2023 Trailblazer Award

The following poem won one of thirteen Trailblazer Awards for 2023. The commentary by the judges appeared on the Trailblazer Contest blog in August of 2023. See also “2023 Trailblazer Interview.”

winter funeral—

lots of s’s

in our whispers

Michael Dylan Welch


What may at first appear simple, we found the usage of “s’s” in this poem to be unique and to accomplish many things. Because this haiku takes place at a funeral, we can imagine many discussions involving “he’s/she’s xyz . . .” in reference to the deceased. But also, in families with tumult, this could be “Did you see x’s xyz?” The s’s are also a great way to show possessive forms for possessions and relations after someone’s death (hers, his, theirs, ours, and all of the ’s, etc . . .) while dealing with the unfortunate complications involved with the estate of a deceased loved one. Often at funerals, words of condolence are whispered, and the words “. . . so sorry . . .” are repeated on loop. We also appreciated the use of “winter” and how it tied in with the sound of those s’s as well, as it enhances the sound of the whispers carrying on a whistling winter wind.

—Commentary by the judges, Hemapriya Chellappan, Kat Lehmann, Shloka Shankar, Richa Sharma, and Robin Smith