2008 Porad Award Winners

Margaret Chula, Judge

Michael Dylan Welch and Angela Terry, Contest Coordinators

Sponsored by the Washington Poets Association and Haiku Northwest

Judge’s Comments

I am delighted and honored to be invited to judge the Francine Porad Haiku Contest this year. Francine was a dear friend, welcoming me to her haiku circle when I moved from Japan to the Northwest. Her energy and enthusiasm for haiku and senryu were boundless, her output as an artist and a poet prolific.

With a painter’s eye and her quick wit, Francine encapsulated the essence of human interactions in her senryu, such as this favorite:

                spellbound husband—

                his wife’s version

                of their courtship

But she also wrote haiku that elegantly combined nature and human nature:

                twilight deepens

                the wordless things

                I know

Over the past few years, I have observed—not only in haiku publications, but in the choice of contest winners—a trend toward senryu labeled as haiku. Indeed, the majority of submissions to this contest focused on human activities, with no reference to nature. When they did include a kigo (seasonal word), it served more as a backdrop for the action, adding no resonance to the poem as a whole. Several entries were heartbreaking: the loss of a loved one, a lingering death, a parent with dementia. However, as the poet Jane Hirshfield points out: The experience of a poem is put forward, not the experiencer, and the poems do not coerce feeling, only invite it. The winning haiku and honorable mentions of this year’s contest evoke the essence of an experience in the natural world and link it to the human condition.

I have judged several haiku contests and each time my process varies. I always begin by reading the entire packet of entries (499 this year) to get a feeling for the level of competency and to note recurring themes. On the second reading I looked for a reference to nature, whether obvious or oblique, as I separated the entries into three piles: Yes, No and Maybe. The Maybe pile was, predictably, the largest. Over a period of days, I winnowed down the Maybes to Yes or No. Then I read each stack again carefully, including the No’s, to make sure I hadn’t missed a gem. From the Yes pile, I selected fifty to reread over the next few days, then twenty, and finally six. This is the point where the judging becomes challenging. As an exercise—and this is the first time I’ve tried this—I wrote a commentary for all six finalists. This allowed me to focus on every word and nuance, as well as how the haiku worked as a whole. Deconstructing. As I read each one aloud for cadence and sound patterns, I began to appreciate the craft and skill of these poets. The following haiku are all prizewinners. Their ranking comes down, in the end, to this judge’s personal preference.

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)

            closed louvers

            a mourning dove

            filters through

                            Scott Mason

This haiku is sensual and evocative. It recalls humid afternoons in the tropics when the house is closed up against the heat. “Louvers” (an excellent word choice) allow air to flow through, but shut out heat and light. Yet some light always enters, creating angled shadows in the room. Here, we have sound filtering through, specifically the call of the mourning dove, which is soothing against the oppressive heat. The mood is accentuated by the long “o’s” of “closed louvers” and “mourning doves.” Read metaphorically, the closed louvers represent how we try to shut out our feelings, yet pain and beauty always filter through.

            shrinking snowman

            the red wool scarf

            loosens its grip

                            Peggy Heinrich

Who does not love a snowman? This haiku is both poignant and humorous. We are sad for the disappearance of the snowman, but its melting heralds the beginning of spring. Winter, just like that red wool scarf, is losing its grip. The cadence of “the red wool scarf” in the second line slows us down so we can see the knot of that scarf loosening. And what an original point of view. It’s as if the scarf is actively loosening when, in fact, it is the neck of the snowman that is melting.

            crows on phone lines—

            a new arrangement

            every few caws

                            Scott Mason

Those of you who observe crows will recognize the essence of crows in this haiku. Usually a flock will perch on tree limbs or forage in fields, but here the poet places them on phone lines—a human mode of communication. Crows come and go and rearrange their order as they caw back and forth in a language known only to themselves. The first line does double duty: you can read it as crows lined up on phone lines or as crows “talking” on phone lines. “Caws” also sounds like “calls.” The last line delights us with its surprise and humor.

Third Prize ($50)

            funeral march

            the play of raindrops

            on mahogany

                            Ernest J. Berry

Cadence and rhythm propel this haiku, which seamlessly merges a human event with nature. “Funeral march” can be taken either as the music played at a funeral or the activity of marching or both. I imagined a line of pallbearers carrying a casket, the only sound being the raindrops. We can both see and hear the rain playing its concert on the casket. The choice of the word “raindrops” is an excellent one, bringing to mind “teardrops.” Nowhere does the poet say “casket,” yet it is there in its brown/red glory. The dirge-like lines end on the heavy finality of the word “mahogany.”

Second Prize ($75)

            summer heat

            brooding in the dark

            bantam hen

                            Claudia Coutu Radmore

Once again, word choice—particularly the resonant verb and descriptive adjective—launched this haiku to the top. Not merely “hen,” but “bantam hen.” Bantams are smaller than other domestic fowl, yet they are known to be overconfident and aggressive. The double meaning of “brooding” adds a humorous dimension. Is the hen sitting on her nest, hatching eggs in a dark recess of the barn away from the summer heat? Or is she brooding about some barnyard altercation, sulking in the dark? We humans can’t resist giving other creatures our own foibles yet, because of the alternate readings of “brooding,” this haiku escapes from being anthropomorphic.

First Prize ($100)

            first robin

            the bowed sapling

            flings its ice

                            Earl Keener

The winning haiku is extraordinary for its economy of language. Every word is selected with care to present a scene of late winter/early spring. The poet’s choice of “sapling” (a young tree with a slender trunk) rather than just “branch” is an excellent one that furthers the notion of new beginnings. A sapling branch would also spring back more quickly than a mature one. “Bowed” gives us a visual image, as in “bowed down” under the extremities of winter (and because of the robin’s landing). The other pronunciation of “bowed” suggests the shape of a bow tensed and ready to release an arrow. “Flings” alerts us that some action has taken place. The sapling has gone from “bowed down” to exuberant as the robin lands and then takes flight. “Flings” also reflects the energy of springtime when humans too fling off our winter encumbrances, both physical and psychological. Some judges would disqualify this haiku because it contains two kigo: ice and robin. However, this is exactly what the poet is revealing—that turning between winter and spring, with a seasonal reference to each. This haiku is a superbly rendered observation of cause and effect in the natural world.

I would like to thank Michael Dylan Welch and Angela Terry for donating their time and expertise in organizing this contest. To each poet who entered, thank you for giving me the pleasure of reading your haiku. May you continue to observe and record moments of your everyday lives and deepen your connection to the natural world.

Margaret Chula

Portland, Oregon, June 22, 2008