BRITISH HAIKU SOCIETY TANKA ANTHOLOGY COMPETITION
Judges: Ron Woollard and Beverley George
Many thanks to all who entered and well done to all the winners
BRITISH HAIKU SOCIETY TANKA ANTHOLOGY COMPETITION
Judges: Ron Woollard and Beverley George
Many thanks to all who entered and well done to all the winners
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:
reaching for the paper boat
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:
rumours of a dormouse
in the samurai’s mask
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
the muffled call
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”.
of those who have never
been to sea . . .
men who can tattoo
‘I love you’ to the bone
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
twenty long-stemmed roses
uniform dark red
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.
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:
— 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
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
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.
Convent educated, I still find meaning in the stories, peace in the sacred places. The women move quietly in corners of various churches, not wanting to disturb me as I light my votive candle. Sometimes, one of them apologises for someone else’s chatter.
Nobody seems to mind the stranger creeping in from time to time to take a cylinder of slim white wax out of the box, ignite the wick and place it in the dark iron ring among the other flickers.
So many flames that dance with prayerful energy, send positive healing waves, or just a flare of thankful joy.
Towards the year’s end I tiptoe in as usual. The women are busy with polish and winter foliage. Not yet in full view, waiting in the vestry, ready to be brought out at the appropriate moment, I catch a glimpse of the familiar nativity figurines. Again as I leave, one of the women gently smiles and whispers “I hope we didn’t disturb you”.
Then, suddenly, the last day of autumn: last chance to savor the sadness of red leaves and what she once called blue and gold days: fields of wheat – stubble glowing under a sapphire Montana sky.
They called her Sonny when she was growing up in a tiny town just eight miles from the ranch, where she moved after marrying in 1942. Their first daughter was born with cerebral palsy and died before her third birthday. After that, friends stopped calling her Sonny.
She had a passionate obsession with flowers – wild, cut, even legume blossoms in the fields like a neighbor’s gorgeous acres of sainfoin: tall lavender blooms reminding her always of Indian paint brush. Every year the window-box in front of the house, where she once saw a cinnamon bear cub peering in at her, exploded with petunias and begonias; after her death, it became a twisted mockery of mangled stalks and gray earth.
The real change in her came after the change – menopause – quite late in life. No one knew why, least of all her husband, who was on the phone to my wife constantly about such strange behavior – taking off in the car without saying where she was going, returning late in the afternoon, announcing that she’d driven up to nearby Glacier Park and sat most of the day in a meadow of mountain’ daisies. A doctor would’ve diagnosed depression, and so it probably was, but there was something different about her moods too, something we couldn’t put our finger on.
In the end, sadness for her was nothing to savor – free-floating and like a cold wind down Black Leaf Canyon, it wasn’t something she had but something she was, or came to be. Maybe she was afraid, thinking of the red leaves of autumn only as brilliant flags in the ranks of death. Yes, death is the magisterial mystery, but there are mysteries and mysteries; like a cat staring into space, she seemed to see something no one else could. Since then, I haven’t been able to think of an afterlife without chills sweeping over me, like that wind down the Black Leaf.
She’d often flip through the family album, pausing to gaze at photos of herself as a little girl, surrounded by stray dogs she took in until her mother put a stop to it. And once I saw with my own eyes a heifer she “befriended” amble up to her, rear up on its hind legs like a walking dog, place its hooves gently on her shoulders, and lick her face.
The ambulance came on a Thursday, second day of a wind arch over the Sawtooth Range twenty miles to the west, signifying rain. The hearse was a pickup truck loaned to the small funeral home by the county coroner.
Official cause of death: pneumonia.
The adjudicators were Clare McCotter and Dee Evetts.
The winners each receive £125. The runners-up each receive £50.
