2017 ukiaHaiku Festival Contest Winners

In the spring of 2017, I had the privilege of judging the international division of the 2017 ukiaHaiku contest. I wrote the following commentary in mid April of 2017. It was read at the ukiaHaiku festival event on 30 April 2017 and shared with the winners. The poems (including my poem for Jane Reichhold, but not the commentary) were printed in the
Fifteenth Annual ukiaHaiku Festival: Winning Entries booklet. My congratulations to each of the winners. See also the Ukiah Daily Journal column about the contest (my response appears in the Comments area).

Thank you for the opportunity to consider all the poems entered into this year’s haiku contest. Any one of the following poems could have been first place, but for the top selections I favored those with a seasonal element. Congratulations to all winners, but also to everyone who entered for participating in the practice of haiku poetry, which has the power to put us in greater touch with the world around us and with each other. This year, the first time that Jane Reichhold has not served as judge, I wish especially to remember her far-reaching influence on this much-loved—and endlessly challenging—genre of poetry.

        news of her death . . .
        this year’s falling leaves
        a little more lonely

                (for Jane Reichhold)       +

First Place


        rumors of war
        I pull the dandelions
        more gently

                Cherese Cobb
                Maryville, Tennessee

This poem recognizes that times have seemed troubling lately. Yet it finds solace not just in removing the weeds—as if one could also remove the weeds of war—but in doing so with a sort of measured kindness. One should have no compassion for war itself, but certainly for those who are affected by it. The threat of war motivates this poet to be more gentle, and surely that attitude will extend to other people and not just to the dandelions.

Second Place


        Easter weekend
        zeros roll on and off
        the odometer

                Scott Mason
                Chappaqua, New York

We all savor those moments when our car’s odometer reaches a round number such as 100,000 miles, or we have a tinge of regret if we happen to miss it. The pairing of this moment with Easter expands the image’s meaning. Just as that row of zeros is a milestone in the life of a car, the crucifixion marks a pivotal point in Christian history, and we can dwell in the contrast between an ephemeral moment and something far more momentous.

Third Place


        spring sunshine—
        I add a stick-figure son
        to our minivan

                Susan Burch
                Hagerstown, Maryland

This is a joyful poem. And what better time to celebrate the addition of a family member than on a sunny spring day? Some haiku are serious and weighty, but we need not hesitate to commemorate the passing joys of life as well, as this one does.

Honorable Mentions


        winter commute
        where the sound wall ends
        Mt. Rainier

                Richard Tice
                Kent, Washington

        summer night . . .
        all the stars
        I could wish for

                Annette Makino
                Arcata, California

        so many ways
        to be alone
        oak leaves

                Malintha Perera
                Colombo, Sri Lanka

        atlas moth
        the places I thought
        we’d go

                Debbie Strange
                Winnipeg, Manitoba

        children’s story—
        in the old man’s eyes
        patch of blue sky

                Nicole Pattier
                Grosley-sur-Risle, France

These poems, presented in an unranked order, focus on common and yet uncommon experiences. A sound wall beside a freeway gives way to a view of a grand mountain, a pleasure to warm us on a cold day—and the mountain can also show us how low the snow level is, as if to gauge the season. In the second poem, we are given the surprise twist of wishing for stars, not just on them—and also having that wish be true on a clear summer night. The sky must be especially clear. The third poem’s introspection welcomes a kind of contented loneliness that feeds the soul, finding sustenance in the image of oak leaves, which feel like old leaves in autumn. The fourth poem brings to mind Dr. Seuss’s inspirational book Oh, the Places You’ll Go, an overtone that heightens the melancholy regret of not being able to visit hoped-for destinations, perhaps due to old age or sickness—and it’s the atlas moth, of all things, that suggests this loss. And in the fifth poem we see the contrast between old and young, brought together by that hopeful patch of blue sky—and surely that children’s story must be hopeful too.