Haiku Society of America Haibun Student Haiku Awards for 2009

Haiku Society of America Student Haiku Awards
in Memorial of Nicholas A. Virgilio

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Student Haiku Awards for 2009

Kristen Deming and Bill Kenney

As the judges in this year’s Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku Competition, we set out hoping that we would find a new and fresh perspective, the “voice of youth,” from the young poets who participated. We have not been disappointed. We have taken a look at the future of haiku, and it is working. The judges were struck by the variety, the sharpness of observation, the richness of imagination, and the formal discipline that characterized much of what we were privileged to read. We are pained but pleased when we reflect on the quality of many of the poems that did not make the final cut.

Where our young poets stumbled, it was often out of a failure to trust in their own experience and perceptions. A forced effort at the dramatic, often edging over into the melodramatic, was a common problem. And the principle of juxtaposition central to the haiku form was not grasped with equal clarity by all contestants: some merely spread a sentiment over three lines, and a few simply offered a list of three fragments.

But, above all, the poets and their work exemplified an energy and vitality that can only portend well for the form we love. Some of these poets, we are sure, will be heard from again.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to serve as your judges this year. Our thanks go to the sponsors of the contest and to the teachers who supported and encouraged the participants. We acknowledge and commend the energy, the spirit, and the promise of all the contestants. And we congratulate the authors of the prize-winning poems.
~ Kristen Deming and Bill Kenney


winter night
cracks in the floorboards

Mary Rice
School of the Arts, Age 16, Grade 10, Rochester, NY

In this spare and objective poem, the poet invites the reader to explore, through imagination and memory, a range of possible meanings. Is the poet alone on this winter night? Surely there is nothing like a winter night to create a sense of isolation. The winter season brings snow and ice, but it also makes itself felt in subtle, often unnoticed ways. The poet detects the presence of winter in a place we do not expect to find it: inside the home, where we feel enclosed and protected from what is happening outside. But even here, beneath our feet, the floorboards are expanding and contracting minutely within the larger flow of seasons. Standing alone in the last line, “widen” suggests an unwanted opening through which, we imagine, anything might enter. How weak, when all is said and done, are our defenses against the elements.


quiet night
the gazebo
dressed with snow

Meredith Jeffers
School of the Arts, Age 16, Grade 10, Rochester, NY

In this haiku, the long vowel sounds help to create a feeling of calm, bringing us directly within the sensory experience of the poet. Looking through a window at the gazebo, we see it dressed as though it were some kind of theatrical set. The fresh snow has transformed the landscape, blending everything into an elegant harmony of white shapes against the darkness. In the absence of wind on this quiet night, the snow lies undisturbed. It is as though the scene exists entirely for our visual pleasure. It is the quiet itself that has been made visible.


saying goodbye
the river flowing
one way

Cindy Truong
School of the Arts, Age 13, Grade 8, Rochester, NY

The young poet clearly understands that in haiku the juxtaposition and interaction of images suggest more than is directly stated. Here the passing human moment is contrasted to ongoing nature. Saying goodbye, the poet is at the same time aware of the river’s powerful current. We do not know if the parting is temporary or final. Especially when we are young, but not only then, we like to believe that no goodbye is truly final. But our poet has perceived in nature a hint of the irreversible: the “one way” flow that unites the natural movement and the human moment. How many times can we step into the same river?


tornado drill
the hallways full
of laughter

Nikki Savary
Wahlert High School, Age 18, Grade 12, Dubuque, IA

The two parts of the poem form an unlikely combination. A tornado is not a laughing matter, but for young people escaping class for a short time in a large group of their peers, such a disaster may seem unimaginable. The drill has become a social event. A tornado is a force of nature, but so is a hallway full of kids. And what kids have ever taken a tornado drill, or fire drill, or any kind of drill, as seriously as they should, or, anyway, as seriously as the grown-ups think they should? In this poem, we see the carefree, unbounded optimism of young people. And the elegant pivot around the single word “full” exhibits a formal control of which many an established haijin could be proud.


the old man’s beard
frozen in place

Riley Siwiec
School of the Arts, Age 12, Grade 7, Rochester, NY

You have to like the boldness, quirkiness, and impishness of this young poet’s imagination. In lines 2-3 we find an extravagance that could easily trip up an experienced poet. But it works here because nature has its own extravagances, and they include the extremes of winter in a cold climate. A beard frozen in place? Not every day, but not unheard of, either, and that’s the sort of winter this poet is talking about. Moreover, these lines serve a further function as an imagistic definition of line 1: Haven’t we always suspected that this is what Old Man Winter looks like?


new snow
my footprints
follow me

Martine Thomas
School of the Arts, Age 12, Grade 7, Rochester, NY

How many haiku have gazed at footprints in the snow? Here the poet has discovered, and put into practice, and important principle of haiku: that clarity, simplicity, and freshness of vision can make most things new. The first line points us forward, in the direction of the unbroken snow, setting up the look back over the shoulder that is the business of the next two lines. The near naivete of expression in these lines suggests a moment of pure, delighted awareness. We recognize the voice of the playful, childlike spirit, pleased in this moment to leave its mark. That we always leave a trail is a truth that may not be quite so gleefully accepted, however, as the poet grows older.




The Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku and Senryu Competition for Grades 7-12 was founded in 1990 by the Sacred Heart Church in Camden, N.J. It is sponsored and administered by the Nick Virgilio Haiku Association in memory of Nicholas A. Virgilio, a charter member of the Haiku Society of America, who died in 1989. See the Nick Virgilio Haiku Association for more about Nick.

The Haiku Society of America cosponsors the contest, provides judges, and publishes the contest results in its journal, Frogpond, and on its Website (www.hsa-haiku.org). Judges' comments are added to the web site following publication in Frogpond.

Winners by Year (with judges' comments):

2024 | 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 |

For details about the contest rules, read the complete contest submission guidelines.

See the Haiku Society of America publication of the award winning haiku and senryu:

Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku and Senryu Competition Anthology

edited by Randy M. Brooks
designed by Ignatius Fay

© 2022 HAIKU Society of America


To commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku and Senryu Competition, the executive committee of the Haiku Society of America published this anthology of award-winning haiku and senryu. The student observations, insights, experiences, emotions and insights evident in these haiku and senryu are a wonderful testament to the fresh voices and vivid imagery of young people. We believe the judges’ commentaries add a valuable layer of meaning as we see how leaders, editors, writers and members of the Haiku Society of America carefully consider the significance of each award-winning poem.

This collection celebrates the work of students whose teachers have gone beyond the stereotypical haiku lesson plan emphasizing only one dimension of haiku—the five/seven/five syllable form. In these haiku and senryu the reader will find a wind range of form, carefully constructed arrangement of lines, surprising juxtaposition of images, and fresh sensory perceptions. They will find what we all love in haiku—the human spirit responding to the amazing diversity of experiences and emotions offered to us in our everyday lives.

Come, enjoy these award-winning haiku and senryu full of the wonder, surprise and angst that are the gifts of being young. These young people enjoy being alive and effectively share that joy through their haiku and senryu.

~ Randy M. Brooks, Editor