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BHS Spring Gathering 21st May 2016


David Bingham started the day introducing a session about organising work into sequences. Participants were given some examples of haiku and asked to think about the interesting question of what might follow, some example sequences were also provided. Then after an introduction to Haiku sets (Gunsaku) and Sequences (Rensaku) there was a small group sequence exercise. The resulting sequences were then read out and displayed. Unfortunately none were signed so the following example has to be anonymous.




haiku spring gathering
taking three lines

Hungerford Bridge
the beggars thin face
her empty cup

cherry petals
scattered at my feet
on my way

lilacs in the square
blunted by this chilly wind
have lost their fragrance

Everyone agreed that this was an interesting and productive session.

After lunch

Colin Blundell led a very interesting session during which he asked us, looking at a range of haikuic examples, to consider how various haiku writers had made connections between images.

He argued that we are constantly asking what he called ‘virtual questions’ – we don’t actually ask them out loud – they are virtual, occur briefly in the neurons just before we act out a response; they have the effect of sustaining life: what shall I do next? What will my next idea be? Shall I scratch my arm now? What can I see/hear/feel/smell/taste? Shall I move my bottom in the chair now? Shall I look away from the computer screen? On and on… And of course haiku writers, being human, are no exception to this process. They are constantly asking virtual questions like ‘How can I connect this with that?’ ‘What image might connect feeling fully with the first thing I noticed?’

The most resourceful virtual question anybody can ask is HOW CAN I CONNECT THIS WITH THAT?
Example: Shiki, ‘to write a haiku look at the violet at your feet and then look up at the distant mountain…’ Connect them.

By looking at a range of examples, we had to step into the shoes of each writer and figure out how they might have made connections. We did the same thing with connections between verses in some renga.

Short break for tea

Then Kate B Hall led a topical Haiku and Shakespeare workshop, participants were asked to write individually and in groups haiku inspired by passages from various of Shakespeare’s plays. A found haiku exercise followed and then a final exercise using Prospero’s “Our revels now are ended.” From the Tempest, where both inspiration and found haiku could be used. Then end results were then read to everyone. Although Shakespeare was chosen as the inspiration for this session, any writing, poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. can be used in this way.

Here are one group’s haiku from that last exercise:

Inspired by Prospero!

sparkling vision
absorbed by
summer night
—Gunita Zaube

up-rising moon
the ebb and flow of its tide
sand castles collapse
—Mark Gilfillan

rounded with a sleep
our revels now are spirits
dissolved into dreams
—Alan Maley

towering clouds
the water meadows exult
marsh marigold
—Nick Sherwood

The whole day was interesting and creative, many thanks to participants and session leaders.

Write up: Kate B Hall
Photo: Gunita Zaube

BHS celebrates International Haiku Day 2016


BHS handed out 108 haiku to complete strangers on London’s Southbank on Saturday 16 April 2016 to celebrate International Haiku Poetry Day the next day.
Thanks to Iliyana Stoyanova we learned of the declaration of the day – 17 April for 17 syllables. And thanks to Frank Williams: he quickly created the giveaways. Twelve BHS poets each contributed 3 haiku Frank then printed, with photographs, on A5-size cards, with the BHS web address on the reverse.


Iliyana, Frank and Susan Lee Kerr took up three different locations at 10 am – and within 20 minutes had lightened the life of over 100 people with the joy of haiku. ‘An interesting experience!’ says Iliyana, who gave a card to one delighted Japanese family, and had to explain haiku to another taker. Says Susan: ‘It was fun! Some rejections because people feared I was selling something, but many smiles and curious acceptances from others.’
All three went on to the quarterly Committee meeting held in Festival Hall – a very productive day!

toni susan kate








Now that we have a year’s notice before the next International Haiku Poetry Day, BHS can plan more concerted effort… perhaps freebie haiku handouts in towns and cities all across Britain?

Write-up: Susan Lee Kerr
Flyers and photos: Frank Williams

Ohanami Festival – 10 April 2016


Ohanami Festival

The Ohanami Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria takes place in April every year. It is organized by the Bulgarian Haiku Union under the patronage of the Japanese Embassy in Bulgaria, courtesy of the Club “Friends of Japan.” There are haiku readings, ginko, ikebana, martial arts demonstrations (Ju-Jitsu, Aikido and Kendo), as well as the planting of sakura trees as part of an over 50 years old tradition. In connection with the festival the Bulgarian Haiku Union invites poets to participate with their works in the International Haiku Contest, in the haiku installations and recitals.

On 10 April 2016 BHS members and friends of the Society took part in the Second International Haiku Contest “Cherry Blossom” in Sofia, Bulgaria part of the Ohanami Festival.

Japan’s ambassador to Sofia Takashi Koizumi presenting the awards to the Haiku Contest winners

Congratulations to all the winners and runners-up and many thanks to all the participants in the Ohanami Festival and Haiku Contest!

