HAIKU (Judge: Marion Clarke)
Forum administrator at The Haiku Foundation, poetry facilitator and visual artist, Marion Clarke is from Warrenpoint, on the east coast of Northern Ireland. In ‘life before haiku’ she wrote technical articles and features for the UK trade press while living in England. She began studying and writing haiku, senryu, tanka, and haibun in 2012, after returning to her hometown. A selection of Marion’s work is featured in the first two collections of haiku from the island of Ireland and is widely published in international haiku journals and anthologies. She combines her visual art and photography with haiku in haiga and shahai, and Japan’s NHK Haiku Masters program featured her photo haiku several times. Last year, she was awarded Grand Prize in the Setouchi Matsuyama International Photo Haiku contest. In 2021 she was invited to share her poetry at Mann Library's ‘Daily Haiku’ for the month of December. A sample of her work is featured in the Living Haiku Anthology. For more than a decade Marion has provided short form poetry workshops for schools via Poetry in Motion, an annual project organized by Community Arts Partnership in Belfast. This culminates in the Seamus Heaney Awards for Achievement, a celebration of the young poets’ work.
Winning entries and Comments
Four hundred and forty-five entries from which only three winners and a handful of commended poems were to be selected—what a daunting task! Every entry was read on three occasions over a period of six weeks to ensure that there was consistency of choice. Several poems made the first selection, then dropped further down the list upon second reading, only to reappear at the top in the third. Some declared themselves ‘up there’ from the beginning, while others invited quiet reflection after reading, then made their way up.
The final selection contains those haiku that placed a moment in time into sharp focus and reflected it in an interesting or thought-provoking way. The aural effect and visual layout were also scrutinized. I consider all the poems selected to be well-crafted.
Anyone entering an international haiku competition such as this should never feel disillusioned or disappointed that their poem hasn’t been selected (as I have been on many occasions) as this process is so very subjective. Anyway, without further ado…
the dry stone wall
The imagery in this haiku spoke to me upon first reading, and I kept returning to it—possibly because dry stone walls, so called because they are crafted without cement or mortar, are abundant here in Northern Ireland, in the countryside around the Mourne Mountains.
The setting of the haiku is a wintry landscape at the close of day and it is easy to imagine the final rays of a low, winter sun piercing the gaps between the stones of the structure. What is particularly striking is the use of “pinching” as a verb, since it can be interpreted in several ways, including squeezing something between two edges, or stealing or taking something without permission. It’s as if these ancient stones are trying to draw in or capture as much of the remaining light as possible. In addition, since many insects and plants thrive in the spaces between these rocks, I imagine that every scrap of light is important in the darkest months of the year.
In terms of sound, the internal rhyme of winter and pinching and assonance of dry and light are very pleasing, and the N and T sounds feel as solid as those centuries-old walls.
Finally, the concrete arrangement of centered words in a brick-like pattern with gaps between them is very effective. A haiku that describes a timeless experience while remaining fresh is quite an accomplishment.
rust belt factory
banks of windows
Even if the reader has never been to the USA, the use of rust belt will no doubt evoke imagery of an area that has undergone major industrial decline. In line one, we are transported to a derelict factory and, although it is not stated that this is an abandoned building, its location in a rust belt setting suggests it is in a state of disrepair.
The use of the word “banks” as a collective noun to describe windows in a factory that has been shut down for economic reasons is ironic and striking. It is also visually effective in describing rows upon rows of window panes in which the setting sun is reflected. However, rather than illuminating or brightening the window panes, we discover they are stained by the sunset, adding further to the atmosphere of abandonment. The combination of rust and stained evokes a flaking, reddish-brown surface, adding to the sense of disintegration and decay. Finally, the sibilance of S sounds adds to the silence of the scene depicted almost as if the poet were whispering the haiku in the reader’s ear.
streaming sun . . .
cabbage whites work a patch
The layout of this haiku was interesting, as reading it made my eyes dart about—just like a butterfly. The intense light in the first line hinted at summer, which was confirmed in the second, where we find butterflies hard at work. However, this industry is not being carried out on a cabbage patch, which naturally came to mind because of the butterfly’s name, but a patch of eternity. How unexpected! What on earth does a patch of eternity look like? Is it a place that is harvested each year by the offspring of these butterflies (or pests, as most gardeners would label them) Or does it refer to the fleeting life of the butterfly? Or is this a reflection on the never-ending cycle of nature. A haiku that raises questions because of that surprising last line.
