Museum of Haiku Literature Awards:
A Retrospective Selection

First published in Frogpond 40:2, Spring/Summer 2017, pages 85–94. Originally written in May of 2017. A PDF version of this essay is also available on the Haiku Society of America website.

The Haiku Society of America is rich with traditions. One of these traditions, worth celebrating with Frogpond’s fortieth anniversary in 2017, is the Museum of Haiku Literature Award, which has sought to recognize the best contribution to each issue of Frogpond, as selected by the HSA executive committee. The award began in 1981 by honoring the following poem by Tadashi Kondō from Frogpond 4:1:

                hoping the shape

                of the navel will be good

                father cuts the cord

Since then, selections have included mostly individual haiku, but also tanka, haiku sequences, and renku or other linked verse. Each award has included a cash prize of $100. Total prize money has now exceeded $12,000, with funding provided by the Museum of Haiku Literature in Tokyo—a place well worth a visit if you ever have the chance. The Haiku Society of America and its members are grateful for this ongoing support.

        Some Museum of Haiku Literature Award selections have remained memorable, others less so. Either way, they reflect the changing tastes and perspectives of HSA leadership, and may serve as a microcosm of English-language haiku development over the last several decades, as the following selections indicate (one selection per year, except as noted). The award continues to encourage the submission of each person’s best poems for publication in Frogpond. Long may this tradition continue.


        hot rock by the stream

        each of the baby’s toeprints


                Ruth Yarrow

This poem is 5-7-5, though completely natural. Frogpond had by this time largely moved on from the predominance of 5-7-5 syllables found in early English-language haiku journals (the first such journal was American Haiku, which started in 1963, and Frogpond started in 1978).


        the old garden fence

        now keeps the goldenrod

        from the goldenrod

                Paul O. Williams


        Against his coat

        I brush my lips—

        the silence of snowflakes

                Alexis Kaye Rotella


        The sound of scissors

        through quilt stuffing:

             chill autumn moon

                David LeCount


        The family gathered—

        a tear of embalming fluid runs

        from my brother’s eye

                George Swede


        a steady rain

        the dentist’s drill

        turning to snow

                Jane Reichhold


        still in the taste

        of afternoon tea,

        my grandmother’s brogue

                Jerry Kilbride


        snow geese

        Sarah discovers

        the letter V

                James Minor

The year 1988 saw the first selection of sequences for the Museum of Haiku Literature Award. In fact, each issue that year honored a sequence and an individual haiku, a practice that continued through 1992 for a total of five years.


        gone from the woods

              the bird I knew

                   by song alone

                Paul O. Williams

This selection is one of the classics of English-language haiku. It was written as a memorial poem for Nicholas Virgilio, who had died in January of 1989. Paul had never met Nick, but knew him only by the “song” of his poems in haiku journals.


        Into old pots and pans

        thrown out in the backyard—

        the musical rain

                Tom Tico

In 1990 a sequence of tanka was selected, as was a renku, both for the first time. Back then, there were no separate journals for tanka, and thus tanka were welcomed in Frogpond. But later, with the emergence of various tanka journals, starting with Five Lines Down in 1994, and my founding of the Tanka Society of America in 2000, tanka came to be excluded from Frogpond.


            in a backyard

        two women folding sunlight

            into sheets

                Sandra Fuhringer

One highlight from 1991 was the selection of a hundred-verse renku—something that has rarely been attempted in English. This renku was “Green-a-Glitter,” led by Hiroaki Sato, with twelve other writers.


        falling leaves

        day by day

        the house grows brighter

                Peter Duppenthaler

The year 1992 also saw the selection of “Windswept Walk,” a kasen renku by thirty-six different participants, which I started. My calculation, in those days before everyone emailed, was that this renku traveled at least 32,000 miles by postal mail before it was completed, even though it stayed entirely within North America.


        the petals scatter

        over graves swept

        and unswept

                Kohjin Sakamoto


        bird shadow

        from tree shadow

        to fence shadow

                Christopher Herold


        leaving the park—

        glimpses of cherry petals

        on the soles of shoes

                Ebba Story


        spring planting

        her refusal

        to compromise

                Anthony J. Pupello

In 1996, Frogpond switched from four issues a year to three, making it a little harder to be honored, not just because there was one less award each year, but because the number of poems in each issue also increased. Indeed, Frogpond has grown in size, making the Museum of Haiku Literature Award a rarer and greater honor as the years go by.



           in the cold rain

           their snow fort

                Tom Clausen

        faint city stars . . .

        the moth’s copper dust

        in my palm

                Ebba Story

        Father’s funeral


                      suddenly small

                Celia Stuart-Powles

        porch swing

           now and then     a breeze

              from the river

                Robert Gibson

        January thaw

        the narrow path

        fading away

                Mark Alan Osterhaus

Of all the years that the Museum of Haiku Literature Award has been given, 1997 has been my favourite, thus I present all five selections (two each were selected for the first and second issues of the year).


        starry night—

        biting into a melon

        full of seeds

                Yu Chang


        garden work—

        talking to each other

        back to back

                Dimitar Anakiev


        snake hunting the boy sheds his shirt









                Carolyn Thomas

These two poems show variety—horizontal and vertical. A one-liner was first selected in 1981. Other one-liners have been chosen since that first year, mostly in the last decade, but fewer than five percent of all individual award selections have been one-liners.


        Independence Day—

        I let him touch

        a little bit of me

                Fay Aoyagi


        spring plowing

        a flock of blackbirds

        turns inside out

                Tom Painting


        dim light

        the night nurse

        describes the rain

                Joann Klontz


        jackknifed rig

        the trooper waves us

        into wildflowers

                Robert Gilliland


        spring evening

        the children’s promise

        not to get cold

                Marcus Larsson


        circle of pines

        God absent

        from the wedding vows

                Carolyn Hall

        open scissors beside a vase of water

                Eve Luckring


        distant singing—

        the winter stars

        almost touch

                Ian Daw


        the glare off snow

        has the run of the house

        February’s extra day

                Burnell Lippy


        bare maple

        my daughter says

        she’ll come back

                Yu Chang


        woodsmoke . . .

        the guilt of living


                Roland Packer


        whale songs . . .

        when did we stop


                Bud Cole


        summer heat

        the strands of hair not captured

        by her braid

                Michael Ketchek


        silence of snow

        we listen to the house

        grow smaller

                John Parsons


        her letter . . .

        I’d forgotten

        paper can cut

                Tom Tico


        afternoon rain

        emptying a book

        of its words

                Peter Newton


        third deployment

        the unfinished dollhouse

        beneath a sheet

                Steve Hodge

What might we learn from the preceding poems, and from Museum of Haiku Literature award winners not represented here? We might expect to see a progression toward shorter poems, or perhaps toward more variation and experimentation, but I don’t think this occurs, at least not strongly. The sweep of this award may raise more questions than answers. The technique of juxtaposition seems to have been used steadily, but have seasonal references been changing? How are genders and nationalities represented? Should the award limit itself to individual haiku, or should sequences or linked verse again be recognized? And what about haibun and haiga? And are some of these poems possibly senryu rather than haiku? Perhaps a more psychological vein has emerged at times, but overall the selections seem steady and reliable in quality, even while the nature of committee selection may have overlooked possibly stronger poems in some issues. Ultimately, it is a pleasure to read and reread these poems, and that’s really what haiku—and the Museum of Haiku Literature Award—is all about.