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Archive Collection of the
HSA Best Unpublished Haibun Awards
Judges' Commentary 2012

See the contest rules for the HSA Best Unpublished Haibun award.

Winners by Year: 2012 | 2011 |



2012 HSA Haibun Awards

Judged by Roberta Beary

“My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”
“You are mistaken,” said he gently; “that is not good company; that is the best.”

(Jane Austen, Persuasion)

As I read over the haibun submissions in the second year of the HSA haibun awards, these words of Jane Austen came to mind. In deciding what elevates haibun from “good company” to “the best,” I tried to let the haibun speak and heard some wonderful words. I set a very high bar, giving equal weight to the title, prose and haiku. Many submissions remained “good company.” In deciding what distinguished “the best company,” I looked for a title which added texture, risk-taking prose that stepped away from the mundane, and haiku that illuminated the prose. I spent many weeks with the submissions and read each one several times. The winning haibun all include a strong title, exceptional prose and luminous haiku. I am grateful to the winners for allowing me to spend some time in “the best company.” —Roberta Beary

First Prize ($100) - Tom Painting


Forty years ago, right after the breakup, I cut her out of the photo and then rounded the edges to make it appear complete. The other day I showed it to my students. One said he bet I had a lot of girlfriends Yeah, but not the one I wanted.

nightcap the hazy moon

Tom Painting

In a few short sentences, this haibun achieves remarkable depth, capturing the sense of loss over young love and, on a deeper level, a remembrance of things past and how that past affects the present. The title, “Phases,” can be interpreted in at least two ways.  There is the phase of young love, “he/she is just going through a phase;” there is the phase of the moon, which is also echoed in the haiku. The prose is succinct and straight forward; it weighs down neither the title nor the haiku, flowing between past and present, moving from room (where the photo is cut) to room (where the photo is shown). The haiku places the writer in a third room, which contains a view of “the hazy moon,” deepening the sense of mystery through a somewhat surprising ending. Is the hazy moon the result of a nightcap, or does the hazy moon, ‘cap the night’? At the end of the day, “Phases” is subtle and nuanced haibun. —Roberta Beary

Second Prize - Michele Root-Bernstein


And there passes in front of my inner eye a bird's view of the backyard where I grew up. In the early 1950's my parents purchased a small concrete home in a new subdivision built on the former estate of a grand Philadelphia family. At the top of our road stood the towering entrance gates to the mansion that lay crumbling on a farther hill. Between those two pillars of decayed opulence, I inhabited another wealth, the kind a child makes of a small rectangular piece of land, limned by chain link fence and honeysuckle vines. Say summer and the cut grass stains the feet green. Say summer and bees buzz in the clover. If only I had a bee of my very own, I might live just there on the rolling cusp of its drawn-out drone. I hunker by the pinkest white clover I can find, ready with a small plastic tub to trap the plumpest bumblebee, ready, too, for the chance of its sting.

safe beneath the picnic table
        the lightning in me

Michele Root-Bernstein

The alliterative title of the 2nd prize winner, “Say Summer” leads the reader into the haibun. From there the prose draws the reader in deeper. Grammar rules do not apply here. The writing flows and takes the reader along for the ride. There is nothing pedestrian in this writing: We are on a journey, one that is both emotional and physical. All our senses are on alert. The past merges with the present, leaving the reader somewhere between those two worlds. The haiku is a surprise, a tone shift that completes the prose but does not repeat it. The freshness of the haiku, along with its ambiguous perspective, gave this haibun an edge over most other submissions. —Roberta Beary

Third Prize - Terri L. French


My father reclines in his La-Z-Boy, the afghan pulled up over his head like a burial shroud. His lighter, ashtray, cigarettes, inhaler and oxygen tank are within reach. His nicotine-stained fingers—the color of sausages gone bad—twitch as he dreams.

He is 8-years old, behind the barn with his cousins Donny and Marvin in Yale, Michigan. Donny, three years his senior, clumsily rolls a cigarette, mimicking the moves of their grandfather. He licks the paper and pulls a piece of tobacco from his tongue, flicking it to the ground. Donny hands the gnarled thing to Marvin, the second oldest, who lights it. He takes a puff but doesn't inhale. He hands the cig to my dad who inhales deeply, filling his 8-year-old lungs. He doesn't cough. He exhales slowly and smiles.

My father awakens, turns off the oxygen tank and reaches for his cigarettes. The smoke fills his 72-year old lungs. He exhales, coughs, and reaches for his inhaler.

autumn mist
mom changes the ending
of the fairy tale

Terri L. French

When I read the title of this haibun, I immediately remembered the song by Peter, Paul and Mary, “Puff the Magic Dragon” with its refrain, “A dragon lives forever but not so little boys.” The haibun’s prose transports the reader from folk song fantasy to the cold reality of oxygen tanks and nicotine addiction. There is no sentimentality here. The little boy in this haibun is 8, and he is the writer’s father, now age 72. The time shift juxtaposes the father’s first smoke (written in the present tense) with his current illness (again in the present tense). This makes for effective writing, with the haiku linking the title and echoing the sense of finality in the prose. It reminds us that although we do not live in the realm of fairytales, haiku, and by extension art, can provide a sense of solace. In “Dragons live forever” the title, prose and haiku complement one another. Nicely done. —Roberta Beary

Honorable Mention - Mark Smith


still-born sister
the moonlight
in her room
winter moon
the loneliness
of every stone
So you have come again called by the soothing carve of marble to make presence before my headstone's edge. Far off the stars, faint pulses, hallow this husk of a moon, but move towards me now, my pining ground. A patient sister I wait for you, walk catacombs of earth and air, prepare for your leaving breath when I'll tell, brother, my story of being still-born. This plot where you kneel soaks in more memory, more snow, but keep close, listen, cup in your hands this night of chilled silence, small acreage of my dying.
  reading old headstones
crow caws carried
on the wind
winter's shifting wind . . .
the words
I didn't say

Mark Smith

Visual creativity sets this haibun apart from other submissions. It is shaped like a cross, with a haiku at each of its four sides. The title establishes the place as well as the overall feeling of the haibun. Each haiku presents a point of view. While I found the prose somewhat mannered and the haiku a bit familiar, I commend the writer for taking the risk. —Roberta Beary

Roberta Beary is the haibun editor of Modern Haiku. Her book of short poems, The Unworn Necklace (Snapshot Press, 1st hardcover ed. 2011), was named a Poetry Society of America award finalist and a Haiku Society of America Merit Book Award winner. See her web page at: <http://www.robertabeary.com>.



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