Haiku Society of America Senryu Awards for 2022 - Judges Commentary

Haiku Society of America Senryu Award
in Memorial of Gerald Brady

Judges Commentary for 2022

Judges: Lithica Ann & Joshua Gage

Emotionally and physically it’s been a rough year for the two of us so when we were asked to judge the Brady, we couldn’t find any reason to turn down the opportunity to grasp at such a large piece of joy. Anyone who knows us, the themes encompassed in our own work, and the safe space we try to preserve for underrepresented voices in the community will know that we crave revolutionary senryu that will dissolve walls and break boundaries. We might not have known what to expect or even exactly what we were looking for, but we knew we wanted to make a difference not only in the lives of our winners, but to create empathy and understanding between the poets and their audience. We hope that you will find our selections to be as inspiring and effective as we do every time we read them.


First Place

rocket's red glare
at low tide
a coca-cola can

Joshua St. Claire, Pennsylvania, USA

Technically, this is an elegant poem. The juxtaposition is there, as is the pivot in line 2. The red of the rockets parallels the red of the Coke can, and the images are fresh and striking. Furthermore, the vertical axis back to the War of 1812 and allusions to the national anthem is perfectly chosen. That being said, poetry should challenge and provoke, especially senryu, and this poem does that. This is an environmental critique as well as a socio-political critique, with all of the images alluding to national critique. The rockets, of course, are a reference to a celebration of war and violence as well as the military-industrial complex. The low tide and discarded Coke can refer to global climate change and international corporations prioritizing profit over social responsibility, as well as the effect that humans as a whole have on the environment. This is the sort of poetry that will threaten foundations and topple walls, and this is the sort of poetry that should be championed.


Second Place

kept overnight
for observation
phantom birdsong

Eric Sundquist, Virginia, USA

This is a personal and intimate poem but one that evokes a strong mood in the reader. This moment is clearly a medical observation, but we’re not sure if it’s a mental observation or a physical observation. Either way, the speaker is drained and weary of testing all night, and is now hearing phantom noises. There is almost this sense of awareness juxtaposed against delusion, making this a striking poem with delicate use of contrast. The poet leaves just enough white space, allowing readers to pull this level of exhaustion from their own experiences to truly empathize and sympathize with what the poet is experiencing. Although we’re not sure if the poet is hallucinating because of a disease or simply because of exhaustion, the anxiety is palpable. On top of that, the soft “o” sounds that resonate throughout the poem echo each other to create a haunting, lingering poem that’s working on many levels.


Third Prize

what she means by blackish half moon

Aaron Barry, British Columbia, Canada

This is one of those poems that catches the reader's attention immediately. The idea of racial and cultural identity is strong here, as is the social responsibility of white guilt. The term "blackish" is a slang term that implies a loss of culture or cultural identity. This idea is juxtaposed against a half moon in an expansive night sky. The layers of meaning are unique here. The idea of an expansive, endless night sky populated with stars and comets is implied, but our focus is drawn to the moon. This becomes oddly metaphorical, the idea that although People of Color are equal to whites, it’s the white folx who take all the credit. Black, Native American, and Inuit history is erased and/or whitewashed in textbooks, but the author of this monoku does not hold back when calling out these issues. This monoku resonates with a focus on self and awareness (or self-commentary) that socio-political poems often lack.


Honorable Mention

carrion feeder
the senator says
it's a mental health problem

Jim Chessing, California, USA

This is another strong and striking socio-political senryu. "Mental Health Crisis" is an easy scapegoat for politicians because it requires no effort and even less responsibility. This only serves to exacerbate the social stigma against mental health and creates a cycle of systemic and generational trauma in the country as well as society as a whole. This senryu paints toxic politicians as predators and forces them to not only be aware of their constituents, but to be responsible for them.


