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HaikuNow! 2011

The winners, runners up, and judge’s comments from the HaikuNow! 2011 Contest are below. For all of this information and additional, notable poems in each category, see the PDF version of the HaikuNow! 2011 Contest Results.

HaikuNow! 2011: Winners in the Traditional Haiku Category

For a description of this category, see Traditional Haiku.

First Prize

Cherie Hunter Day

Indian summer
mother dyes her graying hair
the color of straw
      —Tom Painting (USA)
Runners Up
trimming the old pine
my saw releases the scent
of childhood summers
      —Melissa Spurr (USA)
February thaw
the steady sound of snow melt
drips into my work
      —Deb Baker (USA)
vernal equinox
a toddler giving me toys
and taking them back
      —Christopher Patchel (USA)
the old neighborhood—
my cherry tree blossoming
on a stranger’s lawn
      —Marion Alice Poirier  (USA)

It is no simple thing to ask English grammar and words to fit a form that emerged organically from a language as different as Japanese, while preserving also its essential gestures and spirit. What struck me in the haiku that stepped into first place is the grace and tact with which its outer-looking image carries its fragrant hayfield of complex meanings. To dye hair is an artificial, chosen, and human act, yet vanity lessens when it is placed next to Indian summer, in which the year itself, without effort or intention, seems also to step backward, toward some impossible, momentary stay. Human and non-human each alters our view of the other, in turn. The color-choice of “straw” holds this haiku’s emotional fulcrum. Straw is straw—no matter the warmth of the year, no matter the gold of the Clairol’s alchemy, it will not become again green standing grasses. Yet it too has its beauty. (I should perhaps make clear that I read the word “mother” in this haiku as meaning the poet’s mother, and not a personification of “earth.”)

Time is also—in a way beyond the season word’s effect—at the heart of two other of these haiku. The scent of a cut pine is this moment’s scent, and does not know if the tree it comes from is young or old; it frees the poet for its moment as well. The familiar cherry tree links and contrasts with our human experience of past and present by its own kinds of transience and recurrence.

The drip of snow melt navigates time differently—the present is infused with the present in this haiku, as it is also in the haiku of the pine’s hanging droplets. Finally, I appreciated the freshness and playfulness of the haiku presenting the spring equinox as a capricious toddler—a playfulness that does not entirely disguise a sterner message, when considered closely, as is so often true in play, and in haiku.

—Jane Hirshfield

HaikuNow! 2011: Winners in the Contemporary Haiku Category

For a description of this category, see Contemporary Haiku.

First Prize

Lorin Ford

the river freezes . . .
silence is also
an answer
      —Francine Banwarth (USA)
Runners Up
in the cabinet marked Mesopotamia a broken face
      —Sandra Simpson (New  Zealand)
slowing traffic
the nonchalance
of a vulture
      —an'ya (USA)
rushing stream
my daughter asks to take
the steeper trail
      —C. R. Manley (USA)
too old
for tree forts
a voice inside
      —Peter Newton (USA)

The Contemporary Category of any contest is the most difficult to judge, because it is likely to contain the best poems any particular event has to offer. The peculiarities of the other categories—special form, or innovation within that form—provide additional means by which those poems might be singled out. Not so with contemporary practice, which might indeed involve those special considerations, but which are not pre-eminent in evaluating them.

So it has proved, in my opinion, in this year’s HaikuNow! Contemporary Category. I feel the top ten poems were quite close in merit, and choosing between them ultimately became a subjective act. So how did I choose? Ultimately on the basis of the strength of the emotion the words conveyed to me. My top prizewinner, penned by Francine Banwarth, contains a narrative element, certainly, but there is also a stop-motion strength to the image, which is easily recognizable for most of us. The manner in which the phrase element hinges in two ways is expertly handled, and each reading is equally compelling: one reading as the result of that narrative, but the other as its resolution. Nothing is wasted, and we are easily made present to the poem’s truth.

The other selections have their own precisions. Along with its wonderful rhythm, Sandra Simpson’s language choices call to mind the curiosities to be found in carnival side shows, the atrocities of war, the oddities of the museum, and our own perverse interests in all of these things. an’ya’s acute noticing contains the same nonchalance she apprehends in her subject. C. R. Manley’s winsome evocation of coming to self-knowledge is deftly anecdotal. And Peter Newton’s interior voice is one we have all heard, loudly, and which requires our constant attention. The notable others also have fine points to recommend them. In all, a strong and pleasing set of submissions, creating the kind of challenge any judge would wish to embrace.

