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The First Annual Peggy Willis Lyles Haiku Awards
The following is the report of the judge for this inaugural holding of the Peggy
Willis Haiku Awards contest. In future years, we hope to surprise contestants with
the announcement of the contest judge but, in this first year, many will have
anticipated that there could be no better choice than The Heron’s Nest founding
editor, Christopher Herold. We provided him with poems only, no names or locations
of poets, shortly after the June 1 submission deadline. There were 1,518 poems
submitted this year, by 341 poets. We thank everyone for these offerings.
I was delighted to learn that The Heron’s Nest has hatched the plan to institute
an annual haiku contest in commemoration of Peggy Willis Lyles. It is an honor
richly deserved, for Peggy was an outstanding poet whose work dates back to the
years when English language haiku first began to gain a serious foothold in the
West. She was also a superb editor, having a well-developed gift for getting to
the heart of discussions that were often complex and, on occasion, vigorously
disputed. She always handled such consultations insightfully, making her points
with concision and yet with great sensitivity. In short, she was a wise and
Although pleased that The Heron’s Nest staff invited me to judge the first
Peggy Willis Lyles Haiku Award, I admit that my brain balked when I learned
that “excellence” was the sole criteria for assessing the submitted work.
Feelings of inadequacy, gratitude, paralysis, pride, doubt, and resolve
struggled for the upper hand. I had to hike into the hills and find a
place to sit still for a while in order to sort it all out. A flat rock
in the middle of the fast-moving Quilcene River proved perfect. The roar
of the rapids calmed me, making it easier to think rationally.
“Excellence.” That’s in the mind of the reader isn’t it? Over the years, so many
talented poets and academicians have battled over which combinations of haiku
criteria result in the most resonant poems, which taboos should be upheld,
and which discarded. Naturally, the consensus is in constant flux. My own
estimation of what constitutes haiku excellence is evolving as well. I feel
as strongly now about some facets of the craft as I did way back when, others
not so strongly. In any case, my emotions sorted themselves out by the
river—gratitude and resolve coming to the fore.
While sitting there on that rock, I also felt inspired to go home and reread
To Hear the Rain, the outstanding collection of haiku penned by the person for
whom this contest is a tribute. After all, it seemed only fitting that, if I was
to uphold the high standards set by my late friend and former co-editor,
I must reacquaint myself with her style and esthetic sensibilities.
I also felt emboldened by remembering The Heron’s Nest byline I penned so many
years ago when Alex Benedict and I founded the journal: “Where tradition and
innovation meet and compliment each other.” Yes, indeed. That statement of intent
helped me maintain focus throughout the selection process as well.
So, with gratitude, I now thank the current staff of The Heron’s Nest for
having provided me this opportunity to delve wholeheartedly into haiku submitted
to the Peggy Willis Lyles Haiku Award. I was very much impressed by how many of
the poems compelled me to return to them again and again, making final selections
a real challenge. Even so, I feel happily satisfied with the decisions
I finally made. I hope you are as delighted by these poems as I am.
July 3, 2013 The Heron’s Nest First Annual Peggy Willis Lyles Haiku Award
Winning Poems with Commentary
end of the world
I blow apart
a dandelion Garry Gay
Santa Rosa, California
On the heels of yet another ripple of unrest spread by folks on the fringe—that
the end of the world is imminent—this poet plucks a dandelion sphere and performs
the time-honored tradition of blowing it apart, presumably while making a wish.
Did the poet wish (or pray) for a planetary reprieve? Or does he or she wish that
the aforementioned fringe element would stop ranting and use their energy to
seek out competent counseling?
In any case, the poet has made a connection between the dandelion globe at its
moment of deconstruction and the envisioned fate of our planet as espoused by
doomsayers. The result is a marvelous haiku.
While visualizing this particular dandelion’s end, I recognized what actually
took place: a most positive event. Those are seeds that the poet has scattered
with a breath—the promise of new life—well, yes, of more dandelions. It’s up to
you whether or not to consider such a dissemination uplifting.
So, whether we choose to believe it is our planet or simply a dandelion
that has reached its point of destruction, this poem can and should be deemed
auspicious … a new beginning … what every ending is after all.
A wonderfully ironic and playful haiku with some disturbing undertones and a
splash of sarcasm—all born aloft in a beautiful image. (Can you imagine this
description on the label of a bottle of dandelion wine?)
