Haiku Society of America Haibun Awards for 2017

Haiku Society of America Haibun Awards

Haibun Awards for 2017

Margaret Dornaus & Renée Owen

This year’s entries included 127 haibun with a wide range of styles and lengths, varying from two short sentences with a closing haiku to a 2 1⁄2-page essay replete with haiku and footnotes. As we set about selecting the winners, we tried to narrow our focus to haibun that contained a majority of the following eight qualities: universality of meaning (content that changes or enhances the reader’s world view); compelling, well-written prose (often present tense); poetic writing style (image-laden prose that shows rather than tells, and includes poetic techniques such as alliteration, metaphors/similes, and sensory details); effective haiku that link and shift (adding some new element or meaning to the prose); compelling titles (that add to the overall tone or meaning); a sense of mystery (that alludes to multiple layers of meaning); a satisfactory ending; and a unity of parts (to seamlessly create a greater whole).

As jurors, we enjoyed reading and rereading our own and each other’s favorites, and the collaborative process of discussing them, which both enriched our understanding of the nuances that energize the best haibun, and deepened our appreciation of this marvelous form.

Many thanks to all who submitted their work!


First Place:

by Chris Bays

Despite Rising Seas

children play in a field. I feel safe, for a moment, behind my sun-dappled window, listening to their laughter. Despite nuclear proliferation, my daughter is asleep on the sofa, clenching a book of natural wonders. Her breath ebbs and flows. Which unsullied forest will open in her dreams today?

far-flung smog
the foal gallops
toward the mare

~ ~ ~

Comments: From its opening title, “Despite Rising Seas” challenges readers to consider our place in a world that is at once dangerous and awe-inspiring. The dreamlike, almost fairytale, quality of this haibun contrasts a child’s innocent and idyllic views with a parent’s recognition of darker concerns. In the brief space of five compacted sentences, the writer deftly presents the age-old struggle of Man vs. Nature in a fresh and innovative way that refrains from being judgmental—leaving us, instead, to reflect on the shared responsibilities of our actions "as the foal gallops / toward the mare".


Second Place:

by Michael Cantor


Plover Island is a fragile barrier beach that hovers in the Atlantic, north of Boston. A community of wind-and-sea-salt-blasted wooden houses hides in its sand and shrub brush. From October through April the water turns steel gray, and seals can be seen playing in the channel and sometimes on the beach. The summer people are gone. Those who choose to winter in a place like this do so willfully. They have been captured by the way the sea grass waves in the wind and then nestles under snow. They are infatuated with the damp brine and seaweed smell of mornings. They stand at dusk behind thick glass deck doors, and watch the low, dark storm clouds scud down from the north. They seek silence and solitude.

the surf, the moon
and summer renters
drunk and loud

The day after a heavy January storm buries the island it is totally silent. You cannot hear the wind. You cannot hear the surf. The house feels compressed by the immense weight of snow it bears. It is smaller, tighter. The flames of the wood stove push back the walls, keep us alive. We whisper. Outside, the noon landscape is whiteness, punctuated by a few small pines. I read Kawabata’s Snow Country again. Beyond the bleached and frozen beach, the winter ocean waits, dead black.

gray-rimmed and bare,
this pale midwinter beach
lets gull bones bleach

~ ~ ~

Comments: This entry paints a tightly focused landscape depicting our relationship with nature through its close examination of the “fragile barrier beach” known as Plover Island. Using a series of lyrical images, the narrator explores the destination from the wabi-sabi vantage point of winter. This haibun artfully portrays a place where winter residents speak in reverent whispers and have breathing room to reread Kawabata’s Snow Country, while "gull bones bleach". A haunting evocation of time and place, which cries out for a title.


