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


 

Judges' Commentary for 2020


2020 Nicholas A. Virgilio Haiku & Senryu Competition
Awards for Grades 7 – 12

Judges

Elizabeth Crocket and Michael Dylan Welch

The following poems, presented in no particular order, are but six out of dozens that made our short list of selections. These poems, whether haiku or senryu, celebrate instants of feeling and perception and share them with readers in momentary acts of vulnerability. As readers, we receive these moments and validate them by recognizing our own humanity in what they each offer. This is what every good haiku does. Thank you to all the poets who entered, submitting a total of 2482 haiku, and thank you to the Nick Virgilio Haiku Society and the Haiku Society of America for the opportunity to serve as judges.

~Elizabeth Crocket and Michael Dylan Welch


Judges Comments

summer night
the house creaks
a bedtime story

Sahil Gandhi, Grade 8

Two scenarios quickly came to mind reading this poem. Was the creaking house a foundation for a scary tale? Or was the bedtime story read to a child with a vivid imagination? The well-done juxtaposition made this both an interesting and worthy winner. ~Liz

This poem’s clear and immediate images draw readers into what may well be a ghost story. The poem pivots on a clever use of the word “creaks.” Is the verb transitive or intransitive? Normally, “creaks” is an intransitive verb and does not take an object, so we can be satisfied that “the house creaks.” But perhaps the word is also being used transitively, taking an object, as if the house is producing a bedtime story. That makes the house especially scary! ~Michael

girl of my dreams
in the crowd
the ball goes through my legs

Gabe Jones, Grade 8

I smiled reading this poem, and if truth be told, I cringed a little too, relating to the strong voice of the poet in what may have been an embarrassing moment. Reading this was a delight, and it definitely resonated with me, forcing me to remember clumsy moments from my own past. ~Liz

For a moment the writer is conscious of wanting to impress a girl, but that distraction causes the poet to miss a ball, perhaps allowing a goal. This opportunity for achievement turns into embarrassment, and readers can feel compassion in sharing such an experience, one that’s not just private but magnified by being in front of a large crowd. ~Michael

after my dog’s funeral
his imprint
still left in the bedsheet

Julia Kwon, Grade 10

This poignant poem was an easy favourite of mine, capturing perfectly that it is often the little things that can be the trigger for a wave of unexpected grief. It shows great depth in reminding us that life can change quickly, never to be viewed the same way again. Anyone who has ever lost a beloved pet will instantly empathize with the poet. ~Liz

The objects that once belonged to pets (or human loved ones) left after they die create sad reminders of their owners’ absence. This image shoots straight to the heart with an overwhelming sadness. That sadness for loss is tempered, we can only hope, by a deep and ongoing love for the lost pet. ~Michael

rainy afternoon
once-loved gifts
in the donation bin

Catherine Dwyer, Grade 8

The first line, “rainy afternoon,” sets the mood for the upcoming nostalgia of the second and third lines. It has been noted that Nick Virgilio called haiku “word paintings,” which aptly sums up the way I viewed this poem. It resonated with me, making me remember the things that were once meaningful to me that I chose to part with. Well done! ~Liz

The rain is a necessary launching pad for the twinge of sadness of donating once-loved treasures. We see this image sharply, that moment of letting go, perhaps moving on from someone we’ve broken up with who had given us these gifts. And yet it’s the right thing to do, because these gifts, whatever they might be, are no longer loved—and now someone else might be able to love them. ~Michael

cold night
a stray cat
laps the moon

Gus Critz, Grade 8

I felt the cold night, and I saw the cat lapping the moon in this beautiful poem. It stirs the senses of readers while they ponder the story behind it. I loved the strong image and depth of this artful haiku. ~Liz

We may wonder where the observer is in this poem. In his or her room, seeing the cat outside? Or perhaps walking outdoors when they come across this cat? Either way, we can see the cat licking at water that reflects the moon—wishing, perhaps, not just for the moon but a home to live in. ~Michael

New Year’s Eve
at midnight I kiss
my pillow

Andrew Reveno, Grade 8

The strongest emotions in reading a poem are often evoked when poets are brave enough to lay bare their most personal moments. I found this to be a sweet and touching poem that was made even more moving by the opening line, New Year’s Eve. At some point in life many of us have had the experience of not being with the person we dream of, making the poem instantly relatable. ~Liz

The loneliness of kissing one’s own pillow is intensified by the timing of this poem. New Year’s Eve provides a special opportunity, at midnight, to kiss a person you love when you’re together to celebrate the year to come. But here the person is alone, having no one to share that potentially magical moment. We can only hope that the year ahead will be less lonely. ~Michael


• • •

About our judges:

Elizabeth Crocket has had two books shortlisted for the Haiku Foundation Touchstone Distinguished Books Award, Not Like Fred and Ginger and Happy Haiku. She currently has two Japanese short form books published with Cyberwit.net, Wondering What’s Next and How Soon the Colour Fades. She lives in Ontario, Canada.

Michael Dylan Welch has been investigating haiku since 1976, and documents his published essays, reviews, books, haiku, tanka, and longer poems at his www.graceguts.com website. Michael also runs National Haiku Writing Month (www.nahaiwrimo.com) and cofounded the Haiku North America conference and the American Haiku Archives.

 

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