Now truly, this is your quintessential “one-breath-poem.”
the turtle’s neck
at full stretch
Carole MacRury Point Roberts, Washington
This poem doesn’t need commentary. After all, don’t most of us stick our necks
out at the first sign of spring?
I would like to state up front, however, that I worried that my choice might
be suspected of bias in that the late Peggy Willis Lyles, for whom this award
is a memorial, penned a marvelous haiku about turtles. Moreover, said poem was
used as a highlight in the announcement of this contest. Well, the truth is
that “spring fever” became a favorite despite that worry. In other words, it
not only had to be “excellent,” it had to overcome a disadvantage the other
poems didn’t have: my concern about bias. It occurs to me that the poet who
chose to submit this haiku may have done so to honor Peggy. If so, then I am
even happier for my decision.
Having said all of this, I now find myself unable to resist a little of the
commentary that this haiku doesn’t need.
It is succinct—no wasted words. The poet gives expression to a subjective
phenomenon that is universal in nature (spring fever) by connecting it to
objective imagery (the turtle’s action). This poem trembles with exuberance,
the essence of spring. I find the creative wording of the final line irresistible.
The rhythm is effective, too: not the traditional short/long/short, but a double
beat repeated twice, serving to emphasize the emotional content. And visually,
the words on the page are pleasing to the eye.
I bow to the poet for making it safe and rewarding to stretch out our necks.
nevertheless fall colors
Three words, none of which presents a specific image, and we find ourselves in
the midst of an easily envisioned scene of beauty.
The profusion of fall colors compensates the poet for some troubling matter.
We are given no clue as to what that matter is, but it shouldn’t be difficult
to supply our own predicament, for we all have our problems. It’s a universal
fact of life.
The question is: when a complication arises, can we do as this poet has done?
Can we let go of our troubles, if but for a short while, and appreciate the
world “nevertheless,” with wonderment?
shakes her mop outside...
Kirsty Karkow Waldoboro, Maine
Cherry blossoms: one of the most popular themes in all the realms of haikai,
a vast majority of which pay homage to the ephemeral beauty of the flowers
while still on their trees or in the process of falling from them. Once fallen,
however, ephemeral quickly translates into a mess. They get blown or tracked
into our homes and must be swept up for days if not weeks.
I love the image of the maid shaking free the mopped up blossoms, allowing them
to flutter down one last time.
It’s true that she could be simply shaking dust from the mop at a time when the
blossoms are still at their peak, or falling (along with dust), but I derive
the most reading pleasure from my former envisioning of this poet’s experience.
one step farther
than I wanted to go
I’m on my way to what I imagine is Point B. I’m nearly there, just one step away
when Ma Nature, a smirk on her face, playfully makes her point with a powerful
gust of wind from behind. She causes me to overstep my intended goal, and thereby
makes me aware of the momentum I’ve created by pursuing a fixation.
The poem does not necessarily indicate actually walking to a particular place.
More likely, it indicates a circumstance in which the poet feels no longer
completely in control—perhaps a romantic or a business relationship. Quite
conceivably, the loss of control (or perhaps lapse of good judgment) is then
connected to, or perhaps blamed on the exhilarating nature of the season—spring
what I meant
to tell her
Joey Russell-Bridgens Omaha, Nebraska
When at last the poet finds the courage to share some thing that he or she has
withheld, it is already too late. The person for whom this information or
sentiment would have mattered has either gone elsewhere or has passed away.
The poet’s inner struggle: worry over withholding something of importance,
is replaced with regret. The regret is intensified by what would normally be
a cause for joyousness: the giving way of winter to spring. A no-nonsense
haiku shared in a few well-chosen words to which most of us, I’m sure, can
our ten-year old says
he'll never leave home
Tom Painting Atlanta, Georgia
It’s been explained to the curious child that the cicada sprouted wings and
left its shell behind. Perhaps this parent has told the boy that, like the
cicada, he, too, will one day sprout wings and find his own way in life.
And perhaps that information was just a tad too much for someone of such
a tender age.
But isn’t this true for the rest of us as well? We are older and presumably
wiser, but it is never easy to ponder the final shedding of our own skins.
Copyright © 2013, The Heron's Nest, All rights reserved
by the respective authors.