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HSA Best Unpublished Haibun Award Collection

See the contest rules for the HSA Best Unpublished Haiku award.

Winners by Year: 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 |



2015 HSA Haibun Awards

Judged by
Marsh Muirhead, Bemidji, MN
Marjorie Buettner, Chisago City, MN


First Place:


by Michele Root-Bernstein, East Lansing, MI

In the rearview mirror I watch myself watch my daughter say when she grows up she wants to be just like me, while her younger brother kicks the back of the car seat, mute protest that, hey, we’re all belted in whether we like it or not. Hang on, I say, taking a chance taking the turn, everyone’s life happens for the first time.

fledgling finches
every which way the wind
blows thistle

• • •

MM: The best writing guides the reader to the unexpected, gives the reader joy, and does it well. Such is the case with our winner, “Directions.” The writer had me for good at “we’re all belted in whether we like it or not. Hang on, I say . . .” The prose and the haiku were a perfect match, “every which way the wind” suggesting both the specific and the universal.

MB: I love how this poet takes a mundane event in life and expands it to the extraordinary. The haiku in this haibun is perfect as well in the intent and content. The last line of the haibun, though ambiguous, is exquisite and full of gratifying possibilities.

Second Place:


by Rebecca Lilly, Port Republic, VA

There’s a moment of clarity in the quick of a footstep crunching through leaflets, in the white-out of clouds against mountains, an erasure of pocks and stubble on the ground by branch shadows casting in wind for pollen—such clarity seeps in, sunlight in a droplet, so thought diminishes and life stirs, a frog’s eye poking from mud, and the day is long.

Weeds in fog extend
the forest into fields—
leaving home for good

• • •

MM: Rhythm, phrasing (“quick of a footstep,” “erasure of pocks and stubble”), both clear images and mystery, and just the right balance and distance between the prose and the poem made this one a very close second place.

MB: I cherish the sense of immediacy in this haibun. Not only is it well written, it is full of mystery. The poet takes you along, sharing insights and awareness. We are enticed into following.

Third Place:

The Call

by Renée Owen, Sebastopol, CA

In a daze one phone at my ear the other’s harsh ringing her voice blares across miles an echo a scream that won’t stop says she can’t breathe oxygen won’t help they left her alone she can’t sleep those pain pills will kill her he wet the bed they both have to be at the doctor I can’t do it all you have to come if anyone asks me to do one more thing don’t even mention him helping he’s incompetent say it and I’ll hang up awake at 3 to give shots back at 9 I can’t think straight write this down send me the notes med-alert button not ready for pick-up he can’t take a shower she won’t let them bathe her the new nurse can’t figure out meds he needs groceries I can’t be in two places at once you get down here and help I’ve had it do you hear me I have to hang-up he doesn’t know how to do it he won’t qualify he needs help now not in a week who’s going to do all this you get down here and do it I’m fed-up you expect me to talk I’m driving you listen to me they’re both dying I can’t believe you won’t come you try to do all this I don’t think you could I have to go I don’t have time to listen to you. Click.

in the fallow fields
a red-tailed hawk e
ach day, this small death

• • •

MM: Among several unconventional styles found in this year’s entries, this worked really well. As Marjorie notes below, this is best read out loud, and the haiku is the perfect match—the chaotic and frustrating stage of our common hu- manity set against the reassuring indifference of the natural world.

MB: The form of this haibun caught my eye and ear. This is a piece that needs to be read out loud in order to really enjoy it. I was pleased with its creative energy and fast pace. I think the haiku is perfect.

Honorable Mentions (unranked):


by Margaret Chula, Portland, OR

is meditation bowl, candle, incense, and a Buddha statue that I bought at a temple market in Kyoto. Every week, I place a seasonal flower into the miniature vase. Today it’s a camellia, red as blood, as fire, as energy that has drained from me into its petals.

I rearrange everything on the altar to make room for the black lacquerware box. Inside is a Ziploc bag of Mother’s ashes.

When I first held them, weeks after she’d died, they still felt warm. I want them to smell like the cedar ashes of my incense or like Mother’s baby-powder skin. But they’re just crushed bones, acrid remains scraped from the belly of the incinerator.

After cremation in Japan, families pick out a few bones of their beloved with long-stemmed chopsticks. They are searching for the throat bone, a tiny bone inside the Adam’s apple that looks like a Buddha, to bring home and place on the family altar.

collecting dust
on the window sill
last year’s wish bone

• • •

MM: Such an appealing story, centered on the unforgettable image of the throat bone (that looks like a Buddha!), and the idea of a wish bone (and all our wishes) collecting dust made this a strong honorable mention.

MB: I was impressed with the silent questions hidden within this haibun. This touching haibun gives me pause wondering, too, if that promise of “eternal life” is feasible or are we all just the dust of ashes, collecting on the window sill.

Second Honorable Mention:

Assisted Living

by Beverly Acuff Momoi, Mountain View, CA

As we settle her into her new place, my mother folds and refolds the tissues. It is her habit lately. To smooth wrinkles in unwrinkled sheets, fix the creases in a letter, imprint the lines in a map. We ask her where she wants the pictures of Grandmother, if she can reach the phone from her armchair, if she is looking forward to making friends. She has just one question: How long can we stay?

wabi sabi
the solitary turn
toward age

• • •

MM: With the line, “How long can we stay?”—heartbreak so simply and beautifully expressed, the departing note of the haiku, just the right resonance.

MB: This haibun touches us all in a visceral way. We are all making that “turn toward age” which colors our days.

Third Honorable Mention:


by Rich Youmans, North Falmouth, MA

Projects playgound—
jump shot arcing
from star to star

Evening shadows steal across the low concrete buildings, the cracked-slab courtyards, over fast-food wrappers and bottle shards. He feels the air on his face, moist and cool, as he looks up at the day’s last colors: Crimson streaking thin clouds, pale blue fading to violet, soft as smoke. His basketball, like a low-hanging moon, rests beneath his palm. He closes his eyes, imagines it again: the court, the tiered crowd, the ticking clock, the ball rolling off his fingertips and rising over every shout and whisper, every wide eye, rising and rising and then falling falling falling into that final sound of entry, passage, deliverance . . .

longest night—
a boy’s chalk outline
facing all the stars

• • •

MM: A very contemporary “story” haibun, framed by the stars and all that they might suggest.

MB: This haibun has wonderful action to it and intense sense impressions. The final haiku sets the stage for the tone of the whole piece.

About the judges:

Marsh Muirhead, occasional dentist and flight instructor, lives on the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota. He is the author of a haiku collection, her cold martini, and Key West Explained—a guide for the traveler (available on Amazon). His haiku and haibun have been published in most of the major journals since 2007, his poetry and fiction in Rattle, The Southeast Review, Carolina Quarterly, and elsewhere. His poems and haiku are heard regularly on community radio station KBXE, and can be listened to any time by accessing the archive at KAXE.org (“programs—The Beat”) online.

Marjorie Buettner lives and writes in Minnesota. Her newest book of haibun, Some Measure of Existence, published by Red Dragonfly Press, 2014, won first place in the 2015 Mildred Kanterman Merit Book Awards for books published in 2014. This collection was also nominated for an award through the Northern Minnesota Book Awards.


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