Frank Williams
Shrikaanth K. Murthy
Paul Smith





Awards – International Section:



spring dusk
the shadow of my cherry tree
gets back home
— Magdalena Banaszkiewicz – Krosno Odrzańskie, Poland


Kendo demonstration

cherry trees in bloom
he switches from charcoal
to watercolor
— Billy Antonio – Pangasinan, Philippines

rusted bucket
cherry blossoms patch
every hole
— Debbie Strange – Winnipeg, Canada


Graham High

the flick
of sparrow’s wing
swirls of petals
— Jan Benson – Fort Worth, USA

picnic for two –
a fallen cherry blossom
in both cups
— Graham High – Blackheath, UK

Earth Hour –
cherry blossom
— Daniela Lăcrămioara – Galaţi, Romaniа


Sheila Windsor

first light –
pink blossoms trapped
in a spider’s web
— Frank Williams – Barking, UK

there again
the wistful look in Dad’s eyes
Yoshino blossoms
— Sheila Windsor – Bexhill-on-Sea, UK

spring breeze –
cherry petals
flavoring my tea
— Marilyn Fleming – Pewaukee, USA

my heart too
is floating through the air –
cherry blossoms
— Paul Smith – Worcester, UK

pastel cherry blossoms
we open a book
of baby names
— Meik Blöttenberger – Hanover, USA

chasing his ball
the dog’s nose
flecked with blossom
— Andrew Shimield – Isleworth, UK

at the bottom
of a cherry tree children
blackbirds on top
— Vilma Knežević – Viškovo, Croatia

only three days old
they start flying from their nest –
these cherry-blossoms
— Marc May – Schin op Geul, The Netherlands

cherry blossoms fall
children upturn skirts
cupping showers
— Adjei Agyei-Baah – Kumasi, Ghana

framed by cherry blossom
my granddaughter’s smile
— Andre Surridge – Hamilton, New Zealand

spring breeze
the baby finch bathes
in cherry blossoms
— Sneha Sundaram – Jersey City, USA

a wild cherry
– its petals shaken down by
the blows of an axe
— Nina Kovačić – Zagreb, Croatia

cherry blossom rain…
my baby and i scatter
a flock of pigeons
— Shrikaanth K. Murthy – Birmingham, UK

how can I forget
first pink blossoms under
the toddler’s first steps
— Angelee Deodhar – Chandigarh, India

april storm
one cherry petal lands
at the airport
— Ernest J Berry – Blenheim, New Zealand

a cancer ward window
a cold wind and
cherry petals
— Anna Mazurkiewicz – Chelm, Poland

repainting white lines
road workers swear softly
flying blossom
— Jon Horsley – Oxford, UK

refugees convoy –
beyond borders
bloomed cherry
— Daniela Lăcrămioara – Galaţi, Romaniа

Not one at all
welcomes me in the station
only the cherry blossoms
— Adina Enachescu – Râmnicu Vâlcea, Romania

Some of the haiku have been chosen for the Art installations and here you could read the haiku recital
One Hundred and One Cherry Blossom Haiku (101 authors and 27 countries):

Photos by the Bulgarian Haiku Union, Nihon Tomono Kai, Aikido Club Aiki Budo and other participants
More photos here at:
Write-up by Iliyana Stoyanova (Ohanami Haiku Contest Administrator)

The British Haiku Society celebrates 25 years

Winter Gathering/AGM – 14 November 2015


Paul Hickey and Colin Blundell

At around 10:15am on a drizzly Saturday morning, the great and the good of the British haiku world converged on Conway Hall, Holborn in London, from near and far to attend the Society’s Winter Gathering/AGM and also to celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary!

After coffee, chat and a browse around the BHS book stall we took to our seats for the commencement of the meeting. Graham High gave a short introduction on the day’s events.

Kala Ramesh

We were treated to a wonderful presentation and short film from Kala Ramesh. It was surprising to see such a high level of quality and imagination in the writings of such young Indian students. The haiku married with film enhanced the whole experience, which was immensely enjoyable! Thank you Kala!

We then took a short break for lunch and at 1:15pm the AGM commenced.

David Cobb started off by offering a few words of sympathy and support to our French cousins, regarding the previous night’s horrific events in Paris; and those assembled observed a one-minute silence.

Graham High then read out the minutes from the previous AGM and these were signed off as a true account. Graham called for nominations from the floor to chair the meeting, and Andrew Shimield was duly nominated and seconded.

Sue Richards

It was announced that Sue Richards intended to step down from her role as Editor of “The Brief”. Sue has done a sterling job with “The Brief” for the past three years and I would like to take this opportunity to thank her for her support and wish her well for the future. I will be assuming the role in the new-year. It was also announced that Claire Knight was also stepping down after her role as Membership Secretary and as committee member without portfolio. Those assembled showed their appreciation for all the hard work carried out by Sue and Claire. Our President, Graham High then gave his report on the year and the prospects for 2016. Each committee member with a portfolio then gave their reports. Graham High read out reports from those who were absent; David Bingham (Events Officer) and David Serjeant (Editor, Blithe Spirit). Frank Williams the Membership secretary announced that the society had a total 295 members, a gain of 18 from the previous year.

