HAIKU (Judge: Lenard D. Moore)
Lenard Moore is a writer of more than 20 forms of poetry, drama, essays, and literary criticism, and has been writing and publishing haiku for more than 20 years. His poetry has been translated into several languages. In 2008, Moore became the first Southerner and the first African American to be elected as president of the Haiku Society of America. He is the executive chairman of the North Carolina Haiku Society, founder and executive director of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective, cofounder of Washington Street Writer’s Group, and he served as the 2020-2021 Honorary Curator of the American Haiku Archives. Moore has won the Sam Ragan Arts Award for his contribution to the fine arts of North Carolina.
Reading more than four hundred haiku to select the top three poems from the HPNC 2021 Haiku contest, this poetry judge has grown with the tradition. How the subject matter varies. How the perspective shifts. And how the poems enlighten. These are some of the highlights that captured this poetry judge. More importantly, originality plays a major role in selecting the prizewinning poems. Nonetheless, craft and rhythm contribute to the selections, too. The poets are to be saluted for furthering the popularity of haiku. Here are voices that matter.
outlives the ginkgo
The first line, “deep rooted”, reels the reader inside the poem, contributing to its impact. One might initially think of “the ginkgo” as being “deep rooted” in earth. However, the second line, “my grandmother”, signals it is a human being rather than a tree, that is “deep rooted” and “outlives the ginkgo” in the poem. To that end, there is a contrast between “grandmother” and “ginkgo” that once bore fruit. How bad did the fruit smell? Could there be another contrast? It is understood that the “grandmother” bathed with warm water and soap or body wash. The assonance and euphony enhance the rhythm of this “deep rooted” poem. Consider that the poem opens with double adjectives. How effectively the technique reveals a connection, which has a duality of meaning insofar as “grandmother” and “ginkgo” in their rootedness. Like tree roots, each line stretches longer than the previous one, giving an illusion of roots extended like the generations. Nevertheless, each line lengthens by one syllable. Thus, there are three syllables in the first line, four syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. The poem turns with the verb “outlives” on a hopeful note. The power of the poem emerges with the two nouns: “grandmother” and “ginkgo” here. How skillful to employ the letter “g” at the beginning of each word and again toward the end of “ginkgo” for an alliterative effect. In short, this poem is memorable and as rich as the soil.
where the creek meets
The first line, “conjugal visit”, tells all. Is the uniting or meeting together between husband and wife? What does it say about the marriage? Is one of them in prison? Is such meeting allowed? There is much mystery in this poem. There is a unique contrast with the meeting of “the creek” and “the river” in this poem. Here the poem shortens by one syllable with each line. There are five syllables in the first line, four syllables in the second line, and three syllables in the third line. This poem relies on assonance and euphony for its smooth rhythm. Like waves, the poem is mesmerizing. And yet, the “visit” is temporary while “the river” is long lasting and providing a contrast. The concluding line, “the river”, alludes to ongoing movement.
the path before me
the path behind
The first line, “hydrangea petals”, opens with beauty and color: blue flowers. The reader imagines the clusters of them. This line informs the reader that it is springtime. The anaphora and repetition are literary elements that enhance the poem’s rhythm. The words here are nouns, articles, prepositions and one pronoun. It is the diction that gives the poem its mystery and power.
As the above poems are listed in rank order, they demonstrate techniques that are among the best ones. Notice the points of view, the turns of phrasing, the allusions, and the good details. These literary elements help make haiku a recognizable genre throughout the world. These poems are pathways to the sky. Maybe the reader can take flight with them. Let’s keep haikuing.