Honorable Mention

we slip
into our mother tongues
lovers' quarrel

Chen-ou Liu, Ontario, Canada

The word "quarrel" is well-chosen here. This seems to be a couple that is set in their ways and are repeating a familiar fight that's been had before. There may even be a comfort in this fight, a routine or known argument, that parallels the comfort of speaking in a mother tongue. There is also the idea that when tempers flare and we lose control, that we instinctively return to what is learned during developmental years, be it a common topic or a familiar language, so maybe this couple has returned to their native language mid-fight without even realizing it. “slip” and “mother tongues” were also carefully selected for this senryu, as the senryu could lean towards a make-up kiss after a fight. Regardless, this is a great observation of human behavior.


Honorable Mention

muscle memory
her ritual of braids
before chemo

Lorraine A Padden, California, USA

There are some subjects that can be easy attention-grabbers, no matter how the theme is handled. However, this poet has taken a subject that has been written over and completely shifted our perspective. The idea of braiding hair, a mundane activity, is given such importance by the ominous threat in this poem. What’s fascinating about this poem is the ambiguity; we’re not sure who is doing the braiding nor whose hair is being braided. One assumes, with chemo, that the patient’s hair is being braided one last time before it falls out. However, it could very well be a loved one thrilling at the feeling of hair in their fingers as they braid it post-chemo, enjoying the comfort and intimacy of a moment and something they can no longer do for themselves. This senryu has multiple entry points and interpretations, and those, combined with the unique take on a cliche topic, make for a resonant poem.


Honorable Mention

tiger bones steeped in rice wine my sanity

Corine Timmer, Faro, Portugal

Any poem that teaches us something or sends us scurrying to Google will catch our attention. "Tiger Bone Wine" is an alcoholic beverage that takes eight years to ferment; it's part of Chinese traditional medicine and a cure for inflammation and chronic pain. There is an immediate need in this poem from a speaker who has been steeping in pain for so long that they're desperate for anything to feel better, even if it’s experimental or illegal. Even if this level of chronic pain is not a universal experience for everyone, this poem certainly opens doors for utilizing senryu in a way that expresses pain and teaches empathy. 


Honorable Mention

washing dishes
my son tells me
he has a boyfriend

David Watts, California, USA

There’s something intriguing about the juxtaposition between a boring, everyday chore like washing dishes and the excitement, fear, and joy of coming out to a parent. Maybe the acceptance of the poet’s son and his new boyfriend felt like just as much of a chore as doing the dishes, but there is an honest sense that the poet wants coming out to be seen as no more mundane than washing the dishes. Maybe the real chore here is getting society to be more accepting of folx who are different, even if they don’t understand it. This scene should be seen as mundane, and a child telling their parent that they have a new love interest, no matter their gender or sexuality, should not be shocking or surprising. But we, as readers, know that's not true. We live in a world that is consumed by hate and fear, and even people within the haiku/senryu community hold trauma associated with insults and attacks over their genders, sexualities, illnesses, etc. so poems like this become necessary. This parent is trying to be an ally, and we should follow their lead.


About the Judges:

Joshua Gage, co-editor of Otoroshi Journal and publisher of Cuttlefish Books, is an ornery curmudgeon from Cleveland. He is a graduate of the Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Naropa University. He has a penchant for Pendleton shirts, Ethiopian coffee, and any poem strong enough to yank the breath out of his lungs. Joshua’s accolades include First Place, 2018 Brady Senryu Award. His newest chapbook, blips on a screen (Cuttlefish Books), is available for purchase.

Lithica Ann (deadname Lori A Minor; they/them/boneself) is a queer activist with several projects within reach, including #FemkuMag, ubu., Moth Orchid Press, and Otoroshi Journal. Although a genetic dumpster fire, they spend their days reading, resting, and trying to heal from trauma through writing. Lithica has six haikai (chap)books, including Hot Girl Haiku (Cuttlefish Books) and has given two presentations at the Haiku North America Conference (2019, 2021).






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.

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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.