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


Judges' Commentary for 2019

2019 Nicholas A. Virgilio Haiku & Senryu Competition
Awards for Grades 7 – 12


Brad Bennett
Hannah Mahoney

This year 2,835 poems were submitted by 1,033 poets to the 2019 Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku and Senryu Competition for grades 7-12. Poems were submitted by students from 46 states and 9 countries. The judges for this year's contest were Brad Bennett and Hannah Mahoney. The poems and the judges’ commentary will be published in the next issue of Frogpond and on the HSA website.

Congratulations to the winning poets and their teachers!

Judges Comments

We want to thank the Nick Virgilio Haiku Association and the Haiku Society of America for this rewarding and vibrant opportunity. We thoroughly enjoyed reading the entries for this year’s Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku and Senryu Competition. These poems were authentic messages from teenage writers, reflecting on their lives and baring their souls.

As we read and reread, and then selected our top six, we were informed by some criteria for haiku and senryu excellence. We were looking for a keen observation of a haiku moment, an effective juxtaposition between concrete experiences, and the kind of precision that is found only in this short form. We were interested in fresh poems with new takes on experiences. We were also looking for depth or resonance. The poems that we selected all lingered in our minds because of their successful craft. Lastly, we wanted poems that represented authentic adolescent creativity and voice. We are inspired by these young poets and hope that they continue to thrive with this form that we love. Congratulations to the winners!


year's end
the smell of gunpowder

Spencer Hollberg, Grade 8
Atlanta, GA

This is a deceptively simple haiku with suggestive depths. At first reading, it describes a well-observed moment: the quiet after New Year’s Eve fireworks. Then we contemplate the poet’s choice of the phrase “year’s end.” This is an intriguing emphasis, connoting a reflecting back. And the evocation of gunpowder brings to mind the many occurrences of violence both around the world and near to home, making the pause felt at the end of the haiku a hopeful but uncertain one. We appreciate the duality of this haiku, its ambiguity, dreaming room, and possibilities.

sliding home
the familiar taste
of Georgia red clay

Lucas Tangpricha, Grade 7
Atlanta, GA

This is a joyful and comforting poem. The glee of playing baseball or softball on a beautiful day. Rounding third and nearing home plate. Diving into a headfirst slide, going all out to avoid the tag. Scoring an important run. Tasting victory. This experience is also comforting because of the double meaning of home. The familiarity and solace of home allows room for that joy to billow up. This poem is well constructed and slides smoothly off the tongue. This haiku scores in our book!

mountain road
the high-pitched sounds
of spring peepers

Lilly Margolis, Grade 7
Atlanta, GA

This is a wonderfully composed haiku. It includes a lovely parallel juxtaposition between the height of the mountains and the height of the pitch. Pitch obviously refers to the quality of the frogs’ musical sound, but also to the steepness of a mountain slope. Both are high; both are intense. This poem also delivers a contrast between the enormity of mountains and the comparatively tiny size of the frogs and their peeps. In fact, the word peepers seems to make the frogs and their calls even tinier. Well done!

fence hole
the cat with a nicked ear
slips through

James Propst, Grade 8
Atlanta, GA

This is a sly poem, one that slipped into our consciousness, curled up, and settled in. Perhaps the author is describing the local stray, a veteran of turf wars or cruel humans. Perhaps the author identifies with this cat, still surviving despite the many trials and tribulations of adolescence. We all want an escape hatch, and this cat has found one. Both the cat and this poem are resourceful, sly, and surviving.

twist by twist
knot by knot
mother braids my hair

Lilly Margolis, Grade 7
Atlanta, GA

We were first drawn to this haiku by the lyrical repetition in the first two lines, skillfully conveying the familiar motions of a daily task. It lingered in our minds due to the emotional depth of its image, expressed by the just-rightness of twist and knot. We have a sense of the complexities of a mother-child bond: affection, conflict, understanding, misunderstandings, the parental legacies we rebel against and eventually distill in our own lives. This is a tender and affecting haiku.

spring fever
back to
the chemo ward

Vlad-Sergiu Ciobîcă, Grade 12

The first line of this haiku connotes the restlessness of early spring. The second line hints at a returning, the cycle of seasons. Then the third line hits us in the gut. The literal meaning of fever comes to mind as we realize that the return is not to the ease of springtime but to harsh fluorescent lights, IVs, side effects, uncertainty, and fear. We admire the effective juxtaposition of fragment and phrase, as well as the reticence at work, in this powerful and memorable haiku.

• • •

About our judges:

Brad Bennett

Brad Bennett is an elementary school teacher in the Boston area and has been teaching haiku to kids for almost twenty- five years. Brad’s haiku have been published in a variety of journals and magazines. His first haiku book, a drop of pond, published by Red Moon Press, was awarded a Touchstone Distinguished Book Award for 2016 by The Haiku Foundation.

Hannah Mahoney

Hannah Mahoney lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and works in children’s publishing. Her haiku have appeared in a variety of print and online journals, and she is a recipient of the Kaji Aso International Haiku Award and the Kaji Aso International Senryu Award.



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