2011 HSA Senryu Contest Judges' Commentary
Eve Luckring, Los Angeles, California
Chad Lee Robinson, Pierre, South Dakota
First Prize ($100) Ernest J. Berry Picton, New Zealand
undressing the summer wind turns color
Our first-place choice is a chameleon; this poem changes hue due to the way the one line form can be read with a cut in different places. Read one way, there is a harmony created between the vulnerability of revealing one’s unclothed body and the freeness of summer expressed in a refreshing, perhaps surprising, breeze that caresses the skin. Is this the sunset of a hot day? Is there passion in the air? Is there a blush on the skin in response to the wind? Is this person in the height of their life-journey’s summer season? Read another way, the poem suggests autumn hovering in the air: its crisper, cooler touch unwrapping summer: its greens transforming into golds, the air suddenly spiced with new scents, the changing chorus of singing insects, and the sun softening. For us the sound of the poem (with its short vowels, repeating “s,” and punctuating “d” and “t”) echoes the anticipatory mood of both of these readings.
Second Prize ($75) Susan Marie LaVallee. Kailua, Hawaii
without a face
The unexpected movement between the lines of our second-place choice produces the kind of unexplained blank spaces that the poem stirs in us emotionally. Potatoes have “eyes” and their patterns might suggest faces, or the lack of one. But more strongly, the faceless potato brings to mind Mr. Potato Head, (a plastic toy with attachable eyes, ears, nose with moustache, mouth, shoes, and hat that can be assembled to create a man’s physique) and makes us think of a child, perhaps now an adult, who has not known her/his father, whether through physical or emotional absence. A fatherless child has a huge blank in his/her life. As readers we were moved by the way a deadpan sense of whimsy created a resigned sense of lacking.
Third Prize ($50) Sheila K. Barksdale Gainesville, Florida
stirring my coffee
every which way
To find the flare of flamenco in a cup of coffee! We read this as a morning reverie. The motions of a spoon sweep us into the soulful song, strumming guitar, clapping percussion, and vibrant footwork that might carry us through the day with an emotional intensity “every which way.”
Honorable Mentions (unranked)
a watermelon smile drips off the end of my elbows
Bett Angel-Stawarz, Barmera, Australia
We too shared a full body smile with this one which brought to mind a poem by Charles Simic: WATERMELONS / Green Buddhas / On the fruit stand. / We eat the smile / And spit out the teeth. (Simic, C. Selected Early Poems. New York: George Braziller, 1999, p. 49.)
a sailboat’s name
reflects in the sea
Alan S. Bridges, Littleton, Massachusetts
This one has an enigmatic lack of solidity. The first line is a playful invitation into a mysterious world; the whole poem is like a ghost. The lilt and rhythm of the greeting, followed by the quietness of the next two lines, animates the sailboat’s name glimmering in the water—what tricks or treats might the sea offer this vessel?
Martin Luther King Day
my rear-view mirror
Carolyn Hall, San Francisco, California
Martin Luther King, with all that he accomplished in his life, still couldn’t change everyone’s mind about skin color. Since his death, we’ve had plenty of time to think about all that he worked for, all the wrongs he tried to right. That’s where we enter this senryu. A looking back poem, both literally and figuratively, this senryu is a study in word choice. It occurred to us that if “my rear-view mirror” was written as “the rear-view mirror” that this would be a much different poem, indeed. The author has made an important word choice, distinguishing between the personal and the preachy. If the author had used “the” it would seem as though the author is speaking for everyone, had adjusted everyone’s point of view/perspective. However, the use of “my” brings this poem into the realm of the personal, which is where this poem gets its power. The repeating “r” sounds add to the senryu’s theme of looking back, as though something has been nagging at the author, as though the author keeps returning to some past actions or feelings that have remained unresolved. This ruffling is countered, however, with the repeating “m” sounds that help soften this senryu, perhaps reflecting the author’s change of perspective.