Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards for 2008

Haiku Society of America

Merit Book Awards for 2008

George G. Dorsty & Marie Summers, judges
judges commentsary

When the 38 entered books for the 2008 Mildred Kanterman Memorial Book Awards were delivered, it was like peering into a heavy bag of freshly collected Halloween candy. Our eyes widened with anticipation to experience them all, to gaze upon their unique, individual wrappers, and devour every page of creativity. It is usually the chocolate bars that are immediately put into the “favorite” pile to be eaten first; therefore, we chose our favorite ten publications based upon appearances. Our lists were strikingly similar, and predictions for possible winners were then quickly made. It was then time to get to know all of these treats by their ingredients, not just by their colorful shells.

We lived with these books for weeks, getting to know each one intimately. The judging process become increasingly difficult, and the discussions about each morsel more in depth—an intense sugar rush! In the end, it was the journeys the authors took us on, dazzling scenes of nature exposed, originality of subject matter, consistency, ease and order of content, and a general reflection of material being published worldwide within the community journals that left the sweetest tastes in our mouths. Our early predictions may not have been dead on, but that goes to show you that you can’t always judge a book by its cover!


First Place

Marian Olson. Desert Hours. Northfield, MA: Lily Pool Press 2007.

Desert Hours is a collection of personal and natural experiences by Marian Olson gained from daily life living in Santa Fe, New Mexico which is full of Native American and Hispanic cultural influences. Karen Fitzsimmon’s landscape piece sets the stage for the reader’s journey into this unique collection of haiku. Upon opening the book, Olson chose a quote from Santoka Taneda, “Settle in this world. There are hidden treasures in the present moment.” Olson does just that, sweeps you away and shows you the beauty of her home through her eyes:

at my touch
the tortoise withdraws
to a secret place

Olson brings you in closer, her experiences become your own:

wren’s song
so different now
without you

August moon
the cricket throb
in me too

The landscape has a way of opening up its breathtaking beauty to those who are willing to wait and observe:

whole as the snakeskin surrender

birds shift
in the moody sky
one body, one mind

a day circling
the one tree he knows

And just when it seems this rugged hideaway could not reveal anything more, night settles in and displays an entirely new vision to behold.

final light
and no clouds left
to hold it

All in all, this was a satisfyingly themed collection geared toward the emotional aspects of living in a region of timeless beauty, surprise and wonder while using simple language to fully envelop the senses to experience of striking yet delicate images and culture of New Mexico.


Second Place

Quendryth Young. The Whole Body Singing. Alstonville, NSW, Australia, 2007.

The Whole Body Singing by Quendryth Young is a powerful collection from beginning to end as she shares the natural experiences from her homeland of Australia. Young named the book from her introduction haiku:

grey butcher bird
the whole body

. . . which allows her readers to experience the gravity of her writing from the very start. And no matter the page, Young has an ease at sharing the ordinary and making it extraordinary!

high tide
beach and sea exchange

dawn surf . . .
a swimmer’s arm
crosses the horizon

silky oak
a gust releases
last night’s shower

She even adds in a bit of humor:

town cemetery
a peppercorn shades
old enemies

uphill . . .
an old man carrying
his dachshund

But no matter the haiku experience, Young writes each with what seems like such ease, and presents them with such simplicity as in:

tranquil lake
a duck sends ripples
to my feet

water’s edge
the ocean overflows
his bucket

As John Bird states in the foreword, Young is “a disciplined wordsmith with an impressive armoury of poetic skills.” The Whole Body Singing will have you coming back again and again as Young hints to within her collection:

again and again
to this rock


Third Place

Roberta Beary. The Unworn Necklace. Liverpool, UK: Snapshot Press, 2007.

The Unworn Necklace by Roberta Beary is a completely different collection than most have or will experience. Beary takes us on a journey of emotions through the close relationships with family members in her life, childrearing, marriage, divorce, illness and more. It is certainly a book that will have you reading from cover to cover and reflecting upon the heavy nature of the haiku.

