It has been a privilege to judge this year's award named by The Heron's Nest team for their former editorial colleague Peggy Willis Lyles, who died in 2010, a haiku poet of great ability and insight. The only hard part has been selecting the haiku to be honoured!
In general, I was looking for poems that made me 'see' in a new way, moved me or that offered a fresh take on something familiar. And so, my top three choices became clear. I hope you enjoy reading — and learning from these haiku — as much as I have. I congratulate the authors of all the awarded haiku.
swallows at dusk
the way her hands
propel the story
Glenn G. Coats
The so-called quip about not being able to talk if one sits on one's hands has been applied to me so I had an instant connection to this haiku. That, and the fact I've been trying, unsuccessfully, to write haiku about swallows in flight for some years!
Although a season isn't stated, I believe one may infer summer when evenings are longer, people are outside more or have their windows and doors open to the outside, and swallows are nesting.
The poet has paired two striking images — the dipping, swooping flight of swallows (black birds against a darkening sky) with a woman's hands in motion as she adds (perhaps unconsciously) kinetic energy to her tale. It's left to the reader to decide whether it's a gentle, bedtime story (the elegance and slow-motion movements of, say, a Balinese dancer's hands), whether she's describing having seen the swallows in flight or if she's relating something from her day to another adult. Drama (I can feel the rapid heartbeats of those little birds as her hands flutter every which way); romance (the highs and lows of love, nest building); tragedy (the colour black may be a clue); or even comedy (the birds' aerial acrobatics).
Whatever kind of story the reader imagines this to be, we know it has pace and is going somewhere thanks to the inspired use of 'propel'. It's a story I'd like to hear.
the things she carried
in her apron
The pivot line makes all the difference to this haiku — is it a literal allusion to the things carried in an apron pocket or a metaphorical allusion to the end of a life?
If the former, we might expect, what? Pieces of string and rubber bands, hair clips (bobby pins), safety pins, pencil, a plant label, an envelope for jotting a list on, a washer ... small, handy things at any rate or items picked up as she goes about her household business. The things she collected and neglected, or chose not, to move from her apron pocket will be of little intrinsic value, but useful to a practical, frugal person. The first line's past tense leads me to believe this woman is not far from death, a sense reinforced by 'autumn dusk' and its 'dying of the light' connotation.
Or is she carrying something in from the garden? A last crop of beans or tomatoes or apples or figs, making an apron of her apron, as it were, to carry them. Final fruits as the days shorten and the darkness beckons.
The more metaphorical reading also radiates sadness and loss. Put the break after line one and we find a woman bearing more than one burden as she moved through life. Then we find in the folds of that most homely, practical garment, shadows and melancholy, a powerful sense of wabi-sabi. This is an accomplished haiku whichever way you slice it.
smooth cemetery stone
I run my fingers
across her lifetime
New York, New York
This haiku caught my attention immediately and remained in the top clutch throughout several readings — lines two and three contain all the sensory magic we might desire from a haiku (I can feel in my fingertips what the words describe, can you?).
The poet has achieved something both enigmatic and slightly sad because we know the 'lifetime' is, in fact, eight numerals and a dash. Those numerals may reveal a little — was she born in or lived through Depression, war? — but they don't reveal anything of her love and laughter, tears and trauma; family, work and achievements. The owner of the fingers possibly knows more.
The first line is perhaps overly alliterative and possibly weights how we see this woman's life and I would have liked the haiku without the 'I' and instead using 'running'. But as someone who has spent a fair amount of time in cemeteries since childhood (and is interested in family history), I appreciate the 'big story' to which this small poem at least partially opens the gate.Honourable Mention (ranked)
the carousel stops
on a high note
Michael Dylan Welch
An appealing main image — who doesn't like riding a carousel whether they're seven or seventy-seven? And so nice to read a haiku full of hope and optimism! Subtle use of the seasonal reference and a lingering musical note in the air also commend this to me. Charming.
the pattern of
England, Unitec Kingdom
Small grudges, got to watch out for them — especially if they look like becoming a pattern of behaviour. That ice might be emanating from a loved one! An original combination of natural and behavioural images that leaves me wanting to know more.
the weight of a
Oh dear me, yes. I'm now too old to feel that summers last forever, but well remember that marvellous time when they felt as if they did. When the days felt as light as a tiny bird with hollow bones. The colour link between summer and a (European) goldfinch with its yellow and red markings or (American goldfinch) vivid yellowness is a nice touch but I wonder if the author may have missed a trick by presenting the haiku so plainly on the page — offsetting the lines across the page, for instance, might add to the overall effect.
her apron strings
now tied around my waist...
Michele L. Harvey
Hamilton, New York
Wry and clever. The poet is wearing her late mother's apron and finding she's of an age when the realisation hits that some things can't be avoided. No matter how many times we promise ourselves not to be like our parents (particularly the one of the same gender), it inevitably happens. For better or worse — by linking to the 'celebration' of mothers this poem also conveys optimism about the role of this matriarch.
the opossum grins
with fifty teeth
Earl R. Keener
New Zealand is, unfortunately, home to the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula), imported from Australia by misguided early 19th century settlers wanting to start a fur industry—in 1946 they were officially declared a pest and millions of them are still destroying our native forests, eating the eggs and chicks of our native birds (many endangered), spreading TB into our cow herds and generally misbehaving whenever and wherever they can. The only good possum is a dead possum.
I have no idea how many teeth possums have but it must seem like fifty when they spot a laden fruit tree (or a rose bush in bud)! I like the subtle hand that links a persimmon, a full moon and the possum's (greedy) eyes; the glow of a persimmon, the light of the moon and the shine from the possum's teeth — all without mentioning the moon!
Editor: This year's contest drew 1,624 entries, from 359 poets.