Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards for 2011

Haiku Society of America

Merit Book Awards for 2011

Michael Dylan Welch, judge

These awards are for books published in 2010. The First Place award is made possible by LeRoy Kanterman, cofounder of the Haiku Society of America, in memory of his wife Mildred Kanterman. Congratulations to each of the winners, and to many additional poets who published other worthy books. If you might be interested in serving as a judge for future Kanterman Awards, please notify any Haiku Society of America officer.


First Place

Karma Tenzing Wangchuk. Shelter/Street. Port Townsend, Washington: Minotaur Press, 2010.

Karma Tenzing Wangchuk is a modern Santôka, with dashes of Issa's compassion and Bashô's wandering soul. This book of utterly honest and self-accepting poems, despite their depiction of a sometimes hard place in life, works well not just as a collection of 84 individual poems but as a nuanced sequence that celebrates life as it is, as in "it's the worm / inside the bird / sings the song." The poems explore homelessness, living on the street, and soup kitchens, with touches of nature and joy. Even the book's humble production values (a black-and-white cover photograph and simple typesetting in a stapled chapbook) echo the stark and sometimes gritty subject matter. Tenzing channels Santôka—minus the sake—in so many of these poems, as in the one-liners "bare feet in the grass write five poems" and "shave once or twice a week no one cares." In his stone buddha poems, the buddha is often Tenzing himself, as in "doing nothing— / the stone buddha / hard at it." We see shades of Issa in "school's out / the skateboard park / fills with children" or "little sparrow— / eating, shitting, chirping . . . / me too!" Ultimately, Karma Tenzing Wangchuk's Shelter/Street is urban haiku at its finest, a book that sneaks up on you in an unprepossessing way and makes you care.

in the end
     just as I am
          will have to do


Second Place

John Parsons. Overhead Whistling. Labyrinth Press, 2010.

Overhead Whistling by John Parsons begins with a quota- tion from Alan Watts, who said "We do not as much look at things as overlook them." What follows is a collection of more than 350 haiku that closely look at things, and see them closely, all of it the stuff of life. The poems carry a fresh and distinctive British voice, including subjects, cultural allusions, and linguistic nuances that sometimes differ from what Americans might be used to. Two cathedral poems: "cottage garden / through canterbury bells / her ring tone" and "new granite steps / to the mall already smooth / as the cathedral's."


Third Place

Christopher Herold. Inside Out. Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2010.

A Mobius strip graces the front cover of this book, which begins by invoking Chuang Tzu who wondered if he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was a man. Such are the ins and outs of this book, divided into two sections, first "Inside Out" and then "Outside In." The poems fit these classifications in both expected and unexpected ways, exploring not just the indoors and outdoors, but the internal as well as the external, the transcendent and the mundane. The opening and closing poems: "first light / everything in this room / was already here" and "dusk / with nowhere to turn / sunflower."


Honorable Mentions:

George Swede. Joy in Me Still. Edmonton, Alberta: Inkling Press, 2010.

Each of these three books offers something distinctive. George Swede is an old hand at haiku, and we would expect nothing less than excellence—and of course he delivers. This book reflects on his career as a psychology professor (he's now retired), and tends to look back on life rather than forward, as in "the line cast / where the river flows / things long forgotten."


Gary Hotham. Spilled Milk. Paintings by Susan Elliott. Montrose, Colorado: Pinyon Publishing, 2010.

Gary Hotham has been doing haiku for just as long as Swede, if not longer, and delivers another pleasing volume of his poems, beautifully presented at one per page, interspersed with sumi paintings by Susan Elliott. A sample poem: "at the bus stop— / her hand out / in the rain."


Carolyn Hall. How to Paint the Finch's Song. Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2010.

Carolyn Hall is a newer voice, relatively speaking, but has become a standard-bearer for the haiku genre. Her newest collection paints the songs of both the visible and invisible. The opening poem, a one-liner: "to whom it may concern cottonwood puffs."


Best Anthology

Stephen Henry Gill and Okiharu Maeda, editors, One Hundred Poets on Mount Ogura, One Poem Each. Kyoto: People Together for Mt. Ogura and Hailstone Haiku Circle, 2010.

