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Judges' Commentary for the Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku Competition

Commetary is not available for all years.

Commentary by year: 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998 | 1997 | 1996 | 1995 | 1994 | 1993 | 1992 | 1991 | 1990


Judges' Commentary for 2021


Tom Clausen
Sandi Pray

Judges' Commentary for 2020


Elizabeth Crocket
Michael Dylan Welch

Judges' Commentary for 2019


Brad Bennett
Hannah Mahoney

Judges' Commentary for 2018


Susan Antolin, Walnut Creek, CA
Charlotte Digregorio , Winnetka, IL

Judges' Commentary for 2017


Linda Papanicolaou
Brad Bennett

Judges' Commentary for 2016


Alison Woolpert, Santa Cruz, CA
Joan Iversen Goswell, Valencia, PA

Judges' Commentary for 2015


Aubrie Cox, Taylorville, IL
Mike Rehling, Presque Isle, MI

Judges' Commentary for 2014


Rick Black, Arlington, VA
Raffael de Gruttola, Natick, MA

Judges' Commentary for 2013


Mary Stevens, Hurley, New York
John Stevenson, Nassau, New York

Judges' Commentary for 2012

2012 Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku Competition

Geoffrey Van Kirk and Patricia Doyle Van Kirk
New York, New York

Judges’ General Comments

Haiku written by secondary school students often exhibit some divergent qualities. The poems can soothe, or they may startle. They can strike out in fresh directions, or they may tread familiar paths. They can be in tune with nature or seem wholly absorbed in self. Sometimes they are subtle; sometimes they are really in your face. That is to say, the poems are a good deal like the poets who pen them.

The 457 poems presented to the judges this year in the Nicholas Virgilio Memorial Contest featured this great divergence in topic, treatment, and tone. We took real pleasure in reading them and thank all the poets for their efforts and involvement. Quite a few poems zoomed in on homely topics; many depicted scenes shared with just a single parent or presented the things left behind by a grandparent. The potency of such felt moments of absence was often quite clear, the more so when emotions were evoked in true haiku style rather than expressed or explained. Still, a number of poems lacked the restraint needed in this area. Some student poets chose to tell rather than show, thereby limiting the readers' ability to enter into the poem and explore the feelings inherent in the moment.

After reading the entries on our own, we compared our choices and found there were nearly two dozen poems that made the first cut. Quite a few of these were joint favorites. We conferred; we sifted. In the end a half dozen poems had the spark and the allure to earn our votes as winners for this year's contest. We congratulate these six winners and offer our individual comments on each poem.

Geoff Van Kirk and Patricia Doyle Van Kirk

• • •

winter dusk
the crows
clotting the wind

Olivia Babuka Black, 14, Grade 8
The Paideia School, Atlanta, Georgia

This short poem summons us to look and to listen. The images are both delicate and stark. In the winter, that in-between moment, when last light ebbs, can have an elusive beauty. But here, even if the traceries of bare branch against sky seem feathery and pure, the majority of the poem summons a whoosh of sound which suppresses the visual delicacy of nightfall. The whirl of wind is thick enough that crows can congeal it into masses of black and noise. Not even mentioned in the poem, but still loud in our ears, is the racket the birds make as they caw and circle. The poet's choice of the word "clotting" here is powerful. It is a wonderful alliterative fit with "crows," and the open vowels of the two words together also suggest, as you say them aloud, the round clumps that are forming in air. However, the use of the verb in the poem also perplexes. Is wind "thick" enough to clot? Is the verb too figurative or metaphoric? While we can pause to explore the image and urge it to make sense, it ultimately succeeds and swirls us along in its wake, tingling with ominous power in the coming darkness. -gvk

There is a wonderful tangle of natural imagery here, the merg- ing of "winter dusk," "crows," and the "wind." Where the seasonal reference conjures up images of the stillness of the impending darkness, the appearance of the birds, and not just any birds, but luminous, black crows, breaks the scene and the silence. And because these creatures of the air are so agile and perhaps so numerous, they seem to have power over the very wind itself, "clotting" it with their numbers and their flight. The combination is unusual and magical. -pdvk

• • •

at the funeral
headphones hidden
beneath my sweater

Dino Romeo, 14, Grade 9
Sage High School, Newport Coast, California

The author here has a secret. At a time of life when families tend to band together and share communal pain, the poet may be about to tune out. It is easy to leap to the conclusion that, by the very mention of earphones, the speaker is not engaged at this solemn event. Although it's possible the headphones represent a callous wish to be elsewhere, there are other possibilities. This could be a poem about discretion; what's hidden under the sweater may stay hidden out of respect for the moment. Or there may be music cued up which connected the poet and the departed, and, by donning the headphones, our poet would escape into rather than escape from the moment. In any case, there's an appealing honesty to the poet's revelation of what's hiding behind the sweater. The haiku invites us to explore the ways, as individuals and as families, we approach what's momentous in life. -gvk

This poem offers a wonderful juxtaposition, pairing the image of a "funeral" and all the associations it conjures up for the reader with the subsequent, unexpected image of the "hidden" music "headphones." So we imagine the narrator present, not just at a funeral, but at "the" funeral, which implies it is for someone special or important. And in the midst of what is generally a solemn, dignified, even ancient, ritual, modern technology intrudes. Is music being played secretly as a distraction? Does it provide some comfort? Is the speaker only here out of obligation and, dare I say it, perhaps a little bored? Or have the headphones been left on inadvertently? Is there music even playing? -pdvk

• • •

summer waves
leave belly button sand
in my shower

Alex Manolakas, 18, Grade 12
Sage High School, Newport Coast, California

Those summer waves—they're powerful. Ride one wrong and, thunk, it tumbles you to the bottom. You come up sputtering, anointed with salt and sand. And then you do it again! In this poem, the waves reemerge powerful, almost personified. They reappear at home and seem to laugh as the poet does a last scrub. The remnants from a day at the shore, they cling! In the poem the beach sand goes toward the drain. But what about the sunburn? What about the echoes of waves crashing toward the beach and the sibilant rush they make sliding back the sandy slopes? It's all still with us long after the sun has set. Through a homely, amusing image, this haiku immerses us in the whole magic of a seaside day. -gvk

I like the way this poem captures an experience most of us have had, coming inside after a day at the beach, sun-soaked and water-logged, mellow and contented, but wanting to hit the showers first thing to wash off all that pesky sand. Sea sand, while fun to walk and play in on the beach, feels all the more uncomfortable the further we get from the shore. This writer offers us a playful take on this common scene with the use of the alliterative image of "belly button sand," which is reminiscent of childhood, and also manages to link the recent past of the beach visit to the sandy aftermath with the "summer waves" that "leave" the sand in the "shower." Outdoors effectively merges with indoors. The choice of the proprietary word "my," rather than "the," with "shower" is also intriguing, implying that the trip back from the beach is a return to the comforts of home, or at least to a familiar spot. -pdvk

• • •

grey sky
in big puddles

Siani Macklin, 13, Grade 7
Sacred Heart School, Camden, New Jersey

This simple poem speaks of the drab and damp. As each line progresses, the poem widens a bit until the last line spreads out in imitation of the puddles it describes. But the poem is not just a portrait in monochrome. It seems to be about perception as much as it is about precipitation. While many of us bow in response to falling rain, the grammar of the poem says that puddles are the canvas, but the leaden sky is the subject and story of the last two lines. It's a bit of an inversion, isn't it, looking down to see what's up? The sky, be it boiling grey masses or flannel blankets, is at our feet. And if the puddles cover pale concrete, will the heavens look the same as when the puddles blanket playground asphalt? Does a falling drop spread rings? It's an imperfect view, this reflected vision of sky, and certainly an impermanent one. But who's to say we'd get closer to the truth of clouds by looking up? The poem here acknowledges that we may sometimes come to know a thing by its reflection and by what it brings to pass. -gvk

This haiku poem caught my attention immediately and left me pondering what "grey sky" in "big puddles" really looks like. As a long-time puddle splasher myself (the bigger the puddle, the better, by the way), I realized I couldn't quite imagine it, probably because any opportunity to view the reflection of the sky was lost with all that splashing. The writer reminded me that stopping to observe the beauty of this natural phenomenon was as important as playing in it. And the scaffolding of three lines, starting with one word, moving to two, and then three, knits the three different but connected images of the haiku delicately together for the reader. -pdvk

• • •

night on the lake
I touch
the moon

Abbey Shannon, 13, Grade 7
The Paideia School, Atlanta, Georgia

Here, in simple words, the poet presents a scene of quietness and delicacy. The two sections of the poem are well set out and sonically distinct. The hard consonant sounds of both "night" and "lake" make for a definitive beginning. In the hush of a still night by the water, all sounds are amplified. If you were in a canoe, a light bump of paddle on hull would resound the way the "k" sound clobbers the long "a" in the word lake. But the poet, alert and alive, hears no jarring sound. Instead, the last two lines present a mystical moment. In touching the moon, perhaps with finger or paddle brought to still water, the poet takes advantage of the quiet to make this delicate connection. The long, open vowels help to stretch out the phrase and highlight the moment of intimacy. -gvk

At first this poem appears to describe a fairly normal sight in nature, the moon's reflection in water. A closer look shows there is actually a lot more going on here. Is the speaker reaching down to graze the lake water with a gentle hand to "touch" the reflected "moon"? Or is this about standing on tiptoes and stretching towards the unreachable sky? Or is this, in fact, suggesting a figurative image about someone having achieved something great by soaring to the moon's heights? Or trying to? And what brought the speaker here? Is the speaker alone? Or with others? I wonder. In just eight words, this appealing haiku presents a scene open to many possible interpretations. -pdvk

