Museum of Haiku Literature Awards:
A Retrospective Selection

First published in Frogpond 40:2, Spring/Summer 2017, pages 85–94. Originally written in May of 2017. See a PDF version of this essay from Frogpond.

The Haiku Society of America is rich with traditions. One of these traditions, worth celebrating with Frogpond’s fortieth anniversary in 2017, is the Museum of Haiku Literature Award, which has sought to recognize the best contribution to each issue of Frogpond, as selected by the HSA executive committee. The award began in 1981 by honoring the following poem by Tadashi Kondō from Frogpond 4:1:

                hoping the shape
                of the navel will be good
                father cuts the cord

Since then, selections have included mostly individual haiku, but also tanka, haiku sequences, and renku or other linked verse. Each award has included a cash prize of $100. Total prize money has now exceeded $12,000, with funding provided by the Museum of Haiku Literature in Tokyo—a place well worth a visit if you ever have the chance. The Haiku Society of America and its members are grateful for this ongoing support.
        Some Museum of Haiku Literature Award selections have remained memorable, others less so. Either way, they reflect the changing tastes and perspectives of HSA leadership, and may serve as a microcosm of English-language haiku development over the last several decades, as the following selections indicate. The award continues to encourage the submission of each person’s best poems for publication in Frogpond. Long may this tradition continue.


        hot rock by the stream
        each of the baby’s toeprints
                Ruth Yarrow

This poem is 5-7-5, though completely natural. Frogpond had by this time largely moved on from the predominance of 5-7-5 syllables found in early English-language haiku journals (the first such journal was American Haiku, which started in 1963, and Frogpond started in 1978).


        the old garden fence
        now keeps the goldenrod
        from the goldenrod
                Paul O. Williams


        Against his coat
        I brush my lips—
        the silence of snowflakes
                Alexis Kaye Rotella


        The sound of scissors
        through quilt stuffing:
             chill autumn moon
                David LeCount


        The family gathered—
        a tear of embalming fluid runs
        from my brother’s eye
                George Swede


        a steady rain
        the dentist’s drill
        turning to snow
                Jane Reichhold


        still in the taste
        of afternoon tea,
        my grandmother’s brogue
                Jerry Kilbride


        snow geese
        Sarah discovers
        the letter V
                James Minor

The year 1988 saw the first selection of sequences for the Museum of Haiku Literature Award. In fact, each issue that year honored a sequence and an individual haiku, a practice that was continued through 1992, for a total of five years.


        gone from the woods
              the bird I knew
                   by song alone
                Paul O. Williams

This selection is one of the classics of English-language haiku. It was written as a memorial poem for Nicholas Virgilio, who had died in January of 1989. Paul had never met Nick, but knew him only by the “song” of his poems in haiku journals.


        Into old pots and pans
        thrown out in the backyard—
        the musical rain
                Tom Tico

In 1990 a sequence of tanka was selected, as was a renku, both for the first time. Back then, there were no separate journals for tanka, and thus tanka were welcomed in Frogpond. But later, with the emergence of various tanka journals, starting with Five Lines Down in 1994, and my founding of the Tanka Society of America in 2000, tanka came to be excluded from Frogpond.


            in a backyard
        two women folding sunlight
            into sheets
                Sandra Fuhringer

One highlight from 1991 was the selection of a hundred-verse renku—something that has rarely been attempted in English. This renku was “Green-a-Glitter,” led by Hiroaki Sato, with twelve other writers.


        falling leaves
        day by day
        the house grows brighter
                Peter Duppenthaler

The year 1992 also saw the selection of “Windswept Walk,” a kasen renku by thirty-six different participants, which I started. My calculation was, in those days before everyone emailed, that this renku traveled at least 32,000 miles by postal mail before it was completed, even though it stayed entirely within North America.


        the petals scatter
        over graves swept
        and unswept
                Kohjin Sakamoto


        bird shadow
        from tree shadow
        to fence shadow
                Christopher Herold


        leaving the park—
        glimpses of cherry petals
        on the soles of shoes
                Ebba Story


        spring planting
        her refusal
        to compromise
                Anthony J. Pupello

In 1996, Frogpond switched from four issues a year to three, making it a little harder to be honored, not just because there was one less award each year, but because the number of poems in each issue also increased. Indeed, Frogpond has grown in size, making the Museum of Haiku Literature Award a rarer and greater honor as the years go by.


           in the cold rain
           their snow fort
                Tom Clausen

        faint city stars . . .
        the moth’s copper dust
        in my palm
                Ebba Story

        Father’s funeral
                      suddenly small
                Celia Stuart-Powles

        porch swing
           now and then     a breeze
              from the river
                Robert Gibson

        January thaw
        the narrow path
        fading away
                Mark Alan Osterhaus

Of all the years that the Museum of Haiku Literature Award has been given, 1997 has been my favourite, thus I present all five selections (two each were selected for the first and second issues of the year).


        starry night—
        biting into a melon
        full of seeds
                Yu Chang


        garden work—
        talking to each other
        back to back
                Dimitar Anakiev


        snake hunting the boy sheds his shirt


                Carolyn Thomas

These two poems show variety—horizontal and vertical. A one-liner was first selected in 1981. Other one-liners have been chosen since that first year, mostly in the last decade, but fewer than five percent of all individual award selections have been one-liners.


        Independence Day—
        I let him touch
        a little bit of me
                Fay Aoyagi


        spring plowing
        a flock of blackbirds
        turns inside out
                Tom Painting


        dim light
        the night nurse
        describes the rain
                Joann Klontz


        jackknifed rig
        the trooper waves us
        into wildflowers
                Robert Gilliland


        spring evening
        the children’s promise
        not to get cold
                Marcus Larsson


        circle of pines
        God absent
        from the wedding vows
                Carolyn Hall

        open scissors beside a vase of water
                Eve Luckring


        distant singing—
        the winter stars
        almost touch
                Ian Daw


        the glare off snow
        has the run of the house
        February’s extra day
                Burnell Lippy


        bare maple
        my daughter says
        she’ll come back
                Yu Chang


        woodsmoke . . .
        the guilt of living
                Roland Packer


        whale songs . . .
        when did we stop
                Bud Cole


        summer heat
        the strands of hair not captured
        by her braid
                Michael Ketchek


        silence of snow
        we listen to the house
        grow smaller
                John Parsons


        her letter . . .
        I’d forgotten
        paper can cut
                Tom Tico


        afternoon rain
        emptying a book
        of its words
                Peter Newton


        third deployment
        the unfinished dollhouse
        beneath a sheet
                Steve Hodge

What might we learn from the preceding poems, and from Museum of Haiku Literature award winners not represented here? We might expect to see a progression toward shorter poems, or perhaps toward more variation and experimentation, but I don’t think this occurs, at least not strongly. The sweep of this award may raise more questions than answers. The technique of juxtaposition seems to have been used steadily, but have seasonal references been changing? How are genders and nationalities represented? Should the award limit itself to individual haiku, or should sequences or linked verse again be recognized? And what about haibun and haiga? And are some of these poems possibly senryu rather than haiku? Perhaps a more psychological vein has emerged at times, but overall the selections seem steady and reliable in quality, even while the nature of committee selection may have overlooked possibly stronger poems in some issues. Ultimately, it is a pleasure to read and reread these poems, and that’s really what haiku—and the Museum of Haiku Literature Award—is all about.