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


Judges' Commentary for 2018

2018 Nicholas A. Virgilio Haiku & Senryu Competition
Awards for Grades 7 – 12


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

We were delighted to read meaningful and insightful haiku and senryu from the more than 300 entries we were presented with. Initially, The Nick Virgilio Haiku Association received about 4,000 that its officers reviewed to present its slate of finalists to us.
We read many poems that offered a new twist on familiar images and themes, those ranging from nature and the seasons to ones about teachers, family, homeless people, love, loss, grief, hopes, and fears. From the delightfully humorous to the sombre and tragic, we recognized the depth of feelings, intuition, and thoughts that modern young people experience.

In selecting the winning poems, we were drawn to poems that felt fresh and authentic. We looked for poems that felt interesting to read even on the fourth or fifth read through the list. Poems that did not tell too much, but which left something for the reader to fill in, were ultimately the most satisfying to read and lingered in our minds afterwards. Well-crafted haiku give the sense that only the right words were chosen. Nothing extra and nothing fancy. Congratulations to each of the poets who won an award and to all of the poets who entered. We hope the process of creating these small poems was enriching and is something you will continue to do!
From reading the entries, we also realized that schoolteachers are doing a wonderful job of teaching the brevity and style of haiku/senryu to their students. Most likely this is because educators are learning a great deal about the two forms from online materials offered by the HSA and The Haiku Foundation.
Susan Antolin and Charlotte Digregorio

crack of dawn
one blackbird
lifts the grief

Nadin Ghileschi, Age 16
Botosani, Romania

This haiku is mysterious. What has caused the poet’s grief? How does a blackbird change grief one way or another? Does it matter that it is early morning? Has the poet been grieving all night? Often, the poems that linger in the mind are ones that invite us to fill in the details and to ponder various possibilities. We can imagine that here the sound (or sudden appearance of?) a blackbird has attracted the poet’s attention and, thus lifted his/her grief, at least for a moment. Perhaps the blackbird is a reminder that the natural world goes on, regardless of loss. The sun rises, birds chirp. Grief cannot stop these things from happening. A beautiful, quiet poem.

without the tumor

Ben Miller, Grade 10
Newport Coast, CA

One of the characteristics of haiku that is most obvious to newcomers is minimalism. There are very few words in these short poems. And yet, some haiku have an even more stark, minimalist feeling than others. In this haiku, the brevity of the poem heightens the impact of the subject matter. We get a sense that all that matters in the world to the poet at this moment is that dad is home, and that the tumor has not come home with him. No additional words are needed. The understatement of this poem achieves greater feeling than had more words been used. The first two lines, with only one word each, cause us to pause and take in each word one at a time. The third line delivers the real point of the poem, and we, as readers, feel relief. Life will resume with all its busyness, noise and vibrancy, but for now, in this moment, we can stop to appreciate what matters most: health, life, family.

power outage
my imagination
comes to life

James Russell, Grade 7
Atlanta, GA

This senryu captures the ironic truth that a power outage can fuel one’s imagination. While everything electronic goes dark or quiet, our mind comes alive. Beyond mere irony, however, lies a glimmer of truth. At a time when we spend increasing amounts of time plugged in and tuned out, our imagination may thrive when it has the fertile soil of quiet space. The economy of words in this poem also adds to its effectiveness. Well done!

sewing sky
to sea
the horizon

Jamie Propst, Grade 7
Atlanta, GA

In just a few words, this haiku effectively captures a moment we have all observed. While the image is very familiar in both poetry and prose, the poet’s style is skillful. The verb “sewing” is a strong one. The poet uses it artfully to paint an image of tranquility and calm, melding the natural elements and creating an illusion that we, as specks in the universe, can reach the horizon. The poet demonstrates an understanding of the power of brevity in haiku. The third line, with the two words standing alone, reinforces a sense of awe and grandeur.

By the great oak tree
I bask in solitude
thoughts, the only noise

Rebecca Ferguson, Grade 9
Palm Bay, FL

If you listen closely, you can hear yourself. Many people don’t take the time, but this poet does. The poet understands the human need to separate oneself at times, enjoy moments, and drown out life’s commotion. This haiku is both eloquent and elegant, melding nature’s grandeur and the wonder of being alive as a thinking, feeling soul. In the first line, with the key word “great,” the poet demonstrates knowledge of Buddhism with its reverence for nature, and specifically, for the ancient oak that can symbolize wisdom and strength. Wisdom is found all around us and within us. In the second line, “bask” is a refreshing verb to use in conjunction with “solitude.” In the last line, the poet builds to the revelation, drawing us into the contemplative realm, into the poet’s heart and mind. The poet has a quiet reverence for the spiritual. The last line’s style is notable with the word “thoughts” followed by a comma, creating a pause and emphasis before the revelation.

the barren branch
a full moon

Grace Ma, Grade 9
Newport Coast, CA

Here again, the image is a very familiar one in both poetry and prose. How many times do we read of the moon hanging from tree branches or branches slicing the moon? But the key verb “impales” jumps out at the reader, standing alone, and illustrating the image perfectly. The poet effectively captures winter’s starkness with the barren branch and its eerie appearance, and the awe and mystery of the full moon. It’s a haunting scene that stirs our feelings about the mysteries of earth and beyond. The beauty of moon meeting nature allows us to feel that the former—mysterious as it is—isn’t so distant to us after all.

• • •

About our judges:

Susan Antolin

Susan Antolin fell in love with modern Japanese poetry while living in Japan in the late 1980’s. She is the editor of the biannual print journal Acorn: A Journal of Contemporary Haiku and the newsletter editor for the Haiku Poets of Northern California. Her collection of haiku and tanka, Artichoke Season, was published in 2009. She was the featured poet in May 2017 on Cornell University’s Mann Library Daily Haiku site, where her work can be found in the archives.

Charlotte Digregorio

Charlotte Digregorio, author of six books, including Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All and Shadows of Seasons, a haiku collection, has won 46 poetry awards, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her traveling haiga show runs in many locations year ‘round. A former HSA officer, and now an Ambassador to The Haiku Foundation, she recently received an official commendation from Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner for her 38 years of literary achievement and work advancing the literary arts.



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