(Haiku Section)


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:

shattered stars
in a small icy pond
the bitterest night’


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.

Somalia famine
a child camps
inside its father
    David Jacobs, UK


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.

winter garden
he describes
a parabola in space
     Graham Duff, UK


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.

a murmur

in the weathervane ––


Earl R. Keener, USA


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.

Administrator’s Note:

There were 528 entries from 113 poets. The 12 countries of origin were in the following proportions: England 58{62d7d02dae87dc6db46c44404e7432d01117384a7a818d68afdeba54a3a6d093}, USA 11{62d7d02dae87dc6db46c44404e7432d01117384a7a818d68afdeba54a3a6d093}, then Scotland 8{62d7d02dae87dc6db46c44404e7432d01117384a7a818d68afdeba54a3a6d093}, Ireland 7{62d7d02dae87dc6db46c44404e7432d01117384a7a818d68afdeba54a3a6d093} and Wales 5{62d7d02dae87dc6db46c44404e7432d01117384a7a818d68afdeba54a3a6d093}. Australia and New Zealand made 3{62d7d02dae87dc6db46c44404e7432d01117384a7a818d68afdeba54a3a6d093} each, Japan and Germany made 2{62d7d02dae87dc6db46c44404e7432d01117384a7a818d68afdeba54a3a6d093} each, and Canada, Finland and the Netherlands made 1{62d7d02dae87dc6db46c44404e7432d01117384a7a818d68afdeba54a3a6d093} each (all to the nearest whole {62d7d02dae87dc6db46c44404e7432d01117384a7a818d68afdeba54a3a6d093}). 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.

David Steele


(Haibun Section)


The adjudicators were Jeffrey Woodward and Lynne Rees. The winners each receive £125.

The winners:

 “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.


Administrator’s Note:

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.

David Steele



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