• • •

stair of roots
I step
on each knot

Ainura Johnson, 13, Grade 7
The Paideia School, Atlanta, Georgia

While this haiku, with its short second line, has sort of stuttery line breaks, that staccato writing works in its favor. This is because the poet has depicted a story that is equally full of jarring motion. In addition, the succession of clipped consonants in all three lines gives a wonderful sonic echo to the painful progress of footsteps along this root-bound path. Is the poet going up or down? Each way would have its own challenges. What seems more important is the poet's own determination to take the roughest route. By tramping on each knot, the poet hits the hard spots. Even if the goal is to get the maximum traction on what could be slippery terrain, the poet has com- mitted to the more difficult path. Sometimes there's no better choice. -gvk

This haiku, aptly reflective of its meaning, seems to be structured very much like the actual steps of a staircase, with one three-word, three-syllable step on top of another, separated by a smaller, two-word, two-syllable riser. Beyond that, it works on many levels. The roots may have sprawled across a staircase in the park, or they may have formed a natural one over time. The inclusion of the human "I" in the scene reminds us that nature was there first and may sometimes impede human progress, in this case, up or down a staircase, or it may do the exact opposite, providing a means to assist us on our journey. It's all part of the natural order. Interestingly, the speaker here seems up for the challenge of overcoming any obstacles, in fact, almost going out of the way to "step on each knot" in the series of roots. Perhaps it is an inviting challenge. This haiku is certainly inviting. -pdvk

• • •

About our judges:

Geoffrey Van Kirk, a teacher, photographer, haiku poet and haiku workshop leader, has taught English to middle school students at the United Nations International School for twenty years. He is one of the two organizers of the Student Haiku Contest, an annual poetry competition sponsored by UNIS for students writing haiku in Japanese and/or English. He has published haiku in a number of journals and has been a member of HSA for the past year.

Patricia Doyle Van Kirk is a teacher at the United Nations International School and has served as Head of the English Department there for well over two decades. A Senior Examiner for the International Baccalaureate program and IB workshop leader, she teaches middle school and high school, and both she and her students have won prizes in haiku poetry competitions.



Judges' Commentary for 2011

2011 Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku Competition
Judges: Francine Banworth, Dubuque, Iowa & Tom Painting, Atlanta, Georgia

Judges’ Comments

November sky
a lone seed drifts
on wispy wings

Martine Thomas, 14, Grade 9
Wilson Commencement High School
Rochester, NY

November is the eleventh month of the year; the word itself suggests a feeling of longing as our eyes are directed toward the wide expanse of sky. Each line is balanced with four well-chosen syllables and a controlled rhythm that moves the reader through the poem. One can only wonder at the origin of the seed. Is it from a meadow, a vacant city lot? The November sky foreshadows winter, the imagery of which often centers on grief, distance, loss, and at times serenity. There is a vulnerability suggested in this haiku, but also a hint of hope. Will this seed come to rest on fertile ground? Will it fulfill its promise? The poet has fulfilled hers/his in this well-crafted haiku which gives us something to ponder.

August night
eau de rain
drifts on the wind

Martine Thomas, 14, Grade 9
Wilson Commencement High School
Rochester, NY

This haiku engages our senses--sight, sound, smell, touch, perhaps even taste. "Eau de rain" is in and of itself a lovely expression. In translation from the French, "eau de" may be interpreted as "scent of." The use of the French language adds a hint of mystery: nature's perfume, or the scent of some human presence? Together with the opening line and the well-chosen verb "drifts" in line three, the poem flirts with the notion of change, a shift in the weather and for that matter the season that can be perceived through the senses.

AP Physics
my eyes

Heather Zadra, 18, Grade 12
Sage Hill School
Newport Coast, CA

One measure of a successful senryu is to elicit from the reader a near instantaneous response. With a delightful and effective use of juxtaposition, there is no need to guess what this young author experiences as the brain tries to navigate advanced study in physics. If physics is the study of matter and its motion through space-time, then the poet has taken a moment along the continuum and made a precise and valid observation, the meaning of which registered with us at the speed of light.

story time
under the covers
the night's warm whispers

Mariah Wilson, 14, Grade 9
Sage Hill School
Newport Coast, CA

The alliterative quality of the words chosen by the poet is admired in this senryu. Upon reflection, Tom found himself remembering the bedtime stories told to him as a child and in more recent times having the pleasure of telling some of those same stories to his own children. The ritual of story time is timeless. The middle line of this poem serves as a pivot. It works simultaneously with the first and third lines and evokes a feeling of seamlessness. The poet is aware of the special relationship between the storyteller and listener, a quiet moment of warm intimacy as the noise of the day fades away to sleep and dreams.

—Francine Banworth & Tom Painting, Judges


Judges' Commentary for 2010

2010 Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku Competition
Judges: Janelle Barrera and Fran Masat

Judges’ General Comments

Presented with 1,575 student haiku, we decided to read all on our own and then compare notes. In our top twenty picks, we each chose two of the same haiku. That was a real start! From there, our next top 20 produced the remaining four winners. While there is no particular order in the list of winners, the first two listed are the first two haiku we chose.

The students wrote about insightful moments related to nature, friends, family, and pets. Human nature took precedence over nature, per se, yet it is always there setting the scene. These are our top six choices, but there were many more in close contention. Thanks to each of the young authors.

• • •

autumn rain
rinsing the color
from the leaves

Lauren Winters, 18
Hilliard Davidson High School, Grade 12
Hilliard, OH

That a storm has downed leaves is not unusual. But here, in a refreshing manner, the author notes the more sensitive loss, that of color. More broadly, the haiku illustrates the notion of age diminishing the quality of life and that resonates with all of us.

cold night
the phone call
from a disowned sister

Hanna Amireh, 17
School of the Arts, Grade 12
Rochester, NY

We’ve all waited for a phone call. As cold night sets the tone and scene, the pivotal second line provides an almost proverbial structure: “the phone call from. . . .” That the call is from a disowned sister sheds light on an almost universal vulnerability – on both ends of the phone. What happens next will reveal much about ourselves and how we relate to such events.

on the window sill
next to the box of ashes
Jiro’s dog collar

Michelle Hosoda, 17
Sage Hill School, Grade 12
Newport Coast, CA

A first impression may be that of a memorial to companionship, but there is more. The ashes are not identified, though “next to” does hint at the link between them and Jiro. Instead, it is the empty circle of the collar that evokes a desire to look beyond the sill and glimpse what that linkage may represent.

rural Peru
5 lollypops
for a handmade bracelet

Caitlin Sullivan, 18
Sage Hill School, Grade 12
Newport Coast, CA

“5 lollypops” seems out of place in rural Peru until we re-think the trade proposed. The contrasts of machined candy to rural handicraft and of dissolving sweetness to tangible artifact provide deeper insight into the nature of the scene. By comparing the differing wants of two cultures, the haiku thus provides a resonant view of our global society.

Grandad’s funeral
she wonders
whether she looks fat

Alice Liu, 14
Sage Hill School, Grade 9
Newport Coast, CA

At most gatherings, there always seems to be someone who, obviously, is wondering about themselves. Maybe the thought is real, or perhaps it’s unconscious self-protection from the truths of the gathering, in this case death. We are held until the last word before we are given a clue as to which. Even then, it is our interpretation – but isn’t it always?

under the shade
of sunflowers,
my mouse decays

Laura Hansen, 18
Capital High School, Grade 12
Boise, ID

So many things can happen in the shade of sunflowers. Here, in a straight forward and void of melancholy manner, it is the slow sureness of decay that illuminates that shade. In a broader and almost celebratory sense, life rises above death.

—Janelle Barrera and Fran Masat, Judges


Judges' Commentary for 2009

2009 Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku Competition
Judges: Kristen Deming and Bill Kenney

Judges’ General Comments

As the judges in this year’s Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku Competition, we set out hoping that we would find a new and fresh perspective, the “voice of youth,” from the young poets who participated. We have not been disappointed. We have taken a look at the future of haiku, and it is working.
The judges were struck by the variety, the sharpness of observation, the richness of imagination, and the formal discipline that characterized much of what we were privileged to read. We are pained but pleased when we reflect on the quality of many of the poems that did not make the final cut.

Where our young poets stumbled, it was often out of a failure to trust in their own experience and perceptions. A forced effort at the dramatic, often edging over into the melodramatic, was a common problem. And the principle of juxtaposition central to the haiku form was not grasped with equal clarity by all contestants: some merely spread a sentiment over three lines, and a few simply offered a list of three fragments.

But, above all, the poets and their work exemplified an energy and vitality that can only portend well for the form we love. Some of these poets, we are sure, will be heard from again.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to serve as your judges this year. Our thanks go to the sponsors of the contest and to the teachers who supported and encouraged the participants. We acknowledge and commend the energy, the spirit, and the promise of all the contestants. And we congratulate the authors of the prize-winning poems.

