2020 Nicholas A. Virgilio Haiku and Senryu Competition

First published on 5 May 2020 on the Nick Virgilio Haiku Association blog. Also posted to the Haiku Society of America website. See also the 1991 Virgilio contest results, for which I also served as a judge.

        Elizabeth Crocket and Michael Dylan Welch
        Judges for the Haiku Society of America, contest sponsor


The following poems, presented in no particular order, are but six out of dozens that made our short list of selections. These poems, whether haiku or senryu, celebrate instants of feeling and perception and share them with readers in momentary acts of vulnerability. As readers, we receive these moments and validate them by recognizing our own humanity in what they each offer. This is what every good haiku does. Thank you to all the poets who entered, submitting a total of 2,800 poems, and thank you to the Nick Virgilio Haiku Society and the Haiku Society of America for the opportunity to serve as judges.
—Elizabeth Crocket and Michael Dylan Welch

        summer night
        the house creaks
        a bedtime story

                Sahil Gandhi, Grade 8

Two scenarios quickly came to mind reading this poem. Was the creaking house a foundation for a scary tale? Or was the bedtime story read to a child with a vivid imagination? The well-done juxtaposition made this both an interesting and worthy winner. —Liz

This poem’s clear and immediate images draw readers into what may well be a ghost story. The poem pivots on a clever use of the word “creaks.” Is the verb transitive or intransitive? Normally, “creaks” is an intransitive verb and does not take an object, so we can be satisfied that “the house creaks.” But perhaps the word is also being used transitively, taking an object, as if the house is producing a bedtime story. That makes the house especially scary! —Michael


        girl of my dreams
        in the crowd
        the ball goes through my legs

                Gabe Jones, Grade 8

I smiled reading this poem, and if truth be told, I cringed a little too, relating to the strong voice of the poet in what may have been an embarrassing moment. Reading this was a delight, and it definitely resonated with me, forcing me to remember clumsy moments from my own past. —Liz

For a moment the writer is conscious of wanting to impress a girl, but that distraction causes the poet to miss a ball, perhaps allowing a goal. This opportunity for achievement turns into embarrassment, and readers can feel compassion in sharing such an experience, one that’s not just private but magnified by being in front of a large crowd. —Michael


        after my dog’s funeral
        his imprint
        still left in the bedsheet

                Julia Kwon, Grade 10

This poignant poem was an easy favourite of mine, capturing perfectly that it is often the little things that can be the trigger for a wave of unexpected grief. It shows great depth in reminding us that life can change quickly, never to be viewed the same way again. Anyone who has ever lost a beloved pet will instantly empathize with the poet. —Liz

The objects that once belonged to pets (or human loved ones) left after they die create sad reminders of their owners’ absence. This image shoots straight to the heart with an overwhelming sadness. That sadness for loss is tempered, we can only hope, by a deep and ongoing love for the lost pet. —Michael


        rainy afternoon
        once-loved gifts
        in the donation bin

                Catherine Dwyer, Grade 8

The first line, “rainy afternoon,” sets the mood for the upcoming nostalgia of the second and third lines. It has been noted that Nick Virgilio called haiku “word paintings,” which aptly sums up the way I viewed this poem. It resonated with me, making me remember the things that were once meaningful to me that I chose to part with. Well done! —Liz

The rain is a necessary launching pad for the twinge of sadness of donating once-loved treasures. We see this image sharply, that moment of letting go, perhaps moving on from someone we’ve broken up with who had given us these gifts. And yet it’s the right thing to do, because these gifts, whatever they might be, are no longer loved—and now someone else might be able to love them. —Michael


        cold night
        a stray cat
        laps the moon

                Gus Critz, Grade 8

I felt the cold night, and I saw the cat lapping the moon in this beautiful poem. It stirs the senses of readers while they ponder the story behind it. I loved the strong image and depth of this artful haiku. —Liz

We may wonder where the observer is in this poem. In his or her room, seeing the cat outside? Or perhaps walking outdoors when they come across this cat? Either way, we can see the cat licking at water that reflects the moon—wishing, perhaps, not just for the moon but a home to live in. —Michael


        New Year’s Eve
        at midnight I kiss
        my pillow

                Andrew Reveno, Grade 8

The strongest emotions in reading a poem are often evoked when poets are brave enough to lay bare their most personal moments. I found this to be a sweet and touching poem that was made even more moving by the opening line, New Year’s Eve. At some point in life many of us have had the experience of not being with the person we dream of, making the poem instantly relatable. —Liz

The loneliness of kissing one’s own pillow is intensified by the timing of this poem. New Year’s Eve provides a special opportunity, at midnight, to kiss a person you love when you’re together to celebrate the year to come. But here the person is alone, having no one to share that potentially magical moment. We can only hope that the year ahead will be less lonely. —Michael


Elizabeth Crocket has had two books shortlisted for the Haiku Foundation Touchstone Distinguished Books Award, Not Like Fred and Ginger and Happy Haiku. She currently has two Japanese short form books published
with Cyberwit.net, Wondering What’s Next and How Soon the Colour Fades. She lives in Ontario, Canada.

Michael Dylan Welch has been investigating haiku since 1976, and documents his published essays, reviews, books, haiku, tanka, and longer poems at his www.graceguts.com website. Michael also runs National Haiku Writing Month (www.nahaiwrimo.com) and cofounded the Haiku North America conference and the American Haiku Archives.

Postscript

I also judged the Virgilio student haiku contest in 1991, with Joyce Walker Currier. Our second honourable mention in the senryu category was this poem by Matt Richards:

        beautiful girl
        I turn my head and run
        the red light

It is delightfully similar to one of our top six selections from 2020, by Gabe Jones:

        girl of my dreams
        in the crowd
        the ball goes through my legs

Though almost thirty years separate these poems, the theme remains the same. Ah, the joys of being a teenager.
—22 May 2020