top of page


HAIKU (Judge: Fay Aoyagi)

First Place ($100)

redwood shade

a banana slug eating

my worries

D. Claire Gallagher

Sunnyvale, CA

This haiku is like Dali's painting--somewhat eerie, but evocative. Also, I like the element of color in this haiku: ancient dark red of the tree, bright yellow of a banana peel and whiteness inside. The third line is a complete surprise even for a person like me who likes metaphoric images in haiku! Some may ask, "Is this a haiku? Did the poet actually see a banana slug eating his/her worries?" I welcome diversity in haiku. An excellent haiku can open the door for readers to explore, even allow to wander off the road the poet intends to lay out. A banana slug here plays a magic wand for me. An Asian who dates the other race is sometimes labeled a banana (yellow outside, but white inside). I like the comparison between the worries small enough to be eaten by a banana slug and the world which redwood trees have been witnessing for a long time. Although creatures without legs usually give me goose bumps, I fell in love with the image of this haiku and the courage of the poet who sent this type of haiku to the contest.

Second Place ($50)

                   desert heat

           the lizard disappears

                   into a snake

Ernest J. Berry

Picton, New Zealand

The expression, disappears into, caught my attention and sticks in my mind. It emphasizes the enchantment of the snake. This haiku immediately brought me to the desert I've never been to. I became a lizard, the victim; and a snake, the killer; then the scorching sun that watches from high above. Why do these simple but powerful words fascinate me so much? Why am I drawn to this particular one again and again? I believe it is because i feel the eyes of the poet so strongly. I can hear his/her heartbeat. LIke a good actor or a talented musician, this poet pulls my hand to be the witness of his/her world.

Third Place ($25)

Twin Towers . . .

and yet the morning glory


Karina Young

Salinas, CA

I am a former New Yorker. Many times, I visited the Wrold Trade Center on business and for pleasure. The poet might have watched the Twin Towers crash on TV like most of us did. Then (s)he noticed the morning glory blooming. Some people emphasize that haiku should describe a thing exactly as it happens. That may be the case here, too. But I want to believe the poet chooses a morning glory deliberately. A morning glory, which closes its petals after sunset, adds depth and layers. This haiku makes me think about the complexity of our environment and a cycle of our history. 

Special Prize ($10 from the judge's own pocket)

haiku judge

I press ear

to paper

R.A. Stefanac

Pittsburg, PA

As a judge, I pressed my ear to the paper to understand the sound, the movement, the cry, the laughter... each haiku tries to convey. This poet may try to listen to what the unknown judge is looking for to win the prize! And this can be categorized senryu. Nonetheless, I decided to give my special award to this haiku! This piece refused to leave from my mind and it gave me the encouragement and power to complete my difficult task!

--Fay Aoyagi

SENRYU (Judge: Paul O. Williams)

A number of fine poems could have won this contest. It was very difficult to choose among them. Perhaps arbitrarily, however, I have done so. 

First Place ($100)

board meeting--

a jumbo jet roars

into his yawn

D. Claire Gallagher

Sunnyvale, CA

This amusing poem seems to capture in a small space an incident with larger implications. The yawner, whom I see as a participant in the meeting, flew in the previous night. Missing his family, he stayed up too late watching TV. Now the meeting has begun, in a hotel near the airport. He is sleepy. The meeting drones on, and as one of the huge jets nearby takes off, he yawns wide, no hand in front of his face, the jet supplying all the sound. But it seems a moment as though he himself is doing the roaring. One is sure big things are being accomplished at the meeting, and huge jets are involved, but nonetheless it is all done by humans who are often sleepy.

Second Place ($50)

Agate Beach--

finally finding one

in a gift shop

Michael L. Evans

Olalla, WA

A quiet and simple poem, this senryu laughs at itself. It uses no verbal trickery, no puns, no attention calling devices. But after the writer's long search on the beach for an agate, he is forced to buy one, much as some fishermen, after a day on the water, buy some fish for dinner at a local market. The poem is too amused to be truly rueful. We laugh with the writer.

Third Place ($25)

This one is perhaps more rueful:

our song . . .

it turns out

I misheard the lyrics

Michael Kennedy

Rensselaer, NY

We have all heard of mondegreens, those misheard words the name of which comes from the song about the killing of the Bonne Earl of Murray and the Lady Mondegreen. Why was the lady killed? Well, after the Earl of Murray was killed, they laid him on the green. Ho, ho. The mishearing of words is common enough to warrant a special name for the event. But this poem, since it is "our song" seems to discuss the end of a relationship, the meaning of which is almost always the case to some extent, is different to each participant. It is economically referred to in the poem. We smile. We reminisce. This kind of thing has happened to all of us. The poem clearly echoes a nearly inevitable experience of humankind. 

