With 2,214 entries, this year marks the largest participation to date in the Peggy Willis Lyles Haiku Awards. Coming in the midst of a global pandemic, the entries provide a window to the collective experience of poets in this unique moment in history. It was an honor to stand at that window and bear witness. I have no doubt that many of the haiku that have not been selected for awards here will soon appear in journals, anthologies, and new collections that will provide meaningful records of this time. I look forward to seeing them again!
In the preface to her book To Hear the Rain (Brooks Books, Decatur, IL, 2002), Peggy Willis Lyles wrote: "Compression and the energy it produces are characteristic of all poetry. So is careful diction with close attention to the denotations, connotations, and associative possibilities of words." The winning haiku all demonstrate a careful attention to those principles. I suspect the following haiku will resonate differently among readers depending on your particular life experience, which is the way of good haiku. The reader is not meant to be a passive observer but rather an active participant in these brief poems. I hope you will allow these haiku to stir you in the various ways vivid poems are apt to do.
a swarm of moths
flat on the wall
The first line is loaded with connotations, especially for readers in the U.S. where our relationship to the police is varied and complex. Just as a carefully chosen season word in traditional Japanese haiku brings with it a richness of associations, the phrase "police siren" sparks certain—often visceral—reactions in the American reader. In line two, a swarm of moths brings to mind an active, perhaps even chaotic fluttering, as one might see after dark when moths gather around porch lights. The swarm of moths is suddenly not fluttering but flat on the wall in line three, and the spark of that image in the context of the whole haiku is startling. Such an ordinary, innocuous thing it is to see moths resting flat against a wall. But now suddenly in the context of the police siren, their position feels reflexively compliant, evasive, or even forced. While the poet may have a clear political ideology, this haiku does not tell you what to think. Rather, it simply offers its surprising combination of images. What thoughts that shakes loose is up to you.
a turn of stars
the girl with the hula hoop
keeps it going
Hurley, New York
From our vantage point on a rotating planet, the pattern of stars in the sky appears to turn around us. The image of the girl keeping the hula hoop going links to this larger planetary rotation in a playful way. Is the girl a sort of north star at the center of the rotating sky? Does that small energy expended to keep the hula hoop going contribute in some meaningful way to the overall energy of the galaxy? A fun, vivid haiku, opening our thoughts to our small place in the universe.
my first spring
Ash refers to a tree rather than the residue after something burns, but that hint of added meaning lingers. A quick investigation online reveals that ash buds are a grayish-black, and the blossoms are small dark purple clusters that are not easily noticed. Ash leaves are among the latest to appear in the spring. All of this deepens our reading of the two lines that follow. The speaker, in contemplating the first spring without a loved one, notices the quiet, subtle image of ash buds in late spring rather than any of the more typical, bright signifiers of springtime. Adding to the emotional power of the haiku is the word "first" in line 2. Not only is it spring and he isn't here, but it is the first spring without him. There will presumably be many more, and we can sense the speaker bracing themselves for those coming years already. The adjustment to life without him is not easy, but here we are. The economy of language is also wonderful in this haiku. Only seven words, each one essential.
the song fills
East Lansing, Michigan
Cisterns were more common in the days before indoor plumbing, so I imagine this stone cistern is likely no longer in use. Instead of holding rainwater, the cistern now holds birdsong. The wording here is playful and invites a sort of circular reading. The haiku says the song fills with wren, yet I can't help but read it as the cistern fills with birdsong. So few words together filling this small poem while challenging our expectation for linear logic. The repeated "s" sounds add to the musical quality of the haiku. A delightful poem!
the heave of the sea
Joanne van Helvoort
The juxtaposition between "first contractions" and "the heave of the sea / before breaking" is striking. My reaction upon first reading this one was: Yes, that's exactly how it is! Though I had never thought of it in these terms before, the first contractions of childbirth come very much like waves with the weight of the ocean behind them. Once the contractions begin, the process has been set in motion and it feels like there is no turning back. Similarly, one cannot stop a wave rising in the sea from eventually reaching the shore and breaking. The baby will come, the wave will break. The repeated vowel sounds in the words "heave" and "sea" followed by the ā sound of the word "break" creates an interesting sequence of sounds that fits the context of labor. These two powerful forces of nature—childbirth and ocean waves—create resonance with each other. This is a wonderful example of a haiku in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
wildflowers in a vase
she tells me about
Edward Cody Huddleston
The image in the first line caused me to pause and ponder its potential meaning. I generally think of wildflowers on a hillside or along the edge of a road or hiking trail, so it is slightly unexpected to consider them cut and placed in a vase. The second part of the haiku takes on added meaning in light of the first image. It seems fair to assume "she" is well past her twenties now and is looking back, revealing parts of the past selected from a whole field of stories from that time. I imagine she tells stories of travel, falling in and out of love, taking risks, interesting work, etc., each story akin to a wildflower cut and presented for observation. She isn't revealing the whole field of her twenties, just what fits in this vase. This haiku leaves me nostalgic for my own twenties and also eager to hear stories from others.
I clutch the frail hand
that once clutched mine—
Anna Race Vosburgh
To clutch a hand rather than simply to hold it implies urgency or intensity of emotion. We clutch a hand to offer protection or seek comfort whether it is a parent clutching a child's hand or that same child as an adult clutching their elderly parent's hand. It is all part of the cycle of caring for one another. Winter dusk adds a somberness to the haiku. The repeated "uh" sound in clutch and dusk adds to the overall effect. It is hard to read this one without also considering the current context of COVID19 and the many adult children caring for—and in far too many cases saying goodbye to—their elderly parents.
against the hollyhocks
Terri L. French
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
When I look out my window right now, I see a vibrant pink hollyhock peeking up above the fence from my neighbor's yard. If you are familiar with hollyhocks, you know they grow quickly. So, the idea that anyone would measure themselves against hollyhocks is playfully absurd if the growth being measured is his own. If the growth being measured is that of the hollyhocks, there is still a playful quality to the image as I imagine the hollyhocks quickly rising up from hip height to shoulder height to above his head. Is this a child, unaware of how quickly the growth of the hollyhocks will outpace his own? Or an adult with childlike wonder at the speed of the hollyhocks' growth? Either way, an evocative, playful poem!Susan Antolin