Haiku Society of America Senryu Awards for 2023 - Judges Commentary

Haiku Society of America Senryu Award
in Memorial of Gerald Brady

Judges Commentary for 2023

Judges: Julie & Dan Schwerin


First Place

sexagenarian —
it’s not what I thought
it would be

John Savoie, IL, USA

In The Haiku Handbook, Harold Higginson asks, “Does the poet become involved in the matter described? In a senryu, probably yes.” This senryu shows a poet, referred to directly as “I,” personally involved in the matter. This directness allows the reader to empathize with the senryu’s sentiment.

The juxtaposition of “sexagenarian” and the playful anticipation of a Latin-root association taps into the human tendency to find humor in linguistic associations. The revelation that the word simply describes someone in their 60s, juxtaposes this initial expectation with the ordinary reality, eliciting a wry smile from the reader. The poem gently nudges at the notion that entering one’s sixth decade may not carry the same sense of allure or accomplishment as previously envisioned. Perhaps the grandchildren one imagined never materialized. Or health concerns make long dreamed of travel an impossibility. Or the market played havoc with a pension fund that requires a few more work years than anticipated before retirement. Who can arrive on the shores of one’s sixties and be met with what was imagined in their twenties?

Ultimately, this senryu navigates the complexities of aging with grace and insight, employing humor as a poignant lens through which to view life’s inevitable shifts. It unites readers through shared experiences and emotions, making it a piece that underscores the power of senryu in encapsulating the human condition in its myriad forms.


Second Place


Lev Hart, Alberta, Canada

This poem establishes a connection to Joseph Earner’s perspective on senryu as a “mirror in a room carefully locked, with the blinds drawn, watching.” This metaphorical image sets the stage for an exploration of contradictions. Even in apparent simplicity, there’s complexity to unravel.

By invoking what George Orwell referred to as “doublespeak,” the poem enters the realm of linguistic manipulation and the distortion of meaning with the juxtaposition of “transparency” with the redacted text. The poet creates a visual and conceptual contrast between what is assumed to be clear and what is concealed.

The poem’s timeliness adds a connection to the broader socio-political discourse, where transparency is often claimed, yet the reality can be far from clear. Perhaps the humor employed here could best be described as tragic. The poem prompts both a smile at the absurdity of the situation and a recognition of the potential dangers that such linguistic manipulations can pose.

In what is essentially a one-word senryu, the poet leaves readers with a heightened awareness of the power of language in shaping perception and reality.


Third Place

coastal clean-up
the message in
an empty bottle

Alvin Cruz, Manila, Philippines

The Haiku Seasons calls senryu, “haiku’s satiric cousin,” with its focus “on people and their concerns.” Here, the “coastal clean-up” serves as a tangible backdrop, juxtaposing the human endeavor of removing debris with the metaphorical implications of an “empty bottle.”
Researchers estimate that about 500,000 metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year, and the amount of plastic in the ocean is still increasing 4% each year according to a recent article in the New York Times.

A message in a bottle is generally a cry for help. The last two lines play with the reader’s expectation, shifting from a literal notion of a message contained inside a bottle to the message of the bottle’s presence amidst the waste. This subtle twist carries an impactful environmental message of a desperate cry for a healthier environment.

This poem communicates that our relationship with the environment is intimately tied to our own humanity, challenging us to reconsider our actions and responsibilities.


Honorable Mention

security deposit
the bride hocks
her husband’s ghost gun

Peter Jastermsky, CA, USA

It was the dual meaning of the fragment in this poem that drew us in. A security deposit is designed to protect a landlord’s investment in case of damage to a rental property. And often this initial payment, above and beyond the first and last month’s rent, is difficult for a tenant to scrape together, especially for a new couple starting out. So something has to give. In this case, a gun is sold for the necessary cash. Not just any gun, an untraceable gun — one that would be difficult to tie to a particular person if used to commit a crime. Now “security” takes on new meaning. Perhaps the bride is insuring her own security from a potentially abusive partner or by making it more difficult for him to commit a crime that could endanger their future together. The would-be protector in this scenario is, ironically, not the guy with the gun, but the one who has learned the careful dance between human fragility and self-destructive tendencies.


Honorable Mention

his ego dusting the mantel mallard

Richard L. Matta, USA

“His ego” is such a strong and, pardon the pun, loaded beginning for what feels like a very gentle phrase to follow. This juxtaposition draws the reader’s attention to that otherwise innocuous act of dusting. So many questions surface. What is it that makes the mantel mallard so closely linked to his ego? Does it require regular dusting or has the process of dusting become more of a habit akin to a bartender wiping down the bar while listening to customers’ woes? Does the mallard represent other hunts and conquests that are tied to his ego? Are these conquests so central to his sense of self that they must be physically and prominently represented in his living space? Is this mallard a strategically-placed conversation starter in hopes that someone might ask when it was last used? Then there is the obvious that reminds the reader that, by the way, this mallard is not real. It is a decoy, specifically designed to deceive. But to deceive whom? Other ducks? Visitors to his home? Or just his own ego?


Honorable Mention

the soldiers
on both sides, the shells
of sunflower seeds

Spyros Mylonas, TN, USA

I remember my son’s Little League years. For him and his teammates, spitting sunflower seeds in the dugout was one of the best parts of playing baseball. And the visiting team seemed to feel the same way. A children’s baseball game is a far cry from war, but this senryu draws some similarities. The two sides of any war are always made up of people who share more commonalities than differences. And all were children once upon a time (some not too long ago) who can still enjoy the pleasures of childhood. This senryu starts with words that feel hard — soldiers, sides and shells, but the last line has the feel and even the sound of air being let out of a tire with “sunflower seeds.” A reminder of our shared humanity even in the midst of war.


~ ~ ~


About the Judges:

Julie Schwerin (she/her - Sun Prairie, Wisconsin) is an associate editor at The Heron’s Nest (www.theheronsnest.com), member of the Red Moon Anthology Editorial team, author of Walking Away From the Sunset (Brooks Books, 2023) and What Was Here (Folded Word Press, 2015). She was instrumental in establishing several haiku installations in the Midwest.

Dan Schwerin’s poetry comes from life on a farm or making his rounds across thirty plus years as a pastor in Wisconsin, and now as the bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church. His debut haiku collection, ORS, from red moon press, won the Haiku Foundation’s Touchstone Award in 2016. Dan was the founder of the Haiku Waukesha group (2015-21). He helped his wife Julie Schwerin establish the Words in Bloom: A Year of Haiku program at the Chicago Botanic Garden (2020–2021).






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

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