Third Place:

by Dru Philippou


   yet, the red
of cholla blossoms

My Toyota Corolla sits idle in tall grass. My neighbor, a retired electrical engineer, says, “Bet I can fix it.” Raising the hood, he begins disengaging the engine. Nuts, bolts, and hoses are stored in labelled zip-lock bags. He points to various parts of the car: “The cooling system is designed like our circulation, oil filter like kidneys, the air conditioning like lungs.” He tells me about his late wife and continues: “Pistons are like the chambers of the heart.” He wipes away excess oil and scrapes off residue left by the blown head gasket. I hand him a new one and the process reverses.

    test drive
moon at the edge
    of visibility

~ ~ ~

Comments: Sandwiched between two effective haiku, the prose section of this haibun uses dialogue to show (rather than tell) the backstory of its characters—neighbors who find themselves relying on one another in unexpected ways. A poignant and understated examination of how two people are brought together through a seemingly random act of kindness.


Honorable Mention (unranked):

by Tom Painting


Koi break the surface of the still pond. Their lips rounded into “O’s” like tourists seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. Oh, oh, oh, they inhale. Once, when careless, I slipped from the arms of a lover into the deep and awoke gasping for air.

controlled burn
a renegade spark
jumps the firebreak

~ ~ ~

Comments: The title underscores the leaps this minimalist haibun takes as it explores a dreamscape where a school of koi morphs into the dreamer. The renegade spark in the ending haiku reinforces the prose passage’s twists and turns, and sense of heightened reality.


Honorable Mention (unranked):

by Lesley Anne Swanson

Sweden, 1901

They have nine children, seven living. In a blue-striped apron, she rearranges lumps of coarse rye dough rising beside the wood stove. He does odd jobs, different ones, here and there. She does the same work, daily. After supper, cheese on rye, close to the fire, she knits stockings while he mends shoes. They sing and they pray. Mornings, as usual, she stirs the flame to life. Hungry, it licks a spatter of butter on the blue-striped apron, and she is gone in a pillar of light.

Heirloom grain . . . we share the last slice of great-grandmother’s rye.

~ ~ ~

Comments: This haibun, with its haiku-like prose and evocative details, transports us in time and place before building to its astonishing and heartbreaking fiery ending. The haiku effectively links back to great-grandmother’s rising dough before shifting to the present moment, with an invitation to break bread together and revere our ancestors. However, the one-line haiku as presented would have been better served, in this instance, with a more traditionally written, three-line form.


About the judges

Margaret Dornaus holds an M.F.A. in the translation of poetry from the University of Arkansas. Her first book of poetry, Prayer for the Dead: Collected Haibun & Tanka Prose, placed second in the Haiku Society of America’s 2017 Merit Book Award Contest, and her haibun, “Caged Birds,” received an A (Cottage) Award in the 2014 Genjuan International Haibun Contest. Her work appears regularly in numerous online and print publications, including Contemporary Haibun Online; Haibun Today; Journeys 2015: An Anthology of International Haibun; and The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku (2012-2013).

Renée Owen’s full-length collection of haiku and haibun, Alone on a Wild Coast (Snapshot Press) received an Honorable Mention in the 2014 Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards. In 2016, she edited Scent of the Past . . . Imperfect (Two Autumns Press), which received an Honorable Mention in the Haiku Society of America’s 2017 Merit Book Awards. Renée publishes her poetry internationally in journals & anthologies, was a featured poet in A New Resonance 7 (Red Moon Press), and has won numerous awards for her haiku, haibun & rengay. A psychotherapist and an exhibiting artist, she enjoys performing her poetry with her musician husband and hiking the wilds near their Northern California home.





The purpose of the Haiku Society of America's Haibun Awards competition is to recognize the best unpublished haibun submitted. Authors may submit up to three unpublished haibun, of no more than 1,000 words, not submitted for publication or to any other contest. Publication is defined as an appearance in a printed book, magazine, or journal (sold or given away), or in any online journal that presents edited periodic content. The appearance of poems in online discussion lists or personal websites is not considered publication. Judges will be asked to disqualify any haibun that they have seen before..

Winners by Year (with judges' comments):

| 2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 |

For details about the contest rules, see the Haiku Society of America Haibun Awards guidelines.