we’ll never know
A devastating image that reflects our response to death in general.
we slice deeper
into the turkey
Ouch—I can see the carving knife! Nothing like a touch of sharp humor.
of the bride’s dress
Nevada City, CA
A magical shift from a scene of a train in a landscape to the evening of a wedding and the sparkle of a bridal train.
the willows spill
The visual imagery of a weeping willow spilling winter light is beautiful. And of course the assonance and alliteration of winter, willows and spill make this an aurally enchanting haiku.
what they do
with a blue sky
Beautiful, conjuring up the loop-the-loop patterns of the swallows’ flight. It also invites comparison with how we pollute the sky with carbon emissions.
in and out
of a sunbeam
a golf ball
This one brought a fleeting sense of joy. A flash of brilliance, just like life on earth. It might also be a reflection on the enjoyment of retirement.
in waning sunlight
the sheltering years
So many poems have been written about lockdown, but this contained a massive sense of sadness and loneliness. Of course, it could also refer to old age which is perhaps even more poignant.
a major chord
from the busker
From the sky to the street corner! Great use of sound.
sunset starlings shifting dunes
The sound in this one-liner wonderfully reflects the hush of wings and swirl of sand at dusk.
This one combines humor and the sad realization by the narrator that the only one upset by his/her leaving is a creature of the night and the upset caused is one of annoyance rather than grief.
A fleeting moment perfectly captured in a one-liner. It could also reflect how we are seeing fewer and fewer butterflies, which is certainly the case here in Ireland.
SENRYU (Judge: Gideon Young)
Gideon Young is a member of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective, a Fellow for A+ Schools of North Carolina, and stay-at-home dad. His debut haiku collection my hands full of light was published by Backbone Press (2021) and his poetry is included in Best Spiritual Literature 2022 (Orison Books). Gideon won a 2023 Arts in Education Artist Residency Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council. Discover more at www.gideonyoung.com.
Winning Entries and Comments
riding on thin air
the lies I've told
Mill Valley, CA
The sculpture of meaning in this senryu is absolutely lovely. I kept (and keep) returning to read it again and again.
First, the reader is given the image of vultures. Even here, readers may differ in where they meet the writer. Some may imagine vultures flying, other readers, vultures by the roadside or in trees.
However, with the second line, readers now understand the physical space in which these vultures exist. Vultures are drifting high in the air — “thin” is especially evocative here, focusing on the height of the vultures. Perhaps they are also far away laterally. “Riding on” implies the wind is doing the work; the vultures are comfortable.
The third line finishes the sculpture with sharp flourish. There is humbleness here. Perhaps regret or shame.
There are three small words the poet chose that bring this poem to the winning stage: “thin”, “I’ve”, and “the”.
The lies told are given deeper meaning by the word “thin”, the use of which showcases the exactness of the poet. “Thin” provides juxtaposition in this senryu with a dichotomy of meaning — the lies are wispy and perhaps able to disappear in the wind, and at the same time, the lies are vultures high above their (perhaps still alive) prey, circling, inevitable.
The “I” in this poem is powerful. The “I” has unleashed these lies. The lies are in the air. Poet and editor Brad Bennett talks about shadow words in poetry, words that echo each other in euphony or meaning. In this poem the shadow words of “air” and “ear” indicate the power of the I to fill an ear with lies.
I applaud the poet’s use of the word “the” in this poem. Many times, with the sparse nature of American English senryu, the poet will cut articles from their poem. However, at times, poems can be stronger with a deliberate usage of articles. In this poem, the latter is true. The poet knows exactly which lies they remember, exactly which lies ride the air. The word “the” allows the reader to be expertly drawn to the focus of the poem. Well-sculpted!
new year’s day
something like my face
at the bottom of the cup
The juxtaposition of mystery with specificity in this poem is well-crafted, offering the reader a thoughtful experience, with exquisite scents of yugen.
Perhaps the speaker of this poem has fallen “off the wagon”. Perhaps their eyesight is bleary, making their reflection at the bottom of the cup unclear. Perhaps the speaker is finding a changing way forward on New Year’s Day, their new “face” is one they do not yet know how to be proud of.
The poet’s choice to write “the cup” instead of “my cup” embraces the mysteriousness of the poem, further opening the way for both possibilities above to meet the reader.
Including the phrase “new year’s day” without its typical capitalization works well in this poem, allowing for an extended melody of quiet reflection.