SENRYU (Judge: Robin Anna Smith)
Robin Smith (they/them/Mx.) is an award-winning poet whose work has earned numerous accolades including Touchstone Award for Individual Poem and inclusion in A New Resonance 12. They are founding Co-editor of Whiptail: Journal of the Single-line Poem, and Associate Editor at both Sonic Boom and Yavanika Press. They are Co-founder of the Trailblazer Contest, and they also serve as the Associate Coordinator for The Haiku Foundation's Touchstone Awards.
song sparrows sing
in many dialects
Santa Rosa, CA
On first read, one might be tempted to interpret this as anthropomorphism. But it is not that these birds are truly singing in different dialects; our human ears are tuned into different rhythms and intonations. We speak different languages and hear different things in these same bird songs, making birdsong something so universal that it transcends human language. That is part of the reason we seek it out—for hope, for respite; anywhere in the world we might go, we can still find home within birds. While this senryu has no humans directly featured in it, it has myriad humans sharing this one city indirectly featured in it. This senryu is quite euphonious with over three-quarters of the sounds in the poem repeating. This makes for a songlike quality that works well with the song sparrows.
owning my fragility white anemone
Coming in at just five words, this is a rather large poem on a huge topic. White folks addressing how we contribute to and benefit from systemic racism is a deeply complex issue. The poem can be easily misread as “owning my white fragility anemone,” making it clear that “white fragility” is at the core of the poem. The phrase “owning my fragility” suggests the author is attempting to take ownership of personal imperfections, to take responsibility for their place in perpetuating the status quo despite personal discomfort, and have difficult conversations, do difficult work. The use of the word “owning” has layered meaning when we reflect on our country’s past regarding slavery. The white anemone flower symbolizes sincerity, which indicates the author’s genuine desire for change. The poem has a lovely cadence as well as internal rhyme which works well to carry the reader along as a single-line senryu.
leaning forward as if
i might still rise
We don't know the circumstances as to why this author cannot rise. Is this meant in a literal or metaphorical sense—are they being held down by another or is this a health matter? The fragment “seated portrait” suggests a variety of types of portraits until we arrive at the phrase. The tension of the line break at the end of L2 as the words “. . . as if” overhang the block of the text of the poem indicates a struggle—like a person is leaning forward trying to rise from their chair but lacks the strength or coordination to fully make it all the way up safely. Might one sit a little taller to give the appearance of being more abled, to merely look more substantial, or to garner attention? They got mine. The 4-6-4 pattern of the tercet contributes to the poem’s natural rhythm.
in hospital gowns
all of us look the same
purple snapdragons . . .
all our theories
TANKA (Judge: Hazel Hall)
Hazel Hall is a widely published Australian poet and musicologist. She has a PhD in Educational Research from Monash University. In 2012 Hazel founded the ekphrastic poetry group School of Music Poets and was its facilitator until 2018. Her recent publications are Step by Step: Tai Chi Meditations (Picaro Poets 2018), Moonlight Over the Siding (Interactive Press, 2019), Severed Web (Picaro Poets, 2020), and a verse drama for radio, Please Add your Signature and Date it Here(Litoria Press 2021). She has co-edited several chapbooks and an anthology on climate change. In 1919 she co-judged the Tanka Society of America’s Sanford Goldstein International Tanka Contest with Michelle Brock. When COVID safe, Hazel coordinates the monthly event Poetry at Manning Clark House in Canberra. She feels honored to share the same name as “The Emily from Oregon.”
I am honored to have served as judge for the Tanka Category of the HPNC Contest. This was a challenging, but deeply rewarding task. There were 166 entries, each requiring deep reading so that their themes could unfold succinctly. It took much time and consideration before I was able to complete the long list and more before a potential short list emerged. I quickly discovered that loss and climate change were common themes― not surprising considering these last two years of personal, social, and political uncertainty. Other frequent issues included: the future of this planet, the future of our youth, human greed, and abuse at many levels. I looked for topical themes, poetic crafting and lyricism, strength of images, dreaming room, powerful pivots, and originality before finally reaching the short list of nine tanka. In this difficult decision, some excellent poets were reluctantly left behind.
Ambiguity, so essential in tanka, must be used with skill and care. Although poetry may contain references that remain only with the poet, judges can only comment on what they “see” in a particular poem. We are often inspired in different ways. This makes a judge’s task incredibly challenging and also humbling. I feel for the many poets who wrote of personal loss and grief. Some tanka expressed a vulnerability that was heartbreaking.