We were then given an involving presentation by Claire Knight of the latest BHS publication, the wind that blows through us… (exploring the world of haiku and well-being). This turned out to be an unusual and very relaxing, creative and meditative session involving the senses. Colin Blundell and Paul Hickey gave short talks regarding their involvement in the project. There was also an auto drawing workshop involving those assembled. After which, a vigorous discussion took place.

Graham High
Chris Poundwhite, Kala Ramesh, Iliyana Stoyanova and Alan Summers

Graham also launched another recent BHS publication, Silver Tapestry. This book takes the form of celebrating some of the finest essays to have appeared within the pages of Blithe Spirit over the past twenty-five years.


After a break for coffee, Peter Butler treated us to a fascinating presentation on haibun. Excellent examples of haibun from Basho to the present day were read out by various members of the haibun group.


Speed renga

After a break for food and a move to a larger adjoining room, we assembled for the evening’s celebrations. Tables were spaced out throughout the larger room. After a toast was proposed for twenty-five years of the BHS, we were all assembled into groups for a fun, and highly creative session of renga. Thanks to Susan Lee Kerr for running this session and keeping order!




It was a thoroughly enjoyable day and I for one am already looking forward to the “Winter Gathering” 2016!
Well done all!

Write-up: Mark Gilfillan
Photos: Frank Williams

Results of the BHS Awards 2013



The adjudicators were Diana Webb and Phillip Murrell
The winners each receive £125. The runners-up each receive £50.

The winners are Doreen King (England) and Andrew Smith (England)
The runners-up are Sheila Barksdale (USA) and Ernest J Berry (New Zealand)

Diana Webb writes:

Before seeing any of the entries, I gave a talk at my local poetry group about my approach to judging a haiku competition. This was a spur to make me write down the qualities I would be looking for in each haiku. I came up with eight knowing that no one single poem could possibly have all of these.

When I got into the process of actually looking at the entries, checking for each of the qualities just did not seem practical, Instead I just sifted them down to the ones which had made an impression on me and then again and again until I had the final two which consisted of the one which had proved most haunting and the one I had found most immediately memorable.

Looking at my list of qualities I found that my winner had more than half of them! It gave, as Wordsworth wrote ‘thoughts that do lie too deep for tears’ and it gave them with subtlety. It looked easy implying that maybe much work had gone into it. Fred Astaire for example said ‘if it doesn’t look easy you’re not working hard enough’ It was also memorable, hauntingly so and gave off many layers of meaning at different levels so that it could sustain the reader. Here it is:

autumn twilight
reaching for the paper boat
floating away

Doreen King

It could be a snatch from childhood memory or it could be an on the spot poem. It could involve a child or children, an adult or adults or a combination of both. Containing both wonder and sadness, it could be about the end of summer or the threat of losing connection with the childlike things in an adult’s own autumn twilight of life. The paper boat could be the one that carries off youth itself. Folded out of paper it is both strong and fragile. Alternatively we could look at this haiku as a simple picture of an adult and child sharing an awareness of the transience of a simple pleasure in an atmospheric setting.

My choice for second prize does not have as many of the qualities on my list, but of all the entries it was to me the most immediately memorable and the only one that really made me smile. Here it is:

school trip
rumours of a dormouse
in the samurai’s mask

Sheila Barksdale

The natural juxtaposition of the animal (dormouse) and mineral (mask) is such a startling one. The poet could have worked with that alone -‘ in the museum’s samurai mask a dormouse.’ That would have contained one on my list, i.e. surprise. But instead the writer makes the poem hinge on the word ‘rumours’. We can sense the waves of excitement going through the children as the possibility of an unexpected diversion from their studies reaches them. Is there a mouse or isn’t there? We are left with this question.
This is a haiku of mischief: the mischief of the children and the mischief of the mouse having the cheek to nestle inside a museum exhibit especially one of such ferocity. The writer has come up with an unusual haiku of great surprise. I doubt if anyone has written anything similar to this unless he or she witnessed or heard about the same incident. So I give second prize to the marvels of mischief mirth and memorability which I find in this haiku.

Phillip Murrell writes:

Although I have been reading, writing and discussing haiku over a number of years, I was both delighted and honoured to be asked to act as adjudicator for the Haiku Section of the British Haiku Awards 2013. The experience is certainly new to me and my hope is that my decisions, and reasons for those decisions, will be favourably received.