Honorable Mentions

Honorable Mentions could go to a large number of poems, but I have picked only a medium number. These appear in no special order.

new year's morning

the bedroom radiator

begins to bang

Jerry Kilbride

Sacramento, CA

We laugh. After a bangy night of fireworks, normal life begins again with a bang. Speaking as someone who used to wake up standing in the middle of the floor wondering what was going on, when one radiator I used to have whacked as though hit by a sledge hammer, I responded to this poem with a certain piquant understanding.

rooftop prayers

breaking the sound barrier

a Blue Angel

Veronica Johnston

San Francisco, CA

Not exactly a still, small voice responding to prayer, the Blue Angel appears with certain sudden emphasis. We are startled back to the real world much as we are in the previous poem. 

fish restaurant

after the priest's blessing 

cold snapper

Carolyn Talmadge

Larkspur, CA

The priest seems to have gone on quite a while, allowing the fish to cool. The fish absolutely had to be snapper to embody the phrase "cold snap." And perhaps the diners feel a bit snappy at having the fish so cold. 

TANKA (Judge: Michael Dylan Welch)

First Place ($100)


of metastasis,

she ticks

dozens of exotic lilies

in the bulb catalog.

Pamela Miller Ness

New York, NY

Second Place ($50)

the leaves

were just budding

when you left

later you claimed

I could have stopped you

John Stevenson

Nassau, NY

Third Place ($25)

how old are you now

my father asks me

and when I tell him

his shoulders sag

into the present

Margaret Chula

Portland, OR

Each of the winning and honorable mention poems in the 2001 tanka contest sponsored by the Haiku Poets of Northern California has much to recommend it. The first-place poem presents hope for the future, not just in anticipating the growth of ordinary flowers, but of exotic lilies, dozens of them. Perhaps optimism is the person's normal demeanor, or perhaps it is a newly applied coping mechanism, directly caught in this poem. Though a cancer can grow, so too can the bulbs of hope, and perhaps hope will triumph in the human spirit over fear. In addition, the "autumn of metastasis" suggests the autumn of life, and the "tick" of the pen echoes the ticking of life's clock. We are left wondering if the person will live to see the springtime blooms and certainly we hope so. 

The second-place poem is similar to the first in its rendering of mixed emotions. In spring, the hopeful season of promise, a relationship has ended, yet it is remembered later with a sense of yearning. Yet perhaps this is a poem of resolve. Though the departed lover claims he or she could have been stopped, he or she was not stopped, just as surely as the budding of the leaves could not be stopped and the cycle of the seasons continued.

Finally, the third-place poem, with its last line's effective abstraction, also contrasts time. Perhaps suffering from growing senility or maybe merely forgetfulness, an aging father asks his daughter her age. Perhaps the daughter regrets telling him because, on hearing her answer, he realizes how old he is and droops his shoulders, deflated with the imminence of his own aging. The poem itself brings us into the present with its precise observation of human nature. 

All three of these poms (though not by my design in choosing them) present one season or time in the context of another the first set in autumn yet anticipating spring; the second remembering springtime in some later season; and the third presenting age amid youth and the realization of passing time. Not all tanka need to use the same technique of contrasting time (there are many additional techniques), but tanka, like haiku, has the powerful capability of making us aware of time, not just the life of the seasons, but, in Jane Hirshfield's words, by the lives of the heart.

I am honored to have been asked to consider all of the tanka for this contest, several more of which could have been listed as honorable mentions. Thank you to all participants for entering and to Dan Brady for coordinating the contest, and congratulations to each of the winners.

Honorable Mentions (in order)

Still a newcomer

to this rural village. 

For how many years

have our hedges grown a little more

than we have trimmed them?

John Stevenson

Nassau, NY

we watch from the porch

as the setting sun's reflection

shimmers in the lake

tomorrow's good-byes

begin in this silence

David Rice

Berkeley, CA

My son has left

his wallet on the table.

Now he's driving

without a license . . .

or prophylactics. 

John Stevenson

Nassau, NY

Special Honorable Mention in Recognition of September 11:


and indistinguishable

in the rubble's gray dust:

terrorists' ashes

among their victims

Dorothy McLaughlin

Somerset, NJ

bottom of page