In an effort to bring you poetry that has won in competitions, I’ve copied the SeedPods newsletter with the winners of the 2019 Samurai Haibun Contest from the UHTS. A Haibun is Prose finished with a Haiku or Senryu. Please take note of the judge’s comments after the poems. ~Colleen~
In this edition:
President’s Report by Alan Summers
“Do you realize that all great literature is all about what a bummer it is to be a human being? Isn’t it such a relief to have somebody say that?”
This quote feels particularly applicable to Joan Prefontaine’s winning haibun “The Ring Lady of Herculaneum.”
“We’re all there trying to make the story…as good as it can be. It’s a constant struggle to get it down, get it clear, and understand that your intentions are the same, whether you’re [a beginner] writing a short story or a writer with seven published novels. The continually reassuring thing is that we’re all novices when we start a new work.” —Paraphrasing Alice McDermott (Inducted into the New York Writers Hall of Fame, 2013)
Breaking down the invisible – Alan Summers:
We are poets always in interesting times, and the haibun mix of prose, or even prose poetry, combined with the short verses of haiku that are “pockets of now” cemented into the present, feel vitally appropriate, and in keeping with our evolving and changing societies. With a slight shift, a momentary aside, a shuffle of cards, legerdemain, the author can leave the main story of the haibun to dive into side alleys. But how is the ‘real’ narrative still kept when we diverge from the main story? How we do we maintain the momentum, and still let the blood flow? The “poetry dynamic” within haibun is as much about what we “think” is the main story: Those nano-stories or even “broken narratives” that haiku can be, hiding on the sidelines, require “the torch of prose” to bring them alive; and equally, in turn, haiku can light up the prose in other ways perhaps not possible with just a straight linear prose narrative.
I would like to express my special thanks to Marianna who organizes this and other contests with unfailing devotion and passion. This she does with panache and good cheer.
Now onto the competition results and report by the judge.
President, United Haiku and Tanka Society
Judge’s selections and comments:
There were 157 entries from the following 21 countries:
Once the game is over, the King and the pawn go back in the same box.
– Italian proverb
We stand beside the boat shed near Herculaneum, where a 45-year-old woman hid nearly 2000 years ago, wearing her emerald and ruby rings, along with two precious gold bracelets with serpentine heads, hoping to escape the ash and earthquakes following the eruption of Vesuvius. Our guide casually informs us that the heat of the pyroclastic current burned off her flesh within seconds, and boiled her brain, causing her skull to crack. Scientists discovered the woman’s skeleton in 1982 and determined that she was in exemplary health with excellent teeth, presumably from her seafood-rich, sugar-free diet. Our guide has memorized her script well. “Not far from the ring lady,” she drones, “excavators found the skeleton of a 14-year-old slave girl. The scars on the bones of her upper arms indicated that she had transported numerous heavy objects. And the grooves on her teeth revealed that she had suffered from malnutrition since childhood.”
one’s social status
The writer is part of a group that is visiting an ancient Roman town which once stood near Mount Vesuvius. The guide describes the discovery of two skeletons in the volcanic flow. She has memorized the details and as the poet writes, “drones” facts from the discoveries. We learn that one skeleton is that of a wealthy woman (“excellent teeth, presumably from her seafood-rich, sugar-free diet”) while the other is a young slave (“grooves on her teeth revealed that she had suffered from malnutrition since childhood”). This haibun drew me in with its story and certainly begs to be read again and again. Words are well chosen and both the epigraph and final haiku are quite effective:
one’s social status
Spring usually comes in on a yo-yo. The temperature is up; the temperature is down. This spring is no different. I wait for the snow to melt off the flower beds. I am impatient to get a rake and clear away winters debris and expose dark, rich dirt, to see the tips of daffodils, tulips and iris, to watch forsythia buds, now small and brown, grow fuller and fuller until they erupt into bloom. I eagerly await the weigela’s blossoming, filling an otherwise bare canvas in one corner of the garden with a splash of fuchsia. Azalea, dogwood, peonies, lilac–all standing by, waiting fortheir cue to appear.
a growing warmth
arthritic joints respond
to a robin’s song
As I read “Stage Directions” for the first time, I pictured my wife walking along the edge of the woods after the snow melt. She raked the leaves off under the oak trees and discovered the tops of daffodils pushing up through the ground. The poet describes that moment in late winter or early spring when one longs to get down and work in the dirt as plants slowly begin to stir again. He/she sets the stage for this moment, “Azalea, dogwood, peonies, lilac—all standing by, waiting for their cue to appear.” The lone haiku reveals that the poet is likely older and that doing the physical work involved with gardening may no longer be easy but it is still something that is cherished.” This well constructed haibun will resonate with many readers.
My father was just five years old on V-J Day, but he recalls riding his tricycle up and down the Main Street boardwalk in the Oregon logging town where he was born. He had only a vague notion of why everyone was celebrating, but he cheered along with the crowd, as red, white, and blue streamers trailed from his handlebars.
