Merit Book Awards for 2019 (for books published in 2018)
Chad Lee Robinson and Dan Schwerin, judges
Judges' Comments in Italics
Leroy & Mildred Kanterman Memorial Award
Randy and Shirley Brooks, Editors. The Collected Haiku of Raymond Roseliep. Taylorville, IL: Brooks Books, 2018.
greener a love
good eye closed,
the last leaves
The work of Raymond Roseliep continues to be innovative and fresh 36 years after his death in 1983. Randy and Shirley Brooks have assembled his entire body of work so that his development can be seen and his importance presented to contemporary poets. Not many of us would desire every one of our published poems to be on display because early poems reveal the fumbling steps of our development. It is painful to look back at poems when we were only crawling, and yet Roseliep’s development reveals creativity, place, sexuality, and images that call us to the sublime. For its astonishing detail and quality of presentation, The Merit Award for haiku goes to The Collected Haiku of Raymond Roseliep by Randy and Shirley Brooks.
Eve Luckring. The Tender Between. Princeton, NJ: Ornithopter Press, 2018.
“Call me Ishmael,” mother reads to me in utero
near the horizon
a wave forms . . .
touch me there, again
The Tender Between reveals a richly nuanced voice and exploration of body as text of our poetry. While Eve Luckring carefully develops the arc of her manuscript, she juxtaposes her poems with the Tao Te Ching in growing fragments. Her poetry unites earth and body, exploring the seasonality of human life lived in relationship with the earth.
until trees can be landlords
There were so many remarkable collections of haiku this year, and a solo collection does not claim the scope of a collected works, but we judged Luckring’s The Tender Between the best of the haiku collections, and hence first runner-up for the Merit Award for Haiku.
John Stevenson. Emoji Moon. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2018.
John Stevenson not only captures a moment, but also a zeitgeist.
more automatic words about weapons
This collection by Stevenson features his trademark creativity and sense of irony in brief poems with creative constructions.
in the conversation
as a listener
If you forget how to write haiku, return to emoji moon. Better: forget what you learned about haiku and study how a master puts his poems together. In a field of remarkable work, this is an excellent collection and we judged it a second-runner up for the Merit Award for haiku.
Honorable mentions (unranked, in alphabetical order by author's last name)
Hasegawa Kai. Okinawa. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2018.
Okinawa is a sequence of haiku about the island of Okinawa. This collection is best taken as a whole, as the haiku resonate with one another to give this collection a cumulative power. Readers who don’t read Japanese have nothing to fear since the translation team of David Burleigh and Tanaka Kimiyo has done a wonderful job with the translations as well as the added prose to enhance understanding of the material. These are powerful poems, raw at times, and it comes through in the translations.
right inside the mouth
green pampas grass
The haiku offer a wide range of imagery from the beauty of the island’s landscape to the harsh realities and heartbreak of war.
just for a moment . . .
a rain of steel
David Burleigh’s afterward offers a geography and history of Okinawa that most definitely enriches the reader’s understanding of the poems and Okinawa’s place in the history of the Pacific region and the world. Okinawa is a beautiful collection that is deserving of appreciation from a wider audience, and that’s why we want to honor it with an honorable mention.
Bill Kenney. Senior Admission. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2018.
Bill Kenney’s second collection consists mostly of senryu and some haiku on topics such as aging, relationships, and even some that touch on social issues.
Indian summer . . .
was I ever the man
I used to be
same sex wedding
his father gave him away
These poems pull the reader in with their humor, poignancy, and relatability. A sensitive and thoughtful collection worthy of an honorable mention.
Larsson, Marcus. Dad’s Accordion. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2018.
As Marcus Larsson states in the author’s note to Dad’s Accordion, “I prefer to write about family life, about the difficulties and opportunities that challenge us all in everyday life [. . .] because I understand people better than I understand animals, insects and plants.” While specific nature references are not abundant in Dad’s Accordion (lilacs, magnolia, goldfish and eagle are the most specific to be found here), more important to Larsson’s haiku is the cycle of the seasons. The haiku in Dad’s Accordion are rich in emotion and sensitivity.
parents at last
seeing you pick flowers
no longer makes me sad
I fail to explain
why some are homeless
Larsson offers fresh and inviting takes on such seasonal phrases as “snowy evening”, “spring morning” and others, turning his personal into the universal.
the children’s game
of being quiet
we let mother lie
about our childhood
Marcus Larsson has put together a delightful collection in Dad’s Accordion, worthy of an honorable mention.
Ben Moeller-Gaa. Wishbones: Haiku & Senryu. Meredith, NH: Folded Word, 2018.
