Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards for 1999

Haiku Society of America

Merit Book Awards for 1999

for books published in 1998

Mary Fran Meer and Michael Dylan Welch

The purpose of the Haiku Society of America’s Merit Book Awards is to recognize the best haiku and related books published in a given year. Every year sees a fresh crop of fine individual collections, anthologies, translations, and books of criticism. The volumes published in 1998 ranged from an anthology of Spam pseudo-haiku to a collection of rock-star haiku (by Michael Stipe of REM and others). The year’s more serious haiku books ranged from self-published, photo-copied chapbooks to deluxe letterpress editions, as well as professional trade and academic press publications. However, it is ultimately the text—the poetry or the prose—that matters most, along with the poetic images or intellectual ideas and the craft exhibited in presenting them. Choosing the best books of the year has surely been a daunting task for past judges, as it has been for us. We particularly recommend the following haiku books as the best of 1998, and regret that we could not acknowledge more books. We encourage you to support the winning authors and publishers by buying and reading these books. We have enjoyed considering these books, and are grateful for the opportunity to choose these award winners.


First Place

Lee Gurga. Fresh Scent: Selected Haiku of Lee Gurga.Decatur, IL: Brooks Books, 1998.

An exceptional collection of Gurga’s haiku and senryu, culling the best poems from several books and many years of dedication to the haiku genre. Also noteworthy is the aim of publisher Randy Brooks to present, beginning with this collection, a series of clothbound books featuring the selected haiku of outstanding poets who have made a significant contribution to the art of haiku.

            fresh scent—
                the labrador’s muzzle
                     deeper into snow


Second Place

H. F. Noyes. Favorite Haiku, Volume I. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 1998.

A simply produced, wide-ranging, and satisfying collection of poems by numerous poets, each enlarged with prose interpretations by H. F. Noyes. At once a haiku anthology and a book of insightful commentary, above all this book celebrates the spirit of community and sharing among haiku poets worldwide.

            warm rain before dawn;
            my milk flows into her
                        (Ruth Yarrow)


Honorable Mention

Ernest Berry. A Raindrop, A Flowing River. Blenheim, New Zealand: PhotoImage, 1998.

A stunning book of award-winning photos enhanced by haiku of New Zealand poet Ernest Berry. This smooth amalgam of images transports the reader into realms of imagination and wonder. A perfect coffee-table book with photographs that any haiku poet would be proud to couple with his or her haiku.

                 incoming waves
            their whiteness hissing
                 into the sand


Honorable Mention

Spring Morning Sun by Tom Tico. Spring Morning. San Francisco, CA: Belltower Press, 1998.

Despite writing haiku for thirty years, this is Tico’s first book publication. His haiku march down the page in unwavering steps. Many reflect first-hand observations from a man living out years of homelessness, but his work celebrates both joyful and soulful moments with a light touch. This book celebrates the work of a long-recognized poet. . .with the sun at his back.

            On Mother’s Day
               cutting all of the lilies
                  for her last bouquet


Honorable Mention

Richard Wright. Haiku: This Other World. New York, NY: Arcade Publishing, 1998.

When American novelist and activist Richard Wright died in 1960, he left an unpublished manuscript of 817 haiku selected from several thousand he wrote in the last year or two before he died. While the poems show weaknesses that seem a result of Wright’s writing in isolation, a significant number of the poems are remarkably good, especially considering that Wright penned them in the late 1950s while in failing health. That this collection should now be published makes it historic.

               In the falling snow
            A laughing boy holds out his palms
               Until they are white.


Honorable Mention

Jim Kacian. Six Directions: Haiku & Field Notes. Albuquerque, NM: La Alameda Press, 1998.