• • •

winter night
cracks in the floorboards

Mary Rice, 16
School of the Arts, Grade 10
Rochester, NY

In this spare and objective poem, the poet invites the reader to explore, through imagination and memory, a range of possible meanings. Is the poet alone on this winter night? Surely there is nothing like a winter night to create a sense of isolation. The winter season brings snow and ice, but it also makes itself felt in subtle, often unnoticed ways. The poet detects the presence of winter in a place we do not expect to find it: inside the home, where we feel enclosed and protected from what is happening outside. But even here, beneath our feet, the floorboards are expanding and contracting minutely within the larger flow of seasons. Standing alone in the last line, “widen” suggests an unwanted opening through which, we imagine, anything might enter. How weak, when all is said and done, are our defenses against the elements.

quiet night
the gazebo
dressed with snow

Meredith Jeffers, 16
School of the Arts, Grade 10
Rochester, NY

In this haiku, the long vowel sounds help to create a feeling of calm, bringing us directly within the sensory experience of the poet. Looking through a window at the gazebo, we see it dressed as though it were some kind of theatrical set. The fresh snow has transformed the landscape, blending everything into an elegant harmony of white shapes against the darkness. In the absence of wind on this quiet night, the snow lies undisturbed. It is as though the scene exists entirely for our visual pleasure. It is the quiet itself that has been made visible.

saying goodbye
the river flowing
one way

Cindy Truong, 13
School of the Arts, Grade 8
Rochester, NY

The young poet clearly understands that in haiku the juxtaposition and interaction of images suggest more than is directly stated. Here the passing human moment is contrasted to ongoing nature. Saying goodbye, the poet is at the same time aware of the river’s powerful current. We do not know if the parting is temporary or final. Especially when we are young, but not only then, we like to believe that no goodbye is truly final. But our poet has perceived in nature a hint of the irreversible: the “one way” flow that unites the natural movement and the human moment. How many times can we step into the same river?

tornado drill
the hallways full
of laughter

Nikki Savary, 18
Wahlert High School, Grade 12
Dubuque, IA

The two parts of the poem form an unlikely combination. A tornado is not a laughing matter, but for young people escaping class for a short time in a large group of their peers, such a disaster may seem unimaginable. The drill has become a social event. A tornado is a force of nature, but so is a hallway full of kids. And what kids have ever taken a tornado drill, or fire drill, or any kind of drill, as seriously as they should, or, anyway, as seriously as the grown-ups think they should? In this poem, we see the carefree, unbounded optimism of young people. And the elegant pivot around the single word “full” exhibits a formal control of which many an established haijin could be proud.

the old man’s beard
frozen in place

Riley Siwiec, 12
School of the Arts, Grade 7
Rochester, NY

You have to like the boldness, quirkiness, and impishness of this young poet’s imagination. In lines 2-3 we find an extravagance that could easily trip up an experienced poet. But it works here because nature has its own extravagances, and they include the extremes of winter in a cold climate. A beard frozen in place? Not every day, but not unheard of, either, and that’s the sort of winter this poet is talking about. Moreover, these lines serve a further function as an imagistic definition of line 1: Haven’t we always suspected that this is what Old Man Winter looks like?

new snow
my footprints
follow me

Martine Thomas, 12
School of the Arts, Grade 7
Rochester, NY

How many haiku have gazed at footprints in the snow? Here the poet has discovered, and put into practice, and important principle of haiku: that clarity, simplicity, and freshness of vision can make most things new. The first line points us forward, in the direction of the unbroken snow, setting up the look back over the shoulder that is the business of the next two lines. The near naivete of expression in these lines suggests a moment of pure, delighted awareness. We recognize the voice of the playful, childlike spirit, pleased in this moment to leave its mark. That we always leave a trail is a truth that may not be quite so gleefully accepted, however, as the poet grows older.

—Kristen Deming and Bill Kenney, Judges


Judges' Commentary for 2008

2008 Nicholas A. Virgilio Haiku Contest Winners
Judges: Tony Pupello & Pamela Miller Ness

We would like to express our appreciation to all the young poets who submitted to this year’s contest and to the teachers who instructed them in the craft and special characteristics of haiku. It was a privilege to be invited to enter their haiku moments and a pleasure to share their imagery and language. Each of us first read and re-read the 85 submissions numerous times; we then met to discuss our preliminary selections and to undertake the challenging task of selecting six poems (unranked) that we consider most exemplary of fine haiku. And it was a challenging task. Many of the entries were sophisticated in their use of imagery and juxtaposition, and were very proficiently crafted. As with very fine haiku and senryu, many were layered and functioned on multiple levels. Of course, while any finalist must exhibit many of the salient characteristics of haiku, we also looked for poems that surprised or delighted us and expanded our experience through imagery, language, and/or emotional resonance. As R. H. Blyth wrote, “A haiku is the expression of a temporary enlightenment, in which we see into the life of things” (Haiku, volume 1).

winter stars
my father paints over
the old white walls

Asha Bishi, age 18
School of the Arts, 12th grade
Rochester, NY

The poet subtly creates multiple layers of juxtaposition: interior and exterior; the white of snow, stars, and walls; and a single human being within the vast universe. S/he captures essential elements of classical Japanese haiku, yugen (mystery) and sabi (essential aloneness) and leaves the reader with an unfinished narrative. It is the reader’s job to enter into this powerful and mysterious haiku to complete the story.

autumn night
one brick
darker than the rest

Gracie Elliot, age 12
School of the Arts, 7th grade
Rochester NY

This poet also sets the scene with a kigo, autumn night, suggesting the various connotations of autumn; a time of change, shorter days, and the onset of cold weather. S/he effectively juxtaposes the vastness of a night sky with a single human-made brick and the darkness of the night with one dark brick. The combined imagery of the night sky and the fact that all the bricks are dark give this poem a deeply melancholy mood. There is no light except for the illumination of the poet’s keen observation and beautifully crafted language, the crispness of the night so carefully reflected in the repetition of t’s and k’s.

first kiss—
the tingle of coke
down her throat

Lauren Fresch, age 17
Perkins High School, grade 12
Sandusky, OH

This is an excellent example of a contemporary senryu: ingenuous, humorous, and at the same time deeply moving. How perfectly the poet captures first love through such specific sensory imagery, a kiss shared over a coke, both of which tingle in her throat. This poet should also be commended for his/her carefully crafted language: the alliteration of kiss and coke, the onomatopoeic use of kiss and tingle, and the assonance of coke and throat.

scent of spring
my sister paints
the rising sun

Asha Bishi, age 18
School of the Arts, grade 12
Rochester, NY

This is an excellent example of how what might be a trite kigo expression, “scent of spring,” is used as the springboard to a delightful, lovely and spare moment. A moment of fragrant breezes combined with the lightness and brightness of the rising sun—a moment that may be overdone—is turned into a real moment of spring bursting forth found in the act of “sister painting.” This poem turns on the unselfishness of the author—sharing this moment of creation with her/his sister, and sharing sister’s creation with us. And this glorious moment of rebirth and renewal is presented in very simple, understated terms.

silent graveyard
one tombstone
with a crow

Alexa Navarez, age 12
School of the Arts, grade 7
Rochester, NY

A deeply evocative poem, this piece resonates in the absence of sound. A “silent graveyard” is a commonplace and perhaps overdone image. After all, what is a graveyard if not silent, if not the absence of sound and the activity of life? Yet oft-times we, the living, disturb the graveyard’s silence with our own intrusions. Perhaps uncomfortable we chatter, we joke, we stir. In this piece the poet has succeeded in capturing and reinforcing the disturbing silences. The normally rambunctious and extremely loud crow sits silently in stillness atop a tombstone—forcing us, the readers, to put aside all and become part of that most uncomfortable silence.

light footsteps
across the snow
his alcohol breath

Desire Collier, age 12
School of the Arts, grade 7
Rochester, NY

The lightness of the snow, and the heaviness of alcoholism. These are two elements the poet deftly weaves together for us in this finely crafted poem. At first, we are confronted with an air of untruth, anathema in haiku. How could anyone who’s drunk step lightly? Drunks are heavy, have uncontrollably heavy movements, and are not graceful in the least. Aren’t they? Once again the reader is called, pulled, into the narrative. This is not an attempt at a desktop haiku, an image written because it fits right in the author’s imagination. This is a sad piece about an all too-common disease. The author is painfully aware of how graceful, how light an alcoholic can appear on the surface. Yes, the drunk passes over almost unnoticed, certainly his light footsteps do not give him away – but his breath does.

—Tony Pupello & Pamela Miller Ness, Judges


Judges' Commentary for 2007

2007 Nicholas A. Virgilio Haiku Contest Winners
Judges: Ruth Eshbaugh and Susan Delaney

Haiku and senryu in their brevity are an art to master. Most of the entries to the Nicholas A. Virgilio Haiku Contest this year were senryu. Some missed the form of haiku or senryu altogether. Still in the entries we found again and again powerful images that showed thought and vulnerability. Should the author rewrite with some further instruction, there is potential for poignant haiku. All the submissions gave us a delightful and interesting look into the young author’s world. The scope of content ranging from the mundane to the highly unusual thus showed an attempt by the authors to look at their world fresh with eyes open, senses at alert.

beep of the monitor
reminding me . . .
to hope

Nicole Grogan, Grade 12
Wahlert High School, Dubuque, IA

There is a heart wrenching story behind this senryu, with life so precariously hanging in the balance that the author falters between despair and hope. With each heartbeat life continues. As long as there is a heartbeat there is hope. There is sense of waiting beside a bedside, held captive by the monitor, distanced by technology, but informed by it also. It is a surreal moment that anyone who has sat in that chair can slip into in a heartbeat upon reading the senryu.

the wind
her secret

Jordan Krueger, Grade 12
Wahlert High School, Dubuque, IA

The wind brings mystery into this simple senryu of two young girls sharing a secret. The very economical use of words suggests briefness. The secret is shared, the words spoken and are gone as quickly and silently and mysteriously as the wind. A secret shared is not to be repeated thus exists, but does not exist except between those who share it. An excellent expression in nature of the relationship is implied in this work. The word “taking” suggests something stolen or forbidden to share.

This senryu could also be read as someone with no one to share a secret. They speak instead into the wind, creating a profound sense of aloneness and alienation by one who holds a secret that no human ear can hear.

early spring
the willowy girl
runs around the track

Sara Dill, Grade 8
School of the Arts, Rochester, NY

You can feel the cold crisp air and the sense of determination in each step. A young girl with her life ahead of her like the new spring day is full of promise. The comparison to a willow speaks of fluidity of movement and grace; a profound enjoyable evocative image of “youth.” The rhythm of her step around a circular path is repeated in the mention of the season with its own circular rhythm.

spring morning
her jelly shoes dry
on the back porch

Zoe Christopher, Grade 9
School of the Arts, Rochester, NY

Jelly shoes stand out as a delightfully unusual but recognizable image. It evokes an array of colors, although in this haiku the color is unnamed. The smooth texture of the shoe and the suggestion of wetness or even a puddle by the use of the word “dry” repeats the smooth surface and shape of the shoes. They are empty on the porch, but someone has worn them. They suggest a story, but it is left unsaid. So much is unsaid in this timeless glimpse of the mundane invaded by the colorful shoe that it makes a very interesting senryu to ponder.

empty house
echoes of laughter
in the rotting wood

Emily Onyan, Grade 8
School of the Arts, Rochester, NY

A mood is created in this senryu with many echoes or layers. There is the sight of the empty house, the mood that emptiness creates. The smell of the rotting wood is another layer that tells us the house is old and abandoned for years. The echoes of laughter are in the present and past connecting the unauthorized visitors that explore the empty rooms with the strangers who lived there at one time. Why do we love to explore abandoned places?