To all tanka poets who submitted to this contest, my deep appreciation. I have learned much from your insights. My special thanks to the HPNC Contest Coordinator J Hahn Doleman and the Committee for entrusting me with this year's selections. To the winners, my heartiest congratulations.
carry their oboes away
the dawn of ancient winter
at the edge of night
a solo in each star
This beautifully crafted tanka reminds me of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s story “The Sentinel”, which was inspiration for Kubrick’s epic film 2001 A Space Odyssey. The tanka begins with migrating geese, suggesting something valued is departing. We can hear the sounds of the birds as they fade away, honking like oboes― an unforgettable and perfectly chosen image. After winter comes spring. The geese will return, build nests, and goslings will emerge from the eggs. Or will they? Are we slowly smothering this planet? By the third line we are veering close to the beginning of time. The pivot line is unusually long and compelling, suggesting that an “ancient winter” takes millions of years to resolve. It divides the tanka into two smaller poems, each with its own message: the first of loss; the second of hope. The final lines, and their reference to stars “at the edge of night” is an arresting climax. Each is singing its own solo. Both the geese and humanity will wake to the birth of a new world. Images of Clarke’s “star child” come to mind, hinting at the resilience of life. Perhaps there will be change as time recommences. But can we bring hope to the world now— in real time, like the stars? An elegant tanka on the changes we are experiencing and a call to action on climate neglect, loss of wildlife, plague, and human despair. It lingers long after reading.
my hospital bed
how you control
This brief tanka of nineteen syllables (eleven words) draws our attention to control— one of the most insidious issues of today. Although both sexes use controlling behaviour, research on this issue shows that males are the more likely offenders, suggesting that the perpetrator in this tanka is male. The poem is written with only one, two, or three words per line (3/ 5/ 4/ 4/ 3) syllables, as if the poet-patient is having difficulty breathing. End words are urgent and compelling (adjusting / bed / control / narrative / now). First, we are shown how the perpetrator is altering the patient’s bed, a seeming caring gesture, hardly noticed by hospital staff or visitors. By the third line, the mood changes. Was there consultation? It seems that the patient doesn’t want the bed adjusted. Has his action caused discomfort or pain? By line four, the poet shows how the control has been going on for a long time. Both perpetrator and patient are accustomed to the controlling behaviour. The final chilling line suggests that the patient is now ill and powerless, perhaps even reaching the end of life. It’s as if the poet-patient is now resigned to anything that comes— the perpetrator has no compassion. How will the situation resolve? Is this more than controlling behaviour? We are left with the question: when does domination become abuse? A powerful and challenging tanka.
Third Place (Shared)
in the school’s Calm Room
for three hours
my son's hand-shadow puppet
listens and talks to him
This carefully layered tanka tackles the ever-present concern for our young people and their need to be heard compassionately. The poet unfolds the narrative expertly. A child is confined to the Calm Room where he can reflect on his apparent misdeeds. While this room may achieve peace for the teacher, the student receives little. In line three the poem pivots and we learn that this is not a short stay. Perhaps the boy has been talking constantly in class, interrupting the lesson. The poem turns again, suggesting that this child is very young and vulnerable. He brings out his hand puppet and converses with it since nobody else will listen to him. Sibilants in the final two lines echo the calming effect of the puppet perfectly. This tanka touches many other issues. How will young people survive in this fragmented world? Will there ever be adequate skills and resources to help children who have special needs? This particular child has the resilience to find a listener, albeit make believe. Perhaps when he leaves the Calm Room, his teacher will believe that the experience has been positive for the child. The poet-parent knows that this will not be so. And what of the many other children suffering, especially in these particular times? A wonderful, subtle tanka exploring many salient concerns.
Third Place (Shared)
caressed my skin as if
reading by braille
on this dark winter’s night
how felt the written word
Perhaps a memoir poem, this sensuous tanka explores love, lovemaking, longing and loneliness. The poet has chosen to write in the past tense, suggesting this particular event happened some time ago, perhaps when the poet was very young. Set in a “dark winter’s night”, the poet-lover reflects on a partner’s caresses. Sibilants in the first two lines emphasise the softness of that caress. The poet has used an even syllable count (4-6-4-6-6) which supports the flow of the lover’s movements. By line two we learn that the poet and lover may be naked. On reaching line three, the poet expands on the experience. The image is unusual: “(as if) reading by braille.” Sensitive fingers are needed to trace the words of love. Questions come to mind. Is the lover still living? Or lost for ever? Is the lover sightless? The answer is never quite resolved, adding to the lingering beauty of the poem. In the final lines an unexpected shift in tense reminds us that the poet is now alone in the pervading darkness remembering the experience. Written as sensitively as the lover’s fingertips, this poem is perfect in every way. It is never too late to remember the thrill of lovemaking.
