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HaikuNow! 2012

The winners, runners up, and judge’s comments from the HaikuNow! 2012 Contest are below. For all of this information and additional, notable poems in each category, see the PDF version of the HaikuNow! 2012 Contest Results.

HaikuNow! 2012: Winners in the Traditional Haiku Category

For a description of this category, see Traditional Haiku.

First Prize

Michael Henry Lee

Leonid showers
the sky continues falling
one star at a time
     Michael Henry Lee (USA)

Of the finalist poems I received in this year’s Traditional Category, the haiku “Leonid showers” stood out for me for its sharp precision and particularity, for its use of language that felt perfectly natural, undistorted by the need to meet syllable count, and for the surprising power of its image’s held meaning.

This haiku is a description of the actual, but as with all successful haiku, a description that pulls with it a larger wake of meaning and feeling. When we see shooting stars, they are just shooting stars; we know the science of it: a bit of errant comet dust blazing as it enters the atmosphere of earth. Yet I have never seen one without being moved. A shooting star (let alone the cascading many that come on a good night of the Leonids) is both beautiful and a startlement, a disruption of expected orders of being. Stars are supposed to stay in place, to move almost imperceptibly over the long course of a night. When one suddenly grows implausibly bright, and arcs swiftly out of being, the unavoidable emotional response is something that has struck human beings in the same way over history, in every place and time.

Out of many equal existences, one steps forward. It takes our attention, our hearts. Then it is gone. Just so, we experience the lives of those we love, in this world. In a shooting star, in that single heightened glimpse of existence and loss, all loss becomes visible. The whole sky is falling. (I will add here that I myself enjoyed the mild Chicken Little echo in the phrase, rather than finding it jarring). And when one life disappears, the world comes to an end. We see this happen all our lives, disappearances one by one, over and over. How can we bear it? “The sky continues falling/ one star at a time.” The verb tense here is this haiku’s heartbreaking key.

     —Jane Hirshfield

Runners Up
veterans graveyard
the tracers of fireflies
crisscross the silence
      —William Cullen Jr. (USA)
September morning . . .
sunlight in the impressions
of three thousand names
      —Alice Frampton (USA)
Runners Up Commentary

Each of the two haiku I’ve selected for runner up notice emerges from the awareness of war — a state our country has now actively been in for ten years.

One refers to the (now newly finished) September 11 memorial so tactfully that it takes a moment’s attention (“Why 3,000?”) for the reader to recognize the haiku’s actual subject. The early morning light bringing the chiselled names into the realm of the visible; the reader’s memory of the violence that is the reason this scene of light and names now exists — it is the tactful juxtaposition of these two events, one momentary and irrevocably altering, the other ordinary and repeated daily, that shakes the awareness. And being shaken into awareness is here the point.

The haiku “veterans’ graveyard” is more instantly graspable—it announces its meaning in its first line — yet the juxtaposition of firefles and the image of military tracers is for me something new, and moving. What is ordinarily beautifully transient — fireflies — takes on a different, darker meaning, here. This haiku feels to me to be saying that even in death, the veterans are consigned to relive war, though now in ghostly echo. They are beyond further harm, but what was does not entirely disappear.

     —Jane Hirshfield

scattered crabapples—
three old women bickering
over this and that
      —Kathy Lippard Cobb (USA)
the moment between
waking and remembering
a widow’s first morn
      —June Rose Dowis (USA)
twilight rain
the blue heron mid-lake
somehow smaller
      —Alegria Imperial (Canada)
HaikuNow! 2012: Winners in the Contemporary Haiku Category

For a description of this category, see Contemporary Haiku.

First Prize

Michael Henry Lee

hospice ward
the click of the door
behind me

     Cara Holman (USA)

An average haiku will give us a time and a place and a relationship. A good one will make us feel something about the interaction of these elements. A truly exceptional one will allow us to enter into it and become a part of it, and it a part of us.

Obviously the poet here is freighting the poem from the outset — one can hardly mention “hospice” without entering starkly emotional territory. But this is as much risk as sure thing — where emotion is automatically presumed, there is the constant danger of it wearing thin, or seeming cheap, or being spent inappropriately. And there’s little doubt about what consequences must be in play with such an opening.