Valentine’s Day
the stop light stays red
too long

Pendle Marshall-Hallmark, Grade 9
School of the Arts, Rochester, NY

Expectation good or bad, anticipation of an encounter or the dread of a long lonely day is the stuff that Valentine’s Day is made of. The color red like a stop light can’t be ignored. Even if you want the day to end or want it to last forever the feeling of stress can’t be ignored. It is the annoyance of a long red light when you are waiting for something more in life to happen but instead you are sitting in your car at a red light waiting.

—Ruth Eshbaugh and Susan Delaney, Judges


Judges' Commentary for 2005

2005 Nicholas Virgilio Haiku Contest

The judges for the 2005 competition were Michael Moore (Desoto, TX) and Charles Trumbull (Evanston, IL). To see their comments on the winning haiku, click the link for 2005  on the Judges' Commentary page.

General observations:

The judges noticed a few things about the contest entries. All winning entries are closer to senryu than haiku; that is, they deal more with human nature than with nature. None of the winning haiku used punctuation. The idea of a haiku comprising two images has been nailed home by these student poets. The contest images, in fact, were not infrequently too far apart for comprehension. Many of the entries contain a personal reference, which is normally avoided in haiku. Four of the six winners contain the word “my.” Many haiku among the entrants were about haiku, grandmothers, and small children.

Reading the work entered by poets in the Virgilio Haiku Contest was a wonderful experience. Each poet should be proud of their individual contribution to this literary event. For those of you who were not selected as winners, please continue to share your talent as writer of haiku and share your talent with others.

Alex Degus, 18, Grade 12
School of the Arts, Rochester, New York

grandma's wake
my little cousin
shakes her etch-a-sketch

grandma’s wake: Various views of life, death, and permanence are powerfully placed together in this prizewinning haiku for 2005. The adults gathered at the wake are undoubtedly observing the age-old church traditions for celebrating the end of a life, emphasizing continuities and eternities. The little cousin shows a much more transitory view of creations: one shake and they are gone, ready to be repeated.

A child’s hands upon an etch-a-sketch erase and yet draw a picture that captures the finality of death. That moment is recorded in a literary snapshot, of two cousins during their grandmother’s wake. The poet fills the scene with the motion of youthful innocence and the motionless nature of death. Yet life for the two cousins’ creativity lives on. “Little cousin shakes her etch-a-sketch” and a poet shares a few insightful words.

Giulia Perucchio, 14, Grade 9
School of the Arts, Rochester, New York

caught in my brush
long strands

memories: For the writer what may have once been just “my brush” has acquired a special significance because of the “long strands.” The question now arises; who does the hair belong to? If it is the hair of the poet, the significance of its length may remind the poet of younger days. If it is not the poet’s, one can surmise that the poet has shared the brush with someone whose hair is longer than the poet’s. We are left to ponder the question. I love a mystery.

What would be more likely to induce deep personal thought and memories than the repetitive brushing of hair at night. My mind’s eye sees a young lady sitting before a mirror in her dressing gown dreamily brushing her hair and almost measuring out her life strand by strand. A wonderful image!

Allen Bartter, Age 15, Grade 10
School of the Arts, Rochester, New York

a triangle block
stuck in a square hole

pre-school: This haiku is both philosophical and very funny. There is the suggestion that if you want to get something tricky done-”a square peg in a round hole”-perhaps you need to go study the youngsters: bypass the basics and . . . just jam it in!

Here the reader is given the opportunity to take the poem at face value or rearrange the triangle block in his or her mind. The what is, or what ought to be, that is the question. The word “stuck” may cause the mind to wonder how the triangle was placed in the hole, was it forced or just placed there with ease? Does it matter? A moment in the poet’s eye lets us see that design is a state of mind. A triangle stuck in a square hole shows that a young person was exploring another way of looking at how the world works.

Kate Bosek-Sills, Age 15,Grade 10
School of the Arts, Rochester, New York

harvest moon
the homeless man's cup
filled with silver

harvest moon: In this haiku a celestial event is brought to earth. By looking down the reader sees that which glows from above, reflected in the cup of a homeless man. This haiku gives the reader a number of ideas to reflect upon. From the ethereal nature of light to the earthiness of the homeless man. The multidimensional nature of this haiku makes it a joy to read.

The homeless man’s cup is finally full, not of the one kind of silver he wishes for, but something much different. Alas, only if he is a poet will he be able to rejoice much.

Asha Bishi, Age 14, Grade 9
School of the Arts, Rochester, New York

my father
in the stubbled wheat field
scratches his beard

my father: This author employs a device of classical haiku: using an image from nature to link to and describe a human subject. Because of the two juxtaposed images, the delighted reader receives a crystal-clear portrait of a man at one with his environment.

I can see the golden “stubbled wheat field” with the evening sun hanging heavy in the western sky. The poet gives the reader a wonderful view of a landscape. A landscape touched by rays of the sun and care of his/her father’s hand.

Adrian DiMatteo, Age 14, Grade 9
School of the Arts, Rochester, New York

a fortune cookie
seals my fate

Does a person’s superstition last as long as they can remember that their belief system is alive and well playing a role in their life? I would like to think that when the poet opened a fortune cookie that fate had good things in store. The power of suggestion is illustrated in the words of this intriguing dilemma.

Many people look beyond the normal for clues to their fate or the way to conduct their lives. Sealing a fate-especially in a young person-seems excessive, and yet . . . Do you really think it is mere hyperbole that a young person would be so superstitious as to put all his/her eggs in on basket?

Judges: Michael Moore and Charles Trumbull


Judges' Commentary for 2004

Final Results of the Nick Virgilio Memorial Haiku Contest Judges: an'ya (Oregon), and kirsty karkow (Maine)

It has given us enormous pleasure, and we've felt honored to read so many haiku from so many fine upcoming young poets. For the most part, they are happy, exuberant haiku full of light-hearted energy. There is also a keen sense of place and the feeling that these are true experiences. It may be noted that none of the haiku that we have chosen use capital letters, or even much in the way of punctuation. We have looked for fresh images, juxtaposition, use of all five senses, and haiku that show rather than tell of an event or feeling, leading the reader to think more deeply. To those whose haiku do not appear below, please remember that poetry is subjective, and at another time and place, your haiku might well be the one chosen.

Our warmest congratulations to the finalists, and thank you to all those who submitted haiku, for their interest and effort. Bravo! Very respectfully, an'ya and kirsty

The Six Best Haiku

ocean shore
lost in a pile of rocks 
a seal sleeps

James Kelly, Age 17
Wahlert High School
Dubuque, IA 

kk: Considering all the varied shapes and shadows on the shore, this seal cannot be seen unless the poet is very quiet, studying the scene as words of a haiku start to form. Imagine the happiness as she/he suddenly notices a sleeping seal; this feeling of wonder conveyed to the reader. The form of the seal is indeed ìlostî, camouflaged, and this moment is very nicely rendered in classic haiku form.

an'ya: A fine zoom effect in this haiku, from the wide setting of a vast ocean shore being lost in a pile of rocks, to the last line when the writer allows us to see a sleeping seal. Just as if this seal is nestled safely in the rock arms of the sea itself. Multiple images of ocean, shore, rocks, a seal, yet all tied together in a common theme to form a complete haiku moment.


cold in church
mother and I 
move closer

Amanda White, Age 17
Wahlert High School
Dubuque, IA

kk: A successful haiku leads the reader to deeper thoughts with each reading. This one succeeds. The poet and his/her mother move closer not only physically, but possibly spiritually and emotionally as well. There is excellent us of alliteration.

an'ya: This haiku has deeper layered meaning than it appears to have at first reading. I feel the coldness perhaps of an old stone church, juxtaposed with the warmth of a mother/daughter or mother/son relationship. This could possibly have deep religious implications as well with the mother image representative of the Virgin Mary, although the author skillfully leaves it up to reader interpretation. 


summer cottage
the bullfrog 
slips from my grasp

Emily Cornish, Age 15
School of the Arts
Rochester, NY

kk: For me, this haiku tells of the hard, slippery things in life being set aside, or even lost in summertime lightness. In this case the comparative shortness of the middle line works in that it emphasizes the difficulties ( represented by the possibly warty bullfrog) that have slipped away. Nice use of ìsî sounds.

an'ya: This haiku to me is simply ìrealî, and bullfrogs are definitely ìslipperyî" creatures. I can also empathize with the writer's dismay of not being able to hold on to said frog, and yet I enjoyed the humor. So many things in life simply ìslip-awayî, which is what makes this particular piece so profound, especially having been composed by a younger author.


shifting shadows 
deep in the hills 
a dog barks

Allison McCrossen, Age 13
School of the Arts
Rochester, NY

kk: This poem presents a shaded, thought-provoking landscape . . . slightly mysterious. I like the middle line pivot which makes sense with the first and also with the final line. The use of sound, a bark, far away, makes for an eerie feeling. Here the mood is re-enforced by the image.

an'ya: Right off in line one, Iím intrigued about the ìshifting shadowsî, then line two draws me in even further, (deep into the hills), and just when Iím right on the very edge of this haiku, ìa dog barksî, startling me back into reality. Skillfully vague enough to be thereby effective as a haiku moment.


