Judges' Commentary for 2020
2020 HSA Haiku Awards
Deborah P Kolodji and Bryan Rickert
We would like to thank the Haiku Society of America for the honor of being asked to judge more than 1,100 poems in this year’s HSA Haiku Awards contest, Chuck Brickley for coordinating our efforts, and Charles Trumbull for double-checking our selections against his haiku database. The poems spanned the depth and scope of what members of the haiku community considered his or her best work and it was a journey of discovery to read through all of the submissions several times before winnowing the field down and eventually deciding on this year’s award winning haiku. There were a few poems which we would have loved to recognize that we felt better belonged in the Brady Senryu contest which also helped us narrow down the selections.
Congratulations to the winning poets!
~ First Place ~
of a cast-iron skillet
Mary Stevens, Hurley, NY
We kept coming back to this haiku and our appreciation for it grew with each reading. It is one of the few haiku in the contest that used a sense besides sight. The use of “heft” in line one gives us a sense of weight and the effort needed to simply lift the skillet. We feel how tired the poet must feel. It brings us to a moment when things have labored on and we are nearly done. Whether it is the turning of autumn in our lives and things are heavier than they used to be or a kind of tired where life has just worn us down to the point where lifting that pan is just another chore to struggle through. The use of “cast-iron” in line two sets the stage for this poem. We can relate to something to relate to in a concrete way. Maybe it is us or our mothers or our grandmothers who labored with the cooking every day. The use of the classic kigo, “autumn deepens” is perfect for we can feel the heaviness of autumn descending, the leaves falling, a person in their autumn years struggling to lift themselves up, and this new heaviness after summer, where the night and its darkness starts to lengthen, each day growing heaver as it grows shorter. We are happy to bestow First Place upon this fine haiku.
~ Second Place ~
Kat Lehmann, Guilford, CT
We both liked the directness of the fragment and phrase, and the mystery of many possible readings. Do we take this poem for its face value? Is the viewer truly only watching the moon while watching TV and noticing how over time the junipers outside the window have grown over the moon view? Or, is there a deeper meaning about the negative content of the news and how it has consumed us from seeing the beautiful things, like the moonrise, around us? Junipers can grow up to 130 feet tall, so the moon over time could become more and more obscured as the evening news continues its litany of negative events. Moon is an autumn kigo, so as the junipers grow taller, the hours of night grow longer.
~ Third Place ~
whether or not
you come home
Carol Ann Palomba, Wanaque, NJ
Some of us have never lived in a place where frogs chorus in the spring. But such a reader can imagine that if he/she did, the peepers would return every year. So, regardless of the uncertainty of this relationship — whether a significant other has left or perhaps works late again — there is something undependable here which contrasts with the expectation of the returning spring peepers. Spring also evokes joy, after a long winter, so there’s a sense of hope here, regardless of whether or not he/she returns.
~ Honorable Mention ~
she circles the baby’s
Marilyn Appl Walker, Madison, GA
A gibbous moon is less than a full moon, but more than a third quarter semicircle moon. We don’t know for sure whether it is waxing or waning until reading the rest of the poem where the anticipation of a baby’s birth brings forth the realization that it is a waxing gibbous moon. Although this poem can be taken easily in a very literal sense, when the reader sits with it for a while, the emotions of anticipation become consuming. We can feel the roundness of the mother’s belly as her hands caress the baby inside her and as she circles the upcoming date on the calendar. It is a powerfully emotional poem for expectant parents and anyone who has ever been a parent.
~ Honorable Mention ~
all self-doubt —
Clifford Rames, Freehold, NJ
“Don’t overthink it,” Bryan’s dad used to say. “Think it just enough.” He could have been talking about fishing. Besides the obvious word play in this haiku, we believe it can speak to the act of fishing where a fisherman casts his line, letting go of ego and lack of confidence. If you are fishing, you may even need to let go of yourself if you are going to catch that prize trout. The prize trout doesn’t even need to be the biggest or the best, just the one you caught at just the right time and place. Fishing also evokes a sense of summer, a sense of growing into yourself. The haiku is a beacon of hope because far too many of us become consumed with self-doubt, and the act of casting it off allows us to achieve much more.
About the Judges
Deborah P Kolodji is the HSA California Regional Coordinator and a member of the Haiku North America board of directors. She has published over 1000 haiku and her first full length book of haiku, highway of sleeping towns, won a Touchstone Distinguished Book Award form the Haiku Foundation and an honorable mention in the HSA Merit Book Awards.
Bryan Rickert is the HSA Midwest Regional Coordinator and has been published in a number of fine journals and anthologies. His book Fish Kite is available through Cyberwit Publishing. He is the editor at The Living Senryu Anthology and will soon start work as the new co-editor at Failed Haiku.