This poem sparks the reader’s curiosity. I find myself thinking of it often.
trying to plan the week
around the old cat’s dying
This senryu has a gorgeous reflective tone, complementing its complexity and depth of storylines.
Long lines and three gerunds create a chorus that works well to provide a musicality of repetition that wraps the reader in empathy.
The speaker is so small; set against massive backdrops of sadness, stress, disaster, and responsibilities. Meeting the writer, I am struck with feeling.
The dynamism of “flooding” to be both a literal emergency needing an accountable response and a sudden onset of unrestrained grief is a powerful ending to an emotionally keen poem.
inside the night's
Beverly Acuff Momoi
Mountain View, CA
I praise the music in this poem; how the second line spills into the third, the unsaid harmonica’s quavering dirge.
my husband says
it’s him or me
I’m impressed with how this poet uses just a slight bit of humor to balance the heavier themes of anger, heartache, and a relationship’s power dynamics.
a rodeo clown limps back
to his pickup truck
the velvet curve
of my black cat’s back
something new —
a small boy shaking
jumps out of my mouth
The vulnerability of this poem is breathtaking. The poet is in tune with the idea of anxiety as an integral part of their existence. Bravo.
TANKA (Judge: Susan Burch)
Susan Burch is a good egg.
Winning Entries and Comments
Thank you for the opportunity to judge this year’s HPNC Tanka Contest. I enjoyed reading your work. There were 118 entries and I read through all of them several times before whittling them down to the 8 below. I considered many things, including emotional impact, humor, flow, and imagery. I wasn’t set on a particular style or syllable count or set-up of a tanka. I think there’s a wide variety of styles and voices here, so I hope you enjoy my selections.
long rainy season—
her thin kimono
heavy with grief
the unbearable weight
of another stillborn
Pamela A. Babusci
Every word here is important to this poem. From the “long rainy season,” to describe tears that seem to have no end, to the “thin” kimono that doesn’t help because they’re underdressed, unprepared, and it’s of no comfort, to how “heavy” the grief is, and the “unbearable weight” that this person carries around for their stillborn child - the weight that is an actual physical weight too, and which elevates this poem beyond the cliché. And not just one stillborn, which is horrible enough, but “another” one too. The agony comes through loud and clear and we can feel the narrator’s grief along with her. Then there’s the question, is the narrator the woman in the poem, perhaps not wanting to be that woman, or someone else observing her and not knowing how to help? Since many people haven’t had this experience once, let alone twice, I would bet it’s a lonely place to be.
sometimes I am
from day to day
Bona M. Santos
Los Angeles, CA
I like how this poem has an easy flow to it and can be read in multiple ways. As a person with chronic pain, this poem really resonates with me. I’m always assessing my pain levels and what I can or cannot do, so my days feel like they are not my own, and I am in fact drifting from one day to the next. It’s difficult to make plans because I never know how I’m going to feel on any given day. This tanka could also be about someone trusting in the universe and letting the wind take them where they need to be, or someone who is stuck in life’s routines, as shown through the repetition of going “from day to day/ to day.” The use of “fluff” tells us that whatever it is, it’s out of their control. I’m sure there are other interpretations too, because this has so much dreaming room in it, and even those could be different with each reading.
from the basket
a few more oranges
tumbling down . . .
all the moments I wish
I could still squeeze in
Christine L. Villa
North Highlands, CA
This poem is rich in symbolism. If the oranges symbolize the sun and the basket is life itself, then to have them tumbling out, further visualized by the ellipsis, must mean that time is running out, most likely for a loved one, or for the narrator themselves. Maybe they are looking back at their life and wishing they had crossed off more things on their bucket list. The word “squeeze,” typically used in making orange juice, is particularly effective here for trying to get in a little more time before death, or whatever is coming to an end, and that feeling that it’s already too late to do so.