A journey to uncharted horizons, a taste of wildness, sets this journal’s tone. Weaving haibun with haiku sections, Kacian skillfully portrays his ongoing fascination with the wildlife, the mosses and stones, the rivers and mountains of Virginia. Readers are transported through each new season, witnessing an artful tale as it unfolds. An awakening has taken place and a quiet resolution:  “Six Directions . . . stretches out again in space and time . . . becomes the place where I live, this place, this home.”

            ground fog
            up to my ankles
            in moonlight


Honorable Mention

Haruo Shirane. Traces of Dreams:  Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

A landmark reassessment of Basho and his poetry amid his cultural landscape. This book deftly de-Zens Basho, and shows the vertical depths (links to history and culture) and horizontal breadths (links to his contemporaries) that Basho reached in his haiku and renga mastery.


Honorable Mention

Makoto Ueda. The Path of Flowering Thorn: The Life and Poetry of Yosa Buson. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

A sorely needed biography of Buson, this book presents 180 of the poet’s haiku in translation, and places the poetry in the context of his paintings and prose and the rich events of his life. This highly readable book opens up the poet’s life and poetry, and joins Ueda’s other books as a classic in haiku criticism.


Honorable Mention

Patricia Donegan and Yoshie Ishibashi. Chiyo-ni: Woman Haiku Master. Boston, MA: Tuttle Publishing, 1998.

This translation is dedicated “to all women haijin known and unknown who lived the way of haiku or who are now living the way of haiku.” It was a daunting task for the authors to unravel the biography of this remarkable woman and translate her poetry. In eighteenth-century Japan, politics allowed only men to become haiku masters. Nevertheless, with her talent and resourcefulness, Chiyo-ni broke through the ranks to be honored as the first woman haiku master during her lifetime.


Honorable Mention

Cyril Childs, Edtior. The Second New Zealand Haiku Anthology. Wellington, New Zealand: The New Zealand Poetry Society, 1998,

Over 300 best works from thirty-five of New Zealand’s most accomplished writers appear in this book. Emphasis is on haiku with Kiwi origins and colloquialisms, and about its environs and people. Biographical snapshots bring each poet to life. This collection previews many new voices to be heard and enjoyed.


Honorable Mention - Series

To the Spring Street Haiku Group for its series of annual group anthologies: 

The Parakeet’s Mirror (1993), Woodshavings (1994), A Small Umbrella (1995), After Lights Outs (1996), In the Waterfall (1997), Absence of Cows (1998), and continuing. New York, NY: Spring Street Haiku Group.

Remarkable for their consistently high quality of haiku, these brief yearly chapbooks showcase just a few excellent haiku from each member of this dedicated group of poets.


Honorable Mention - Series

To Stephen Addiss with Fumiko and Akira Yamamoto for their series of haiku translations paired with entertaining Japanese artwork: A Haiku Menagerie:  Living Creatures in Poems and Prints (1992), A Haiku Garden: The Four Seasons in Poems and Prints (1996), and Haiku People: Big and Small in Poems and Prints (1998). New York, NY: Weatherhill. Each book artfully presents a set of poems thematically grouped with vintage Japanese prints.




The purpose of the Haiku Society of America's Merit Book Awards is to recognize the best haiku and related books published in a given year in the English language. Every year sees a fresh crop of fine individual collections, anthologies, translations, critical studies and innovative forms.

In the past, the HSA Merit Book awards were partially supported by a memorial gift. Leroy Kanterman, cofounder of the Haiku Society of America, made a gift to support the first place award in memory of his wife Mildred Kanterman. See the archives of Merit Book Awards.

The Merit Book Awards competition is open to the public. Books must have been published in the previous year and must clearly contain a printed previous year copyright. A member, author, or publisher may submit or nominate more than one title. At least 50 percent of the book must be haiku, senryu, or haibun, or prose about these subjects (books mostly of tanka, for example, are not eligible). HSA will also consider collections that have only appeared in an e-book/digital book format. Two print copies of the digital book may be sent by the publisher. Books published by HSA officers are eligible for this award. Books published by the national HSA organization, however, are not eligible.

Winners by Year (with judges' comments):

2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000 | 1999 | 1998 | 1997 | 1996 | 1995 | 1994 | 1993 | 1992 | 1991 | 1990 | 1989 | 1988 | 1987 | 1985 | 1983 | 1981 | 1978 | 1975 |

See the contest rules for entering the next Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards competition.