Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards for 2010

Haiku Society of America

Merit Book Awards for 2010

Mike Dillon, judge

I deeply appreciate the opportunity to read several boxes of haiku books, in all shapes and sizes, from over the world. The experience has renewed my respect for haiku and its possibilities as an art form. And I've been reminded, because it's too easy to forget, that many people out there know so much.

It's standard practice, at this point, for the judge of a literary contest to note how difficult it was to pick the winners. Now I know: There is often a great deal of truth behind those obligatory disclaimers. As judge of the Haiku Society of America's Kanterman book awards for 2010, I thought the winnowing process would be easier than it was; that the stack of books "Not in the Running" would quickly mount toward the ceiling while those "In the Running" would remain a tidy foothill. Exactly the reverse happened.

This year's submissions were impressive in power of craft and perception, of lived moments that invite the reader in. W. H. Auden famously wrote, "For poetry makes nothing happen," but the English poet wore his self-satirical mask when he wrote that. More than looking for haiku that touch all the right notes—kigo, yugen, sabi, etc.—I looked for haiku that made something happen inside the reader, that triggered some incremental shift of understanding. Otherwise, what is the point?

There is an account of a Native American elder who, when asked why the stories of his people were so short, replied: "Because we know so much."

A writer of good haiku will know much.


First Place

John Stevenson. Live Again. Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2009.

Some haiku are written from the outside, clamoring to get in. John Stevenson writes from close to the bone, sometimes from the marrow. In Live Again, Stevenson gives us memorable moments drawn from everyday life that reveal our exis- tential loneliness.

long night—
breathing until breathing
is just breathing

we're here
we might as well build
a sandcastle

winter night
I lie in bed
imagining it

Readily accessible, seemingly effortless, Stevenson's haiku touch that unnamable confluence where our outer and inner worlds meet.


Second Place

Ce Rosenow. Pacific. Hillsboro, Oregon: Mountain Gate Press, 2009.

This is a modest book in what it proposes to do—reflect life in all its moods beside the Oregon Coast—and in its understated modesty lies a powerful undertow freighted with mono no aware, a deep appreciation for life's beautiful impermanence.

storm season
driftwood in different places

in this kiss
all our other kisses—
summer solstice

a year older I brace myself against the undertow's pull


Third Place ($50)

Alice Frampton. A Gate Left Open. Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2009.

Frampton's small book is a moving human document that lets the reader walk in her shoes and look upon this fleeting world with bracing honesty.

white lies . . .
one wave crashes
into another

waning moon
he's not the man
I thought he was


Special Award for Fiction

David G. Lanoue. Haiku Wars. Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2009.

A painfully funny, satirical romp through the inside politics of the haiku universe in the guise of a detective story set at a haiku convention. My wife (an innocent in the haiku wars) and I once made a pact: In bed at night, we would stop reading aloud from our books to each other to cut down on the interruptions of our own reading. Haiku Wars ended that conjugal cease-fire: I read her page after page until we laughed until we cried. I can think of no higher recommendation. A brilliant tour de force.


Best Criticism (Tie)

Ian Marshall. Walden by Haiku. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2009.

In Walden by Haiku Marshall, a professor of English and environmental studies at Penn State Altoona, has produced nearly 300 haiku extracted from Henry David Thoreau's Walden. Marshall's book opens up new insights into haiku, Walden itself, and the haiku-veins embedded in the 19th-century prose of an American master. In the second half of the book Marshall explains his methodology behind each haiku.


Yoshinobu Hakutani. Haiku and Modernist Poetics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Haiku and Modernist Poetics is a book that was waiting to happen. After exploring the development of haiku in Japan, Hakutani devotes chapters to W. B. Yeats and his Noh plays, Ezra Pound, Jack Kerouac and the Beats, Richard Wright and others. As with R. H. Blyth's Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, Hakutani examines facets of Western literary tradition through the prism of Japanese culture. It is gratifying to see Richard Wright's haiku receive increased critical attention.


Best Anthology

Michael Dylan Welch, Editor. Seeing Stars. Seattle, Washington: Haiku Northwest, 2009. 

This category was a tough call—there were many worthy entries. Any Red Moon Anthology is the elephant in the room, and White Lies, the 2009 edition, is superb. But Seeing Stars by the Haiku Northwest group, produced from a retreat in Seabeck, Washington in October 2009, had enough break-throughs to be an upset winner. Publishing haiku incubated during a weekend retreat carries inherent dangers: Seeing Stars, however, which reflects the group's "galactiku" theme, took chances and produced fresh surprises.

Full disclosure: I am listed on the Haiku Northwest roster. I attended one Haiku Northwest meeting several years ago but otherwise maintain what my dear wife terms my antisocial ways. I publish a group of community newspapers in Seattle. The first thing editors and writers are told is: We don't logroll or do favors for people. I've carried that inviolate principle over into my haiku life and my role as judge, in this case. It was the work itself in Seeing Stars that carried the day for me.

your hands on my body
a sun goes dark

Lana Hechtman Ayers

oyster shell—
one small spot
still luminous

Carole MacRury




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.