Honorable Mentions - Ranked
the single breast I still possess
lies limp outstretched
What’s really interesting in this tanka is its use of zoomorphism, as opposed to the opposite and more commonly used anthropomorphism, to show how the person has disassociated with themselves. What might have been a source of beauty or appreciation, is now a source of sadness for what was, mixed with self-deprecating humor. The repetition of “poor creature” shows that at least at this moment, the narrator is not taking themselves seriously, when they have literally lost a piece of themselves, and it's almost like they’re petting the creature. It’s a very intimate and unflinching look into someone’s life. What a different poem this would have be if they had focused on the grief, instead of this amazing instance of humor.
in a whirl of leaves
withering, too, despite
my best intentions
In this poem, autumn is referring to the autumn of our lives. There’s nothing we can do to stop the aging process. There’s no fountain of youth, so no matter what we do, we are dying or “withering,” just as fall withers into winter. The phrase “whirl of leaves” alludes to the whirlwind that life is. It seems like we’re a child and then before we know it, we’re over the hill. Time passes more quickly than we want, especially as we get older and feel the end closing in. We can use masks, retinol cream, or exercise and eat the right foods, but inevitably, there’s nothing we can do to stop what’s going to happen. The use of commas in line 4 further emphasizes the narrator’s attempt to slow down this process, by literally slowing the poem down. There’s also an acceptance to it too in line 5, with a bit of humor to boot.
save scraped knives —
in the kitchen
is sugar cage brittle
Even though we don’t know what specifically is happening here or has happened, one thing is clear: that it isn’t something good. The “silence,” the “scraped knives,” and the brittleness of the sugar cage all point towards a hostile atmosphere. And maybe it was something good at first – people make sugar cage brittle for decorations, being careful not to break the cage. But maybe this person now feels caged inside this one, with a bitter taste left in their mouth from hurtful words they said, or by words said to them. The repetition of the “s” is reminiscent of the actual scraping of knives against each other. Are the people scraping against each other? Maybe the words were not quite cutting or maybe they’re thinking of words that will inflict pain in the future. The use of the word “save” here is interesting also, instead of the commonly used word “except.” It not only adds another “s” to the poem, but it refers to a single object. It’s total silence “save” the sound of scraped knives. I’d say that this poem has some dreaming room in it too, and no matter what you ultimately conclude, the author is effective in portraying a moment of bitterness.
of our noteworthy night
sent your way
waiting for your response
fireflies have gone to ground
This is a timely tanka in this day and age of social media and instant gratification. It’s so easy to respond to people now with email, texts, through apps, etc. that it’s incredibly hurtful when someone doesn’t respond. Then come the questions: did I misread the situation? Did I do something wrong? Why isn’t this person answering me? A night that was important to the narrator is at least partially taken away from them when the other person doesn’t answer. Using fireflies as a metaphor is a great way to illustrate what was at first a spark of passion or love, like seeing fireflies at night, to something that has now disappeared, as the fireflies have, leaving only darkness. And the phrase “gone to ground” could also imply that the narrator is now underground themselves, perhaps sad, regretful, or outright angry, that the “noteworthy night” wasn’t noteworthy to the other person at all.
cutting sprigs of bittersweet—
the harsh reality
of parents who survive
Pamela A. Babusci
This poem seems to come from the perspective of an older parent looking back on their children. By cutting the sprigs of bittersweet, they’re acknowledging the good times they had with them, while they were alive, or before something else happened to make them feel estranged from their kids. It could be that these parents, through no fault of their own, had hellions as children who were hard to raise, or to the extreme - had kids who turned out to be murderers. I think that by using the word “survive” instead of “outlive,” it alludes to these and other ways of surviving. I also think it speaks to the dichotomy of wanting kids, and how sometimes things, people, or life, don’t turn out as we expect.
HAIBUN (Judges: Taofeek Ayeyemi and Jennifer Hambrick)
Taofeek Ayeyemi Biography
Taofeek Ayeyemi is a Nigerian lawyer, writer, and author of four chapbooks, including Across the Full Moon (Mamba Africa Press, Ghana 2021) and the collection Aubade at Night or Serenade in the Morning (Flowersong Press, Texas 2021). A 2021 BotN and Pushcart Prize nominee, his haiku works have appeared in Frogpond, Modern Haiku, Akitsu Quarterly, Cattails, Acorn, Hedgerow, The Mamba, the QuillS, Fireflies' Light, Haibun Today, contemporary haibun online, Prune Juice, Failed Haiku, Eucalypt, Chrysanthemums, Seashores, and elsewhere. He won the 2021 Loft Books Flash Fiction Competition with his haibun "Banga", 2nd Place in 2021 Porter House Review Poetry Contest, and Honorable Mention in 2021 Ito En Oi Ochai Shin-Haiku Contest, 2021 Oku-no-hosomichi Soka Matsubara Haiku Contest among others. He is @Aswagaawy on Twitter.
