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HSA Best Unpublished Haibun Award Collection
Judges' Commentary 2013

See the contest rules for the HSA Best Unpublished Haiku award.

Winners by Year: 2013 | 2012 | 2011 |


 


2013

2013 HSA Haibun Awards

Judged by
Adelaide B. Shaw

The winning haibun for this contest were chosen based upon what I believe is necessary for a haibun. Briefly, a haibun requires a smooth blending of its two parts, prose and haiku, each which can stand alone, to create something more—a deeper understanding, a stronger emotion. The prose needs to carry us along, either swiftly as a mystery novel does or slowly as a love sonnet. The words chosen for the prose need to fit the theme, and the haiku needs to add a new dimension, not simply move the narrative forward by telling us something which could easily have been added to the prose. And, as in haiku, the author needs to show us not tell. The title, the first words we read, needs to draw us in without reveal- ing too much. After many readings of each entry, these are the winners. Congratulations!


First Place ($100) ~ Renée Owen
Sebastopol, California

Into the Blue

Slanting light cuts through the tops of the pines, golden slivers that burst into flame along the heads of the flowers, heavy in the late afternoon sun. In the sleepy haze, memories slide in & out—hydrangeas, bountiful and sky blue. The old porch. Her rocker, now empty. His, my old PaPaw’s, creaks back and forth, back and forth. He pretends to doze, but a few tears give him away, streaking his lined face. The cousins and I, we, too, pretend, sitting at his feet. We call out for another game of tag, race down the alley, looking back over our shoulders to catch his lopsided grin. Tears forgotten for those few moments. Her scent mingles amongst the subtle smell of the bushes, then wafts away, as she slips into the blue.

wrinkled hands
reach for mine
fresh, black earth

• • •

The English language idiom, “into thin air,” meaning that someone or something has vanished without a trace, is sometimes expressed as “into the blue.” Is this what the haibun is about, has someone suddenly disappeared, or is it something else entirely? Is the poet thinking about an airplane flying “into the blue”? Or a child on a swing, rising higher and higher? Or is she referring to a departing soul? I want to read on.

The prose is all about blue—blue hydrangeas, blue sky, the blues we feel because of loneliness and loss. The poet remembers a sleepy, melancholy afternoon after the death of her grandmother. The prose, in present tense, puts us there with the grandfather and the children. We are not told that this is a sad day; we are shown with descriptions: one empty rocker, the other creaking back and forth, tears streaking the grandfather’s face. The author and her cousins try and succeed, for a few minutes anyway, to cheer up their grieving grandfather. We have sympathy for the grandfather, and we are grateful for the thoughtfulness of the children. There is nothing sentimental here.

The haiku intensifies the mood of the prose. It could be a scene at the gravesite or a later one in the garden with grandfather and grandchild working together, supporting each other. When we finish reading, we feel the closeness of grandfather and grandchild. The poet has presented a universal theme about loss and family.



Second Place ~ Mark Smith
Keyser, West Virginia

To Walk with Andrew

Wyeth, great lover of browning field, living’s gritty flesh, a farm’s lineage of poverty and harvest,

to walk with you Chadd’s Ford—our eyes widening, grays waiting, with only the will to rough the vast, the distant barren,

and on this land, snowy pasture, your words blown: feel the bone-structure in landscape, the loneliness of it . . . something waits beneath it . . .

I would follow, think some of my own from bones like dead love, rural rubble, the weathered porch

where I sit now lost in your prints, foraging in rooms, fields open brown and ochre

and want to capture this life of aching roots, change, the desire to vanish into landscape.

chilled letters—
my hand on her grave
the only way

• • •

In this haibun, the author contemplates following Andrew Wyeth in his pursuit to capture landscape, not merely a pictorial depiction, but more deeply, the landscape of life. He wants to understand his own life, his past, “to capture this life of aching roots.” In the quote of Wyeth’s words, (in italics) substitute “life” for “landscape,” and we have the theme: the search for the meaning of life. It is a lonely search. This is poetic prose with phrases such as: “living’s gritty flesh, a farm’s lineage of poverty and harvest,” and “fields open brown and ochre.” The prose reads smoothly and should be read all the way through just to enjoy the flow of words. A second and third slower reading will give the words their meaning.