metallic taste
the cold stream spills
from my hand

Jenny Zhang, Age 16
Cedar Shaols High School
Athens, GA

kk: It is refreshing to find the underused senses of taste and touch here. Also, the readerís senses are jarred awake with the sharpness of the cold water and its acrid flavor. This well-written poem leads the mind to ponder about mountain streams, hiking and even a little philosophy about letting go when life gets bitter.

an'ya: What person has not thought this very thing when drinking from a mountain stream? The taste of pure water is so unknown to us anymore that it does taste shockingly metallic. Not to mention that mountain streams are always really ìcoldî. This is a well-crafted haiku that has juxtaposition, natural alliteration, and unbelieveably, incorporates four out of five senses, which not many old-time haiku poets are even able to do! Thereís taste, touch, sight, and the sound of the stream as well.


my copper wish

Elizabeth Hetherington, Age 16
School of the Arts
Rochester, NY

kk: In a novel and arresting way we know that this poet has made a wish on a copper coin and tossed it into a pool of carp.We also know that a carp in investigating the coin. All in 5 words. I wonder, as maybe the writer wonders, will this affect the outcome of the wish? I agree with an'ya that another image would perfect the verse . . . juxtaposing with this very original and already intriguing image.

an'ya: This is a haiku that some would say has bent the rules. However, it does show us as readers a very unique way of looking at an otherwise common situation, which is what a successful haiku should do. Had I been critiquing this one, I would suggest that it's author perhaps might consider using an emdash after ìkoiî, or perhaps even consider combining lines one and two, making room for a wide setting in line one. Overall though, I sense definite potential in this writerís ability for many more fine haiku to come. Keep up the good work.


Judges' Commentary for 2003

What? None of the five haiku chosen for merit have the 5-7-5 syllable count? Although we have nothing against such structure, the poems that we honor happen not to have it. We believe that other elements are more important. These include the evocation of a moment of heightened awareness, presenting just enough detail so that the reader is enticed to finish the experience in a way that may personally resonate, and possibly a seasonal reference that deepens a poem with enriching connotations.

We also looked for interesting juxtapositions, well-thought-out word choices, fresh images, a good use of rhythm, and language that shows rather than tells — characteristics of all good poetry. We commend the large number of young people who submitted haiku to this contest. This indicates an interest in haiku and the mastery of words to communicate experience and feelings. We send a pat on the back to the many authors whose poems nearly made the finals. The five poems selected are of equal merit and are not ranked. Our warmest congratulations to the authors of the haiku below!

—Claire Gallagher and Anne Homan, Judges


summer breeze
the flutter of clothes
thrown over a chair

Laura Santiago, Age 15, Grade 9
School of the Arts, Rochester, NY

The poet’s keen observation is suggestive of an unknown story; the absence of extraneous detail allows the reader to imagine the circumstances and to read into it and resonate with it. Mystery that does not succumb to lack of clarity enhances this poem. The reference to a season is a traditional device that deepens the poem by calling upon the common associations we all have with a welcome “summer breeze”. The soft consonant sounds provide a good flow in this poem, rather like a breeze, and there is a pleasant, unforced rhythm to the whole poem. The long vowel sounds of “breeze”, “clothes”, “thrown”, and “over” increase the languid feeling, while the short vowel in “flutter” seems to mimic the breeze. We particularly liked that the poet chose the definite article “the” before “flutter”; this gives focus to the poem. The poet has made choices that produced a well-crafted poem, so well crafted that it appears effortless.


pebbles underfoot
in the cold stream

Henry Aigetsinger, Age 15, Grade 9
School of the Arts, Rochester, NY

This haiku utilizes several writing techniques that produced a wining poem. There is a strong juxtaposition of disparate images that give the poem a spark. The second line acts as a pivot line that can be read with the first line as a continuous thought with line one before a pause in thought before line three. Alternatively, a pause after line one would allow lines two and three to link in thought--nicely done. The inference of bare feet evokes early summer near a stream of snowmelt as well as other wading exper-iences. There is vivid sensory information; the stream-rounded jumble of pebbles is pressing into bare feet. Overhead, and reflected in the water, is the ordered array of blue-white stars. In addition the flow of the stream around the poet’s ankles might give a feel of the transience of life under stars that seem eternal. This poem reads well; there is no forced rhythm.


in front
of the meth lab
three children hopscotch

C. J. Welch, Age 17, Grade 12
Walhert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

In this haiku the poet chooses a moment in time that presents an interesting contrast between the sordid contemporary world of a meth lab, and the bright springtime image of children playing. The latter image brings strongly to mind E.E. Cummings’ poem “in Just-” in which “bettyandisbel come dancing from hop-scotch and jump-rope and it’s spring.” Notice that the children in the haiku are playing in front of the meth lab—they are not afraid of the place—it is simply an accepted part of the neighborhood. The strong break in the poem after the second line not only gives the pause in rhythm that is traditionally valued in a haiku, but the poet has also neatly created a break in thought. Ending the poem with the word “hopscotch” brings the reader quietly back to dark implications—the syllables cut off quickly on the tongue. The meanings of "scotch" as a verb include “maim,” “crush,” and “stamp out,” stark words implying perhaps how the meth lab could affect these children’s lives in the future. The poet has suggested all this to the reader without actually saying, “How terrible life can be!”


Ash Wednesday
from lines of silent people
a cough echoes

Emily Cornish, Age 14, Grade 8
School of the Arts, Rochester, NY

The poet of this haiku has begun with the seasonal reference valued for adding resonance to a haiku. Ash Wednesday is a Christian celebration falling in late February or early March. It marks the beginning of Lent, a time of fasting, contemplation, and penitence during the days before Easter. Believers come to church on this day to receive ashes on their foreheads. But even more can be connoted from these two words. What has occurred before Ash Wednesday? Especially in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, people celebrate Mardi Gras—fat Tuesday— with high spirits and even indulgence. The poem has a pause in the rhythm after the first line; this slows the reader, allowing time to anticipate a change. With its description of a moment in time, the rest of the poem tells a story, but not a complete story—the reader is allowed to fill in the details. We imagine a large stone building—a church, even a cathedral—where the smallest sounds echo. Perhaps the author is thinking about personal intentions for Lenten sacrifice. We feel a sense of community in this moment. The congregation waits patiently in line to receive the ashes. There are no children whining, no adults whispering the latest gossip—only that reverberating cough. The poem ends nicely with the word “echoes,” a word that lingers with its long “O.”


spring evening
rain soaks through the newspaper
on my head

Laura Santiago, Age 15, Grade 9
School of the Arts, Rochester, NY

This poet begins the haiku effectively with a traditional seasonal and time of day reference— “spring evening.” The sun has set, but the stars are not out yet. This may be during daylight savings time, when the evening is longer and easier to savor. After a nice break in thought, the second line begins a mini-story. It is raining hard and soaking through a newspaper. The third line gives us a little surprise—the newspaper is not in a gutter or on a lawn, but on someone’s head! Now we have more ideas and questions to add to the story. Did the person carelessly forget an umbrella or never bother with one; did the day begin, as spring days often do, with a sunny, cloudless morning and surprise him/her with spring’s changeful nature? This poem illustrates an excellent choice by the poet of a moment in the stream of experience. The poet leads us to further implications, as the transient daily news dissolves in a life-giving spring rain.


Judges' Commentary for 2000

Nathaniel B. Gach, age 18, grade 12, Marple Newtown High School, Newtown Square, Pa.

spring morning
the dewy grass
holds the shape of her step

Yarrow: There's a freshness about this bright green haiku that captures the essence of spring. You can see where she stepped because the tender grass is squashed down, and the dew drops knocked off. But it's a light, transitory step, just as the season itself is light and transitory. The step took just a moment, the length of a haiku. The poet has captured the feeling of this moment and the whole season in a few words.

Decker: This poem has captured a fleeting moment, and the beauty of a beloved's footsteps, in very few words. There is an optimism in the implied word play on spring morning, and springy step (leaving the imprint of her step).

Dave Ferry, age 17, grade 12, Marple Newtown High School, Newtown Square, Pa.

Thanksgiving Dinner
    Silence, and the
pendulum swinging

Yarrow: This moment of silence, probably the grace before the meal, feels heavy and ponderous, like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. We can feel that strong emotions exist between family members. While the family is still for a moment, the poet is suddenly aware of the movement of the pendulum. Paradoxically, while this special moment is frozen like a snapshot, time moves on. The next Thanks giving will not be the same; individual family members may come or go, and each may change. One thing is certain--they will all be older, because the pendulum is swinging. The poet has captured the contrast between stillness and movement in one moment.

Decker: This had a different feel for me--I felt that the poet might have been capturing extreme tension. Thanksgiving, a time of joy and plenty, is suddenly arrested and held captive by silence. Perhaps no one dares to speak, or a faux pas has been committed, and the conversation is arrested.

Elizabeth Frank, age 17, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

a whale's last call
the blue sea--

Yarrow: Contrasts enrich this haiku. First is the obvious contrast between the translucent blue waters and the opaque red blood. The whale's last call contrasts with the silence of death. Its call reaches out while its death closes in. The enormity of the whale and the distances in the sea contrast with the close immediate wound. The poet, in a few words, gives us a life and its end.

Decker: I have little to add to this elegant comment except that the contrast in the warm color of life, the sea, (blue) is laid in stark contrast to the red of death, and find this exceptionally well done for a student haiku.

Nathaniel B. Gach, age 18, grade 12, Marple Newtown High School, Newtown Square, Pa.

autumn afternoon
hole in the stone wall
a perfect frame

Yarrow: The poet might have just walked on by, barely noticing the hole in the wall, let alone what lies on the other side. But he or she stopped and let the neutral colors of cool stone frame the bright colors of flaming autumn. The "aw" alliteration in "autumn afternoon" and the "oh" sounds in "hole in the stone wall" are a perfect frame for the feeling of appreciating beautify that pervades this haiku.