So what criteria do I apply when evaluating the strengths and weaknesses in haiku? Fundamentally a haiku should work as a kind of dialogue between writer and reader; a piece in which, ideally, the reader plays some part in completing the unstated. It is important too that the subject matter be such that it may grip the reader’s attention. Too many nowadays it seems revolve round the safety of the well trodden path. I also greatly value brevity, the precise use of language and haiku that in some way stir the emotions.

I now move on to the procedure I adopted in reducing the volume of entries to those which I believed were in contention for the prize.

Because of the sheer number of haiku entries received, I was obliged to read them in two batches – no notes made and none put aside. The following day I read them through again, this time pruning out those that, sadly, fell short of the mark. I was left with 30. Another read-through a day or so later – this time with deeper scrutiny – and the figure was further reduced to 7. The pressure was now on to choose the winner and runner-up. But before I report on these, may I first comment on the five entries that didn’t quite make it through to the final cut.

In no special order they are as follows:
Where rivers meet / mist settles / the coolness by Paul Hickey . This is a very competent and pleasing piece of work, created with the lightest of touch. I was struck by the succinctness and pathos evident in two pieces by our runner-up Ernest J Berry: missing dog / the old woman walks / her melancholy and next-of-kin / I visit him / in his singlet. Here, so much said yet unsaid in so few words. Ian Storr’s one-liner: wind strengthening a skylark holds his place of song is a beautifully crafted descriptive haiku. And . . . holds his place of song, what a wonderful phrase that is. I loved the apparent simplicity in Dennis Tomlinson’s: white cherry tree / an old woman carries / her tortoise. So many unanswered questions! But now to the runner-up and winner of the Haiku Section of the British Haiku Awards 2013.

I award the runner-up prize to Ernest J Berry with his

storm warning
the muffled call
of longshoremen

This tense, tightly-wrought poem displays just about everything that I look for but seldom find in haiku. It has intrigue too: why should the longshoremen’s calls be muffled? Could it be, I wonder, that the scene is set abroad, say in Asia, and that the longshoremen are in fact inside the hold of the vessel, thus rendering their calling ‘muffled’? We will never know; but do we really need to know? A fine haiku.

But the winning prize goes to Andrew Smith with:

Now swept away:
our favourite beach,
your final days

Though I have very slight reservations concerning Andrew’s use of punctuation, this still remains for me a powerful piece of work. ‘your final days’ – I can almost feel a shiver down my spine. Where is this person going, or, more sinisterly, should we fear for his/her life? And that first line: is it the beach or their holiday romance that has been ( or will be) ‘swept away’? The questions could go on.

My congratulations to the finalists and to the five who made it through to the penultimate cut. Well done also to all those not named who took part in the Award and helped to make it what it has now become.


The adjudicator was Claire Everett.
The winner receives £125. The runner-up receives £50.

The winner is David Terelink (Australia)
The runner-up is Sheila Windsor (England)

Claire Everett writes:

Put simply, tanka is an untitled, unrhymed quintain; a ‘short song’, a sketch from life. Traditionally, tanka explore the themes of love, longing and loss and often have a deep sense of the painfully ephemeral nature of existence. As distant as modern English language tanka may seem from the waka of the Man’yōshū, it continues to honour its ancient forbear, exploring these universal themes and concerns. I am particularly fond of tanka that pay homage to that time-honoured tradition and yet are also imbued with the character of our own era.

There were many excellent tanka which exhibited several of the above qualities, but few struck me as innovative or memorable. I was looking for something more: a new twist on an old theme. For me, a fine tanka has what Denis Garrison so aptly described as “dreaming room”.

the scrimshaw
of those who have never
been to sea . . .
men who can tattoo
‘I love you’ to the bone

David Terelink

Scrimshaw is the art of embellishment, known to many as the craft of sailors, who would while away their free time using sharp implements such as pocket knives or sail needles to scratch scenes onto whale bone and ivory. The engravings were then pigmented with squid ink, tobacco juice, or lampblack for contrast. It is suggested that the art-form, evident in artefacts of decorated bone, stone, shells and pearls across many cultures, can be traced back some 3000 years or more. There are purists who insist that the term scrimshaw can only be applied to the work created by sailors on whaling ships prior to the 20th century and that when the industry went into decline and ivory became a restricted commodity, true scrimshaw died out. But recent years have seen a resurgence in the craft; new generations of scrimshanders are working with a variety of materials, and applying the old methods to create (not necessarily nautical) scrimshaw scenes.

