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Judges' Commentary for
the Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku Competition


 

Judges' Commentary for 2016


2016 Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku Competition

Judges

Alison Woolpert, Santa Cruz, CA
Joan Iversen Goswell, Valencia, PA

This year we had over 3,000 haiku to judge from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and at least four other countries: Romania, Egypt, Canada and Hong Kong. We were excited to see so much student work come in.

We were honored to be selected as the judges for the Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku Contest. The criteria that we felt was most important was the haiku's expression, how the words worked together to form a feeling, an insight and most importantly, thoughts it evoked. We did not look for the 5/7/5 syllable form, which can make a haiku written in English seem overly dense, but since a seasonal reference adds depth to a haiku, that was a consideration.

As judges, this was our communication challenge. Alison lives in California and Joan lives in Pennsylvania. In order to judge the many entries we had to choose from, the use of e-mail was obvious. We managed to pick our tentative favorites, discuss them, narrow them down and finally decide on the winners.

Congratulations to not only the winners, but to everyone who participated in the 2016 Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku Competition. Picking the winners was difficult; we were impressed by the talent, creativity and insights of many of the haiku. We hope all of the young people who entered continue in their creative endeavors. They are off to a good start.

 

hours after practice
just me and Dad
hitting into the dark

Connor Bock, 12th grade, 18 years old, Newport Coast CA

Under the cover of night, time is suspended. It’s summer; we all know those evenings where you just don’t want to go back inside the house at all. The growing darkness is enveloping these two, heightening their bond. They continue to play, feeling as if they are the only two people in the world enjoying the sport they so love. You can hear the rhythmic sounds of the ball hitting the bat, then the glove. No homerun swings in darkness, just grounders. The teen has Dad all to him or herself. Dad also has the teen to himself; a teen that he knows will all too soon be leaving home for adulthood.

cracked tractor seat
waiting
for Papa’s return

Ashton Carroll, 10th grade, 15 years old, Laguna Hills CA 

There is a mystery to this. There is also poignancy. Where is Papa? When will he return? Will the child be able to do the farm work that Papa left behind? The cracked tractor seat implies that he has been gone a long time. Why did he leave? The child hopes that he is not gone forever and keeps waiting, hope against hope, for his return. This haiku evokes both hope and sadness without being overt. It does not give us answers; it is beautifully written.

bare feet
dewy moss
between flagstone

Emma Jones, Age 15, Grade 10, Atlanta GA

“Bare feet” is a kigo. A kigo is what is known as a seasonal reference, and summer is the season. It is a haiku written of a single moment. Maybe it has been a long day of heat and humidity and she longs for some relief. She comes home and takes her shoes off, then goes out in the backyard. She steps on the soft coolness of the moss, and feeling it, suddenly realizes how lovely the day has become. This haiku is of pure sensuality. Just feel it and linger there.

a hay bale
in the distance
the silent horse

Hunter Collins, 14 years old, grade 8, Atlanta GA

This is a dark, sad haiku. There are hidden meanings of alienation. Is the owner aware of the horse? Does he even care? Maybe something bad has happened to the owner. We don’t know, but if the horse could get to the hay, he would. For some reason he can’t. Maybe he is in his stall or tied to something and can’t get loose. Is the horse sick, weak, or in pain? Has he been neglected without feed or water for a long time? Has the horse given up on his life and accepted his fate? Horses are stoic if they are in pain, neglected, or thin and weak. We find this haiku to be very unsettling. We find ourselves hoping that there will soon be a change for the better in the horse’s life.

late winter morning
a broken bench
alone in the woods

Ellie Woodcock, 14 years old, grade 8, Atlanta GA

Winter can be desolate, and it is the season of the mind. At the darkest time of the year we are more likely to ponder our existential being, the cycle of birth, life, and death. This haiku takes us there. The scene evokes a sense of loss or abandonment. It’s very cold outside and there are woods surrounding the broken bench. It is not only the broken bench that is alone, but also the observer of the scene. Is there a split in a relationship, or an illness? The kigo, late winter, can’t help but make us think of fate, of endings; here of the broken bench at the end of its life, and that of the observer, possibly someone once young but now in old age, alone in the woods with the end of life approaching, or at least of an observer who is facing an end of some important facet of his life. It is a quiet, contemplative haiku.

tinfoil boats
down the driveway
a child’s rainy day

Emma Jones, Age 15, Grade 10, Atlanta GA

What wonderful energy in just 12 syllables! It must be a spring rain that brought this joy into play. What do kids do on a rainy day when there’s nothing else to do?

Why they make tinfoil boats and sail them down the driveway! You can imagine the laughter while they fashion different kinds of tinfoil boats and race each other. Which shape travels the fastest? Do any boats carry a plastic figurine Captain or ferry plastic farm animals? More laughter is heard as a boat goes down a drain or along the gutter. They are just plain having fun! It is infectious. It makes us adults remember when we were kids having fun. It makes us smile. Ah, the joys of childhood.

• • •

About our judges:

Joan Iverson Goswell

Joan Iversen Goswell is a poet and artist. Her first experience with haiku was many years ago when she read the Harold Henderson books. It was a stunning discovery! She decided right there and then that she wanted to write haiku so she studied the greats and stumbled on, teaching herself as best as she could. She has since been published in journals such as Modern Haiku and Frogpond. Her poems have been included in several anthologies. As an artist she specializes in handmade artists books. She has a strong interest in Japanese culture, Zen art and literature. She also studies Cha No Yu, Japanese Tea Ceremony. She lives on her farm with three horses and two Jack Russell terriers and is surrounded by nature which continues to inspire her to write haiku!

Alison Woolpert

Alison Woolpert became interested in haiku as a child, and later, through teaching haiku to elementary students. She is a member of Haiku Society of America, Haiku Poets of Northern Cslifornia, and Yuki Teikei Haiku Society (YTHS). She served as President of YTHS from 2010-2015. She also writes tanka, haibun, and creates haiga. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of journals. She sees, not sells, shells by the seashore in Santa Cruz, CA.

 

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