The year 2010 seemed to be uncommonly populated with many excellent anthologies. I consider this one to be best because of its clear concept, carried out well. Perhaps its selection also serves as a nod to other bilingual Hailstone haiku anthologies that have been overlooked in previous years. Mt. Ogura, on the northwest side of Kyoto, is the most celebrated mountain in Japanese literature, especially in Fujiwara no Teika's Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, after which this book is modeled. In recent years, however, Mt. Ogura has been neglected, with much trash dumped there. A nonprofit group started by Stephen Gill has sought to clean it up and beautify it, and this anthology seeks to bring attention to Mt. Ogura's poetic legacy and natural beauty. It does so without the environmental agenda getting in the way of most of the poems (mostly haiku, but also a few tanka), and provides great variety—young, old; new poets, and the more seasoned. All content is translated into English or Japanese from the original language and presented in a professional layout and design. For those familiar with Mt. Ogura, the book is a treat, especially with its map and informative footnotes. For those not familiar, the book is an invitation to learn more. A sample poem by Yoshihiko Suzuki (Sagano is the region of Kyoto at the foot of Mt. Ogura): "Temple bell at dusk . . . / Sagano begins to receive / a winter shower."


Honorable Mentions for Best Anthology:

Lidia Rozmus and Carmen Sterba, Editors. The Moss at Tokeiji. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Deep North Press, 2010.

Billie Dee, editor. An Island of Egrets: 2010 Southern California Haiku Study Group Anthology. Pasadena, California: Southern California Haiku Study Group, 2010.

Stanford M. Forrester, editor, Donna Fleischer, contributing editor. Seed Packets: An Anthology of Flower Haiku. Windsor, Connecticut: Bottle Rockets Press, 2010.

Allan Burns, editor. Montage: The Book. Winchester, Virginia: The Haiku Foundation, 2010.

Spring Street Haiku Group, Efren Estevez, production editor. Suspiciously Small: A Collection of Haiku. New York: Spring Street Haiku Group, 2010.

This year seemed to be the year of the anthology, as many fine anthologies were published in 2010, hence the many honorable mentions in this category. In another year, almost any one of these anthologies could have won as best anthology, and The Moss at Tôkeiji would be the forerunner because of its high concept and excellent execution—haibun by women only, about a temple in Kamakura that served for more than 600 years as a sanctuary for women during patriarchal times. Professional production and color photographs throughout contribute to making this a must-have collection that also could have won in the haibun category.

The other anthologies mentioned here include the Southern California Haiku Study Group annual anthology edited by Billie Dee, which is notable not only for the range of voices, but the inclusion of Spanish-language haiku from just south of the border in Mexico. Stanford M. Forrester's Seed Packets, though not the first anthology of flower haiku, is especially pleasing in the pacing and subtle grouping of poems. Montage, edited by Allan Burns, is a huge anthology of more than 1,113 haiku that appear at the rate of 21 poems on every other page (opposite short essays introducing the themes covered in each "gallery" of poems, with themes such as frontiers, life and death, and fall migration). The book's sheer number of poems makes it daunting to read, but the thematic groupings and focus on poets as well as themes make it accessible. Also worth noting is the Spring Street Haiku Group's latest anthology, which assembles five smaller annual collections (not previously published) into one pleasing volume by a number of notable poets.


Best Book of Haibun

Cor van den Heuvel. A Boy's Seasons. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Single Island Press, 2010.

Any project that Cor van den Heuvel undertakes is typically equivalent to a home run. And he's done so here with A Boy's Seasons. This long-awaited haibun collection, a sort of memoir, explores the author's boyhood New England memories by season, focusing primarily on sports, but also on popular culture and other topics, concluding with haibun covering holidays throughout the year. This weighty and nostalgic book is essential reading for anyone exploring the genre of haibun. The book's final poem, as a sample: "on a train / Christmas lights in all the towns / flicker into the past." Also notable in this category, but given awards in other categories, are the haibun books The Moss at Tôkeiji and Ruth Franke's Slipping Through Water.


Best Book of Translation

Ruth Franke, translated by David Cobb and Celia Brown, paintings by Reinhard Stangl. Schwerelos Gleiten/Slipping Through Water. Schwinfurt, Germany: Wiesenburg Verlag, 2010.

The production values of this hardback book by the late German haiku poet Ruth Franke are the best of any of the books mentioned in this year's awards. But more importantly, the content delivers a series of excellent haibun in both German and English translations. The haibun, presented in four sections interspersed with a few individual haiku, reveal the author's life and locations with disarming directness. Readers will feel the subjects of water, waves, aging, loneliness, and many rich memories. Here's a sample poem: "auf einer Parkbank / verdorrte Kiefernnadeln / paarweise," translated as "on a park bench / withered pine needles / still in pairs."