When applied to our winning tanka, this beautiful craft, steeped in history and tradition, brings with it many layers of meaning. The tanka opens simply with ‘the scrimshaw’, immediately taking us to the art itself, the pastime of one who has spent many months at sea, who perhaps idles away the long, uneventful hours, thinking of home, or a lover he has left behind. But then we are introduced to the possibility that this is the craft of someone who has never been to sea. Here the tanka pivots and concludes with the striking statement: “men who can tattoo ‘I love you’ to the bone”. Perhaps the poet is suggesting that if love is the sea, few have successfully navigated it, or have real understanding of what true love really is, in contrast to the man who, like an accomplished scrimshander, can tattoo love to the bone. Another interpretation is that as we have learned from reading about the subject, it is possible to create scrimshaw even if one has never been to sea and therefore, quite literally, the loved one is whale bone, ivory, or any other suitable medium, destined to be adorned by the lover. Of course, scrimshaw in itself is a form of tattoo, but there is a deeper resonance here; we are all familiar with the ink that many sailors wear as a badge of service, but there are many who find the idea of tattoos appealing, as they are something that remains part of the wearer to the very end; they can be taken to the grave. Only fire, or the natural process of decay, can wrest them from one’s being. Many would say this is also true of love . . . ‘undying’ love.

There is a pleasing echo, whereby ‘tattoo’ chimes with ‘I love you’ and this reinforces the modern tone. Additionally, there is no clue as to the sexuality of the speaker. This is a tanka that transcends place and time, yet it has a universal and ageless appeal.

next I must
order your flowers
my dear:
twenty long-stemmed roses
uniform dark red

Sheila Windsor

There were several tanka worthy of second place, but as with the first prize winner, this was a tanka that struck me on my initial reading and it was one with which I became increasingly preoccupied. It is always a sign of a powerful tanka if the reader is not only drawn to the imagery and emotion, but continues to be interested in the ‘story’ behind it. Deceptively simple, the tanka, in its reference to choosing flowers, appears to be an expression of grief. It could be that the writer is choosing flowers for a lover who is very much alive, but the precise wording and strong rhythmic quality are suggestive of someone recently bereaved, who is ‘going through the motions’, making the necessary arrangements, ensuring that everything is just-so for the dear, departed one: ‘next I must’ immediately draws us into this mind-set, with the emphasis on ‘must’; one gets a sense of someone who is struggling to hold things together – people who are mourning a loved one often feel as if the funeral preparations are the ‘last link’ and it is not uncommon for them to continue to refer to the person who has died in the present tense. The poet alludes to this with seemingly effortless grace, as the first three lines of the tanka are spoken directly to the loved one. First impressions are that the tanka has a precise, disciplined feel, reminiscent of someone who is trying to maintain order at a time of great emotional pain, but the closing two lines take this one step further; we are told exactly what flowers are to be ordered and the specifics reveal a little more about the speaker and the loved one. “Long-stemmed roses” are, of course, a traditional symbolic expression of romantic love, but we are accustomed to there being one or two dozen – in this case there are twenty. Why might that be the case? Read on. We are told that the roses are “uniform dark red”. The reader might anticipate the roses would be red, but why “uniform”? Again, there is a sense of order; these roses have been chosen by someone with an eye for detail, who wants everything to be perfect. But beyond this, there is a distinct military feel. I can’t help but speculate that this is a tanka set in a distant era, but this may not be the case. Was the loved one a soldier? Was s/he only twenty when s/he died? After all, many regiments have dark red ceremonial livery. The closing line is particularly well thought out; one might expect it to read ‘a uniform dark red’ in reference to the roses, but by simply stating ‘uniform dark red’ the meaning is less clear and could also imply that the loved one will be dressed in the colours in which he/she served. As in the winning tanka, the sex of the speaker is indeterminable. It is very satisfying to read this tanka aloud, not only because the strong rhythm reflects and reinforces the themes discussed, but the long vowel sounds encourage the reader to enunciate the words and take time over them; the repetition of ‘m’ sounds in ‘must’, ‘my’ ‘stemmed’ and ‘uniform’ reinforces this, as does the echoing ‘w’ in ‘flowers’ and ‘twenty’.

These are only my interpretations – the ‘truth’ behind each poem might be quite different, but that is one of the joys of reading tanka: the reader participates in the poetic experience and completes the tanka and every reader will see a different facet of the same gem. A particular tanka’s propensity for myriad interpretations is something that singles it out as fine and memorable.

Results of the BHS Awards 2012






The adjudicators were Allison Williams and Michael Dylan Welch

The winners each receive £125. The runners-up each receive £50.


The winners are Roland Packer and Hamish Ironside

The runners-up are paul m. and Roland Packer


Alison Williams writes:

The quality of a haiku is not something that can be measured according to entirely objective standards. There are writing skills that can be learned but the most important thing is how well it communicates and communication takes two. The success of a haiku depends on the reader’s receptiveness as well as the writer’s ability. I hope I have done justice as a reader to the haiku submitted to this competition.

As I first read through the entries some disqualified themselves immediately. They met the dictionary definition of haiku but in more important respects missed the mark.

The next, much harder, job was to let go of those that had potential but were let down in someway, for example, by a didactic conclusion or an awkward phrasing. Those, that is, where the author’s hand weighed too heavily.

