Tokutomi Contest Commentary

I have won first, second, and third prize, plus several honourable mentions, in various years of the Tokutomi Memorial Haiku Contest, sponsored by the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society. The following commentaries respond to three of my prize-winning poems from this contest. My gratitude to the judges for their selections and their observations.

First Prize in the 2005 Tokutomi Contest

        the scent of autumn

        drawing us out once again

        the rusty porch swing

This haiku is appealing because it not only relates to the five senses with its imagery but also appeals to another sense, the feelings: the joy that comes with the human yearing to connect to Nature “once again.” The importance of the kigo in general and in this haiku as well, is not just an indicator of the season, but a way for us to get “outside the self”—in this case, not only “drawing us out once again” to the autumn season, but letting ourselves be taken out of ourselves, back to our primordial sense of self, to Nature—as Dogen the Japanese Zen master said, “to forget the self is to remember the 10,000 things.” Here the “ing” verb keeps us in the present moment to be aware of the 10,000 things. And the most primordial sense of all, that of smell, is being called and mixed with other senses in the “rust” of the porch swing—which gives the feeling of the dying aspect of autumn, along with fall’s reddish color, and the peculiar smell of rust itself; plus the sense of sound in the creaking of the rusty swing could possible be heard in the autumn wind or from the actual sitting on it. As to the form of this haiku, the 5-7-5 format here seems quite natural and smooth, plus saving the specific image for the last line, gives it more emphasis: the clear-cut image of the “rusty porch swing” acts as the “red wheelbarrow” in Williams’ famous imagist poem—a simple presentation of things as they are. We can then see and appreciate everyday life around us, very simply as in this haiku.

        Commentary by Patricia Donegan and Shokan Tadashi Kondō — see PDF

        (this poem was originally printed incorrectly with a dash at the end of the first line)

Third Prize in the 2002 Tokutomi Contest

        a sunlit prism—

        my first poem of the year

        has written itself

This may be an honest feeling one gets at the beginning of his/her haiku career. I took this haiku to honor the freshness of the poet’s mind toward writing haiku. The first poem of the year is written on the second day of January in Japan. The winter sunlight shines from a lower angle, enabling it to reach the prism inside the living room, projecting the belt of colors on the wall. The pause between the first line and the rest is the poet’s admiration. The readers are invited to see the seven colors on the wall here. Congratulations for such an experience!

        Commentary by Emiko Miyashita — see PDF

Second Prize in the 2001 Tokutomi Contest

        autumn loneliness—

        your final letter to me

        with a missing page

Autumn loneliness and the final letter with a missing page is an interesting match. Loneliness is prevailing here, rather than anger that might come to me if put in a similar situation. Autumn loneliness is a recognition of moving out from the active time of summer, becoming stone, and yet one is still within the richness of the harvest season. Thus the missing page is received calmly and with a hint of “I’m OK.” A crisp touch of an autumn leaf.

        Commentary by Emiko Miyashita — see PDF