2013 HSA Senryu Contest Judges' Commentary
Alan S. Bridges & Michele L. Harvey
Before announcing this year's HSA Senryu Contest results, we would like to express our thanks to each haijin who entered. The poems were delightful, many providing a good chuckle, and we were astonished at their variety and scope. It was a privilege to read them, as they set forth on their maiden voyage, and a challenge to narrow our choices from nearly four hundred entries.
At our first meeting we shared green tea at a Wendy's in Utica, New York, and discovered a common interest in geology, but from entirely different perspectives. We likewise approached this judging from different angles, and yet both happily arrived at the same place.
We hope you enjoy the final selections.
First Prize ($100)
in the mirror
the turn toward it
At first this seemed an unlikely candidate. It is not pretty, lyrical, or typical, yet neither of us could turn away even after repeated read-throughs. In fact, its effect grew with each reading, ultimately claiming its place as first prize. We understood its meaning viscerally, both of us being middle aged at this fulcrum. It can take a moment or be gradual, but it must happen if any happiness is to come from the second half of life. The last word, "it," can refer to both middle age and the mirror itself, further expressing the reluctance to mindfully accept one's inevitable surrender to time. We congratulate the poet on successfully capturing this universal moment in these three small lines.
Second Prize ($75)
the time he takes
to knot the tie
Marylyn Appl Walker
This senryu is as much about deconstruction as construction. It expresses both confidence, by the care with which the bridegroom dresses, and apprehension, in that same act of slowly knotting his tie. At the conclusion is the surprising inversion of the familiar phrase. The assonance is also compelling, if offered understatedly—the repeated "d's" in line one, the long "a's" in "day" and "takes," the repeated "t's" as well as the internal rhyme in "time" and the last word, "tie," at which point one is confronted with the twist to this tale, expressed in 10 staccato words and 11 syllables, which is at once economic and effective. Reading yet deeper, one can interpret the word "tie" to be the bond between husband and wife. This poem would be as pleasing, if, as Basho advised, "on tongue-tip turn(ed) a thousand times."
Third Prize ($50)
A minimalist senryu . . . perfect for the subject matter! It says just enough to enable the reader to complete the picture. For us, it describes a family and shared experience. Perhaps it's a father with a hat and three fingers. It reveals a scene that is at once familiar and tender. Maybe this family is missing a parent, or a grandparent plays a key role. Each of the six words has a small "i," except for the word "one," visually presenting the poem as a combination of "stick figures." Also effective are the repeated "g"s, which tonally glue the assemblage.
Honorable Mentions (unranked)
boy girl party
the slow speed
of the blender
When we were young, teen gatherings were sometimes called "mixers," which this senryu brings to mind. They often involved awkwardness between adolescents. In this instance there is the double meaning of a drink blender on low setting, which relates to the pace of young adult interactions, perhaps during a dance. We each had this senryu on our "short list," both admiring the rhythm and strength of the image. If a poem can have speed settings, this senryu pulses, liquifies, and frappes.
life and death decisions
the need to feel
the satin lining
The image of "the satin lining" (of chosen casket) here, brings to mind the familiar search for the silver lining of life. Pre-made funeral arrangements are an unavoidable chore for many and certainly figure into contemporary "life and death decisions." This poet has taken us into the decision process painlessly and with good humor. While line two, "the need to feel," is emotionally charged, line three concludes the moment texturally, completing a seamlessly-executed senryu.
perfect storm the perfume not hers
An excellent one-liner, the idea of a perfect storm (the rare combination when two or more weather systems collide) mixed with a chance meeting of a possible paramour. The whiff of her presence lightly drawn by the alluring "the perfume not hers." Life does have its many temptations and this is one of the greatest, singularly expressed.
the shape of her
in a stranger
The deep pain of love and loss and its corresponding longing is laid bare in this small poem. No words of sympathy or worldly thoughtful act can touch it or comfort it. Time may soften its contour but will never alter its reality. Like an amputee, there is suffering without visible reason but which can be nearly beyond bearing. When the physical separation is new and final, one may well see a momentary glimpse of the beloved in another as the mind and heart adjust to the unfamiliar aloneness.
• • •