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Judges' Commentary for The Annual Haiku Society of America Award for Haiku in Honor of Harold G. Henderson


Judges' Commentary for 2008

2008 Harold G. Henderson Haiku Contest Results
Judges: Jennie Townsend (JT), Missouri & Christopher Patchel (CP), Illinois

(The judges are identified by their initials at the end of each commentary.)

1st Place ($150), John Stevenson, New York

fifteen minutes
of mince pie

Haiku tends to be unassuming and understated. Using simple language to show rather than tell, suggest rather than state, it often reveals its layers of meaning only by degrees. This year’s Henderson Award winner is an excellent case in point. Though it did not make either of our initial shortlists, something about it kept drawing me back, and over the weeks it opened up in stages like a time-release capsule.

The poem gives us concrete, associative images but leaves the setting to our imagination. It could be the highlight of a Thanksgiving dinner with extended family, or conversely, the entirety of a solitary celebration apart from family, one small way of connecting with the spirit of the holiday. But might the poem be intimating more?

Thanksgiving Day is set aside for thankful reflection on our blessings. It originated as a harvest festival much like those of many cultures around the world and throughout history. Like all enduring traditions, it connects us to each other and to the generations before and after us. We share in, and contribute to, the cultural heritage handed down to us and pass it along. On this continuum, the span of our life is akin to fifteen minutes, a small window of participation. (The words minute and mince are even related to the word minute, meaning very small.)

Mince pie, like Thanksgiving, is part of a long tradition. Also known as mincemeat pie, it is commonly meatless now, both in Britain and here in the States. I was curious to try it and, since it’s only available during the holidays, resorted to baking a pie. I found it delicious. The variety of fruits and other ingredients suggested harvest and bounty. I even enjoyed the bitter tang of the orange rinds.

Though brief in the larger scheme of things, it’s obvious this partaking of mince pie is deliberately unhurried for its fullest appreciation, each rich mouthful chewed thoroughly to taste every flavor (the word mince suggesting this as well). This is an extended moment of savoring, and thanksgiving.

Haiku, also, is about engaging in moments, be it through our own words or those of meaningful poems like this. —CP

For me, this haiku took on the tone of “the working man” eating in a lunchroom or, if traveling, perhaps catching a bite at a diner. His or her entire Thanksgiving by necessity is reduced to fifteen minutes and a slice of mince pie, the savoring of which triggers memories of where they once were, where they aren’t now—that large family gathering where Uncle Joe had everyone laughing until they cried. A person can be thankful for a lot in the short time between the first bite and the last crumb. This is the poem to show us that. —JT

2nd Place ($100), Kristen Deming, Maryland

blossoms . . .
the baby’s bare feet
pedal the air

Everything about this poem says spring: The lighthearted tone, the blossoms, the baby, the softness, the fragrance, the bare feet, the pedaling (an apt description). Not to mention the implicit joy of it all. —CP

“blossoms . . .” The author’s use of an ellipsis is a signal to engage the senses, to bring up a scent, the feel of the wind, or hear someone’s voice and at the end of the ellipsis, the following two lines catapult us into the baby’s first play and pleasure of a spring morning. The reader is a witness to a baby with the whole world at its feet: the soft blossoms, soft breeze, soft caresses and the joy on the baby’s face mirrors in ours, an experience wholly shared in a small, elegant moment.—JT

3rd Place ($50) John Stevenson, New York

my attention
attention span

Given haiku’s economy of form, word repetition is usually something to be avoided. Yet here it’s utilized to inspired advantage. Simply repeating the word “attention,” serves to convey, without having to describe, the thoughts of the poet, and the flutter of a butterfly, here, there and anywhere. A rendering like this feels satisfyingly inevitable, to the point where changing anything would seem inconceivable.—CP

It is easy to picture ourselves in this moment, enjoy a laugh at our expense, perhaps experience a twinge of worry that we brush off. Is the moment about aging or distractibility? The poet makes a gift of a human foible engagingly captured and presents it just this side of clever keeping it that way.—JT

Honorable Mentions (unranked)

one moth
a thousand candles
light the darkness

Garry Gay, California

All of the images here—one, moth, thousand, candles, light, darkness—are strong and clear, as are the relationships of each to the others. But where are we? I picture it as a memorial vigil. —CP

It takes something powerfully meaningful to draw a thousand people to one purpose, be it an expression of grief, solidarity, or celebration, to honor a life or event that caused a change and created the need. The poet isn’t telling us what happened or to whom, but through these words we participate and meet the need of our own experience. —JT

trail’s end—
my pebble
settles the cairn

Linda Jeannette Ward, North Carolina

This could be read as a death poem since it takes on the meaning of a completed life’s journey. I read the word “settles” as “puts at peace,” and picture this landmark providing a homecoming welcome for another trekker, or as a grave marker on which visitors place small stones as tokens of respect. However understood, this symbolic joining of pebble and cairn feels primal. —CP

There are cairns in many parts of the world but the urge that creates them may be older than any culture, a vestige of our earliest human memories where reaching a destination meant survival, and marking the passage was as important to their story as the finish. This haiku may be a poet’s homage to having made the trip. With the act of adding a pebble, the poet con-
nects to a long line of others who accomplished what they set out to do, leaving behind a marker for those who follow.—JT

Closing Remarks:

The turnout was on the low side compared to recent years with 125 writers submitting 672 poems. A deep thanks to everyone who submitted work, with apologies for any worthy poems



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