Jennifer Hambrick Biography
A poet hailed for her "brilliant" imagery, "masterful" craftsmanship, and "uniquely musical voice," four-time Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee Jennifer Hambrick is the author of In the High Weeds, winner of the Stevens Manuscript Award of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies; the haibun collection Joyride (Red Moon Press), winner of the Marianne Bluger Book Award from Haiku Canada; and the poetry collection Unscathed (NightBallet Press). She was featured by former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser in American Life in Poetry; was appointed the inaugural Artist-in-Residence at historic Bryn Du Mansion, Granville, Ohio; and has received numerous awards and prizes, including First Prize in the Haiku Society of America's Haibun Award Competition, First Prize in the Martin Lucas Haiku Award Competition; the Sheila-Na-Gig Press Poetry Prize (2020); the Bronze Prize in the Ito En Art of Haiku Competition, Third Prize in the Irish Haiku Society Haiku Competition; and other honors from Tokyo's NHK World TV, the Haiku Society of America, the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival Haiku Invitational, Haiku Poets of Northern California, the Ohio Poetry Association, and elsewhere. Hambrick is a frequent recipient of poetry commissions, and hundreds of her poems appear in literary journals and invited anthologies, including The Columbia Review, Santa Clara Review, San Pedro River Review, Maryland Literary Review, POEM, The Main Street Rag, Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Mayfly, Contemporary Haibun Online, the Red Moon Anthologies of English-Language Haiku, the Red Moon Press Contemporary Haibun anthologies, The Women of Appalachia WomenSpeak anthologies, and many others. A classical musician, public radio broadcaster, multimedia producer, and cultural journalist, Jennifer Hambrick lives in Columbus, Ohio. You can read more about her at jenniferhambrick.com.
Holes In the Lid
by Michele Root-Bernstein
It surprises me, what I remember about that summer in the Swiss mountains. The fairies hiding in the gables. The neighbor stealing gravel from the chalet drive. The au pair girl dancing to “be-bop-a-lula.” But mostly, my brothers and sister and I trampling a maze in the farmer’s hay field while our parents were away. We had been told not to do this, yet something called to us—the fairies, maybe, or that little stream wandering through the boundary copse—
fireflies still plinking
in the mustard jar
Commentary by Taofeek Ayeyemi
Playful, daring, and nostalgic, this haibun invites the reader's five senses into its artful ecstasy. From the noise of the fleeting fairies that blend with the au pair's "be-bop-a-lula," to the itchy touches of hay and finally the sight of fireflies in a mustard jar: proceed of their yesterday's escapade, one will relish a quick flash through one's juvenile delinquencies. The on-and-off display of the fireflies in the dawn (kure) distracts from the "plinking" trouble and struggle of the insects, evoking a partial breach in the direction of johakyū (‘beginning, break, emphasis’), i.e. the traditional Japanese concept of modulation and movement that characterizes the various art forms. For its capture of the activities of insects and rodents, this poem in many ways reminds one of the works of Yosha Buson. In the end, while the kids examine the fireflies through the holes in the lid, the author helps us look into our past through the holes of memory. Every image in this haibun gives a classic taste, and that ticks all the boxes for me.
Commentary by Jennifer Hambrick
When a child’s imagination and energy join forces, all kinds of magic – and mischief – can happen. The (adult) speaker in this haibun looks back on a special childhood summer with a shrewd eye and a playful heart. The author recalls his/her own childlike imaginings and high jinks – the fairies hiding everywhere and quite possibly goading the siblings on to make those illicit treks across the farmer’s property behind their parents’ backs. The author also notices the strangeness of an adult nearby who steals gravel from driveways. Everything in the haibun prose is transgressive – the gravel-stealing neighbor, the “little stream wandering through the boundary copse.” How could a band of siblings, free from the confines of school and with all the time in the world at their disposal, resist?
These youths found – or created – for themselves the metaphorical holes in the lid of the adult world that summer. They found an escape from the limits and rules imposed on them by people older and supposedly wiser than they. The author even “justifies” the children’s antics by holding the mirror up to the grown-ups (manifested in the gravel-stealing neighbor) who establish boundaries and invent rules – only then to break them. How exhilarating stealing back their freedom must have felt to those siblings!