Decker: This haiku reminds us of the process of writing haiku--to stop and examine the moment, and to glory in its simplicity. In my mind, the author was hurrying past the wall, and was stopped by the view through the wall. A lover, or perhaps just a distant landscape, suddenly enriched by its quaint frame.

Thomas Murray, age 15, grade 9, School of the Arts, Rochester, N.Y.

from Orion
a bat flits
to the moon

Yarrow: The poet submitted this in capital letters, which may indicate how he or she felt about this special moment. We feel it works just as well in lower case, so have taken the liberty to write it this way. In just the fleeting moment that it takes a bat to fly, it appears to have linked the great distance from Orion's stars to the moon. Two cold bright distant points in the night sky are joined by a warm, dark, near fellow mammal.

Decker: I particularly enjoyed the contrast between the bat, and the immensity of the dark night sky. Of course it is impossible to fly from Orion to the moon, but the bat is impossibly small next to the stars, and it is that contrast which is endearing, and striking.

Kate Chapman, age 18, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

mountain view photo
the tourist's breath

Yarrow: A photograph is taken in an instant, and captures an image. This haiku on the surface simply describes that picture. The poet, though, has written more than a matter-of-fact description. We can tell it's cold on the mountain, because the tourist's warm breath has condensed in the chilly mountain air. We can guess that the tourist may have climbed, and is breathing hard. But most importantly, the emotion slips through. We can feel the tourist's deep breath as she or he takes in the majesty of the scene, and then exhales in awe at its beauty. Not just the photo but the mountain itself has captures the tourist's breath.

Decker: There is another way to look at this moment. Perhaps the tourist's breath has given the mountain a faint haze in the photo. So perhaps the tourist's breath has given another dimension to the mountain in the photo, and they have added some mystery to the scene as it was captured on film.

We feel honored to have this chance to share moments in your lives. Many submissions had the snap and humor of senryu, but since this is a haiku contest, we didn't choose them. A number of haiku not among these six were close to being selected. We chose the ones that for us evoked emotion, as we've tried to sketch in our comments. We find that fresh images, often two that reverberate with each other, work best. You don't need to summarize your experience in the last line--readers can share what you're feeling simply from the way you capture the experience. If yours was not one of the six we finally chose, please know that other judges may well have chosen different ones, and don't be discouraged. Know that your poems were read and enjoyed, and that you have ahead of you a life of moments to capture. We hope you all keep writing!

—Ruth Yarrow and Kathleen Decker, Judges


Judges' Commentary for 1999

Damian Stork, age 18, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

his hands
showing the work

We looked for the clear image that hints at a deeper meaning and creates a space for the reader as well. Both judges grew up with farmer fathers whose hands really did show the work--callused hands with thick fingers, gloveless even in winter. Farming by hand today is almost a lost art, so we appreciate the poem, and the poet's keen insight and clean craftsmanship.

Heather Klinthammer, age 18, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

on the runner's forehead

In televised marathons or local high school track events, we have seen for ourselves the concentration necessary for these athletes to succeed. The poet brings home the power of the moment by neatly juxtaposing the intense expression on the runner's face with the disgust that surely follows the realization of being shat upon. This surprise is conveyed perfectly in the poem's third line.

Paula Faber, age 18, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

at the movie
their hands meet . . .
in the buttered popcorn

More senryu than haiku, this poem seems quite appropriate to teen life full of irony, frustration, mistaken signals, blind groping, and good humor. Whether on a first date, hoping to touch each other, or steady date just hungry for popcorn, the poet has captured the moment with a wry sense of humor.

Heather Klinthammer, age 18, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

mother's crossed arms
a reminder--
of our argument

No psychology lesson needed to recognize a parent's crossed arms as "end of discussion." At a very young age we become masters of body language, and we found this poet masterful in portraying the scene with few words and well-chosen line breaks.

Joe Arling, age 17, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

Overhead projector
the lesson--
over a student's head

At first, this senryu seems to state the obvious, but the skillful play on words in the third line adds delightful humor. By folding the meaning back on itself, the poet invites us to linger in the scene and enjoy the pun.

Tony Leisen, age 18, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

after the rain
so visible
the spider's web

This haiku is centered in summer with the season word or kigo, "spider's web." The words resonate and seem to tangle the mind. How can we be aware of things that are there and yet not there? This poem has a quality similar to a Zen koan.

Many of this year's 235 entries required more than one look and some discussion. As judges, we looked objectively for well-crafted pieces with special attention to word choice and line breaks that hinted at a deeper meaning. We also had to consider the subjective criteria of memories and emotions that these haiku/senryu evoked for us. Those elements were much harder to evaluate, but we were able to narrow our choices to six poems. We thank all the poets and teachers for their fine efforts and hope they continue to study and practice the genre.

—Yvonne Hardenbrook and Cherie Hunter Day, Judges


Judges' Commentary for 1998

In Summary: For all that each is unique, the poems we have chosen have one quality in common. They draw the reader into the moment--telling neither too much nor too little, leaving room for the reader to reflect on his/her own experience. Congratulations to the poets.

Tyler Stoffel, age 18, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

for a moment
everything still

Compton: Haiku-like, the photograph captures a single moment in a world given increasingly to activity. Perhaps the photo is a “still” taken from filmed motion--a dance performance or the flight of a hawk, for example. Or might the stillness be in the posing for the photo?

Witkin: A snapshot of the way things are, when seen clearly, stops us and puts us firmly in eternity. The poet at the flashpoint sees the connection between people, objects, and occasions that are in and outside of the photo here, sees their past and their future; as the film gathers its light, the poetic vision brings the poet home.

Crystal Wagner, age 17, grade 11, Wahlert High School, Dubuque. Iowa

smiling at him
in the old pictures
he smiles back

Witkin: The smile across time is tinged with sadness. As our own face is seen in a pond, the poet sees through many years, many changes, and from the silty bottom, a smile rises to the clean surface of the moment. We wonder about the relationship between these two, but it is the linking of the poet with the here and now that brings the poem its gleam.

Compton: Has the smiled-at man aged into sourness, or become ill? Has the relationship changed or ended? A poem of delicate understatement--one that suggests the poet's longing and offers many possibilities as to its cause.

Tara Stecklein, age 18, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

the quiet girl
a loud shirt

Compton: A moment of heightened perception, in which one external (the shirt) lets the poet look beyond another external (the girl's apparent quietness) to perceive the girl within.

Witkin: The contrast shocks us into awareness that things are not always as they seem. The child never heard is finally seen in all her complexities and contradictions of ourselves. Regardless of who chose the shirt, the girl who wears it now comes boldly to life.

Adam Rauch, age 17, grade 12, Marple Newtown Senior High School, Newtown Square, Pa.

finding myself
between the willows--
autumn evening

Witkin: Stopping on an evening walk the poet finds himself between two willows. The trees will soon shed their leaves, the coolness gives a sense of winter. Deeply felt is all that has been lost. At the same time the willows will bring forth their leaves again in spring. For the moment the poet and the willows are one.

Compton: Like the autumn evening, the poem is bitter-sweet. The poet's experience might recall similar times in one's own autumn walks, often over unplanned routes, frequently lost in thought--only to arrive in a familiar place without being quite sure how one got there. The leaves are turning, dusk comes early. In beauty there is just a little pain.

Dani DeCaro, age 16, grade 12, Marple Newtown Senior High School, Newtown Square, Pa.

     signs of spring--
tanktop revealing
     her butterfly tattoo

Compton: A gently humorous moment. One senses not only the poet's joy in the signs of spring, but also the joy of the tanktop wearer in her new freedom. Might they be the same person? Nice rhythm in this poem especially the tanktop/tattoo interplay.

Witkin: The lightness of the poem flutters delicately past the butterfly and then ends. The consonance of tanktop with tattoo reinforces what we feel only at the last word. A time of renewal and the warm spring sun brings freshness and play and yet the tanktop wearer, perhaps still quite young, has heard at least a note or two from the songs of experience. The interplay of the unfolding of spring and the unfolding of the wings of youth make poetry out of what could have been cute word play.

Bridget Leary, age 18, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque Iowa

leaf pattern
rearranged by the wind

Witkin: A simple description. Watching this miracle, the poet sees her own life, all life, as part of the cosmic lattice. The changing patterns, all of them beautiful, hold for a moment an understanding of the mystery behind it all. In the season for reflection on change, there is a profound sense of awe in this vision.

Compton: A meditative poem that speaks of the specialness of “nothing special,” and of the ephemeral nature of all things. The poet has perceived a grace in every-day shapes constantly forming and re-forming into patterns--no two ever the same.

—Ellen Compton and Jeff Witkin, Judges


Judges' Commentary for 1995

Over 325 poems were entered in this year’s Virgilio Competition. It was a difficult task to narrow the selection down to just seven.

While a majority of the poems submitted could best be classified as minimal, some were five words or fewer, or senryu, concerned solely with human situations--often humorous, we were looking for poems that captured a haiku moment--a specific place and time, recorded honestly, free from commentary or sentimentality, with a lasting resonance of deeper understanding.

We want to emphasize that every young poet that submitted work is to be congratulated and encouraged to continue writing.

First Place Anne Alfredo, 9th grade, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

solitary swimmer
   the early-morning sun

This swimmer is setting out in the morning, with all the associations of beginning. He or she is having an effect--even on the sun's reflection, a part, a focal part, of the scene. The swimmer recalls Whitman's solitary singer, the mockingbird, also associated with water. The poem suggests a bravery, an assertive action, a proclamation of the swimmer s being, declaring his or her being in the world.

Second Place Beth Paisley, 9th grade, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

old man
   reeling in
the sea

Obviously the old man is not reeling in the sea, except in whimsical perceptions. But he isn't reeling in anything else either, and he is absorbing the whole atmosphere of the shore, and that is most of the point of fishing anyhow. Being at the sea is the point, reeling it into one's being. Fishing is the excuse. How is it that so many surf fishers are older men? This example fits the scene.