The winners are David Jacobs and Graham Duff
The runners-up are Doreen King and Earl R. Keener
Clare McCotter writes:
The best place to begin when discussing a haiku competition is with the poems themselves. My initial short list of forty was reached after reading all 528 entries twice. This was then whittled down to eleven which I think incorporate a reasonably wide range of preoccupations, moods and emotions, at times in a single piece: ‘beach of stones — / my autistic son / can fill the ocean’; Richard Tindall, UK. The spatial dimensions of the beach are reflected in the breadth of this haiku which negates a single simplistic reading. The child appears to be throwing stone after stone, an infinity of stones, into the ocean. This could suggest the stricture of repetitive behaviour, behaviour not infrequently associated with children on the autistic spectrum. However, the ‘beach of stones’, as opposed to a stony beach, and the large emphatic concluding line can also be interpreted as a joyfully boundless moving beyond parameters, beyond definitions and lines of demarcation, ultimately an insouciant moving beyond narrow medical soubriquets to a world of unfenced potential.
It is a wide world, similar to that depicted in the beautifully nostalgic and celebratory: ‘sixteen today / all the shades of verbena / in her hands’; Doreen King, UK. This perfect haiku is an orchestra of colour: white, reds, purples and an ocean of blues erupting in the eye, and in the flesh for present also is the peculiar texture of the verbena’s leaf, stem and petal. There is a thread of longing and regret in this piece. The brilliant blossoming belongs to the girl; the future is ‘in her hands’. Remaining with flowers, another short-listed haiku which deserves mention is ‘caressing her/ in my work clothes / first crocus’; Ernest J Berry, NZ. ‘Work clothes’ provide a sharp contrast with the papery fragility of the crocus; and not just any crocus rather the first one — singular and alone. The ambiguity of this haiku compels. Awkwardness and clumsiness fuse with enchantment. But is the poet caressing a lover likened to a crocus or is he caressing the flower itself?
After much deliberation the following haiku was awarded second place:
Doreen King, UK
In this miniature drama the stars are not simply broken, they are ‘shattered’, suggesting that force has been applied to the ice. It would not have melted in a night described as ‘the bitterest’, a word that could refer to temperature or hostility and antagonism. The very stuff of small ponds.
The winning haiku requires little comment. It is a powerful and searing image. While this poem lends itself to various readings, I feel that the word ‘camps’ renders only one truly convincing: body as shelter, an emaciated embracing body as tent. Taut skin and bones have become canvas and poles in an attempt to shield a starving child from an unblinking indifferent sun.
Dee Evetts writes:
Sifting through this year’s entries in the BHS haiku contest, I was on the lookout for poems that could snag my attention, and then hold it. The majority of entries eliminated themselves for a variety of reasons. An excess of sentiment (“cute rots the soul” observed Andy Warhol) or of moralizing; wordplay without some larger resonance; a laboured correctness of syllable-count––these were the most common pitfalls. I was left with some 50 poems that merited closer consideration. In reducing this number to ten, I found myself setting aside the many examples of what may be called “felicitous pictures”. By this I mean depictions of the natural world that, while well crafted and pleasing enough, fall short of truly engaging either my emotions or my intellect. During the last stage — choosing the two finalists — I found myself asking: which poems would I most enjoy writing about? It occurred to me that these would inevitably be also the strongest and most interesting — the most deserving of first and second place in my estimation. And here they are, below, in that order.
This poem impressed me immediately by its juxtaposition of the local and (literally) universal, in a shift from the shut-down environment of a winter garden to the widest canvas possible. We can if we wish imagine the scene as taking place at night, under a brilliantly starry sky, though this is not essential. It may be that someone is explaining — with an extravagant gesture — the different types of astronomical orbit, and perhaps even how the tilt of our own planet creates the seasons. The use of the word “describe” is an inspiration, since it can be taken in its usual verbal sense and equally well as a geometric term. And the final word “space” can also be read with alternative meanings. These ambivalences yoke the two worlds of the poem in a way that is thoroughly satisfying.
in the weathervane ––
Here too there is a uniting of disparate things, though in this case over a smaller distance. I had to go to the dictionary for the meaning of cotyledon, which turns out to be what is otherwise known as a “seed leaf” — the embryonic first leaves (usually a pair) of an emerging seedling. Thus we are placed in early spring. The young plants are being closely examined, when from above comes a small sound from the weathervane as it turns. A shift in the wind can mean a change in the weather, and our perspective enlarges accordingly. In this context “murmur” is just the right word, with its hint of rumours and contingencies. At the same time, I find that the moment of attentiveness evoked here is entirely sufficient.
