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.



All views expressed on The British Haiku Society website are the views of the authors and contributors.

They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The British Haiku Society.

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