The closing haiku brings us to a potent reality by way of a delicious irony: a jar of fireflies – presumably ones the author and/or the siblings caught as dusk fell, not wanting to return to the confines of their house – contains creatures who normally roam free trapped against their will. Catching fireflies is a quintessential summertime activity of childhood – we are fascinated by these wondrous electrified insects, and what child at one point doesn’t want pet lightning bugs, held safe in a glass jar with a metal lid poked with air holes? In this haiku, though, the bugs can’t squeeze through the holes in the lid to escape the jar. Ultimately the author’s childhood ends, and he/she is held captive by the rules of the adult world. This poem carries at once the lightness of summertime play and the weight of growing up. And at the heart of it is a sonic image, manifested in the wonderfully fresh verb “plinking,” that makes us hear, as well as see and feel, the insects’ restless activity inside the jar.
This haibun is a delightful story told in prose that brings the reader into the wonder of childhood summer play, and in a well-constructed haiku that does a lot of heavy lifting with the lightest touch. The title might seem at first a bit too direct in connection with the narrative. But when you consider how much adults long to slip through holes in the various lids that fate and circumstance place upon us, the title brings us powerfully and profoundly back to our birthright as creatures born to live free. All of these elements working together make this haibun greater than the sum of its parts and place it soundly at the top among the entries.
by Valorie Broadhurst Woerdehoff
A spider so small I almost miss it crawls out of the book I’m reading and walks away with the rest of the story. I have no idea where that spider went or how that tale ends. Going for an early morning walk in the woods, I get tangled in fresh spider webs invisibly strung across my path. Listening to the sounds of the forest, I can swear that I hear dialogue among the novel’s characters whispered softly behind me as I go.
the stories between us
that are true
Commentary by Taofeek Ayeyemi
From the baby spider in a book to the spiderwebs in the forest, this work examines an insect that, in its species classification, is both domestic and wild. In context, the image of the webs serve as makeshifts for a book club where book lovers gather. The spider here does not just distract the poet, but also enhances interest in the story. The recognition of human illusion – a butterfly effect of what occupies the mind – as creatively illustrated in this work is dazzling and reveals a universally shareable and understandable human experience (kidoairaku) as he interacts with his environment. Although a senryū prose, otherwise called senbun in some parlance, the poesy employed in the narration makes readers want to go with the spider to harvest or retrieve the "rest of the story" through "dialogue" and "whispers."
Commentary by Jennifer Hambrick
The first sentence of the prose is delightfully strange and immediately drew me into the narrative. The story about getting tangled in a spider web on a walk through the woods ultimately stands as a metaphor for how human beings are all interconnected by our common humanity, as manifested in the stories we live and share (in every sense) with each other. The concluding senryu reinforces this greater universal truth about humanity: our stories are what bring us together – in book clubs, in relationships, and as a human family.
Winter in Gangtok
by Kanchan Chatterjee
The front desk lady is wearing a strange ring on her thumb. There is a dark maroon stone mounted on it.
"What's that for?" I ask.
"Good luck" she replies.
Her name is Tashi, she says. Then she talks about 'Dolma Tara' - the Tibetan deity for compassion and healing, I nod and turn
autumn light —
the dragon by the door
Commentary by Taofeek Ayeyemi
I am enthralled by fantasy pieces and speculative poetry, and this haibun rivets me with its mysterious (yu) and classic (kurashikku) tones. In this haibun, the author captures a unique moment with so much urgency, through a sharp maroon light that twinkles on the lady's ring in the first sentence and the iridescence of the dragon-shaped temple door knob in the accompanying haiku; all happening within seconds. In this brief work, the author opens us to the concept of Tibetan Buddhism and teaches us two of their deities: 'Tashi' for good luck and 'Tara' for compassion and healing. Unsurprisingly, the scene is set in Gangtok – a famous City in India where Buddhism is a leading religion. According to Google, “Gangtok is the capital of the mountainous northern Indian state of Sikkim. Established as a Buddhist pilgrimage site in the 1840s, the city became capital of an independent monarchy after British rule ended, but joined India in 1975. Today, it remains a Tibetan Buddhist center and a base for hikers organizing permits and transport for treks through Sikkim’s Himalayan mountain ranges.” While India.com reveals that “[Gangtok] is known for its scenic beauty and striking views of Mount Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world. Gangtok is nestled within higher Himalayan peaks with a year-round mild weather making it an excellent holiday spot.” This haibun enlightens about culture and place; two important interconnected subjects I find joy in exploring. And because it is early winter, as intuitive from the story, the light of the receding autumn in the haiku manages to find its way into the event; thereby evoking a clear and powerful seasonal feeling (kikan) which inextricably links man and nature.