Two very poignant haiku in from the beginning of the collection alert the reader to a deeply-felt sadness in Beary’s life:

the empty place
inside me
. . . wild lupine

on my finger
the firefly puts out
its light

. . . and then are granted permission to advance to the frontlines of a brewing divorce, a flurry of angry feelings:

hating him
between bites
of unripe plums

But as time goes on, Beary comes to terms with events, even finds humor in her ex’s new wife, and explores dating again as indicated here:

first date—
the little pile
of anchovies

third date—
the slow drift of the rowboat
in deep water

Other trials come her way, but by the end of the collection, Beary notes there is a glimmer of hope that life will have many grand moments just waiting for her as time passes on:

empty room
a teacup holds
the light


Honorable Mention (tie):

Matt Morden. Stumbles in Clover. Liverpool, UK: Snapshot Press, 2007.

The eye-catching title of Max Morden’s collection, Stumbles in Clover, causes the reader to stumble for a moment, too, before rushing headlong into his haiku like a bumblebee into ripe clover; however, the cover art plainly boasts to the beholder that Morden is a lover of nature, and has a keen eye for noticing details. A few pages into the book, we read the stunning piece behind the title:

a bumblebee
stumbles in clover

. . . and even more gripping is this haiku on death. In a few powerful lines, the reader’s breath is taken away, a heavy sadness descends upon the heart, and a pause for reflection is certainly required.

mountain wind
the stillness of a lamb
gathering crows

A bright, vivid image of beauty lightens the spirit with this haiku:

caught in
the red kite’s tail
day’s end

Deviating from the seriousness of death, a call for renewal is in the air with these cheerful three-liners:

winter solstice
the flock of starlings
takes a new shape

new year’s day
bleaching work shirts
back to white

Morden shares moments in a such a way to make the ordinary, extraordinary as in the piece below. No matter the page, the images brought forth from each poem is a delight! Readers will be eagerly awaiting the next collection.

winter moon
a pregnant Friesian
paces the byre


Gary Hotham. Missed Appointment: Pittsburgh, PA: Lilliput Review, 2007.

Missed Appointment by Gary Hotham is a quaint collection of only fifteen haiku, but readers should not be deceived by the small size of this mini-chapbook. Each haiku tucked within its pages is striking and poignant.

farewell party—
the sweetness of the cake
hard to swallow

Another farewell haiku is presented later in the book, as if Hotham is exiting a once beloved time in his life, or someone he loves dearly is departing:

farewell dinner—
more hot coffee poured
into what’s left

. . . and an even more defining moment:

Dad’s funeral—
the same knot
in my tie

The ability to be selective with the haiku presented is what made this collection so grand. Readers will enjoy revisiting the haiku and re-examining the experiences behind these exquisite haiku moments.


Best Translation:

Kayoko Hashimoto. The Rabbit In The Moon. Tokyo, Japan: Kadokawashoten, 2007.

The Rabbit In The Moon is a collection of haiku written between 1987 and the summer of 2005 by Japanese haijin, Kayoko Hashimoto. In the tradition of Shiki, the “sketch of life” poems in this beautiful book reflect Ms. Kayoko’s haiku exchanges with poets from Japan, Germany, Italy, the British Isles, Australia, and America. Of particular interest to HSA members might be her poems written while in Washington, D.C. as the guest of poet Kristen Deming and her father, who is the former Ambassador to Japan.

At Deming’s Residence

In the spring sunbeams
in a living room . . . the reflection
of the pond sways

the residence of the chargé
up on the hill

written with Kristen Deming and Francine Porad, a past president of HSA

The title, The Rabbit In The Moon, recalls Raymond Roseliep’s collection of the same name and, like the poems in his collection, Ms. Kayoko’s poems abound in compassion and good will. The image is one which Hashimoto explains “comes from a picture of a rabbit pounding rice in the moon”, which is on a “Kyoto Minoya lacquer incense container” designed by her grandfather as a New Year’s gift for the Year of the Rabbit in 1915. She inherited this container from her mother and carries it with her on all her journeys. The image of a rabbit in the moon comes from one of the Jataka tales in which Buddha rewards the rabbit for his extreme act of charity toward another by drawing a rabbit on the moon that will be visible to all. Is The Rabbit In The Moon then a of symbol of Hashimoto’s own charitable mission as haiku emissary?

