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THF Monthly Kukai — October 2021

Welcome to the THF Monthly Kukai.

This month’s theme:

Note: Anonymity is an essential part of any kukai. Please respect this to offer the reader (and voter) the opportunity to choose only the poem.

The THF Kukai Overview

A kukai is a (usually quite casual) poetry contest. The administrator of the kukai (that’s us) assigns a theme for a given writing period and posts to Troutswirl (The Haiku Foundation blog) on the THF site, which is then redirected outward through our various media outlets. Poets write work to this theme during the allotted time and submit it to the administrator. The work submitted is gathered into an anonymous roster and posted to Troutswirl (The Haiku Foundation blog) for public viewing. At that time all participating poets and other interested readers may vote for their favorites. Votes are tallied and the results made public. The top winners will be acknowledged each month, and offered their choice of prizes from a list compiled by the Foundation.

Results of Last Month’s THF Kukai

theme: volunteer

In September there were 89 submissions from twenty countries spread across four continents.
Sixty-three voters casting ballots determined the following results.

First Prize
again this year
in the same corner
wild rose
     — Peggy Bilbro (61 points - 6; 5; 3; 1; 0)
If this is located in the poet’s own garden, then it sounds like my favorite kind –– those that remain somewhat undefined around the edges. The poem has the ring of truth for me, having recently discovered that a familiar stretch of blackberry bushes alongside the River Cam has all but disappeared this year. This is a bit of a mystery. And isn’t that the point? We look for the return of these old friends each season, and if we are fortunate they reappear. But it’s never quite a given. Their re-emergence is a gift of continuity and familiarity that we cannot take for granted, and in that way serves as a paradigm for life in general.
Second Prize
her smile
speaks all languages
     — Gavin Austin (46 points - 5; 2; 3; 2; 0)
I find this a touching and succinct expression of our common humanity and heritage. The suggestion is that this girl or young woman speaks little or no language other than that of her parents. Whether this particular refuge is a women’s shelter in San Francisco or a refugee camp in Holland –– or any family anywhere that has welcomed her in –– it is a mercy that she can smile at all. And that she feels safe enough to do so.
Third Prize
covid volunteer . . .
crying on his
own shoulder
     — Jeff Leong (44 points - 3; 4; 2; 2; 3)
I ask myself: can we call this a haiku, or is it simply a brief description? Either way it is clear, evocative, and moving. And if we want to find a hinge-point, or an internal shift of some kind, it is arguably there in the last line. It is not a surprise ending, exactly, but it is arresting. A volunteer needs to remain detached from suffering to some extent –– just as a doctor does –– in order to work effectively. As I see it, this young man has been briefly overpowered by emotion. Yet he has resources, drawing not insignificant comfort from his own body, its warmth and familiarity. Once again we arrive at the idea of a common humanity.

Honorable Mentions
summer festival
a volunteer cricket
closing the season
     — Clara Toma
vaccination centre —
I learn to smile
with my eyes
     — Nick T
This poem raises so many interesting questions. For a start: is it really possible to convey a smile with ones eyes only, while looking over the top of a mask? Most of us would say yes, I think. Certainly there can be a softening of a glance or gaze, though what that means in precise physical terms is hard to pin down. After all, it is not just the eyes (in the sense of the pupils) that count here. There are also the eyelids, the many surrounding wrinkles, the eyebrows and the lower forehead –– the brow. This adds up to a lot of subtle messaging at our disposal. What would it feel like to deliberately learn or  develop a more readable projection of one’s feelings or attitude, in a situation such as this? My speculation is that this would not be a matter of learning or practicing any kind of technique. Rather, with a thorough awareness of the additional challenge, it would be a matter of immersing oneself more fully in an empathetic and welcoming frame of mind, and above all else of being mentally present. Surely the rest would would follow quite naturally?
wanting to vanish
the magician asks
for a willing volunteer
     — Tracy Davidson
after the earthquake
a tsunami
of volunteers
     — Rafał Zabratyński

Remarks are by Dee Evetts, THF Monthly Kukai Commentator. He is an internationally known haiku poet and author of “The Conscious Eye” series on contemporary themes in Frogpond in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Writing for The Haiku Foundation Monthly Kukai

On the first day of each month The Haiku Foundation will announce the kukai theme for that month. This theme should be the topic of your poem, and may be stated (by using the theme word or words) or implied. Form may be traditional (three-line, 5-7-5) or free (various numbers of lines and/or syllables). Season words (kigo) may or may not be used at the poet’s discretion. A poet may submit one poem per theme. All poems must be the original, unpublished work of the author. In order to maintain the spirit and fairness of the kukai, a poem that has appeared anywhere with its author’s name cannot be allowed for submission.

Please use the Kukai submission form below to enter your poem, and then press Submit to send your entry. No other submissions will be recognized or honored. Once a poem is submitted it cannot be revised. All poems must be signed (that is, no “anonymous” poems will be accepted, and the Submit button will not be available until both Name, Email, and Place of Residence fields are filled in). Poets will not receive acknowledgment of their submissions. Poems will be accepted from the announcement of the theme through midnight of the 15th of that month. All poets are eligible to participate. Administrators of the kukai are ineligible to submit poems. Your submission form to us should look something like this:

line one
followed by line two
and then line three


this poem is all in one line



[all lines right-justified]

If your poem has special formatting requirements you should note them as in the third example above.

Good luck, and have fun!


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I love your wild rose poem Peggy. It reminds me of the one we’ve got one in our garden, it bounces back, it is very hardy. It’s pretty but I cut it back hard this summer because it grows toward my washing line, so I grew back even bigger and stronger so we’ve got lots of rose hips this year.

  2. What a happy surprise to see that my haiku was liked by so many of you! This is my own personal wild rose that we have cut back, trimmed, adored, and cursed, sometimes all in the same year! For me, it represents the heart of a volunteer: never give up! Just keep on showing up whether you are appreciated or not. Bless its heart! I hope it gifts us with a load of beautiful little white roses again next spring.

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