—Jim Kacian

HaikuNow! 2011: Winners in the Innovative Haiku Category

For a description of this category, see Innovative Haiku.

First Prize

Olga Dugan

we turn turn our clocks ahead
      —Christopher Patchel (USA)
Runners Up
                              the poor boy
            s       l    y    n         m     r      l       s
           i       p  a    i     g           a    b     e
        a              l             o              n             e
          —Willy Cuvelier  (Belgium)
                                       through                                           school     vo
                                    —              the                               sic                     cal
                            ning                         win                   mu                                 warm-
                    mor                                        dow     the                                                 up
        spring                                                       of
           —Rafal Zabratynski  (Poland)
        —Seneca Kennedy (USA)
                |   brick
                |           house
        no bud yet
 memory   |
           for   mom
        —Nan Dozier (USA)

Two kinds of poems dominated the submissions to the Innovative category this year: one we might call the “shape” poem wherein the content is re-enacted by the form of the poem; and the second we might term the “language” poem, where the experience conveyed is one conjured by the way words interact, more than any attempt at a natural correlative. These would represent the more common practices of current innovation (if we may so speak) in English-language haiku, and we would expect them to be so represented. So what a judge might be looking for here would not be anything radically new, but rather how well poets realized their conceptions of the current phase of haiku experimentation.

My top selection does a bit of both, and does so so simply and quietly that it’s easy to overlook it. Christopher Patchel’s almost slight one-liner is behind us almost before we realize how profoundly it realizes its goal. His repetition of the verb recapitulates the action described, so simply that it might strike us as a typo. At the same time, the psychological slippage so enacted creates a space wherein we can muse on exactly such a slippage, on the way our sense of time reverberates in us. We also must confront the arbitrariness of the purposes to which we use time—in fact, what we are doing with clock time bears a rather strange relationship with anything we might conceive of time being in the abstract, that it be so malleable that we can shift it to our pleasure and need. This poem not only arrested me—stopped time for me—but continued to bear fruit the more time I gave it.

There were other strong contenders as well. Willy Cuverlier’s scattering of marbles is one of the best examples of what we might term a “typography” poem, first explored in haiku in the 1970s and largely abandoned. Similarly, Rafal Zabratynski’s offering enacts its content notably well. In these two offerings, the shapes are the poems, and the mere rendering of their words would seem, by comparison, quite flat.

Seneca Kennedy’s submission operates more in the second sphere suggested above: it is a poem wherein the language (and our stored expectations of it) create the frisson of its interest. The manner in which the compulsion of the subject is noted is sneaked into a trope that might be recognized as our own compulsion, or the compulsion of early education. Quite different than any of the others, Nan Dozier’s offering might be called an “array,” and such entries were quite few. This one works particularly well, storing energy on either side of the vertical axis, which is permeable, and so the one side plays against the other with a kind of osmotic energy.

Among the other notables we have haiga, rebus, other typographical effects, all of which suggest a non-linear striving towards the rendering of poetic meaning, and which promises the genre will continue to challenge its limits and remain vital.

—Jim Kacian


First-prize winners in each category received $100. Honorable mentions received $25. All winning poems will be featured on The Haiku Foundation web site and permanently archived.


Jane Hirshfield was the final judge for haiku in the Traditional category. Jane was born in New York City and received her bachelor’s degree from Princeton University in the school’s first graduating class to include women. She later studied at the San Francisco Zen Center, including three years of monastic practice at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center . She received lay ordination in Soto Zen in 1979. Her six books of poetry have each received numerous awards. Her fifth book, Given Sugar, Given Salt, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and her sixth collection, After, was a finalist for England’s T.S. Eliot Award and named a “best book of 2006″ by The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle , and England’s Financial Times. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, the Times Literary Supplement, many literary journals, and multiple volumes of The Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies. Her poems have frequently been read on various National Public Radio programs, and she was featured in two Bill Moyers PBS television specials, The Sounds of Poetry and Fooling With Words. See her Wikipedia entry for more details.

Jim Kacian was the final judge for haiku in the Contemporary and Innovative categories. He is the founder of The Haiku Foundation and the author of 15 books of haiku. See for additional information.


Cherie Hunter Day (Traditional)

Lorin Ford (Contemporary)

Olga Dugan (Innovative).


Laura Sherman was the contest coordinator. She was assisted by three category coordinators: Julie Kelsey (Traditional), Maria Eugenia Moreno (Contemporary), and Melissa Allen (Innovative).

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