In many years of reading haiku I have found that my favourites did not always make an immediate impact, some took time to fully appreciate. I didn’t want to rush to shortlist. I read the remaining haiku over and over and eventually there were five that I found myself coming back to. As I read and re-read these I found more in them than first met the eye. A common factor with all of the final five was the writer’s ability to use precisely the right word in the right place to allow the meaning to expand beyond the literal.

The winner is:


a commuter train

without a soul

— Rowland Packer (Canada)

I love the light touch and simplicity of this and, at the same time, the depth there is to find beyond the obvious surface meaning. It’s night time and the train, so packed with humanity during the rush hour, is now deserted. Not a soul is on board. The moonlight shows us the emptiness and enhances the melancholy mood. The soullessness of mass transport and commuter life is implied but not directly stated. The absent commuter is dignified, but also made ghostly, by being referred to as a ‘soul.’ I see in the three lines a movement first from the heavenly to the mundane and then an elevation of the mundane.

And the runner-up:

December dusk

my fingerprints

on everything

— paul m. (USA)

A strange and intriguing observation. I wonder if the fading light prompted a lamp to be lit, showing up these traces? Or perhaps the day has involved a great deal of activity, maybe Christmas preparations, after which the many things that have been touched and handled become apparent. Fingerprints can, of course, be used in evidence, to convict. The exaggeration of the prints being on ‘everything’ suggests an emotional response – possibly guilty feelings or some level of OCD. Whatever the cause, this haiku, without stating anything about the events that led up to the moment, gives me a glimpse into someone else’s unease.

Michael Dylan Welch writes:

The novelist Katherine Paterson once wrote about a key motivation for her work: “I am called,” she said, “to listen to the sound of my own heart—to write the story within myself that demands to be told at that particular point in my life. And if I do this faithfully, clothing that idea in the flesh of human experience and setting it in a true place, the sound from my heart will resound in the reader’s heart.” This, to me, is the essence of Japanese poetry forms, especially haiku—to set one’s personal experience in a true place so that fidelity to one’s own heart finds resonance in the reader’s heart. Haiku, as a result, becomes a sharing of vulnerability, a sharing of emotion that comes from the heart. This was as true a thousand years ago as it is today. No wonder Ki no Tsurayuki’s preface to the first Imperial poetry anthology of 905, the Kokinshū, begins with a matching proclamation: “Japanese poetry takes as its seed the human heart.”

In this context, I narrowed 437 submissions down to eight and chose the following poem for second place:


a commuter train

without a soul

 — Rowland Packer (Canada)

Seldom can an abstraction or subjective feeling, such as thinking a train has a soul, succeed in haiku if it is not grounded in a concrete image, as we see here (set in autumn if one interprets “moon” in the traditional Japanese manner). More importantly, we get a sense that it is so early in the morning that perhaps the train is still empty, and thus does not yet have its “soul” of people. A deeper reading is that this train may well be full of morning commuters, yet is still utterly soulless, its occupants behaving as dutiful automatons on their way to another daily grind. The word “soul,” too, brings an open-endedness to the poem that allows for many interpretations.

The following is my choice for the winning poem in the 2012 British Haiku Society haiku contest:

 shadows under water

my daughter asks me

how to wish

— Hamish Ironside (England)

It is easy to imagine observers on a bridge over a stream, or by a wishing well. “My daughter” tells us of a relationship, and we sense a young girl. Her wish may be childlike, but “under water” first offers very adult overtones. It can mean that your house or stocks are worth less than you paid for them, or it can mean that you feel like you’re drowning, either literally or metaphorically. These overtones heighten a contrast between an adult world and the child’s innocence. The verb “asks” turns the static image-moment of shadows under water into a dynamic moment—the instant something happens, thus focusing the poem. And then everything snaps into place with the word “wish.” We feel a child’s unsullied hopes and dreams, and her trusting desire to welcome help from her parent, to wish for something brighter against the shadows of reality. We are left with many possibilities for what could be wished, and such an open-endedness is perhaps the best we could ask of any haiku.

My gratitude to all the poets who listened to their own hearts and submitted their poems and to the British Haiku Society for the opportunity to select winning poems.


 The adjudicator was Linda Jeannette Ward

The winner receives £125. The runner-up receives £50.

 The winner is Clare McCotter

The runner-up is Claire Everett


Linda Jeannette Ward writes:

There is so much to consider in a tanka competition when change itself seems to have characterized the English-language form over the past two decades. Traditional elements that continue to be of importance in the contemporary form include a five-line presentation, pivot words or phrases, cultural or literary allusions, and the juxtaposition or interplay of subjective emotion with natural or seasonal reference. To achieve this without an excess of sentimentality is an art that probably comes either as a given talent, or with much practice over time.