Decades later, at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, we watch a video of the Enola Gay dropping its payload over the city. Moving along with the crowd in silent procession, we reach the display of a scorched tricycle and hear the story of young Shin, who was riding this very set of wheels when the bomb detonated 580 meters above his street.
a survivor shows us how
to fold paper cranes
with outstretched wings
the fighter jets scream into
a pillow of clouds
This poem is a poignant history lesson. We learn of two events: V-J Day which brought an end to World War II as well as a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum many decades later. The first is a celebration in America where a five year old has only an inkling of what is going on; the latter is of an image of a child’s bicycle that was charred after the bomb detonated above his street. The prose is very strong and the first haiku especially lingers with its message of patience, survival, and forgiveness. This is an important haibun.
Honorable Mentions (Unranked)
Can’t walk on the edge of this world forever. At some point I must step in or step off.
from the nest
it leaps to the ground
The poet in this brief haibun seems to be at a crossroads. The narrator wonders if he or she should step out from the corners and get right in the middle of this life. The wood duckling in the single haiku simply leaps from the nest and begins. The poet is contemplating such a step.
Every summer at dusk on Wednesday, we waited for the county’s mosquito sprayer to make its rounds. Into the fog we charged brandishing wooden swords and plastic pistols, felling imaginary foes all the way to the end of the street. When the fog lifted, we scattered for dinner. Now Tommy’s down to one lung. George is missing a nut. Dave’s been dead for years. And I can’t remember the names of the other guys.
high school reunion the blur of the Milky Way
The poet is remembering an event from childhood when a group of friends stepped into the fog behind a mosquito sprayer and pretended to be pirates. Little thought was given to the action at the time which was likely the 1960s when trucks sprayed the pesticide DDT into neighborhoods and planes sprayed rivers and waterways. Little thought was given to the damage it would cause Eco systems as well as human beings. Research now shows that there are links between DDT and breast cancer. The writer recounts what happened to his friends, “Now Tommy’s down to one lung.” and “Dave’s been dead for years. And I can’t remember the names of the other guys.” I like the mixture of childhood innocence and the repercussions of a deadly pesticide in this haibun. The one line haiku at the end leaves the reader to consider the consequences.
My husband, mother and I reach our destination, Bowness-on-Windemere, in Cumbria, late in the evening, and only one restaurant is open. It is called Rumours, and when we tell them how far we have come, they take us in like family. My mother, accustomed to having a martini before dinner, asks if they know how to make one. The owner, who has lived and worked in New York City, says, “Of course we do, though we don’t have any green olives. Would a black olive suffice?” My mother politely declines the black olive. A few minutes later, the owner reappears, bearing a large silver chalice, like one used in church communion services. “I am sorry we don’t have a regular martini glass,” she laments. “I hope you will find this goblet suitable.” Mother’s face lights up as she holds the heavy, shiny object with both hands. She takes a careful sip, then lifts the chalice up, like a memory she wants to hold onto, and toasts us all.
of what’s familiar
A family is on holiday in England and making a stop in the northwest county of Cumbria. They stop at an inn called Rumours where the mother orders a martini. The owner knows how to make a martini but doesn’t have any green olives or an appropriate glass to serve it in. Instead, he serves the martini in a silver chalice which is much like ones used in church communion services. I love both the writing and the humor in this haibun. The concluding haiku is excellent.
of what’s familiar
The dust-sprayed Land Rover lurches and crunches as we ascend the changing road-track towards the next village on our way to the main road. We had come from a larger village overthe sand-dry river, the same river prone to flooding in the wet season. Our village got its name from the first encounter between wazungu, or white folk, and the local Tanzanians of the Ukaguru tribe, when the visitors asked what the place was called and were told “a field”, berega.
We climb the hill, turn a corner and there it is: the huge old baobab tree, grand, reliable,reassuring, with old men sitting on wooden benches at its base beneath its shifting shade,chatting and watching together. This gigantic tree in the village centre with its many stunted swollen arms and long tendril fingers is larger than a chief’s mud brick house. Rough empty tables hugging it will later function as informal bars for the sale of beer brewed from corn and served in brightly coloured bucket cups. Children wave whilst holding long seed pods that have dropped from the tree, delighting in the sherbet taste of ubuyu, baobab fruit, melting in their mouths. The solid imposing baobab tree watches over all that happens in its village, in the village known as Mbuyuni, the place of the Mbuyu tree.
A lion is heard
walking past our villages
akitembea kupita vijijini vyetu
This poem invites me into a world that I am not familiar with. The author takes us for a ride on a “dust-sprayed Land Rover” from one village to the next. The setting for this interesting haibun is the Songwe Region of Tanzania. The destination is a large tree in the village of Mbuyuni. The poet writes poetically about the tree, “This gigantic tree in the village centre with its many stunted swollen arms and long tendril fingers is larger than a chief’s mud brick home.” Children delight in the “sherbet taste” of baobab fruit. The capping haiku hints that a lion may be walking past the village. I believe that this haibun would have benefited from a stronger title—one that added another understanding to this story.
Judge, Samurai Contest 2019
For further details please check the submission guidelines: https://unitedhaikuandtankasociety.com/contests