But the poet manages this potential slippery slope neatly here by ambiguating the situation: who is the “me” in the poem? Me could be the hospice patient, or a visitor, or a member of the clergy, or a hospice volunteer, or any combination of these things. And by trying on each of these roles we get a complete sense of the experience. All this is punctuated with the acuity of the image of the shutting door, a metaphor that suggests finality — now or soon — without having to say it. This nice management of tricky terrain is worthy of our appreciation.

     —Jim Kacian

Runners Up
August night —­
kisses she learned
from a book
      —Glenn G. Coats (USA)
night fall —
in my dreams
there’s still time
      —Michael Henry Lee (USA))
Runners Up Commentary

Any poem striving for attention in second decade of the 21st century using a pro forma seasonal tag had better make certain it carries its weight. The first of these poems is asking a lot of “August night,” but in this case I feel the phrase delivers. The feeling of an August night is like no other, of course, with its mingling of the heat of days past but already the slight turning that promises an autumn and a winer looming. There is, in short, a poignancy in the phrase that isn’t captured with July, or September, or any other month. The payoff for this exquisiteness is the unexpected remainder — what book-learning has done to this girl is consonant with the on-the-cusp quality of the night and season itself, the time of ripening, of savor, of the hint of changes that cannot be undone. I feel the eroticism of this poem could not be poised most delicately.

And as with the actual, so with the potential — in the night, with what Borges called its “unanimous” voice, time ceases to be inexorable, and in fact is nearly indeterminate. In such circumstances there is the possibility of all — there is nothing we can’t do while burning the midnight oil. And it is the falling of night which is the harbinger of this time of potentiality. The understated desperation of the speaker makes the poem all the more poignant, since we know the sun will eventually rise, and in the light of day perhaps there is not enough time. But for now, we have the dark, and our dreams . . .

     —Jim Kacian

slowly taken
into the light
      —Mark E. Brager (USA)
our voices rising
coming down
the mountain
    —Mark Smith (USA)
HaikuNow! 2012: Winners in the Innovative Haiku Category

For a description of this category, see Innovative Haiku.

First Prize

Peter Newton

     —Peter Newton (USA)

I didn’t find many of the entries to the Innovative category to be very innovative. I don’t mean this in any negative way — it’s incredibly difficult to be innovative on demand, and those who can get paid a great deal of money for their facility, and fail more often than they succeed. What I did find were many poems that explored some of the side roads of haiku form, and I chose what I thought was the best of these, this one-liner with the words run together, what Nick Virgilio called a “weird,” as my top winner. This is a quiet poem in subject and in execution, but the form is perfectly consonant with the content, and the way the eyes slow to accommodate the brain as it tries to figure the stops is also imperceptible. There have been few “weirds” in the annals of haiku that have so neatly meshed their elements, and I felt one that took on this challenge and met it in such fine fashion deserved recognition. There’s a reason why we don’t see too many of these about—they’re really hard to craft without the seams showing. If this poem inspires a rash of them, let’s hope they are so neatly knitted
as this model.

     —Jim Kacian

Runners Up
Zulic graphic
      —Jana Zufic (Croatia)
shoestring burrs       in the meadow
a fetal moon              on the way home
      —Darrell Lindsey (USA)
Runners Up Commentary

One of the most truly innovative entries this year was this “ancestors” poem. Its formal logic permits multiple readings, and entry virtually anywhere in it “field.” The spacing and attractive layout make it a visual delight as well. The only reason it isn’t my first choice is because the content renders the poem a tautology — the reader may enter the poem anywhere, but will arrive at the same “reading.” This technique i think is worthy of some exploration with content that will not automatically reduce itself to the certainty of statement that this one devolves to.

The second poem, “shoestring burrs,” works in the same fashion that our 2011 Innovative Category top prize winner did — each of the four elements can be read in any order, and their interaction, linearly and cross-wise, broadens and deepens the poetic experience. I don’t feel the content of this poem, either, maximizes the formal elements in play, and so I look forward to poems in a similar vein that are not quite so pastoral. Nevertheless, that “fetal” does raise some interesting speculations for the present example.

     —Jim Kacian

All my baggage
reduced to a single carry on.
      —Rebecca Winsor (USA)
      —Bruce H. Feingold (USA)
cl a y
      —Roland Packer (Canada)
milkweed fluff taking
bullet train
its time
      —Scott Mason (USA)
Painting graphic
      —Tom Painting (USA)

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
Jim Kacian


Tom Painting (Traditional)
Francine Banwarth (Contemporary)
Christopher Patchel (Innovative)


Maria Moreno

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