Once in a while we’re given a tanka that embodies most of the elements of the traditional form, including a correspondence between self and cosmos. The winning tanka exudes a timelessness: it could have been composed in Heian period Japan, or yesterday in Europe, America, or other English-language cultures:

now the pleiades
and my dark horse have gone
winds from the mountain
come to howl
inside this cage of bone

— Clare McCotter (N. Ireland)

In only five lines, this poet has flawlessly expressed mysterious depth, the “yugen” often found in classical Japanese tanka. This poem also has a musical cadence with an over wash of sorrow and loneliness that one can hear/feel echoing “inside this cage of bone,” just as the literal elements of the poem harmoniously resonate with the sounds of “now,” “mou,” and “howl” in lines one, three and four. It is as if one has a visitation of the wind, possessing self after all else has been driven out along with the loss of that “dark horse.” The mystery is presented in the first line with its reference to the disappearance of “the pleiades.” These seven stars, representative of the seven daughters of Atlas in Western mythology, have been symbols in ancient legends around the world. In one story, the Pleiades are said to be a veil between the living and dead. Cultural allusions continue to be a strong feature of tanka in Japanese and English-language forms.

So, what has the poet lost? What was that dark horse, the unlikely winner that one hopes will come from behind? We aren’t told, nor do we know how the Pleiades have been lost. Perhaps clouds have moved in, metaphorically covering the stars one has wished on for so long . . . perhaps the veil between life and death has been lifted, leaving nothing but black sky and howling winds. What is clear is the depth of the despair that is left to resonate throughout the poet’s being – his inner self trapped within a body.

In judging the historically important Tanka Splendor competition, Jane Hirshfield advised poets: “. . . tanka should contain the music of language that has passed through the body.” The runner-up tanka expresses in exquisite juxtaposition the deeply felt frustration of trying to compose a poem or song in just this way.

once more, the robin
whose every word
is song
the weight of my pen
in this eggshell world

 — Claire Everett (UK)

The challenge for the tanka element referred to by Hirshfield is to bring together inner and outer nature as seamlessly as jazz musicians who produce a sound greater than the sum of its parts. As an American who has never had the pleasure of birding the United Kingdom, I’ve missed the opportunity of observing the English robin and hearing its song. As entrants were judged anonymously, I was unaware as to whether the robin of this poem was of British or American origin. Here in the United States, our red-breasted robin sings with its whole body – the sweetness of the song seems to throb throughout its breast. I suspect this is true of the English robin as well.

With this poem, the poet has evidently witnessed the effortlessness of the robin’s song, and presents a shift, as in classical tanka, that offers a contrast with the heaviness of the writer’s or composer’s traditional tool when trying to break through to that same place from which the natural lyricism of nature dwells. The expression of the emotional element in this tanka is accomplished in the best poetic tradition of show, don’t tell. The poem, taken as a whole with its distinct but smooth shift from outer to inner nature, gives us a unity that sings, prompting us to read it “once more.” This tanka, with its subtle linking between the first three and last two lines, is structurally, as well as emotionally satisfying.


The adjudicator was Graham High. The winner receives £100.

The winning haibun is “Urodynamics” by Jane Fraser (Wales) 

Graham High writes:

There has been considerable growth of interest in the possibilities offered by the writing of haibun over the last fifteen years, encouraged in part by the BHS, and the quality of writing has likewise increased during that period. I was disappointed therefore in the overall standard of submissions to the above competition. There were 46 entries in all, two of which had to be disqualified, sadly, as having been previously published.

The haibun I finally settled on as the winner was ‘Urodynamics’. I believed in the veracity of the experience and it held my interest through its invocation of all the senses taking us through a bio-mechanical melange of sensations and processes. The narrative displays a range of communicated impressions as well as the detached sense of being alienated from one’s own body.  The prose style is clean and spare using short sentences and an unobtrusive flow of integrated dialogue while the descriptions are both objectively clinical whilst subjectively vulnerable – using works like ‘maze’ ‘dimness’ ‘echoes’ ‘clouds’. Most of the more fuzzy words are introduced through the haiku so that this world of interior perceptions is carried largely by the poems – a nice and strategic balance which could have been taken further as, at first reading, some of the haiku seem barely differentiated from the surrounding prose

Considered individually not all of the haiku are strong enough to stand alone away from the prose context but the writer successfully uses them in a more cinematic way to mark a shift of scene or time. The ten haiku, evenly and fairly satisfyingly placed, are inclined to be word-heavy.  Some offer heightened concrete images of the X-ray suite, while others suggest imagery from outside and use the haiku as a side window to show a different aspect of the scene.

The tone and quality of the writing was sustained, over what is a fairly long haibun, in a satisfying way. Overall the haibun engaged my interest and convinced me that it had a clear focus on what it was trying to do and handled the subject well.