the oars drip
and then slowly stop
will it ever be the same
Christine L. Villa
North Highlands, CA
This beautiful poem speaks of loss, sorrow, and the resilience that comes from grief at many levels. It is full of ambiguity. The first line begins with an arresting image of dripping oars, reminiscent of Matthew Arnold’s (1822-1888) elegy “The Youth of Nature” (1852). It’s an image rich with symbolism. We think of the outpouring of grief and how it streams down the human face. Of the legendary Greek boatman Charon, who ferries the dead across the river Styx. Grief is a journey. It can lead us to peace and greater understanding or it can leave us travelling forever on its billows. In this tanka the water evaporates and the oars dry. But the final lines ask: “will it ever be the same / with grief”. An answer has already been suggested in line three where the poet repeats that one word, “dripping”. This use of the present participle hints that for this poet, grief is endless. Has a partner or close family member been lost? Has there been an accident? A flood? Does this poem hint at climate change and the drying of our waterways? The poet provides no explanation. Only the sound of that third line, dripping into memory.
there is no point
in going back
to stray breadcrumbs
the birds have dined
on our finger’s thread
The fairy tale 'Hansel and Gretel' underpins this powerful tanka, which at first suggests the breakup of a personal relationship. The opening commands attention immediately, reminding us that the pathway to the past has disappeared. In the third line “stray breadcrumbs” suggests that attempting to return to that time will not offer a passage out. Are others involved, perhaps new partners? Or is this tanka reminiscent of office politics and the way ambitious individuals jostle to take over the positions of others? But the tanka offers a more sinister theme. Left as insurance to save ourselves, the trail of stray breadcrumbs has been eaten by birds. The scavengers were happy to dine on crumbs as fragile as a “finger's thread”. We have been scavengers too. Increasing wildfires and other weather events suggest that the world is facing the witch's oven of climate change. Can we find a lifeline? Is it too late to change and find another path out of the woods?
HAIBUN (Judges: Kala Ramesh and Keith Polette)
Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland
There is a parquet floor and four beds.
The one that matters to me is on the right, closest to the door. He is sitting upright, pyjama clad, more shrunken about the chest and arms, this time. The same slightly lopsided smile, his eyes still bright.
We chat of this and that – I forget the details. But then I tell him I have been looking through a few of his old civil engineering books. I say how I came across a discussion on concrete and the crystallisation of calcium silicate. How I was fascinated to see it chimes with my understanding of the way mullite crystals of aluminium silicate bind the particles of ceramic materials when clay is fired in a kiln. I tell him how delighted I am to find this connection between our two lives’ works.
My enthusiasm falters when I realise his gaze is blank. He gives a small, regretful smile and says
‘Guy, I can’t remember that stuff anymore.’
I do not know what to say; the rest of the visit seems obscured, as though through a sound-proof, rain-swept window. As we end this, our last real conversation, he leans back into his pillows and closes his eyes.
T-square and scale
dusty on the drawing board
forgotten slide rule
The haibun is clear and evocative in the manner in which it depicts and dramatizes an ill-fated attempt to recover a relationship with the father, one made irrecoverable by the father’s loss of his hold on memory. The imagery is strong, especially in how the “crystallisation of calcium silicate” and the binding properties of “aluminium silicate” stand in stark contrast to the father’s blank gaze. Especially poignant is the image of the kiln and how it serves as a metaphor for the speaker’s attempt to forge a new relationship, one based on recently found common ground, with the father. In this attempt, though, the forge fails in both its literal and imaginal functions, a failure signified by the father’s final move of closing his eyes, which also directs the reader back to the title, “Too Late,” and its reference to the myriad levels of loss that are described. The haibun ends with an effective haiku, one that talks about how the instruments of measurement and design were once robust with meaning in his father’s life but are now only collecting dust. The haiku also carries an echo of the father’s haunting statement to the speaker, “Guy, I can’t remember that stuff anymore,” as the reader is left with a sense of loss, in which as Eliot wrote, “nothing connects with nothing.”
Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada
On his concertina, Cousin Sonny played a polka and a schottische at my sister’s wedding. When I asked him how he had learned to play, he said that Grandpa had taught him. This was unexpected news. Three days later, I rode my bicycle into the city to see Grandpa and asked him to play for me. He did so, just slow lullabies on a battered concertina I had never seen before. He reached nearly all the right buttons, and most of the notes sounded, though there was some wheezing. It seemed wonderful to me. Later, Grandma told me I should have asked him to let me keep the instrument, but I had never wished for that. What I wish I could have kept was Grandpa. By the next weekend, he was dying. In the hospital, I whispered to him that I had just graduated from high school. He spoke no words, but he reached for my hand and stroked it. There was some wheezing.
certain seeds fall
on fertile ground—
humming by the cradle
This haibun focuses on the complexities of human relationships. The title, the prose, and the haiku coalesce to take the reader into the realm of human failings, which is manifest in the speaker’s attempt to recover from a deep sense of loss. The title conveys the action of loss and recollection by suggesting that the speaker, who was unaware of some important particulars of the grandpa’s life, finds and follows a broken melody in an attempt at reclamation. Particularly effective is the use of “wheezing” as it suggests varying states of consciousness. The haiku is also quite effective in how it articulates how “certain seeds fall on fertile ground.” The last line, which evokes an image of the presence of loved ones, who may be “humming and singing near the cradle,” offers an image of new life, one that is suggestive of the cycle of nature itself.
Santa Cruz, California
empty parking lot
my young husband teaches me
to skid across ice
He is not with me tonight when my car climbs through sleet and tempest, not with me when I crest the coast mountains. A pickup speeds past, spraying my windshield with oil and slush. Ten p.m. Cars waver ahead. They drive like candidates for DUIs. Brake lights flicker on, flicker off. I glimpse a patrol car, its roof strobing red and blue behind a stopped SUV.
I keep just below the limit on the descent. Cars accelerate past and we all swing raggedly into the first curve, the familiar hard right, hard left, rushing toward the Pacific storm.
When I enter the next bend, the road falling steeply to the right, I'm overwhelmed. Both lanes are jam-packed with brake lights, blood-bright. The grease-slick road squeals under all the tires. Beside me, cars rear-end, sideswipe, spinout.
And then he is here. He eases up my foot on the brake till my wheels catch again. He steers toward the crash barrier to straighten my skid, squeezes the brake, pumps the brake, quiets the nails-on-chalkboard screech inside my head. I breathe in, breathe out, his firm hands on the wheel beside mine, his grip dry and holding.
My little car straightens, squeezes between the barrier and the pickups whose drivers have slowed to gawk and block. I drive carefully and relentlessly past the wreckage, eyes on the road, to leave the swerving vehicles behind.
In my rear-view not one headlight follows me past the wreck. I stop in the dark damp at an emergency phone and call it in, my hands trembling, my face salted.
clear mountain air
his ashes float from my fingers
on to snow
This is a haibun with a twist, offering a sense of mystery, which is something that is not frequently found in this genre. The opening haiku seems, on one level, to serve as a kind of predictable exposition of a long story, but the narrative that follows swerves in a new direction. As the haibun proceeds, the reader is left to wonder if the husband, who appears in the fourth paragraph, is a life-saving agent conjured from the speaker’s imagination or a spectre who has suddenly appeared to aid the speaker in avoiding a collision. Overall, the sense of tension and drama are well crafted. The haiku that concludes the haibun offers an image of life.
Kala Ramesh is a poet, editor, and anthologist who received a Pushcart Prize nomination in Modern Haiku (51.3) for her haibun "On Slippery Ground." Her book of haiku and haibun, Beyond the Horizon Beyond, was shortlisted for the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize in 2019, and HarperCollins will publish her new book of tanka and tanka prose, The Forest I Know, in July 2021.
Keith Polette lives and writes in El Paso, Texas. His book of haibun, pilgrimage, received the Haiku Society of America's Merit Book Award (2021).
