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


Judges' Commentary for 2021

2021 Nicholas A. Virgilio Haiku & Senryu Competition
Awards for Grades 7 – 12


Tom Clausen and Sandi Pray

Judges Comments

hide and seek
the smell of detergent
on Papi’s shirts

Aida Pardo Grade 8, Atlanta, Georgia

Papi’s closet would be a wondrous place to hide. What surprises me is the poet’s focus on the scent of his laundry rather than the hold-your-breath anticipation of being discovered. I feel that Papi is beloved. Is this a fond memory or perhaps last weekend’s game? So much to ponder in a few words. ~ Sandi

As much as I was captivated by the fun memory of various hide and seek times in my life, it was another hidden subtext that made this resonate even more for me. The reality of hiding someplace is that we suddenly must be perfectly still, quiet and in suspense as to how long it might be before we are found. It is during that time that a great intimacy with our surroundings is attained. It is in that hiding that we gain an up-close intimacy with our surroundings. That is a place where haiku awareness and sensibility begin. I delighted in this young poet being up close and personal with their Papi's shirts! ~Tom

• • •

harvest moon
corn whispers
the wind's path

Gabby Short, Grade 7, Atlanta, Georgia

I closed my eyes and was there. This poem speaks to the senses . . . the touch and sound of cool wind, the sight of the full moon, the scent of corn husks. It has a melancholy about it that makes me wonder if the poet was alone. ~ Sandi

This poem has an appealing invitation to be out there in such a magical moment. The whisper of wind creates a natural bridge of some timeless secret of the harvests everywhere. I like the yugen sense of beauty calling from beyond that makes me glad to imagine being there now! ~ Tom

• • •

autumn breeze   
the cold chains           
of the old park swing

Amiya Bhattacharrya, Grade 7, Decatur, Georgia

I found this poem to be an excellent example of wabi sabi. Fragment and phrase together bring feelings of nostalgia for what has gone . . . maybe just the recent summer break or the loss of a friend or of fun times past. The implied feel of cold chains and sound of creaking gives this poem great depth. ~ Sandi

The happy childhood memories of being in the park and swinging come alive in this haiku. Yet, the change in seasons is apparent in the cold chains, giving a hint of harsher weather looming ahead. I liked that the poet gave the reader the chance to feel their own memories through this poem. As we outgrow certain childhood pleasures there remains the desire to remember and revisit them. Swinging for children has an allure that lasts a lifetime. It brought back my own memory of swinging so high I felt as if I was reaching the sky. ~ Tom

• • •

eye clinic —
the medic squints
at my prescription

Ustat Sethi, Grade 11, Bangalore, India

A great observation of the commonplace. What might have been an ordinary poem about the infamous penmanship of doctors turns with humor to the medic's need to squint. Clear and concise this senryu definitely brings a smile. ~ Sandi

This senryu has a familiar truth plain as day! We all have seen plenty of prescriptions written in hieroglyphic script that is cryptic and puzzling when it should be absolutely clear and accessible! The wonderful humor of this being at an eye clinic and prompting a squint, as if that might help decipher it, makes for an instant smile and sense of insight into another indelible foible of humanity; poor penmanship! This senryu touches on our current  day attachment to keyboards and the lost art of handwriting that a generation ago was so valued by many. ~ Tom

• • •

summer rain
breathing in
the earth's smell

Oshadha Perera, Grade 10 US Equivalent, Invercargill, New Zealand

What a sense of peace this poem evokes. The poet shows great sensitivity and perceptiveness in a moment that many would overlook as they busy themselves with other things. This is a good example of the use of sound and scent to make the ordinary seem extraordinary. So much said in few words. ~ Sandi

What a subtle but indelible sense it is to actually be able identify the smell of the earth.  Summer is most associated with ease, leisure and pleasures and how entirely fitting that a summer rain would deliver this sensation. What a lovely communion it is to become acquainted with the great scent of our mother earth! The pared down simplicity and immediacy of this poem is an example of less being more. ~ Tom

• • •

quiet library
dust particles suspended
in a ray of light

Angelina Georgacopoulos, Grade 11, Tewksbury, Massachusetts

This poem evokes an atmosphere of quiet contemplation. Whether taking a break, hoping for inspiration or deeply troubled how often does one stare at seemingly nothing. The something found within the focus of nothing. Both sound (lack of) and sight are woven into a poem of narrowed focus with a hint of wabi sabi. ~ Sandi

Dust is likely the smallest sight available to see. It is meaningful to realize that it is in moments of stillness and quiet when we are able to see such a sight. I enjoyed being there amongst all the books and in that ray of light recognizing the "reading" of dust particles; a story for all time. ~ Tom

• • •

About our judges:

Tom Clausen is a lifelong resident of Ithaca, New York and a member of the Rt. 9 Haiku Group. He developed an interest in haiku and other brief poetic forms after realizing he needed more discipline in his writing attempts. He is married to Berta Gutierrez and they have two children, Casey and Emma. His books of haiku and tanka include: Autumn Wind in the Cracks (1994); Unraked Leaves (1995); A Work of Love (Tiny Poems Press, 1997); Standing Here (1998); Homework (Snapshot Press, 2000); Being There (Swamp Press, 2005); Growing Late (Snapshot Press, 2006); Laughing to Myself (Free Food Press, 2013).

Sandi Pray is a retired high school library media specialist living a quiet life in the wilds of the North Carolina mountains and river wetlands of North Florida. As a vegan she is a lover of all life and the rhythms of nature. Sandi’s haiku, haiga and tanka have appeared in WHA Haiga, Daily Haiku, Daily Haiga, Simply Haiku, Modern Haiku, AHG, Frogpond, Cattails, Acorn, The Heron’s Nest, Akitsu Quarterly, Hedgerow Poems, Brass Bell, Mann Library Daily Haiku, Under the Basho, Seize the Poem Anthology, DVerse Poetry Anthology, Fragments Anthology, Skylark, Moonbathing, Bright Stars, Atlas Poetica and Naad Anunaad: An Anthology of Contemporary World Haiku. She is a past haiga editor for A Hundred Gourds and is tank-art editor for Skylark Tanka Journal.



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