Haiku Society of America Senryu Awards for 2012 - Judges Commentary

Haiku Society of America Senryu Award
in Memorial of Gerald Brady

Judges Commentary for 2012

Judges: 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It was an honor to be asked to select the winners of the 2012 HSA Senryu Awards for the best unpublished senryu for the Haiku Society of America.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

death watch
she dies peacefully
in their sleep

Julie Warther

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

rain gauge
the pastor talks
about grief

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

waiting room—
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
the mosquito
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.


philosophy class
I talk myself
into a corner

Tom Painting

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.


Old Faithful
the crowd arrives
right on time

Jim Kacian

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?



Susan Constable’s Japanese poetry forms have been published in over forty online and print journals, as well as in numerous anthologies. She was the Spotlight poet in the Fall 2012 issue of Modern Haiku and her tanka sequence, “The Eternity of Waves,” is one of the 2012 winners of the eChapbook Awards, sponsored by Snapshot Press. She is currently the tanka editor for the online journal, A Hundred Gourds.

Susan Antolin has served as the president of the Haiku Poets of Northern California, newsletter editor for both the Haiku Society of America and HPNC, as well as editor of Mariposa for several years. She is now the editor of Acorn: a journal of contemporary haiku. Her collection of haiku and tanka, Artichoke Season, was published in 2009. She posts on Twitter @susanantolin.





These awards for unpublished haiku were originally made possible by Mrs. Harold G. Henderson in memory of Harold G. Henderson, who helped found The Haiku Society of America.

Winners by Year:

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See the complete collection of award-winning haiku from all previous Senryu Award competitions

See the contest rules for entering the next Haiku Society of America Senryu Award.