2008 Judged by
Alexis Rotella, Maryland & Scott Mason, New York
An effective senryu is like a magical hand mirror: viewed just so, it yields a partial yet telling reflection of our basic human nature. Some reflections, of course, are more telling than others. We have chosen seven that spoke to us through humor, irony or poignancy with a level of observation and perceptiveness far beyond their few words. More than reflections alone, these brief poems offer glints of genuine insight into the tragic, prosaic and comic pageant of our everyday lives.
1st Place ($100) - David P. Grayson, California
street corner memorial—
asks for the balloon
A parent (we imagine a mother) and her young child happen upon a makeshift memorial on the corner sidewalk of a city or suburban intersection. This was likely the place of some recent tragedy—such scenes are all too familiar to those of us living in populated areas. Perhaps a vehicle struck a pedestrian in this intersection. The impromptu memorial might include handwritten notes, candles or flowers, plus a balloon, left by surviving loved ones. The four-year-old innocently asks his or her mother for the unattended balloon. The mother now faces a quandary: how can she explain to her young child that the balloon “belongs” to someone else—quite possibly another child—who is no longer here to enjoy it?
In just eleven words we experience a moment both authentic and deeply poignant. How well it depicts the “collision” of childhood innocence with the occasional harshness of real life; and how effectively it places us in the shoes of the parent who must mediate between the two. A masterpiece of mixed emotions.
2nd Place ($75) Michael Dylan Welch, Washington
busy Italian restaurant—
sung to the wrong table
Here, by contrast, is a moment of pure hilarity. Waiters and waitresses hastily converge to belt out that old standby; and just as quickly they disperse, leaving utter bewilderment in their wake. In this parody of “personal” service, they might just as well have sung to. . . the table!
3rd Place ($50) Margaret Chula, Oregon
Tokyo vending machine
the long line
behind the foreigner
The Japanese have a word—gaman—for “enduring the seem-ingly unbearable with patience and dignity.” Here a foreigner (we imagine a Westerner) fumbles with instructions, money or the buttons at a vending machine. He or she may be oblivious to all those who are waiting. Their implied silence makes this cross-cultural “encounter” pitch perfect.
Honorable Mentions (unranked)
old palm reader . . .
my life line
her longest yet
Kenneth Elba Carrier, Massachusetts
Comment: Who’s kidding who? . . . A poetic sleight of hand.
it looks real enough
Marian Olson, New Mexico
the old vet with canes
refuses to ride
Catherine J.S. Lee, Maine
Comment: . . . or fade away. What made The Greatest Generation great!
first day of school
her brother’s backpack
Robert Mainone, Michigan
Comment: Worn with pride or resentment? Either way, an amusing and lasting image . . .
This year’s contest received 470 senryu from 93 writers.
Congratulations to the winners!