2019 ukiaHaiku Festival Contest Winners

In the spring of 2019, for the third time, I judged the international division of the ukiaHaiku contest. I wrote the following commentary on 24 April 2019. It was read at the ukiaHaiku festival event on 28 April 2019 and shared with the winners. The poems (including my selected poem, but not the commentary) were printed in the Seventeenth Annual ukiaHaiku Festival: Winning Entries booklet. Congratulations to each winner. See also the 2017 results and 2018 results, with my commentary.

This year’s ukiaHaiku contest received 397 entries for the international division. The poems demonstrated diversity and fresh seeing, and came from many countries around the world and many states and provinces around North America. Most of the honourable mentions feature the spring season, but the top three poems seem less overtly seasonal. Seasonal reference, of course, is one of haiku’s hallmarks, yet it is possible to write a strong poem without a seasonal suggestion, as our top three winners demonstrate. The third-place winner hints of winter, but this may be more metaphorical than literal. Haiku usually seek to celebrate or honour a particular subject or experience, even if that focus might be dark or sad. In this way, haiku reflects life in all its fullness. I hope the following selections give you a varied appreciation of life, and a varied sense of what haiku can be too. Congratulations to all the winners, and to everyone who submitted and thereby participated in the rewards that haiku poetry offers.

        warm winter evening—
        the chairs askew
        after the poetry reading

                Michael Dylan Welch

First Place

        side street gutter
        a rain-filled hubcap
        panning for stars

                Scott Mason
                Chappaqua, New York

This poem offers a contrast between down and up, lost and found, the dirt of the gutter versus the hope of reaching for the stars, melded together with the original perception of the hubcap being like a miner’s pan, as if panning for gold. We see those stars reflected in the water collected in a hubcap—it has rained but now the skies are clear, another contrast. And though we might perceive the side street as a place where someone might be down and out, we also discover promise, the possibility of our reaching for the stars, or at least enjoying their beauty.

Second Place

        her gestures
        poured carefully
        tea ceremony

                Darrell Lindsey
                Nacogdoches, Texas

Anyone who has had the opportunity to witness or participate in a tea ceremony, particularly a Japanese one, will understand the graceful precision and deliberateness of the actions depicted here. Even the gestures are “poured,” along with the tea itself, as the tea is whisked, each bowl is turned and offered, and bows are made. The use of “poured” to refer even to the gestures gives readers a fresh view of the tea ceremony’s quiet and mindful moments of celebration. We may see the same care and devotion in an English tea service or the sharing of tea from other cultures as well.

Third Place

        sudden cold front
        my therapist discusses
        her retirement

                Joshua Gage
                Pepper Pike, Ohio

The cold front here, of course, is perhaps literal but definitely at least metaphorical. When the patient learns of the therapist’s retirement, and that they will no longer be able to communicate, the patient feels a sudden cold, an instant distance. The therapist will no longer be able to warm the patient’s life with solutions and resolutions—with that “cold front” coming from the fact that now the therapist is talking instead of the patient. Despite the disappointment and even stress in this poem, it also comes with a touch of humour, in its critique of the therapist who has turned cold with this news.

Honourable Mentions (in no particular order)

        crocuses
        the red wheelbarrow
        full of sky

                Earl R. Keener
                Bethany, West Virginia

On reading this poem many readers will think of the famous “red wheelbarrow” poem by William Carlos Williams, on which so much depends. Here the crocuses are harbingers of spring, and the wheelbarrow must be full of rain water to reflect the sky. We don’t know if it’s still cloudy or if the rain has passed and the sky is now blue, but I gravitate to seeing blue, which harmonizes well with the wheelbarrow’s red. The blue skies I imagine tell me that there are “clear skies ahead” in this poet’s spring.

        church service
        the deaf child
        signs a prayer

                Mel Goldberg
                Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico

Here the deaf child may not be able to hear the sermon or the singing, but he or she is still able to participate by saying a prayer—using his or her hands. Despite the child’s hearing disability, the child is still able to participate in the service, equally to everyone else. The prayer is surely not seeking an end to the disability but seems to be one of praise, as I see it, yet we can dwell in possibilities and interpret this poem in various ways.

        spring clouds —
        the colors quietly closing
        on the butterfly’s wings

                Indra Neil Mekala
                Rajamahendravaram, Andhra Pradesh, India

It’s not just the wings closing but its colours too. The wings of many butterfly species offer bright colours on one side, but are often much less bright, even drab, on their undersides. We might easily think that this poem could have the wings opening rather than closing, to better fit the optimism of spring, but the action of closing fits better with the fact that this is spring day is cloudy. We know that warmer and sunnier days will return, and we will see those colourful wings again soon.

        stitching a tear
        in the barbie’s clothes . . .
        Women’s Day

                Barnabas Adélékè
                Ile-Ife, Nigeria

Barbie dolls have been a controversial image-setter for generations of girls. Some people see the dolls as having an impossibly idealized kind of beauty, while others see their various incarnations as empowering to young girls, especially as they moved from glamour and beach scenarios to businesses and careers—apparently now more than 150 different careers. So, it is fitting, for Women’s Day, held on March 8 each year, to account for the tears in a Barbie’s clothes. One may wonder if it’s a man or a woman who is doing the stitching.

        cuckoo’s call . . .
        still some winter
        left in the wind

                Pragya Vishnoi
                Kanpur Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, India

Somehow the cuckoo’s call carries winter with it, or at least a little. In Greek mythology, the cuckoo was sacred to Hera, the goddess of women and marriage. The cuckoo is also associated with spring, so for the bird’s call to still carry a tinge of winter comes to us in contrast with the hope for spring and fresh renewal. Soon that winter wind will become a spring breeze.