Best Book for Children

Valerie Bodden, Poetry Basics: Haiku. Collingwood, Ontario: Saunders Book Company; Mankato, Massachusetts: Creative Paperbacks, 2010.

The majority of English-language haiku books for children perpetuate the urban myth of 5-7-5 syllables, but this book is an exception. Much of the material is familiar from numerous other sources, but for a compressed and informative overview of the haiku genre for children, there have been few other books equal to this (Patricia Donegan's book, Haiku: Asian Arts & Crafts for Creative Kids, is still the best such book, however, with Paul Janeczko's How to Write Haiku and Other Short Poems not far behind for older children). This richly illustrated large-format book covers haiku's history in Japan and its jump across the pond to the West, especially through Imagism. Although the "onji" myth is perpetuated, syllable-counting is minimized ("most English-language haiku . . . do not have a set number of syllables per line"), and we learn such techniques as using present tense and season words, exploiting the five senses, and employing a two-part structure with a pause. Sample poems by leading Western poets, or perhaps children, would have made the book even better. A short bibliography points to additional resources.


Honorable Mention for Best Book for Children:

Kala Ramesh. My Haiku Moments: An Activity Book for Young Haiku Lovers. New Delhi, India: Katha, 2010.

These two small books, sold as a pair, have high production values, full-color printing, and a pleasing selection of age-targeted poems. The activity book has brief descriptions of the form, structure, language, and subject matter for haiku, plus writing exercises, and an introduction to haiga and suggestions for teachers. The list of "simple tips" is surprisingly similar to my own "Haiku Checklist" (repeating much of the same wording and order), doing a good job of distilling the key strategies for haiku composition. The companion book provides numerous example haiku to emulate. What is particularly attractive—amazing, really—is how the book unfolds. If you hold the first and last pages between your thumbs and forefingers, and pull, the entire book unfolds, accordion-like, into a large poster-sized novelty. It has no traditional "pages." You can't read it linearly, but can read different triangles and squares of the book in whatever order you like, and then read the other side. This novelty presentation for children—also attractive to adults—imbues haiku poetry with excitement and appeal. A sample poem: "kite contest / the rise and fall / of ohs and ahs."


Special Award for Best Letterpress Book

Michael Ketchek, Over Our Heads. Northfield, Massachusetts: Swamp Press, 2010.

Haiku poetry and small letterpress publications are made for each other, and Over Our Heads is a case in point. Another Swamp Press creation, printed on fine papers, the book is shaped like a house, with a moon overhead. A round moon shape is cut into the pages, each circle moved slightly on each page, giving the effect of a waxing and waning moon. Each page features one haiku. The innovative presentation threatens to overshadow the poems, but a careful reading reveals many moving and varied haiku and other short poems, such as "backwoods cabin / still not far enough / from the war" and "even without dewdrops / all those / caterpillar hairs."




The purpose of the Haiku Society of America's Merit Book Awards is to recognize the best haiku and related books published in a given year in the English language. Every year sees a fresh crop of fine individual collections, anthologies, translations, critical studies and innovative forms.

In the past, the HSA Merit Book awards were partially supported by a memorial gift. Leroy Kanterman, cofounder of the Haiku Society of America, made a gift to support the first place award in memory of his wife Mildred Kanterman. See the archives of Merit Book Awards.

The Merit Book Awards competition is open to the public. Books must have been published in the previous year and must clearly contain a printed previous year copyright. A member, author, or publisher may submit or nominate more than one title. At least 50 percent of the book must be haiku, senryu, or haibun, or prose about these subjects (books mostly of tanka, for example, are not eligible). HSA will also consider collections that have only appeared in an e-book/digital book format. Two print copies of the digital book may be sent by the publisher. Books published by HSA officers are eligible for this award. Books published by the national HSA organization, however, are not eligible.

Winners by Year (with judges' comments):

2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998 | 1997 | 1996 | 1995 | 1994 | 1993 | 1992 | 1991 | 1990 | 1989 | 1988 | 1987 | 1985 | 1983 | 1981 | 1978 | 1975 |

See the contest rules for entering the next Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards competition.