Third Place Katie O'Connor, 9th grade, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

after the flood
  our flag waves
     from the clothesline

A poem of recovery, of going on, this haiku is about setting things to rights again, showing the flag, even if it is, at the moment, mostly drying out. It is still there, still waving, and it is "our" flag, not just any flag. It is a step in reestablishment, in recovery. Its colors are clear and bright, declaring hope.

Honorable Mention Tony Leisen, 9th grade, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa


Dandelions are so easy to dissipate with one puff almost as slight as a wish, and the puff makes just that sound--wish--as the seeds float down the wind. The poem is economical. contains a delightful onomatopoeia, and is altogether pleasing.

Honorable Mention Maureen Reilly, 9th grade, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

the tree
except one leaf

There is always that leaf, that exception, that different thing, being itself, separate, individual. Such single leaves give the world distinctiveness. Again the poem is economical, coming at the end into the sharp focus of its perception.

Honorable Mention Charlotte Stevenson, 9th grade, Castilleja School, Palo Alto, Calif.

two oak leaves
just the same
until a brown moth flies away.

Protective coloration is such a dry expression, drier, perhaps, than the leaf itself, or the moth, which startles us with its suddenly becoming itself, flying with a living purpose and not at the whim of the breeze. It is a separate will we are dealing with, asserting itself in its flight.

Honorable Mention Katie Gallagher, 10th grade, University High School, Honolulu, Hawaii

two bold streaks of blue
  split by the thin horizon—
ocean and spring sky

All that blue . . . only one defining line, the horizon, gives us shape and definition, sets the world on a level again. The poem is a 5-7-5 haiku, the only one among our winners. Its longer center line becomes the horizon, with its final dash lining it out, right in the middle of the scene.

—Paul O. Williams, Judge


Judges' Commentary for 1994

More than a quarter of the 450 entries in this year's contest were exceptionally good. It is interesting to note that, although this event is a haiku contest, a vast majority of the entries were pure senryu. Nature, other than human nature, was a mere footnote. Nevertheless, the sensitivity demonstrated by these young poets is astounding. We wish there were space to praise a good many more. Nearly all of the haiku submitted were not only written in the free-form style, but were of the minimalist school, many with a single word constituting a line.

In choosing the winners, we looked for originality, interpenetration, clarity, and concreteness of images, focus on the present instant, and skill with words. Overall, we sought, especially, a sense of the deeper spirit of haiku.

The haiku teacher and the ninth-grade class at Wahlert High School in Dubuque, Iowa, are sure to celebrate, having swept all honors in this year's contest. Since there were only a few high schools whose students submitted work, we hope that more will be done in the future to promote haiku, and to encourage participation in the Nicholas Virgilio contest.

First Place Lisa Tranel, 9th grade, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

digging potatoes
my dog barks
at the shovel

The seasonal reference of this poem is clear; the time when potatoes are harvested. Other than potatoes, what treasure will the shovel unearth, maybe a coveted bone? At some level, does Lisa's dog recognize its own nature in that of the shovel, much as haiku poets recognize themselves through heightened awareness of "external" phenomena? The poet may well have been mulling over this very question. In doing what her dog does so well, dig, she finds significance in a common activity, significance that might otherwise have gone unnoticed: the unearthing of simple treasures, and a realization of a deeper connection to her dog, perhaps in the same way that her dog felt a connection to the shovel.

Second Place Adam Asbury, 9th grade, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

pheasant hunting
his hand too cold
to pull the trigger

We feel the bitter cold of this poem, the coldness that was to end with the taking of life. The actual split-second of "freezing-up" is the point of focus. So sudden, the single explosion, a pheasant's wings . . . deafening, the silence where a gunshot could have been.

Third Place Brooke Althaus, 9th grade, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

mountains the horizon

The poem is not "I see mountains along the horizon," or "mountains are the horizon," or any other re-write. It's not only that the single horizontal line suggests the horizon, although that is the case. As we live with this poem we find that it continually expands. "Mountains" is a rich word, associated with snow, rock, trees, stillness, storms, the purple shadows, and so forth. As we move through this cluster of meanings, we come to "the horizon" which always surrounds us. It is a difficult path ahead, to matter which way we go. It won't be a flat, easy walk.

Honorable Mentions are listed in alphabetical order; there is no order of preference.

Honorable Mention Nate Jenkins, 9th grade, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

turning the corner
he turns his hat
in a different direction

A simple act, a natural act, perhaps an unconscious one. Adaptability is a strong human characteristic. Here are two possible scenarios, each powerful in its own way: (1) A teenager leaves home for school, baseball cap worn in the more conventional manner, as his parents insist upon seeing it. But, when he turns the corner he assumes his image of choice, turning the cap backwards as is the custom of his friends. The rebellion of youth is universal; it has always been. (2) A teenager leaves home, baseball cap worn in the conventional way, and reaches the corner. It is a brisk day and there is a stiff breeze . . . rounding the corner, he turns his cap so that it will not be taken by the wind. He is in tune with his environment and takes charge of his life. Adaptability--whether to social environment or to the weather.

Honorable Mention Jessi Kurt, 9th grade, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

on my dirty palm

Even those who may not be familiar with this rite are likely to understand this poem. The image is stark and clear; the poet's recognition of the need to be unburdened of sin, of guilt, is expressed more by the dirty palm than by the Eucharist itself. It is the contrast that underlines this need and deepens the impression.

Honorable Mention Amanda Wetjen, 9th grade, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

rain . . .
he holds out
his hands

The ellipsis holds us for a moment in the first awareness of rain. It is possible that the rain is so light that hands are held out to be sure. This is a common reaction, often an involuntary one. Alternatively, the person holding out his hands may know that it has started to rain and welcome it, palms up, a willing participation--a celebration.

Honorable Mention Lisa White, 9th grade, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

grandmother's smile
into a yawn

As we grow older, those things that once fascinated or gave pleasure tend to exert less of a hold on us. Exuberance gives way to calmness, laughter to a smile (sometimes merely a polite smile). Often we grow weary, even in the company of friends and relatives, and it becomes less and less important to conceal our true feelings. This poem acknowledges and accepts the universal seasons of life.

Presented with joy, encouragement, and gratitude,

—Christopher Herold and June Hymas, Judges


Judges' Commentary for 1993

The 1993 Virgilio Haiku Contest for High School students received 350 entries of which at least 70 were worthy of recognition. The judges were hard pressed to narrow selections to seven entries only. It was a real privilege and pleasure to share the experiences and moments that were carefully recorded in each of the entries. The gamut of life experiences was well represented in the range of entries. Keen expressions of direct observations, nature, connection, love, heartache, loss, alienation, humor, joy and simple moments of beauty and poignancy were included. We sincerely hope that everyone who entered will continue to read and write, with their senses open and aware of the poetry that exists anywhere, anytime.

First Place Robin Grady, age 14, grade 9, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

In the corner
of my bedroom
in the silent house

Without telling us what or how to feel this poet invites us into a quiet space that requires us as the reader to supply the reaction. Do we feel small, alone, afraid, cold, warm, secure, cozy, separated, remote or happy with a bit of peace? Haiku often require that we as readers participate in and engage with the experience so that we are placed in a setting similar to that which the writer wrote from but with freedom to form our own response. This haiku paints us into a bedroom corner of a silent house and it's up to us to feel exactly what this conjures.

Second Place Cory Olson, age 14 grade 9, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

I watch myself
past the still lake

When nature provides a still moment, we are given a golden opportunity to see ourselves, whether in reflection literally or in thoughts. The allowance of thoughts on a walk and then the actual reflection on the lake surface serve to highlight the bridge between our conscious and unconscious realms. There is an element of narcissism implied here too in that what this writer has focused on is their own self-image. How human a tendency it is to reflect and be self-referential even while out in the pristine beauty of our natural world. The tranquility of the lake might extend to us the chance to see something we could not see in more turbulent times. We are left to ponder the dreamlike reflection that mirrors us as we walk along.

Third Place Keith Habel, age 14, grade 9, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

emergency room:
watching the spider
cross the floor

Trapped by circumstances from which one cannot extricate oneself or replay, this poem captures the helplessness of being in the midst of an emergency The shock of such a situation heightens awareness or transfixes us and tends to make us see more than we might ordinarily. Haiku often arrive when we notice or feel some thing that pinpoints or suggests what is most telling and poetic in the moment. For many people the sight of a spider is possibly unwelcome. That this spider appears in the sterile surroundings of an emergency room strengthens this poem's evocation of what is intuitively known. That being that nowhere in life is control absolute. Just as emergencies happen--spiders appear in sterile environments. There are situations where all we can do is watch.

Honorable Mention Becky Atkinson, age 17, grade 12, Eastern Alamance High School, Mebane, N.C.

goodnight embrace
by the dusty road--
all the stars

Universal themes are juxtaposed and utilized to strengthen the emotions of a parting in the night. A goodnight embrace against such essential elements as the dust and stars helps us to understand the feeling and empowerment that this moment is all about.

Honorable Mention Pascu Dumitru, age 13, grade 6, School No. 39, Constanta, Romania

earthquake . . .
on the chesstable
the horse hits the king

The earthquake as the great equalizer is one of natures most dramatic events. This poem links a huge event with a tiny detail which in essence signifies the poetic tables of life being turned, which can be so true in a disaster. That the knight knocks into the king is a telling commentary on what may be happening to the whole kingdom. The reality that an outside event might affect an inside situation identifies the resonance of chain reactions that constantly is taking place.

Honorable Mention Noelle Egan, age 16, grade 11, Cherry Hill High School West, Cherry Hill, N.J.

Inside the box
sits a doll

There is something about dolls that evokes many different emotions. This poem has a haunting feel to it as if the box were perhaps confining this doll. Being shoeless emphasizes that this doll is being studied and this detail clues us in to considering what poetry requires of us. Is the doll shoeless from being played with and put away hastily or is it propped in this state staring out ready to walk out of its box?

