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New to Haiku: Tips for Entering Haiku Contests

One fun way to challenge yourself as a haiku poet is to enter contests. However, there are a great number of contests out there. How do you know where to begin? Here are some tips for getting the most out of the haiku contest submission process:

See who is sponsoring the contest. Some haiku contests are simply looking for poetry written with a syllable count of 5/7/5. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t enter, but they might not appreciate good haiku. My best recommendation is to pursue contests that are sponsored or endorsed by groups that are familiar with haiku. Marion Clarke manages the Contests and Awards Bulletin Board in The Haiku Foundation Forum. The New Zealand Poetry Society maintains a comprehensive list of haiku contests; this list is regularly updated throughout the year, with new contests added on a rolling basis. I love both of these sources and refer to them regularly. (I’ve also been known to search Twitter using the hashtags #haiku and #contest, but this leads to results that are quite variable!)

Read the instructions thoroughly. I know, this goes without saying, but I’ve still been caught off-guard by contest rules. Sometimes, a topic is embedded in the fine print, you need to email the submission to more than one person, or there’s some other tiny detail that winds up being very important.

Pay attention to the way haiku is described in the contest announcement. Some contests stipulate that your work has to be in three lines. Others want 5/7/5 haiku. Some may welcome senryu, others won’t. This is just my working philosophy, but the less a contest seems to be familiar with modern English-language haiku, the more likely I am to send them a haiku with a 5/7/5 syllable count, just to be on the safe side.

Enjoy the prompts. Some contests are themed, and while that might pose a challenge, it can also be fun, interesting, and lead you to write haiku about topics you may not have tackled before. For example, there was A Little Iris Haiku Contest held recently with the theme of “crude oil.” This was not a topic about which I ever envisioned writing haiku!

Know your rights. Most contests expect that your work has not been previously published, although there are some exceptions. Also, please double check that the contest does not require “all rights.” If it does, you lose all rights to republish your work in the future. You may decide that this is worth it, but I don’t want to see you caught unawares.

Check the fees. Not all haiku contests have fees. For those that do, it’s useful to look at the ratio of contest fees to contest awards. A contest with high monetary fees and low monetary awards requires scrutiny.

Note the time zone of your contest deadline. English-language haiku has an international following, which I am happy about 99.9% of the time. But I have been known to submit very close to the deadline! Some contest organizers will honor the date of the time zone that you live in, and some won’t. I remember once when submissions closed a few days before the deadline — I was so upset. Don’t let this happen to you. Submit early!

Keep good records. Always keep track of which of your haiku are out in circulation. Trust me, having to withdraw a poem because you’ve forgotten that you published it elsewhere sucks. (And it happens to most of us at one point or another, so don’t feel bad if this happens to you. A polite apology goes a long way.)

Celebrate your wins! Haiku can be a lonely place when you don’t have anyone with whom to share your latest publications or contest wins. This is a terrific use of social media — thank the contest organizers and show off your award, whatever it might be. Once you have built up your personal haiku community, find little ways to celebrate each other, be it going out to lunch or sending happy emojis by text.

Try not to take it personally if you don’t win. As my friend Susan Burch reminded me recently, if you don’t win, it doesn’t mean your poem is bad. If you love it, someone else might love it too.

Hold on tight and have fun! Okay, this last one is actually what I was told as a child, riding my favorite roller coaster at the local amusement park. But this saying holds true here as well. As Susan likes to tell me, you can’t win if you don’t play!

Have you placed in a haiku contest? Do you have winning tips and tricks to share? Tell us about it in the comments!

The California Urban Forests Council sponsors an annual haiku contest with fun prizes. Last year, I was fortunate enough to win 6 bottles of wine, a forestry poster, and a book about California’s trees!

We’d love to hear from you in the comments. The Haiku Foundation reminds you that participation in our offerings assumes respectful and appropriate behavior from all parties. Please see our Code of Conduct policy for more information.

My thanks to Susan Burch for brainstorming with me and to John Kelsey for proofreading. Any remaining errors are mine, sadly.