In the haiku the author gives us a puzzle. Is the meaning of life only to be found in death? Or, for the author, is it to be found in remembering a lost loved one? This haiku is effective even without the prose. Sometimes memories of, feelings for, and connections with a deceased loved one are intensified by touching a photo, a possession belonging to the person, or touching the grave. The cold as expressed with “chilled letters” intensifies the loneliness of the author’s search.


Third Place ~ Anita Curran Guenin
San Diego, California

The Blue Dress

From my first job’s first paycheck, I bought my pretty Mother a navy blue faille dress. Then about forty-three years old, she mostly wore house dresses as her work was to clean the rooming house where we lived. Running the place was the only means she had to support us, her three children, after the divorce from our father.

Sometimes I’d come home from school to find her lying down with her legs propped up against the wall, trying to ease the pain from varicose veins. Like most children regarding their parents, I either ignored or wasn’t aware of her sacrifices.

In the style of its time, the dress had long tight sleeves and a nipped in waist. A circle skirt stuck out stiffly even without a crinoline petticoat.

It would have looked complete with a pillbox hat, gloves and pearls. I thought it looked classy, like something Grace Kelly would wear or someone’s circumspect mother.

The jewel neckline was round and high. I think she wanted to be grateful, but she said, “I feel like I’m choking.”

white dress
hem muddied from rain
first communion

• • •

Here is another haibun about blue, a blue dress, given by a caring daughter to her pretty, hard-working and tired mother. Perhaps there is some pride connected with the gift (weren’t we all proud at buying something with our first earned money?) but this is really a gift of love, love of a daughter for a sacrificing mother. The mother’s comment upon receiving the gift spoils the occasion. We can’t expect our gifts to be always well received, but we expect some display of appreciation. We are hurt when the recipient lacks enthusiasm and deeply hurt when the gift is criticized. Don’t we have a social obligation to show some appreciation? And, if the giver and receiver are family or close friends, don’t we have a moral obligation to be kind and not be hurtful? Perhaps the mother is just too tired to think and later regrets having spoken so quickly. Although the author doesn’t say she is hurt, we feel the hurt for her.

The haiku repeats the young woman’s disappointment in describing a memory of an earlier spoiled occasion, spoiled not by any person, but by nature. The incident about her mother’s dress surely must have disappointed her more. The author presents a smooth blending of past and present disappointments. My quibble with this haibun is that the prose is in the past tense, not the present, which would give the piece even more impact. However, the author still manages to capture her disappointment and hurt.


First Honorable Mention ~ Renée Owen
Sebastopol, California

Not Long Now

As I reach for your old quilt, you come to me, and I pretend to hear your voice. “Honey, y’all doin’ alright?” and “Now you take care of yourself, you hear.” In every room, the sepia photos—you, a young girl, or after your wedding day, stern and still. Each time I pass them, for just that moment, all is shiny and bright, before it fades into black.

sunset streaks
the winter sky red
not long now

• • •

The title piques our curiosity. What is not long now? What is going to happen soon? A woman, in her imagination, in her memory or in her dreams, hears her deceased mother’s voice. There is no need to tell us her mother is deceased. We feel it in the poet’s words, see it in the sepia photos when all is “shiny and bright,” and know it now when all “fades to black.”

The theme is impermanence and is repeated in the haiku. It is winter, the last of the seasons, the season of long dark nights, the season in which the year ends. The red sunset sky won’t last, and “not long now” it will be dark. And, “not long now,” memory fades, and “not long now” (when you measure a man’s life as compared to the life of the universe) so will the poet and the reader.