Commentary by Jennifer Hambrick
The title places us in the Himalayan city of Gangtok, India. The first sentence of the prose introduces intrigue through the image of the front desk lady’s “strange ring” with the equally mysterious “dark maroon stone.” What front desk is this? What is the significance of this strange ring with its dark stone?
We learn in brief moments of dialogue that the ring is for good luck, perhaps worn to appeal to the Tibetan deity for compassion and healing. The author could have included these details in narrative prose instead of in dialogue – they are not the stuff of snappy conversation – but they do serve well to place the reader in the footsteps of a traveler who, in a foreign place, has met a benevolent wayfarer on the journey of life.
The concluding haiku is evocative, but its relationship with the prose is not entirely clear. Perhaps the “front desk lady” works at the front desk of a shrine or temple, where the rendering of a dragon (statue, painting, etc.) might be placed? And what significance should I gather from the detail that the autumn (in a haibun called "Winter in Gangtok?") light makes the dragon change color? Is the changing color ominous foreboding, or just a hint that, say, the afternoon sun is starting to descend into evening?
This haibun falls in the tradition of travel haibun that reaches all the way back to Basho’s Oku no Hosomichi and other travel writings, which ultimately birthed haibun as a stand-alone genre. As such, “Winter in Gangtok” is a traditional take on the haibun genre, and it narrates an episode from travels in a distant land and the experience of a foreigner’s efforts to understand the people in a place potentially quite different from what he/she might be used to. This haibun reminds us that travel can open our minds and hearts toward people from cultures and traditions beyond those of our day-to-day experience. It reminds us of the importance of having reverence for our fellow humans who embrace cultures and ways of life different from our own.
THE COLDEST MONTH
by joan iversen goswell
He lies on his side, flat out in the mud, unable to get up in the bitter cold. He is thirty-five years old – old for a horse. I call my vet asking her to come. As I sit with him, he watches me. If I move, his eyes follow me. Talking to him, I softly stroke his face and ears. One small nicker comes from deep within his throat. We sit together in the ice and mud and wait. It’s beginning to get dark. Finally, a truck’s lights appear and turn off. My vet walks down thru the mud with her euthanasia kit . . .
the last light
fades away . . .
Commentary by Taofeek Ayeyemi
A haibun with melancholic (wabi) and empathic tones that tells the story of how the author's companion had to leave, permanently. The thirty-five year old sick horse has reached a state of illness that suggests ending. As if he already knows what would happen, he fixes his eyes on the author: “As I sit with him, he watches me. If I move, his eyes follow me; ” and the “small nicker” that struggles its way out of the horse's throat nourishes an emotional participation (kokoro ni kaku) for readers. We experience a communication between the horse and his owner as they stick together in the cold, in the mud, before the vet arrives to put an eternal end to their companionship: “My vet walks down thru the mud with her euthanasia kit.” The accompanying haiku contributes greatly to the prose with a great leap, and the ellipsis at the end of line two reveals the gradual closure of the horse's eyes, how it fades into lifelessness; and emphasizes an overall sense of depth, penetrating into the human psyche.
Commentary by Jennifer Hambrick
The strength of this haibun rests on its dramatic story of a downed horse, the empathy the author has for the horse, and the solemn, often painful responsibility we humans have for the non-human creatures in our world. Written almost journalistically, the prose presents each fact of the scene in clipped sentences, like those of a news report. And while overblown, hyperemotional prose can all too easily reduce a subject as sorrowful as the one of this haibun to melodrama, I feel myself wondering if the prose – and the reader’s heart – might benefit from a little more breathing room.
The author might consider removing the phrase “with her euthanasia kit” and leaving that sentence as “My vet walks down through (avoiding the abbreviation ‘thru,’ which has the feel of shorthand) the mud.” The imagery in the concluding poem is clear enough to convey the horse’s untimely death. Every poem’s power comes as much from what it leaves unsaid as from what it says.