The first thing you notice about Ben Moeller-Gaa’s Wishbones is the production quality. Thick and weighty, this is one of those books that feel good in the hand. The contents are even better. What is evident in these poems is that Moeller-Gaa is living life and enjoying it. This does not mean that these poems are ordinary. These poems may be about everyday life, but he has an eye for finding the wonder in real things. Consider these two:
winding to where
the river used to be
in the spotlight
the singer’s whiskey
The collection has a nice pace, and the calligraphic hand of JS Graustein provides the right amount of flair and embellishments. A beautiful performance worthy of an honorable mention.
Best Haibun Book
Harriot West. Shades of Absence. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2018.
Shades of Absence by Harriot West is a machine. Every word is necessary, contributing to the power generated across a collection of haibun, haiku, tanka and tan renga. This poet polished until every word sparkled. The haibun were suggestive, building the echoes of a narrative.
olly olly oxen free
wanting, not wanting
to go home
We judged Shades of Absence deserving of the Merit Award for best collection of haibun.
Honorarble Mention Haibun Book
Rich Youmans. Head-On: Haibun Stories. Saint Paul, MN: Red Bird Chapbooks, 2019.
Head-On presents 13 haibun, each a story of a tragic event, such as a car crash, the loss of a child, blindness, and the slow death of a mother, to name a few. Youmans is a master of suggestion. His prose style is clean and tight, and the suggestion between the prose and haiku as well as between each haibun adds depth and feeling that readers will enjoy digging into. The prose is wonderfully descriptive, and the haiku don’t repeat the prose but help propel the narrative forward. Head-On isn’t just great haibun, it’s great writing, and why we chose to honor it with an honorable mention.
Best Prose - 1st Place Tie
Sato, Hiroaki. On Haiku. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2018.
On Haiku collects 19 essays and speeches from author and translator Hiroaki Sato. The author’s considerations include gendai haiku (what that term really means in Japan), women in haiku, a discussion of Basho’s Kasen “The Sea Darkens”, the importance of Shiki’s haiku, a discussion about Japanese haiku during wartime, as well as a number of vignettes about specific Japanese haiku poets (one in particular about Suzuki Shizuko is particularly striking and heartbreaking). Sato includes a wealth of historical and technical information in these essays, and yet they do not read like a textbook. Rather, his style is more casual as if he and the reader are sitting at the kitchen table having a conversation. Sato is one of the best and brightest thinkers about haiku, and his one-line translations of Japanese haiku are a marvel. This is a must have collection for every haiku poet’s library, and why we give it first place in the prose/criticism category.
Richard Gilbert. Poetry as Consciousness: Haiku Forests, Space of Mind, and Ethics of Freedom. Keibunsha Co., 2018.
Early in Poetry as Consciousness, Richard Gilbert quotes Simone Weil: “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” In this book Gilbert challenges the reader to give generous attention to poetic imagination as sanctuary, a soulful habitation of thoughtspace. By the end of this journey into consciousness, we have discovered an ethics of freedom and a description of the ‘difference’ gained by this sanctuary. Gilbert treats the reader to a generous sampling of poetry, taking us into types of thoughtspace in the poems, as carefully as one would enjoy a museum. This book is a contribution to poetry, to the breadth of haiku criticism, and the consideration of consciousness. It seems like the most important book of the year for its forecast of the future and for waging a resistance of consciousness against the tsunami of distracted life. It is a work of distinction and deserving of the Merit Award for Prose, tying with another work of essays assembled across decades.
Best Haiku Anthology
Jim Kacian and the Editorial Staff. Old Song: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2017. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2018.
For more than 20 years, the annual Red Moon anthology series from Red Moon Press has sought to distill the haiku and related works published each calendar year into an anthology of the best of the best. Like its predecessors, Old Song includes a bumper crop of material that is a joy to read, and to debate: 151 haiku and senryu, 17 linked forms, and 5 essays published in calendar year 2017. As one would expect, the poems cover a wide range of topics, from fake news to a mother’s last things. The essays explore relevant topics such as the characteristics of American haiku, how imitation/copying can help hone haiku craft, and the symbiotic relationship between haiku and reader. A worthy addition to the Red Moon series, and why we chose to award it best anthology.
Honorable Mention Anthology
Chuck Brickley. Open Iris. San Francisco, CA: Two Autumns Press, 2018.
Open Iris features a selection of haiku and senryu performed at the Haiku Poet’s of Northern California’s 29th Two Autumns Reading. Work by Allan Burns, Johnnie Johnson Hafernik, Bill Kenney, and Sharon Pretti was presented with ample space framing deliciously subtle poems. These voices represent contrasting styles and aesthetics—but the poems were of consistently high quality with brief but insightful introductions of the each poet’s work.