2014 HSA Senryu Contest Judges' Commentary
Charlotte Digregorio & John J. Dunphy
A good senryu captures a moment revealing human nature with lightness, humor, irony, or satire. It never comes across as a silly joke, or as being in poor taste, insulting, or offensive. We focused on finding poems that illustrated poets’ skills of observation, perceptiveness, and insight into daily life and the human condition. We also focused on finding layers of meaning in each poem.
~ Charlotte Digregorio & John J. Dunphy
First Prize ($100)
Tijuana border guard
Neal Whitman, Pacific Grove, CA
This senryu sets the scene in an evocative way. We consider the word “sunglasses” to be the keystone without which there would be no poem. We can take this senryu on different levels.
The poem speaks to us because it indicates the deliberate “blindness” of the border guard towards the illegals crossing the border. When we think of the border guard wearing sun- glasses at night, this can also evoke the image of a “shady” person—pun intended. Is he/she a criminal? Or, if the person wears shades, but isn’t “shady,” perhaps he is trying to pass himself off to others as the epitome of cool or toughness as an enforcer.
Second Prize ($75)
the same dream
as last night
John Stevenson, Nassau, NY
This senryu conveys the sense of sameness, but perhaps not a sense of resignation or even hopelessness that some small town residents may feel. We have no way of knowing the age of this small-town dreamer. Perhaps this person is in his/her 20s, someone who is having a midlife crisis, or one who is even getting on in years. Still, the dreams are limited to this person based on the locale. The person’s dreams are no closer to fulfillment than they were yesterday, last year, or a decade ago. But this resident has at least kept his hopes alive. He hasn’t thrown in the towel, and for that we can admire the person’s spirit. Is he a man who seeks a better job somewhere else or a woman bored in her marriage? Sometimes, when we think of a small town, the adage “small town, small minds” comes to us about the often-perceived provincial nature of small towners. This stereotype does not at all fit the dreamer. We visualize this dreamer as not being permanently locked into his ho-hum existence, but we feel he will eventually find a way “out of Dodge.”
Third Prize ($50)
I decide I’ve had enough
Susan Burch, Hagerstown, MD
We like the no-nonsense, straightforward tone of this senryu. We visualize a woman who is fed up with her significant other. She has either met him for coffee or perhaps she is sitting at home with him. After taking a few gulps, she tells him she is dumping him. The break after the second line prepares us for a surprise ending. What has she had enough of? After we read the ending, we imagine she’s had enough of his antics. The half-empty cup then makes sense to us. The cup is also half full, on the optimistic end, because she is ridding herself of him.
Charlotte Digregorio is the author of the new book, Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All. She is HSA’s Midwest regional coordinator.
John J. Dunphy has been published in haiku journals since the 1980s. His chapbooks include: Old Soldiers Fading Away (Pudding House, 2006); Stellar Possibilities (Sam’s Dot, 2006); Zen Koan-head (Second Reading Publications, 2008); Dark Nebulae (Sam’s Dot, 2009); and Touching Each Tree (Free Food Press, 2014). He owns The Second Reading Book Shop in Alton, Illinois.