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Haiku Society of America Senryu Award
Judges' Commentary 2016



2016 HSA Senryu Contest Judges' Commentary

Judged by
Paul Miller and Peter Newton

We’d like to thank the HSA and all the entrants for the opportunity to read so many fine senryu—over 500 this year! While both of us came to the contest with an idea of what senryu could be, we were delighted to find those ideas tested, and in some cases expanded upon. One of the characteristics of senryu is its ability to shine a hard truth on our sometimes elevated dreams or selves, and ultimately knock them down a peg. The three winning senryu do that admirably.

~ Paul Miller & Peter Newton

First Place ($100)

single again
the woman
in my dream

Tom Painting, Atlanta GA

We like the duality of perspectives in this poem. Is this a man or a woman's point of view? A man speaking the above lines offers a wry sense of humor, riffing off the old saying "the woman of my dreams." But his newly "single" status brings about a reticence about getting attached again. "The woman" therefore is relegated to a dream. If this poem is read from the perspective of a woman there is also a subdued tone that speaks to the situation. However, a more hopeful one perhaps. As if the woman "in my dream" is the speaker herself who is now free to realize that person she had not yet become. The freedom she seeks is only possible now that she is "single again." These multiple meanings add to the poem's growth potential, a key element in any successful poem.

Second Place ($75)

estate sale
the hard

John Stevenson, Nassau NY

The word estate implies a grander size than say a garage sale. A person's life is on the block here. And the stranger who arrives to purchase someone's lifetime of accumulated items walks away with "the hard erasers." Those seemingly insignificant and easily overlooked objects, "the hard erasers" deliver an indelible mark for their obsolescence as well as the very fact that they were held onto to begin with. The minutia of our lives. With laser focus this poem creates an emotional impact that lets the reader know the gravity of the situation. There are no do-overs. Maybe all we have left in the end are the remnants of our mistakes.

Third Prize ($50)

sacred shrine
worshippers raise
their selfie sticks

Annette Makino, Arcata CA

A contemporary and all-too-familiar scene of technology's everyday intrusion on human life. Perhaps, a dystopian view of the future when iRobots populate every corner of the earth. In this scene however the blame is placed squarely on the shoulders of the humans themselves who seem as oblivious to the sacredness of the shrine as they are to anything beyond an arm's length away. There's something to be said for the value of what the poet is trying to convey here. Without lecturing the reader the poet delivers a concise visual lesson. Sometimes, the best poems are those that simply hold up a mirror and let you see for yourself.

About the Judges

Paul Miller is the managing editor of Modern Haiku, the longest running English-language haiku journal, established in 1969. Writing under the pseudonym ‘paul m.’ he is an internationally awarded and anthologized poet and essayist. He is a two-time winner of the Haiku Society of America’s Kanterman Award and winner of the Haiku Foundation’s Touchstone Award.

Peter Newton has been a student of haiku for more than twenty years. His work has been published in many journals and anthologies as well as in several collections of haiku, senryu, haibun and tan renga. Since 2012, he has served as an editor of the online journal tinywords.



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