Julie Bloss Kelsey is the current Secretary of The Haiku Foundation. She started writing haiku in 2009, after discovering science fiction haiku (scifaiku). She lives in Maryland with her husband and kids. Julie's first print poetry collection, Grasping the Fading Light: A Journey Through PTSD, won the 2021 Women’s International Haiku Contest from Sable Books. Her ebook of poetry, The Call of Wildflowers, is available for free online through Moth Orchid Press (formerly Title IX Press). Her most recent collection, After Curfew, is available from Cuttlefish Books. Connect with her on Instagram @julieblosskelsey.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this informative and much needed column, Julie. I have entered only a few, and it often feels quite daunting. Your advice and the comments are so helpful.

  2. If you think a haiku you’ve written particularly ‘sings’ or achieves the hallmarks of a good haiku then you can set it aside for awhile to align with specific contests. If you enter and it doesn’t place you can still send it to journals for consideration later. It doesn’t work the other way round so worth considering.

    1. Dear John ,
      Thanks! It is really a good point you mentioned. Sometimes we happen to write good ones and with enthusiasm post them straight away. Till I see this I thought I am the only person doing it. It is very kind of you to express your ideas generously.
      Lanka

  3. What a great column today and so many good suggestions in the following comments. Thanks so much.

    1. I thought I had discovered that haiku backward is Ukiah. Then I learned that the town of Ukiah, CA holds an annual haiku festival. I wonder if the California Urban Forests Council has anything to to with the Ukiah festival.

  4. I was just checking out Haiku Canada’s The Betty Drevniok Award and there’s just two days left to enter! :-)
    http://www.haikucanada.org/contests/drevniok.php?page=drevniok&lang=en

    I was checking last year’s winners, and was intrigued that Third Prize was placed at the top, and reading the results in reverse order, and reading that haiku more once, I realised it was a worthy winner, that I’d even place first! :-)

    You can click on the previous results and commentaries, and download the PDFs.

    THIRD PRIZE

    home from hospice—
    your empty cup
    in the sink

    Karin Hedetniemi,
    Victoria, BC

    She also got an Honourable Mention which again, I felt was engaging. I decided to look up this poet and was amazed that she was already following me on Twitter, but I wasn’t, so I quickly remedied that! :-)

    The poet also didn’t make that faux pas that many journals carry through, and that’s two hyphens with a visible gap, instead of correcting to an N–dash or M—dash.

    Of course I wasn’t surprised, as Karin Hedetniemi is a non-fiction writer which carries its own discipline regarding grammar.

    Karin: AGoldenHour.com
    Twitter
    @karinhedet

    Contests are worth supporting for many reasons. Here I ‘discovered’ a new haiku poet, and will look out for her in the future.

    Alan

  5. One more tip: Research the contest. If its website has archives, check them out. If the contest is being hosted by a journal, check out previous issues. These steps will indicate what a winner looks like (from the judges’ standpoint). For example, if all of the previous winners were tercets, don’t send a monoku. If the journal only prints haiku with kigo and juxtapositions, then your submission should meet those criteria.

  6. In the results of the 33rd ITO EN Oi Ocha Shinhaiku Contest there is one haiku in the section „Award for excellence“ that has already been published. The organizer – ITO EN Shinhaiku Contest Executive Committee didn’t aplly „Applications conditions“. The author didn’t apologize or withdraw the published haiku. Unfairly, unscrupulously…

  7. A long time ago I ran a number of haiku contests with myself as judge, and paid someone to collect all the entries, and remove their names, so I could blind judge.

    Now that I see so many haiku (as part of Call of the Page) before they see the light of day I can no longer be a judge, but love the privilege of seeing rough diamonds and their eventual public appearance.

    With Words (pre Call of the Page):

    https://www.withwords.org.uk/results.html#2008commentary
    and
    https://www.withwords.org.uk/results.html#2009commentary

    Wonderful work!

    Contests can do so many things. One famous haiku/haibun writer had a poem rejected by 60 magazines and yet co-won of the biggest UK poetry prizes in a competition.

    We just never know when a contest can affirm or reaffirm our work and belief.

    Alan Summers
    founder, Call of the Page

  8. I like to envision myself as the judge (which I have been) of the contest. When the contest is over and selections are made the judge normally writes comments about the winning poems. I ask myself, what would I say if I had to write a reaction to my poem. Many high quality poems, worthy of recognition, will be in the contest. Try to give the judge something to talk about!

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