Haiku Society of America Senryu Awards for 2019 - Judges Commentary

Haiku Society of America Senryu Award
in Memorial of Gerald Brady

Judges Commentary for 2019

Judges: Susan Burch and Steve Hodge


First Place

where to bury
his child

PMF Johnson, Minneapolis, MN

This was a poem that immediately stood out to both of us. Not only have refugees lost their homes and sense of belonging, but also lost a child too. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, especially when they left their homes in search of better lives for themselves and their children. The loss is compounded by the anxiety of having nowhere to bury him/her and having no permanent roots. They can’t carry a dead body with them, but they have nowhere to put it. And if they do find a place, out of necessity, how will they visit the grave if it’s not even in the same city where they finally settle? There’s just no good answer and that’s what this senryu is saying.


Second Place

the unplanned

Roberta Beary, Westport, County Mayo, Ireland

Many have defined senryu as poems that are similar to haiku but differ in that they focus on human foibles, are often humorous and sometimes bawdy. This poem checks all of those boxes. We all occasionally make decisions in the heat of the moment without carefully considering the potential consequences. Here, the poet has taken a chance on a pregnancy without considering that, if a newborn comes along, a mother-in-law comes along with it. We can imagine the poet sitting down to a holiday dinner thinking, “How did I get myself into this?” with the unplanned mother-in-law sitting nearby.


Third Prize

holiday letter
the stories we choose
not to tell

Annette Makino, Arcata, CA

We liked this senryu because it’s true and a little sly. Holiday letters are meant to keep the reader informed about the events that have occurred over the past year. But they don’t always include all of those events. Your daughter made the Honor Roll at her high school? Yes, include that in the letter, by all means. Your son was caught shoplifting a six pack of beer at a convenience store? Better to leave that out. This tendency to “accentuate the positive,” and, “eliminate the negative,” as the old song goes, is a universal truth we can all identify with, which is why we can all identify with this senryu.


Honorable Mentions (unranked)

town undertaker—
seeing more and more
of his old friends

Barry George, Philadelphia, PA

We both liked how this senryu touched on a serious subject in a humorous way. Could it be read seriously? Of course, because there is great truth in it too. We all die eventually and the town undertaker sees everyone once they’re dead.


Honorable Mentions (unranked)

age spots
the last banana
in the bunch

Tom Painting, Atlanta, GA

Age spots are not just a sign of bananas growing old, but people too. We liked how this senryu brought the two together and implies an even deeper meaning with the rest of the poem. Once you get older, your friends and other people your age start dying off. So how would it feel to be the last one to survive, to be the last banana in the bunch? It’s the image of the lone banana that mimics how lonely this would be . . .


Honorable Mentions (unranked)

park map
at the end of the day
‘You Are Here’

Jayne Miller, Hazel Green, WI

This senryu says a lot about our society. We have all become so engrossed in our technology and addicted to the instant gratification of social media, that spending the day in a park is just what we need to become human again, to reconnect with nature. The park map is the perfect image for this, because after a day in nature, we are no longer caught up in our phones or computers, and we really can be here and present in the world around us.


Honorable Mentions (unranked)

migrant children
in cages
not terrorists—yet

Mel Goldberg, Ajijic, Mexico

Tragically, America’s “war on terror” has taught us that many of the actions we’ve taken overseas have proven to be excellent recruiting tools for anti-American terrorist organizations. Will this same unintended consequence of our actions manifest itself in the future as a result of our current policy of separating innocent children from their parents and locking them in cages? Since we can’t know the answer to that question yet, shouldn’t we ask ourselves if we’re sure it’s worth the risk?


Honorable Mentions (unranked)

scat on the trail . . .
election year

Brad Bennett, Arlington, MA

When hiking, it’s sometimes important to be able to identify the scat that wild animals leave on the trail. There’s no need to worry about deer scat, whereas the scat from a grizzly bear is an indication that we should proceed cautiously, if at all. Our presidential election seasons are similar in that we need to be able to determine which candidates are benevolent and which are dangerous to us, our country and our world.



About the Judges:

Susan Burch is an avid haiku and tanka writer from Hagerstown, MD. She won a 2018 Touchstone Award for individual haiku and is currently the Vice President of the Tanka Society of America. She runs 2 of the 3 Mandy’s Pages Tanka Contests every year and has served as a guest judge for the Vladimir Devide Haiku Contest in 2017 and as a senryu judge for Sonic Boom in their First Annual Contest in 2015. She loves to do puzzles and read in her spare time.

Steve Hodge is a widely published poet whose work has appeared in print and online in many quality haiku journals and anthologies around the world. A former editor of Prune Juice senryu journal, Steve’s haiku have won numerous awards, including the Museum of Haiku Literature Award. He is the co-creator of the annual H. Gene Murtha Senryu Contest and the annual Jane Reichhold Memorial Haiga Competition. Steve lives in White Lake, Michigan.





These awards for unpublished haiku were originally made possible by Mrs. Harold G. Henderson in memory of Harold G. Henderson, who helped found The Haiku Society of America.

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See the complete collection of award-winning haiku from all previous Senryu Award competitions

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