RENGAY (Judges: Dan Schwerin and Julie Schwerin)
Far From Shore
Laszlo Slomovits, Ann Arbor, MI,
Jennifer Burd, Ann Arbor, MI
Michele Root-Bernstein, East Lansing, MI
far from shore
immigrant ballads Laszlo
skipping two generations
her red hair Jennifer
the lives they lived
a cache of letters
in copperplate script Michele
the old name
testing a new alphabet Laszlo
a season’s border
the seeds we carry Jennifer
mulched with bygone leaves Michele
This rengay reached us on an emotional level. In addition, it was the strong links between each verse which elevated this poem to the top position for us - particularly those links in the first half of the rengay which started us on a journey we didn’t expect to travel. Evocative haiku on the significant theme of immigration were utilized to effect while still remaining understated overall. We also appreciated a title that was suggestive without being telling. Words such as “immigrant”, “generations”,” lives”, “name”, “border”,”seeds” and “grandpa” provide cohesion to the unified theme. The specificity of the “copperplate script” took us to a time of fine handwriting with a feather pen and now-faded ink. A cyclical nature is also apparent as the leaves in the last verse carry us back to the seashells in the first; both remnants of past lives that have drifted far from where they started.
Deborah P Kolodji, Temple City, CA
Billie Dee, San Miguel, NM
the only visitors
the softest pink
first mourning dove song Billie
no more room
in the morgue Deborah
am I telling you this
screech owls all night Billie
a peacock’s reflection Deborah
the last nestling
left to feed
cuckoo chick Billie
This rengay features two themes so strong it would be difficult to say which is primary except for the title which brings the more subtle and timely theme of the pandemic to the surface with words like “mourning”, “morgue” and “mask mandate”. Certainly there is also a bird in each verse - birds that have become recognizable as what may be their human counterparts. We feel certain we could put names to that “peacock” and the “cuckoo chick” -so much energy expended for this last nestling; the one which drains most of the resources from the others. The underlying, understated frustration is evident. The one bird that brings joy in the first verse, unfortunately is fleeting. Our senses are awakened by colors and sounds and touch and perhaps even tastes and smells. We appreciated the strong links between the verses, especially between the second and third verses which link through both association and contrast.
Lew Watts, Chicago, IL
Tanya McDonald, Woodinville, WA
autumn leaves LW
paging through TMc
an old manuscript TMc
another sip of scotch TMc
at a new interpunct LW
a slight pause LW
the last ray of sunlight TMc
on an initial TMc
in the affidavit’s small print LW
her mother’s name LW
in Baskerville Old Face LW
a footnote about death TMc
the ink smudged TMc
on my birth record LW
father unknown LW
We appreciated this rengay for its creativity and construction utilizing what has become known as a brick-rengay format. But before getting caught up in its novelty, we agreed that first and foremost the verses had to function as a traditional rengay would. And regardless of who wrote which lines, in all rengay the verses should link both to the one that precedes it and the one that follows. In a brick rengay, this is achieved in a different (and perhaps more challenging?) manner which seems to keep the writers particularly mindful of making those links strong. An inviting title independent of a line in the poem adds another resonant piece. There is a strong adherence to the theme of script and printing with interesting and specific language such as “manuscript”, “interpunct”, “initial”, “affidavit”, and “Baskerville Old Face”. Perhaps most important to us was the emotion it evokes through the narrative and a discovery of family both present and absent.
Deborah P Kolodji, Temple City, CA
Yvette Nicole Kolodji, Whittier, CA
lost in a maze
of torii gates Deborah
a forest of tourists Yvette
the boatman’s pole
with outstretched wings Deborah
line of cranes
a repetitive pattern
in each stitch Yvette
deciphering the stops
all day bus pass Deborah
on the Golden Temple
my flight home Yvette
Naia, Temecula CA
Billie Dee, San Miguel, NM
awaiting the foal's
first breath Naia
drinking from the same trough
old gelding and I Billie
the roan stallion pins back
his ears Naia
my bowlegged grandfather
brushes his Stetson Billie
cowpoke on all fours
the toddler squeals giddyup! Naia
the farrier’s wagon
lists to one side . . .
lazy afternoon Billie