resorting to either sentimentality or exaggeration. It’s a poem we’ll remember.
Second Prize ($75)
the pastor talks
Michele L. Harvey
The second-place senryu almost escaped us on first reading. However, its resonance increased every time we came back to it—a sign of a good poem. Although unintended, it is a fitting follow-up to the winning verse. Line one shows us a way of measuring rainfall, but the following lines suggest it may also measure tears. The pastor, or others who talk empathetically about grief, must also act as a gauge and measure their words carefully while speaking with the bereaved. Some readers may classify this as a haiku, but we decided that this poem fit the senryu label applied by the poet.
Third Prize ($50)
a fly climbs the stairs
on an Escher print
Terri L. French
With wry humor and an Issa-like focus on a fly, this senryu captures the helpless feeling of a seemingly-endless wait. The person waiting and the fly climbing the never-ending staircase of the Escher print share this suspended moment. Without overt emotion the poet brings our attention to the fly and allows us to discover the irony and range of possible emotional reactions—from anger or frustration to a zen-like acceptance—in that moment of waiting. A classic senrryu, to be sure.
Honorable Mentions (unranked)
my third glass of wine
comes back for seconds
Terri L. French
The humor in this senryu is unmistakeable. There's a lovely play of words between the ordinal numbers, and an amusing assumption as to why the mosquito comes back. However, the poem also raises an interesting question. Does a mosquito become inebriated after ingesting alcoholic blood? Perhaps we need to do a little more research . . .
I talk myself
into a corner
The self-deprecating humor in this one is appealing, as is the play on words in the third line. Presumably we study Philosophy to find answers to life's many questions, but here the poet ends up in a metaphorical corner.
the crowd arrives
right on time
This senryu pokes fun at the assigning of human characteristics to natural phenomenon. The geyser, nicknamed Old Faithful, erupts every 91 minutes, and, like clockwork, the tourists also arrive to observe this predictable geographical feature. Which is truly faithful, the geyser or the tourists?
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