2018 ukiaHaiku Festival Contest Winners

In the spring of 2018, for the second year in a row, I judged the international division of the 2018 ukiaHaiku contest. I wrote the following commentary on 8 April 2017. It was read at the ukiaHaiku festival event on 29 April 2018 and shared with the winners. The poems (including my selected poem, but not the commentary) were printed in the Sixteenth Annual ukiaHaiku Festival: Winning Entries booklet. Congratulations to each winner. See also the 2017 results, with my commentary.       +       +

I’m honoured to once again serve as judge for the international section of this year’s ukiaHaiku contest, which received 558 entries. In selecting poems, I looked for careful crafting, fresh and observant moments, and for clear and immediate images. The moments of our lives don’t all have to be earth-shaking—sometimes it’s enough in our haiku to notice the most ordinary of moments, and we see that in many of these poems. The objective presentation of what one experiences through the five senses is often the best way to imply the emotion behind our experiences, and we see such objectivity in these poems. Sometimes a seasonal reference, as with traditional haiku in Japan, adds context and a sense of life’s ephemeral nature. And commonly a two-part structure, with a juxtaposition of a fragment and phrase, as Jane Reichhold put it, creates space in the poem where the reader may intuit the relationship of one part to the other. In each of the following poems we often see these techniques—techniques worth emulating. I hope you enjoy these haiku, and I’m sorry that I couldn’t recognize many additional poems.

        the gulls cry—
             the shape of the wave
             before it curls

                Michael Dylan Welch

First Place

        raining again
        the soft tapping
        of my cat’s tail

                Christina Sng
                Singapore

One of the hallmarks of a good haiku is the immediate sense that we’ve had the same experience, or that we’ve seen the same thing, feeling the emotions that go along with that experience. The poem validates our own experience as it seeks to honour the everyday extraordinariness of life. We’ve all seen the soft tapping of a cat’s tail, and may wonder what the cat might be thinking. Perhaps the cat is thinking exactly what we might be thinking, wishing it would stop raining so we might go outside again to enjoy the outdoors. The fact that it’s raining again tells us that the cat’s patience is being tried, as is our own during a rainy season. But the poem also offers a moment of contentment. It’s very likely that the cat is content after all, regardless of the weather, suggesting that we might want to be content as well, no matter how much it continues to rain.

Second Place

        granny’s illness
        keeping us together
        visiting hours

                Iqra Raza
                New Delhi, India

Here we can imagine an extended family that might not see each other often, but the occasion of the grandmother’s illness brings them together. It seems that her illness must be prolonged, which is probably why the family is kept together. So while the illness is sad, its silver lining, we can hope, is that the family is together. The last line tells us, too, that the family is not just together in one city or town, but in a much more intimate place—granny’s hospital room. In a hospice situation, where an elderly person is expected to die, visitations by family members may not be confined to visiting hours, so this poem’s last line gives us a ray of hope. Because there are visiting hours, I take this poem to suggest that granny isn’t in hospice, and is expected to recover. Even if not, it’s nice to hope so.

Third Place

        cormorants . . .
        we open our arms
        to the sun

                Debbie Strange
                Winnipeg, Manitoba

Cormorants are known to spread their wings, and I understand that the reason they do this is to dry them. Because they are water birds, they need to dry their wings often. Although this poem does not say the birds are spreading their wings, surely they are, and that is what prompts the people in this poem to spread their arms, too, perhaps to feel the warmth of the sun, if not to dry their arms. I enjoy the celebratory tone of this poem, of being open to the possibilities of life. We should all spread our wings like the cormorant.

Honourable Mentions

        grandma’s funeral—
        in a vase daffodils
        from her birthday

                Ma
łgorzata Formanowska
                Wroclaw, Poland

In this poem, the funeral’s sadness seems sadder because the daffodils are left over from the grandmother’s birthday, celebrated surely only days before. The flowers tell us the time of year, which is usually a time of energetic rejuvenation, of new beginnings, but here it is a moment of ending and grief.

        carnival wig
        a touch of fantasy
        during chemo

                Minh-Tri
êt Pham
                Paris, France

What a pleasure, at least for a moment, to don a wig for fun rather than for necessity. When losing one’s hair due to chemotherapy, many people wear wigs so they are less noticeable by their unwanted baldness. But here a wig is donned for fun at a carnival, making this a moment of reprieve from the challenges of cancer treatment. We may associate carnivals most often with summer, so the carnival reference is not just a physical context but a time of year as well.

        rushing after
        a passing train . . .
        dandelion fluff

                Sasa Vazic
                Batajnica, Serbia

The first two lines here suggest that a person is rushing after a passing train, one that he or she has just missed. So the last line surprises us, in that fluff from a dandelion is swept up in the train’s whooshing gust. We first see dandelions in the spring, a time of new beginnings. It’s a children’s game to wish on a dandelion as you blow the fluff to the winds, but here a train may be doing our wishing for us. And just as the train has passed by quickly, so, too, do the seasons of our lives.

        daffodils
        the spring
        in my step

                Martha Magenta
                Bristol, United Kingdom

This simple and straightforward poem celebrates spring—not just the time of year but the joy and energy it can give us. The wordplay of “spring” works well to convey the time of year as well as a feeling of energetic bounciness.

        growth rings . . .
        a banana slug pauses
        on the Renaissance

                Jacqueline Pearce
                Burnaby, British Columbia

This poem gives us a sense of how old the felled tree must have been, if its growth rings stretch back to the Renaissance—a period of resurgent accomplishment in the arts, science, and literature that began in Europe more than 600 years ago. The Renaissance conjures up images of Michelangelo and da Vinci, which heightens the contrast with a lowly banana slug. No wonder the banana slug pauses. Or does it really? It cannot know anything about the time when those particular growth rings were formed, but the observer is aware, even if the slug is not.