Even to Rome
I bring along the rabbit
in the moon

English woods—
is that Peter Rabbit

Many of the poems are reminiscent of poems by classic haiku poets such as Bash?, Issa, Buson, and Shiki. Here are a few examples of the poet’s English translations of her Japanese language haiku:

Bird Influenza

Heaps of chickens
going on the road to hell
spring mist

On friendly terms
with mosquitoes . . . living alone
I rub India ink

With a white wake
the boat goes toward
a hazy island

Straws in glasses
facing this way and that
summer has come

A silver knife
long fingers peel
the foreign pear

In the postscript to this lovely book (which opens from right to left in the Japanese manner) Ms. Kayoko writes, “Nowadays, haiku has spread across the world. Haiku reflects the shine and tone of life in the universe. Confronted with the beauty of a mountain, river, trees or plants, and recording it with ultimate brevity: that is haiku. Haiku goes straight to the heart.” This is especially true of the haiku in her own collection, The Rabbit In The Moon.


Best Anthology:

Jim Kacian, Editor. Big Sky: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2006. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2007.

It is always a pleasure to jump right into one of Jim Kacian’s Red Moon Anthologies. Each selected work is nominated and then voted upon to grace the pages of these yearly collections by a select editorial staff. Due to the growing number of first-class haiku journals and competitions available to the community, the final word on placing only those ‘best of the best’ haiku, senryu, haibun, and essays is a difficult yet rewarding annual task.

Big Sky is exceptionally pleasing due to the superb content and layout of the book itself. It features over 150 of the best haijin published today! Kacian’s editorial juices were certainly flowing when it came to formatting this lovely anthology, and his time and attention to detail paid off! Choosing a few select pieces from Big Sky to feature is almost impossible, and that is why the 2006 volume is such a treasure.

big sky
the uncertain legs
of the foal

This year’s anthology was titled after Tom Painting’s powerful contribution. Just from the first line, Painting reminds his readers of how large and overwhelming the world can be especially for the younger and more fragile generation.

Annie Bachini’s haiku reflects the gravity of this big sky collection as a whole as the essence of all the chosen pieces fill the reader’s thoughts with so many unique experiences. Everyone has felt the pull of inertia upon their bodies, and this collection will certainly pull you in and devouring every word!

lurching to a halt—
the weight of the bus
inside my body


Best Haibun:

W. F. Owen. Small Events. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2007.

small events by w. f. owen is just that, a collection of short haibun capturing times in his life like cherished photographs, and placed carefully into an album. This collection of haibun is in chronological order from boyhood to adulthood, commemorating all of the little twists and turns the journey of life takes you on. owen’s book is carefully constructed, cleanly formatted, pleasing to the eye, and the accompanying haiku fit perfectly with each shared memory.




The purpose of the Haiku Society of America's Merit Book Awards is to recognize the best haiku and related books published in a given year in the English language. Every year sees a fresh crop of fine individual collections, anthologies, translations, critical studies and innovative forms.

In the past, the HSA Merit Book awards were partially supported by a memorial gift. Leroy Kanterman, cofounder of the Haiku Society of America, made a gift to support the first place award in memory of his wife Mildred Kanterman. See the archives of Merit Book Awards.

The Merit Book Awards competition is open to the public. Books must have been published in the previous year and must clearly contain a printed previous year copyright. A member, author, or publisher may submit or nominate more than one title. At least 50 percent of the book must be haiku, senryu, or haibun, or prose about these subjects (books mostly of tanka, for example, are not eligible). HSA will also consider collections that have only appeared in an e-book/digital book format. Two print copies of the digital book may be sent by the publisher. Books published by HSA officers are eligible for this award. Books published by the national HSA organization, however, are not eligible.

Winners by Year (with judges' comments):

2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998 | 1997 | 1996 | 1995 | 1994 | 1993 | 1992 | 1991 | 1990 | 1989 | 1988 | 1987 | 1985 | 1983 | 1981 | 1978 | 1975 |

See the contest rules for entering the next Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards competition.