Judges' Commentary for 2015
2015 Harold G. Henderson Haiku Awards
George Dorsty, Yorktown, VA
Tom Painting, Atlanta, GA
Put two aging haiku poets, both of whom happen to identify as men, in a room. Give them 657 previously unpublished haiku. Instruct them to choose a winner and not to come out until the task is complete. In the process their conversation drifts to include the Beats, the ’60s, Transcendental Meditation, and Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” They conclude that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But, since each fancies himself a teacher, they say this in a more eloquent way and soon the task is done. And, from the many fine haiku submitted for the 2015 Henderson Haiku Contest, they have agreed on six. Days later, they emerge with the winner, but not before discussing the merits of the other finalists.
So it all comes down to this: if we shuffle the deck, choose two other judges, the result will in all probability be somewhat different.
To all of the haiku poets who entered this year’s contest we extend our appreciation. The task of judging was enlighten- ing and inspiring. Taking a deeper look at each of our final selections we uncovered nuances and subtleties that further delighted us as readers.
~ George Dorsty & Tom Painting
~ First Place ($150) ~
a faded cap drifts
Debbie Strange, Winnipeg, MB
Take our first-place winner “stone cairns” for example: In an- cient times piled rocks were called “stone men.” So cairns can also be seen as human effigies. In our time, cairns are mostly used to mark trails for hikers. But what of the faded cap drifting down the river? On a symbolic level, the hat is to the cairn’s permanence what the river is to transience. As the philosopher Heraclitus said, “You can’t step in the same river twice.” So the human-made trail markers are contrasted to the meanderings of the river, which is part of the natural world.
The success of the haiku “stone cairns” lies in the contrast between the permanent and the transient. The hat reminds us that human beings, while we may appear permanent, like the “stone men,” are really transient and always changing like the river. This comes close to interpretation of the poem, but we must remember that for the poet the connection was “felt” rather than reasoned. Her/his task was to place the three— cairns, river, and faded cap—in juxtaposition so that we as readers might be able to make the same felt connection. And, maybe that’s enough. The rest, as Shakespeare said in another context, is “dross.”
In her new book, Voices in the Ocean, author Susan Casey says this regarding the great religions: “Even the great religions, with their millennia of wisdom, are more like gateways to unknown journeys than roadmaps of an entire terrain.”
~ Second Place ($100) ~
the honeycombed lattice
a call to prayer
Scott Mason, Chappaqua, NY
Our second-place haiku “jasmine beyond” perfectly illustrates Casey’s point. The fragrance of the jasmine, geometry of the lattice, and resonant voice of the petitioner create an ethereal quality. The poem allows for each of us to contemplate matters of the heart.
~ Third Place ($50) ~
a different dream
Renée Owen, Sebastopol, CA
“sand dunes” reminds us that our journey into consciousness is often preceded by a time of shifting awareness as we sleep. As the physical world takes shape, so do our desires and intentions. Abstractions become tangible and provide landmarks upon which we often stake our future hopes and dreams.
Honorable Mentions (Unranked)
Kevin Goldstein-Jackson, Poole, England
the underside of leaves
her back story
Michele Root-Bernstein, East Lansing, MI
my grandson asks
if I have dreams
Joe McKeon, Strongsville, OH
George Dorsty is a Long Island haiku poet, currently residing in Yorktown, Virginia, where he continues to write and publish in his chosen genre. He teaches courses in writing and Walt Whitman and the Beats at Christopher Newport University, and spends his free time playing ukulele, kayaking, and hiking park trails in Hampton Roads with his Keeshond companion Samye.
Tom Painting first flirted with haiku twenty-three years ago when a girlfriend gave him a subscription to Brussels Sprout. But it wasn’t until he spent a year as a stay-at-home dad with his newly born daughter Sarah that he grasped the importance (between bottle feedings and diaper changes) of the haiku moment. Tom currently teaches junior high at the Paideia School in Atlanta, watches birds, and hikes out-of-the-way places.