Honorable Mention Heather Caulberg, age 16, grade 11, Eastern Alamance High School, Mebane, N.C.

striped fish
by a salty net

What has captured this poet's attention is the contrast of patterns. A sense that the criss-crossing of the net has resulted in this fish's capture serves to enhance the pattern of the fish. Anything caught tends to evince a detailed look that creates a distinct lasting impression.

We would like to thank all the teachers who contributed their encouragement and assistance with the Virgilio contest. There were so many other entries that deserved commentary. Our only regret as judges is that we cannot individually comment on them.

—Tom Clausen and Jack Ervin, Judges



Judges' Commentary for 1992

First Place Chris McQuillen, age 14, grade 9, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

indian chant
only white men

Auditory and visual images are skillfully blended in this haiku. We clap to the voices, we sway with the bodies. And in one way, singers and dancers are in rhythm: the strong beat of the voices is felt and followed by the moving feet. Yet we perceive, as well, the broken rhythm of a tourist's world in which Native Americans do not dance to their own music and white men dance to words they do not understand.

Second Place Cindy Stierman, age 17, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

silent study hall:
my stomach growls

Sometimes, even when you want to go along with the rule-makers, the body just won't cooperate. Sound effects and timing are wonderful here--the hush imposed by those three initial "s's," the onomatopoeic explosion of "growl," then the hesitation of that telling third line.

Third Place David Sickler, age 16, grade 11, Wyoming Valley West High School, Plymouth, Pa.

After his funeral,
the white line
on her tanned finger.

This subject almost defies the restraint required in haiku. The writer succeeds by use of the austere contrast between white skin and tanned finger. That pale band somehow conveys the emotional blankness that follows the funeral of someone who shouldn't have left us.

Honorable Mention Olivia Diana Bangal, age 14, Secondary School, Constanta, Romania

I and the dog
hunting together
the evening mosquitoes.

An end-of-the day outing with a good companion turns into an encounter with other predators. The unexpected reversal of roles, along with the relaxed tone and flow of images, distinguish this light-hearted piece.

Honorable Mention Ben Meier, age 15, grade 9, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

out of sight           o
                  ballo    n
and the child's smile

Oh, we say, when we see an escaped balloon, and that is literally what the reader of this visual haiku says. This admirable poem employs a balloon to show us the loss of something as evanescent as balloons--a child's joy.

Honorable Mention Yezmin Soberanes Albert, age 17, grade 11, Hamilton School, Mexico D.F., Mexico

Inside its shell
       a snail
   and rain . . .

With a handful of words the poet gives us not only the snail's world of shell and rain, but also that place in our own particular world where snails shine--your wet sidewalk, my damp garden path. The slant rhyme of "shell" and "snail" and the assonance of "snail" and "rain" further compact the scene.

Honorable Mention Diana Stanciu, Constanta, Romania

butterflies in the air
in the herbarium
deep silence

The serenity of this haiku draws the reader away to a brief rest in a beautiful spot. One's eyes follow the swirlings of colorful butterflies, and for a few moments there is no noise, no rush, no tension.

In this third year of the contest conducted in memory of Nicholas A. Virgilio, the number of entries again increased significantly. Well over 500 haiku were sent in by students from 15 schools in 9 states in the USA (Iowa, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin) and students in Mexico and Romania.

The level of technical maturity displayed by these young writers is impressive. Precise, vivid images, handled with economy and objectivity, present subjects ranging from dull lectures to drunken fathers, from babies to sunsets to AIDS to Christmas trees. One-, two-, and four-line formats are experimented with, as are minimalist and visual techniques.

The seven winning haiku, chosen from dozens of fine poems, honor the standard of excellence set by the late Nick Virgilio. Our congratulations to writers and teachers!

We extend our thanks to Raffael de Gruttola, 1992 HSA President, for giving us this challenging opportunity, and to Minna Lerman, 1992 HSA Vice-President and Contest Coordinator, for her indispensable help.

—Carol Purington and Kathleen R. O'Toole, Judges


Judges' Commentary for 1991

The 1991 Virgilio Haiku Contest for High School students, sponsored by the Haiku Society of America, received 307 entries from seven high schools (one in Mexico, one in New Zealand, and five in the United States). As judges, we looked for quality, freshness, and originality, and felt that the poems we selected should be complete, needing no further refinement. Our selections are given below, including eight honorable mentions (in ranked order) by category: haiku, senryu, and two visual or concrete poems. We received many other notable submissions, and although they may not be listed here, we encourage their authors to submit them for publication. Special thanks to the teachers and schools concerned for their support--and congratulations to all the winners. Keep writing!

First Place Gina Valentine, age 18, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

new mother . . .
her old cat appears
at nursing time

Currier: If you've ever lived on a farm, you know cats have a way of sensing when there's milk around. I am impressed with the integrity of the writer as she deals with and unites her subject matter "as one." Just as the old cat intuitively grasps the mystery of the senses, the poet presents it beautifully in this strikingly pure haiku.

Welch: I especially like this haiku for its subtlety and maturity. A new baby has come to the home and demands the attention given previously to the old cat. The cat appears at nursing time, a time of closeness, of bonding. Perhaps the old cat has had kittens when it was younger, and comes to the new mother as a way of expressing understanding. The contrast of young and old, the newness of the baby, the newness of the mother’s experience of mothering, and the inevitable cycles of life combine to enrich this sensitive poem. Yet much is left unsaid, such as the mother's reaction to the cat now that she has a baby to nurse. The image resonates in many directions. Finally, this poem is filled with sabi, and joy, too, for the new birth.

Second Place Paola Mizrahi, age 16, grade 11, Hamilton School, Mexico, D.F., Mexico

As the sun rises
the flowers open
slowly . . .

Currier: In this poem the value of the slow pace of nature is shown in the skillful and simple way the poet works with timelessness. Timelessness uses time slowly, and the writer focuses without pretense on the fullness of the creative world and records it.

Welch: This poem is deceptively simple. We don't know where the flowers are, nor what kind of flowers open slowly in front of the poet, but we do know that the writer is still, centered, patient--and aware enough to notice the pace by which the flowers receive the light of the dawning day. Perhaps the writer is opening in the same way, slowly, to a continued life of awareness.

Third Place Jana Juergens, age 17, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

Blowing out
a match
the sudden smell

Currier: Here is a haiku of sensual impression. The poet is delightfully present as the blown-out match suffuses her with the sudden recognizable smell that brings writer and reader together in our humanity.

Welch: This is an intimate poem, an experience all of us have felt. When you are close to a match and blow it out, you easily notice its distinctive smell. Perhaps this match was used to light a birthday cake, or maybe a campfire far away in the woods. In the midst of laughter and the smell of chocolate cake--or perhaps the rich scent of pine in a dark green forest--the sudden smell of a blown out match is indeed startling enough to deepen your awareness of your surroundings.

First Honorable Mention –
Haiku Matt Richards, age 17, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

Christmas Day
the hunters
feed the deer

Second Honorable Mention –
Haiku Angela Widmyer, age 17, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

Father home
late again . . .
my mother's eyes

Third Honorable Mention –
Haiku Noelle Bellaver, age 17, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

chemistry between lab partners

Currier: "Christmas Day" is a well-crafted haiku about the fallibilities of man/hunter juxtaposed with his prey, the deer. "Father home" is a straightforward haiku of living experience that gives the reader a knowable under standing of cause and effect. And "chemistry between lab partners" is an excellent open-ended one-line haiku.

Welch: These three poems exhibit compassion, sensitivity, freshness, and humor--the mixed emotions and unusual compassion of the hunters feeding the deer, the young person's quiet observations of her mother's eyes when her father comes home late, and the delightful word-play and double meaning of "chemistry" between two high school students in a class. Each poem suggests an untold story, and that is precisely what a good haiku should do. (Incidentally, the last of these three poems could be classified as a senryu, but I think its success as a poem is more important than how it is labeled.)

First Honorable Mention –
Senryu Noelle Bellaver, age 17, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

day after the big test
the nurse's office

Second Honorable Mention –
Senryu Matt Richards, age 17, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

beautiful girl
I turn my head and run
the red light

Third Honorable Mention –
Senryu Kristin Torgler, age 17, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

out of our flavor
ice cream man
swears in Spanish

Currier: These three senryu are a wonderful representation of humor and amusement. Noelle's senryu is pure perception, Matt handles the third line deftly, and Kristin gives us a fine blend of sound and image.

Welch: Noelle's senryu tells a simple truth about certain students. Kristin's shares a simple yet unexpected experience. And Matt's poem surprises us with its twist between the second and third lines. These are fun, immediately accessible poems.

First Honorable Mention--
Visual Gina Valentine, age 18, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

train flattened penny

Second Honorable Mention--
Visual Scott Kluck, age 18, grade 12, Wahlert High School, Dubuque, Iowa

re la tion ship

Currier: Gina's visual haiku communicates to us the "Aaahhh," and we, the readers, all see the flattened penny and imagine its untold story. Scott's haiku is a visual account of words carefully spaced to show the brokenness in and out of a relationship.

Welch: In both of these poems, the shape or treatment of the words makes them work. Who has not laid a penny on a train track, then marveled at the weight of the train, at the penny's subsequent flatness (as shown by the "flat" look of the poem on the page)? Who has not suffered a break-up, as indicated by the separated word? These poems by their nature may not have as much depth or resonance as more conventional haiku or senryu, yet they are satisfying and accessible. We wanted to include them to show that preconceptions about haiku can indeed be successfully challenged.

In closing, thank you to the Haiku Society of America, and to Garry Gay, 1991 HSA president, for the pleasure and privilege of judging this contest. It isn't easy to define haiku and senryu, and far more difficult to teach it. We encourage all students, and all teachers, in their practice and experience of haiku. As always, keep writing!

—Joyce Walker Currier and Michael Dylan Welch, Judges


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