Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards for 2005

Haiku Society of America

Merit Book Awards for 2005

Dean Summers and Ruth Yarrow, judges

Our number-one criterion for judging this year’s 51 submissions was this: if a friend wanted to learn about English-language haiku, we wanted to be able to recommend the Merit Book Award winners and say, “This is haiku.” We looked for full and consistent expressions of economy, immediacy, depth, and resonance.

In deciding on second and third place winners, we found our two favorites came in humble packaging: the 4 by 5 inch format from Bottle Rockets Press, with a very simple layout on plain paper, folded, a colored cover, modest cover art and two staples, which feels entirely appropriate for haiku. Two other books that exemplify fine haibun and haiga respectively were so noteworthy that we have given them each honorable mention.


Kanterman Memorial Award

Eligibility for the Mildred Kanterman Memorial Award is defined as “any printed and bound work of more than 24 pages consisting of haiku, or primarily haiku, by a single author, presented in English.” For the purposes of this award, “first” means that the author shall not previously have published a work of this description. This inaugural award is for books published in 2004. Twelve books were considered for the competition, ranging from long chapbooks to hardbound volumes. The Award is given to Philip Rowland of Tokyo, Japan, for his book Together Still.

Philip Rowland. Together Still. England: HUB Editions, 2004.

Together Still is subtitled “a sequence of short poems,” and both the title and subtitle are apt descriptions. The book loosely tracks the up-and-down course of a personal relationship in a series of 83 poems. Most poems are identifiable as haiku, though some of Rowland’s haiku are five lines in length or even longer. There are many one- and two-liners, as well as longer—but still brief—poems and even one full-page concrete poem. The great variation in format and arrangement of the material adds interest and tempo to the collection. The author displays an exquisite sense of form, and his poems are refreshing in that they transcend the fussiness of lineation and syllable counting.

The now-standard format for Western haiku—three lines with a text break at the end of the first or second line—feels extraordinarily limiting after reading Together Still. Rowland’s haiku seem instinctively to assume the form that is natural for them. Season words are used in most of the haiku but, again, in such a way that they are integral to the poem. They do not seem in any way to be a rote concession to the “rules” of haiku, and they enhance rather than limit expressiveness.

together still—
the shadows of our plane
on the cloud

Bach prelude . . .
winter sky
deep in the piano lid
childless silent winter rain


The slim, white, perfectbound volume with glued-on wrappers is nicely produced by Colin Blundell’s Hub Editions in England.


First Place

Quiet Enough by John Stevenson. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2004.

When you open the handsome cover with an O’Keeffe painting of a pelvis, you find more than five dozen haiku, interspersed with a dozen tanka and haibun, as spare and strong as bones. Echoing the title, they cohere with a quiet poignancy that resonates on many levels.


Second Place

Michael Fessler. The Sweet Potato Sutra. Wethersfield, CT: Bottle Rockets Press, 2004.

Like the fragrance of a roasting sweet potato, Fessler’s haiku are fresh and immediate. They range from warmly humorous to delicately subtle. You can feel a grounded tone from this poet who has lived almost two decades in Japan.


Third Place

Tom Painting. Piano Practice. Wethersfield, CT: Bottle Rockets Press, 2004.

Many of Painting’s poems trace a connection between people, but rather than snapping like senryu, they resonate as strong haiku.


Award for Best Anthology

Jim Kacian, Editor. Edge of Light: the Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2003. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2004.

The consistent strength of the haiku, senryu, and linked forms in this large collection makes this anthology outstanding.


Honorable Mention for Haibun

Lidia Rozmus. My Journey. Evanston, IL: Deep North Press, 2004.

The way the personal haiku journey of the author fits with the haiku impressed us. The format, an accordion fold, is tastefully illustrated with ink and small black-and-white photos.


Honorable Mention for Haiga

Jeanne Emrich, Editor. Reeds: Contemporary Haiga . Edina, MN: Lone Egret Press, 2004.

In this collection, which includes three essays on haiga, the rich watercolor and ink illustrations combine effectively with many fine haiku.




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.