There were 528 entries from 113 poets. The 12 countries of origin were in the following proportions: England 58%, USA 11%, then Scotland 8%, Ireland 7% and Wales 5%. Australia and New Zealand made 3% each, Japan and Germany made 2% each, and Canada, Finland and the Netherlands made 1% each (all to the nearest whole %). Our thanks go to all competitors for taking part.
Many thanks are due to Dee Evetts and Clare McCotter for the time and careful consideration they have put into the task of selecting the winning poems and providing their thoughtful reports. They have been ‘on duty’ for both the 2010 and 2011 British Haiku Awards and have earned some time off! The judges for the 2012 British Haiku Awards will be identified in the 2012 rules for entry.
The adjudicators were Jeffrey Woodward and Lynne Rees. The winners each receive £125.
“North By Northwest” by Steven Carter (USA)
“Seasonal Lights” by Diana Webb (UK)
Jeffrey Woodward writes on “North By Northwest”:
This sharp character sketch of a neighbor woman lately deceased shows fidelity to the conventions of biography—an omniscient third-person point-of-view and a voice of cool detachment. Depiction of the protagonist proceeds by way of skillful relation of anecdote and accumulation of detail. We learn that the neighbor died on a ranch not far from the village where she was raised, that she had the habit, as a loving child with the bright nickname Sonny, of adopting stray dogs, that she, as an adult, had an “obsession with flowers,” both wild and cultivated. We also discover that her designs, throughout her life, suffered frequent frustration—that her mother “put a stop” to her eager rescue of strays, that she lost the nickname Sonny after her first daughter died in infancy, that her proud petunias and begonias, upon her own death, “became a twisted mockery of mangled stalks . . . .”
The narrator, meanwhile, reveals his hand only in quiet parenthetical asides that set him in opposition to his subject. He recollects Sonny in his opening sentence by associating her with the present time and scene—“the last day of autumn: last chance to savor the sadness of red leaves . . . .” Much further along in his tale, however, the narrator recognizes a gulf between his desire to embrace this “last chance” and his neighbor’s distance from such longing, for “. . . sadness for her was nothing to savor—free-floating and like a cold wind down Black Leaf Canyon, it wasn’t something she had but something she was . . . .” This icy gust might be the embodiment of his neighbor for all that, a suspicion that seems confirmed by his unguarded personal reflection upon her demise: “Since then, I haven’t been able to think of an afterlife without chills sweeping over me, like that wind down the Black Leaf.”
Ultimately, some aspects of this haibun’s execution shade off from purposeful ambiguity into obscurity. The title, “North by Northwest,” has no direct referent or decipherable allusion. The author coolly repeats the coroner’s finding (“cause of death: pneumonia”) but that verdict holds little meaning and does nothing to unravel the riddle of the changes wrought in Sonny or to remedy the incomprehension of her husband and friends. We should concede that this existential mystery may be the author’s central point, however, while recognizing, in his deft use of colloquial idioms, an air of poetic sincerity and authority.
A set of three haiku acts as an envoy to the prose and, in doing so, affords some clues as to the ambiguous situation of our protagonist. Each haiku depicts Sonny’s homestead now, after her death, in barren terms. The poet presents a “harvest moon” to illuminate a deficiency (the lack of a harvest), then shows us a rusted scythe amid overgrown grass, the scythe, with one stroke, pointing to a plot of land run to seed as well as evoking its conventional association with death’s personification, the Grim Reaper. The migratory geese of the final haiku cast their shadow upon the “toy ranch,” an odd perspective, certainly, where the narrator invites us to view Sonny’s diminished dwelling from the elevated point-of-view of the passing fowl while simultaneously offering an ironic judgment with the qualification “toy,” as if the ranch, far from being a living enterprise, were an idle pastime only.