Urodynamics                                                                 Jane Fraser


 last days of summer,

my cotton socks soaked through

by a sudden squall

 I’m bothered rather than concerned with my waterworks problem as I make my way from the car park to the X-Ray suite. “Get undressed. You can leave your top things on – but pants off. Gown does up at the back. Put your clothes in the basket and come through when you’re ready.” It’s not just the metal shopping basket that reminds me of Tesco.

 on the conveyor belt,

goods passing at top speed

towards the check-out

The theatre is clean; antiseptic clean. Sister’s in blue scrubs; radiography team in white; Mr. Emery, the consultant, in his shirt and tie, relaxed. I tense up. There’s a lot of kit in here, brand spanking-new, draining the NHS budget. And it’s all for me. “We’d like you to pee in the pretend loo, so we can measure your flow before we get going with everything else.”  Apart from Sister, they’re all behind the glass screen, at the computer monitors, watching my performance. I’ve never been videoed before. “Well done,” says Sister, “let’s get you up on the table now. Nice and gently does it.”

flat on my back,

eyes closed, hands together now

across my chest

Sister deals with the catheters. There’s one for every orifice. Despite the anaesthetic gel, I feel the sensations. A bit like tickling, she tells me. “Good girl,” she says. I suddenly feel both very young and very old. I open my eyes and watch the clear water drain from the drip they’ve set up, seep along the transparent tubes and finally disappear into the temporary plumbing system they’ve inserted into the hidden depths of my body. They want to test the capacity of my bladder.

me, watching them,

watching an inflating balloon

on the screen

“You’re doing well,” says Sister, “not long now.”  A pat on the arm. Mr. Emery gives me the thumbs-up from the other side of the glass screen. The white team are recording results in a silent huddle, bent over their machines, Mr. Emery bent over their shoulders. I can see him thinking. His smile has slipped away.

four goldfish in a bowl

swimming round in circles,

open-mouthed and silent

He emerges from the bladder control centre. More instructions for me. “We’re going to tip you up. You don’t have to do a thing; the table will do it for you.”  Out of my control. There’s the press of a button, the whirr of electronics, a smooth transition. The wonder of science. I’m standing vertical, my fridge-cold, bare feet flat on the boards of this magic bed, my catheters dangling. I feel like a cow in a stainless steel milking parlour. Alone in a full room, out of kilter with a woozy head. I am on the edge of panic. I have the frantic urge to empty my bladder, to let go.

He’s back in mission control, Mr. Emery, but Sister, whose told me she’s called Lynne now, is holding my hand and telling me gently, “I’m here,” in a new tone that denotes the other sense of the phrase. “Try and hold as long as you can; I know it’s difficult – but Mr. Emery needs to assess how your bladder is functioning. I squeeze. Tears in my eyes. A few sly and shameful drips on the white kitchen-roll between my feet.

 in black and white                                                                                  on the TV screen,

the balloon about to burst

“You can void now,” Lynne tells me. “Beware of flash floods,” I feebly joke as she nimbly connects my internal plumbing to a large plastic hose. She places the end nozzle into the pretend loo. Pure relief.

at the tide’s turn,

alone on the white porcelain shore

watching the water ebb

“That’s it. All done. You can get dressed now and then Mr. Emery will come and have a chat with you.” I feel safer somehow in my tight, white jeans and T-shirt. Unmedicalised. Intact. Foolishly young.  I wait in the corridor for him to come, breathing in the buzz and business, the semblance of ordinariness on this, the other side of the double-doors where the over-light sanitised space lies within.

me, watching the hands

of my watch tick by –

can’t make out the time in the dimness

The minutes seem to dawdle but too soon he comes towards me, carrying my notes and what looks like a heavy load. I let him off the hook. Make it easier for him. “It’s worse than you thought, isn’t it?” I say. “Mmm,” he replies, too gently for my liking. “There’s nothing nasty, but there’s major nerve and muscle damage to the pelvis – it seems like your gynaecological past has caught up with you.”  I switch to the minor key. I sense my watch rewinding, the hands going backwards.

home and dry at aerobics

pink leotard and leg warmers

jumping-jacks along to Fonda


He promises he’ll do his best to keep me anatomically functional. I try to believe him. He talks me through the options if he can’t. His voice seems to echo loudly in my head. We shake hands and say goodbye. I search for the exit through the maze of corridors.

 through the cumulus clouds

a peep of blue sky

magnifying by the minute



Administrator’s Note:

The British Haiku Society would like to thank the four judges for the time and careful consideration they have put into the task of selecting the winning pieces. The comments in their thoughtful reports are informative and instructive.

Thanks are also due to all those who took part in each of the sections of the British Haiku Awards. As expected, haiku was the most popular section attracting entries from 14 countries while haibun entries came from 6 countries and tanka from 5. The majority of entries came from 5 countries: England, US, Wales, Ireland, Scotland

It is interesting to note that the US seems to favour the newer sections of haibun and tanka while Wales and Ireland have taken a shine to haibun. Australia also provided 9.5% to tanka.
David Steele