Second Honorable Mention ~ Alexander Charnov
Brooklyn, New York

Footprints

If only every step that I ever took left a neon footprint, a radiant earth birthmark an eternal silhouette. Then there would be no uninvited déjà vu. I think we’ve kissed standing here before, I can’t be sure though. These trees look familiar . . .

Instead everything would be laid out, a cryptic treasure map with nostalgia stashed at every dash of the path. At some point X will mark the death.

I could count on these prints to hold my history through the years, untainted save for gum stains slapped on my Broadway footprints.

I could count on them. Never have to make a journal entry again, never take a photo for memory’s sake, never note the night we walked from 42nd to Fulton and thought that all New Yorkers were asleep in bed but us. No need. Throw away shots of hikes and heartfelt hugs, the footprints will always beam truths.

The neon spots would speak the day. And more. All I would have to do is track myself through the streets and forests and years and I would see my life shining in my size small, size four, size twelve footprints:

Glowing, love-struck night-steps cast on cobblestones, small beacons glowing on the floor of the fluorescent daycare, myriad loops of tracks glowing up and down the sunlit summer Promenade, glowing in the alleys of Brooklyn and attracting rats, glowing through the woods of Vermont and attracting a thousand moths, glowing along the oldest relics of temples and towers, along the fields of fresh marble waiting to be worked, glowing a blinding white and uniting like a chorus of memory.

If every step that I ever took left a neon footprint, there would be no forgetting.

Chasing fireflies under moonlight
The lawn is stamped with tiny toe marks
Prints shift and vanish in dark grass

• • •

There is much in this haibun which sets it apart. The simple one-word title gets to the point, yet leaves room for speculation. Whose footprints? Famous ones on Hollywood Boulevard? Footprints left at the scene of a crime? Or children’s muddy footprints? We want to read on to find out. The theme presents a common concern, that we will forget our own past and leave nothing of ourselves behind to mark our having lived. The author imagines a way to remember his life, from childhood onward and for everyone else to know that he was there. He gives us a colorful walk through the places he’s been with imaginative phrases: “radiant earth birthmark; nostalgia stashed at every dash of the path” (wonderful alliteration); and “glowing love-struck night-steps.” I was carried through the narrative, quickly in some places, more slowly in others when a particular phrase caught my attention. The haiku at the end brings us out of the realm of fantasy into reality in which footprints fade. In the real world events are bound to be forgotten. Although the haiku needs to be shortened, this haibun deserves recognition.


Third Honorable Mention ~ Mark Smith
Keyser, West Virginia

Monarch’s Wings

Suddenly stained glass windows of late summer and I can see how the light, those guided by gulfs of air give what’s left of the energy over to silence, let what flecks through fill the afternoon. Like my first unanswered prayer or the prints these fingers leave to remember. Or when I waited in that sunset for the soul to rise, too late to breathe her back from leaving. And I think of the light I can’t control, color: this body’s broken sills, the mind’s scenes once sanctuary now shards. But amber wings unfolded, shaken, as many specks as memory are failed flutters of faith, what ceased but never left. What makes me long in last bits of warmth for something beyond this here, this gone, this lasting dark brittle of cocoon.

frosty morning—
buds waiting on warmth
to blossom

• • •

This haibun gives us another example of poetic prose. In this style of writing it is not required to be absolutely correct with grammar and punctuation, and clearly the author is not. However, there are some places where a little more attention to them would have helped clarify the ambiguity. The haiku takes us out of late summer and into late winter. In both, the author feels locked up and is waiting for warmth, for the freeing of himself, for the return of a faith that is gone. In spite of its flaws, this haibun deserves a place here.



Adelaide B. Shaw has been writing short-form Japanese poetry for over 40 years and has had more than 200 haibun published. Her haiku collection, An Unknown Road, was awarded third place in the Mildred Kanterman Merit Book Awards for 2009. Samples of her work may be found at <http://www.adelaide-whitepetals.blogspot.com>.

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