Wish You Were Here
by Alan Peat
This morning a ghost fell from the pages of my book. I recognised its hand at once - the sweep of each blue ink descender; the angle of every word. I read what it had to say of sun and sea and rain and mountains; all of it familiar as fog. And, for the briefest moment I could see the ghost clearly, plain as a fly in a shaft of light.
the curling edge
of its ocean
Commentary by Taofeek Ayeyemi
This piece is cryptic and one will pause to ponder, for long, to crack the code of its narration. A haibun that makes you ask questions: What's this ghost? A fly? But the line "plain as a fly in a shaft of light" answers "No." But the "blue ink descender" reveals that it must be a note on paper. The word "ghost" suggests how long the paper has been in the book. The accompanying "ocean" senryū beautifully corroborates the prose that this ghost is a short text on the anatomy of water: “I read what it had to say of sun and sea and rain...”. The beauty that characterizes Japanese poetry forms is the intuitive grace where readers are meant to complete the story. That is, the beauty being in the part of it not told. I had that experience reading this piece of work, albeit on a too extreme venture.
Commentary by Jennifer Hambrick
The first sentence of the prose, bordering on the supernatural and the surreal, at once stopped me in my tracks and made me want to keep reading. The “hand” in the second sentence at first seems to be the hand of the ghost mentioned in the first sentence, but with the mention of the “blue ink descender,” we realize that “hand” is also, in linguistic sleight-of-hand, being used in the sense of “handwriting.” Then follows a picture-perfect characterization of typical postcard writing – descriptions of the natural beauty of some exotic place. The concluding poem works on multiple levels: The wordplay with “last resort” conjures the image of a vacation resort on a beach in the photo on the front of a postcard, and also works (though with a bit of a stretch) with the more serious issue at play in this haibun – namely, that the person who once sent this postcard has passed away and can be experienced only as a “ghost” of memory. The “curling edge” of the ocean at the (implied) edge of the postcard is also a clever touch. One could question whether the final poem really can stand on its own, however, without the exposition of the story in the prose leading up to it. The travel details of the prose and the poem connect to the title, a common postcard catch phrase, and can be read on multiple levels: the person who wrote the postcard at that time wished the recipient were also there in that exotic land, and the author who has rediscovered that postcard maybe even quite some time after the sender’s death, now wishes the sender were back here in the land of the living.
I really enjoy this haibun – the surprising lead sentence, the clever wordplay with “hand” that backs the reader into the story and creates a veil of mystery, the gentle humor with which the subjects of death and missing those we’ve lost are treated. Death is a common subject among English-language haibun, and a haibun that addresses this subject in skillful writing while avoiding the maudlin and the sentimental is to be commended.
RENGAY (Judge: Garry Gay)
Richard L. Matta, San Diego, California
Billie Dee, San Miguel, New Mexico
a blue heron fishes
shooting stars Richard L. Matta
depth of the glacial lake. . .
Perseid shower Billie Dee
in ripples Richard
spinner glint mirrors
the night sky Billie
the comet’s tail
a large-mouth bass Richard
this vast stretch
of Milky Way
salmon eggs Billie
Turning the Corner
Sean Carlton, Santa Monica, CA
Deborah P Kolodji, Temple City, CA
before the Rose Parade
Hellfire’s warmth Sean
a woman rolls up
her sleeping bag Deborah
a marching band
from Mississippi Sean
in their game gear
cheerleader floats Deborah
trailing the Clydesdales
pooper scooper horseplay Sean
eight foot floral bees
stalled by our grandstand
photo op Deborah
In the Heat of the Moment
Julie Schwerin, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin
Angela Terry, Sequim, Washington
climate change denial
forgetting to open
the flue Julie Schwerin
the battery chirps
during the rolling blackouts Angela Terry
wrapped in foil Julie
wildfire season Angela
6 inches of snow
atop ash Julie
political argument Angela
The Tour Boat’s Wake
Michael Dylan Welch, Sammamish, Washington
Billie Dee, San Miguel, New Mexico
San Diego Zoo—
a slow line
for the pandas Michael
a row of make-out cars
at Sunset Cliffs Billie
the Coronado Bridge
curving over sailboats . . .
the tour boat’s wake Michael
sun glint on bay chop . . .
we paddle our kayaks past
the USS Midway Billie
low-riders on parade
in Old Town Michael
the Spreckels Organ
shakes Balboa Park Billie
Out of Sync
Sidney Bending, Victoria, British Columbia
Margaret Rutley (deceased)
Michael Dylan Welch, Sammamish, Washington
quiet on set
the director hollers
for the stuntman
extra padding Margaret
a jet fighter crosses
the clear blue sky . . .
old-time western Michael
a break-away stool . . . doesn’t Sidney
out of sync Margaret
at Grauman’s Chinese theatre
a mongrel lifts its leg Michael