Lynne Rees writes on “Seasonal Lights”:
There is a formality to the structure of ‘Seasonal Lights’ that suits the subject matter. Just as a sonnet controls and adds dignity to an outpouring of grief or passion, the form here – alternating haiku and understated, brief passages of prose – provides an assisted, staged journey for the reader through the narrator’s prayers and hopes for her grandson’s survival and well-being; a journey which also takes place across the four seasons, from ‘spring rain’ to ‘christmas eve’.
I am not a Christian or even a believer in a supreme being and I was rather surprised to feel so drawn into the story. It is probably the understatement the narrator uses that contributes to that feeling of inclusion: there is no didacticism in the prose, no call to pray with her. And the haiku exist outside of the reverential atmosphere of the church interiors: they all include a seasonal image to anchor the reader via her own experiences of the natural and human worlds.
There are other worlds interacting with one another in this haibun: the external and the internal, the explicit and the implicit. What the narrator does, shown to us in the prose and the haiku (buying wool, lighting candles, feeding a cygnet) and what is suggested by those actions: hope in the lighting of the candles, nurturing in the feeding a young bird, the image of good health in the shiny conker.
There is such relief when we read that final haiku, a haiku that, if I am honest, would not be strong enough to stand alone, yet in this context it is what a reader wants, and needs, to hear.
‘The women’ the narrator meets in the churches seem more than ordinary women as we read through: they adopt a more mythical role, as guardians of the flames, of people’s prayers and thanks. They do not interfere; they cannot offer anything but their presence and the protection of a place where people might find some comfort.
There were stronger pieces of prose in other haibun submitted to the competition. There were stronger individual haiku. But, for me, no other haibun achieved such a successful integration of those two parts, the flow from one to another and back again. No other haibun felt as consciously structured, taking advantage of the unique opportunities the haibun offers to a writer: the intimate relationship between prose and poetry.
There were 31 entries from four countries. Our thanks go to all competitors for taking part.
Many thanks go to Lynne Rees and Jeffrey Woodward for the time and careful consideration they have put into the task of reading and selecting the winning haibun and writing their thoughtful reports. They have judged haibun for both the 2010 and 2011 British Haiku Awards and have earned some time off! The judges for the 2012 British Haiku Awards will be identified in the 2012 rules for entry.
BHS Residential Weekend, 18-20 May 2012, Ludlow, Shropshire. BHS Members and invited guest speakers only.
It was a great day for all haiku enthusiasts!
Our Autumn Gathering took place on Saturday, Nov 26th, 10.00am to 4.00pm, 2011, at The Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London.
Susan Lee Kerr started us off brilliantly with a talk about developing states of creative awareness which included the thoughts of people ranging from Basho, through Ignatius Loyola to Grayson Perry. Inspired by this we were set a haiku writing exercise and the results were put on a wall display. A great idea to get us writing haiku at the start of the day! Susan’s printed notes will be invaluable to members as a starting point for further reading into the ‘awareness gate’ This was a session which really got people going!
The AGM was a lively session with officers’ reports presented efficiently and lots of positive ideas offered by BHS members for the committee to take up in the near future. We discussed items as varied as: the introduction of ‘Twitter’; developing a members’ area on the website; how Blithe Spirit should respond to the evolution of haiku in Japan; links with the French Haiku Society; our 2012 Spring Gathering; the European Parole Project; our 5 Year Plan; and much more.
David Cobb led a stimulating session to start the afternoon. After a brief talk on how to perform haiku, we were divided into groups who each had the job of creating a performance based on the haiku David had selected for us. Then the groups performed in front of the whole gathering. And what performance talents were revealed in the society! Such top notch stuff, prepared in only twenty minutes. All the performances deserved a wider audience; this is definitely something to build on for the future.
Colin Blundell then ‘took our minds for a walk’ through music, art and the written word. This was an inspirational experience for everyone. WOW .. what resources Colin provided us with: art by Ayzen, Paul Klee, his own work and that by John Parsons. We finished by creating haiku based on inspirational drawings. These we shared in the session.
We finished our day by listening to the adjudication of the informal haiga competition by our judges Lynne Rees and Katherine Gallagher. The joint winners were: Phil Madden and Verity Adams. Congratulations to them and thanks to everyone who brought work in for the competition.