1999 Haiku World Online Haiku Contest

I judged this contest in the autumn of 1999 for the Haiku World website run by Gary Warner. I no longer recall where and how results were announced and published, but they are not on the Haiku World website. I also did not keep a record of the winners’ identities at the time, but I was able to find all but two of these poems when searching for them in January of 2018, and was able to confirm their authorship. If you know who wrote the last two poems, please let me know. Originally written November (?) 1999.

Judge’s Selections and Comments

An autumn theme runs through most of my selections from this first-ever Haiku World online haiku contest. I’m pleased to offer these selections, along with a few comments on each poem.

—Michael Dylan Welch, Judge

First Place

        at the stop light

        autumn leaf

        on my elbow

                —Peter Meister

City driving is such a frenetic activity that we often fail to appreciate the subtle nuances of nature our urban environment may offer. This poem wakes us up in the same way that the poet must have been woken up by the touch of a leaf at the stoplight. It is still warm enough for the driver to have his or her car window open, so I see this as early autumn—perhaps the leaf is the first one to fall. The poet is there, thanks to the stoplight, to experience the leaf’s fall (and perhaps the leaf is as red as the stoplight—another implied comparison), and is afforded a transitory moment of respite and reflection before the light changes—and the season changes also.

Second Place

              chilly dawn—

              dew streaks

        on the rocket nozzle

                —Tom Brinck

How many poems have you seen about rocket nozzles? This poem avoids the contrivance of mere novelty by seeing an unusual subject realistically and authentically—by presenting the streaks of dew lining the rocket’s nozzle on a chilly morning rather than any aspect of the rocket’s more grandiose launching. We have all seen morning dew streaking metal car hoods. Thus, even if we’ve not seen a large rocket on the scale of the Space Shuttle up close, the poem still strikes us as authentic. In the dawn and the dew, we feel the potential of the rocket launch. This is a disarming, simply written, and a well-crafted presentation of nature connected to human nature (the promises of dawn and space travel) in a manmade object that is not often the subject of haiku. And whether the subject is a large rocket or a small model, the image is keenly seen.

Third Place

               hired hands

        stack the last bales of hay—

               high autumn


This poem has a beautiful sound. The subject of hay is emphasized by the mellifluous alliteration of “hired,” “hands,” and especially “high,” by the assonance of “hands,” “stack,” and “last,” and of “bales” with “hay.” The poem has more going for it than pleasing sound, however: “high autumn” is an uncommon phrase for autumn, and the idea is nicely captured in the stacking of hay. There’s a sense of contentment and completion to this poem, a sense of satisfaction of a job well done, echoed by the height of the season.

First Honorable Mention

        my passing shadow

        darkens the leaf pile

        just for a moment

                —Carolyn M. Thomas

Here the passing of a person’s shadow is equated to the transitory nature of the seasons—and, by extension, of all human life. Then time treads on, and we sweep up the pile of leaves for burning or bagging for yet another year. But for the moment, we pass by the leaves, busy with some other duty, yet we notice the passing of our shadow long enough to equate it with the passing of the season, and we feel the pull of our duty to attend to this annual chore.

Second Honorable Mention

        date of father’s death

        watching yellow leaves fall

        without words

                —[poet unknown]

Falling leaves can’t help but make us think of change and dying. Here the poet equates his or her father’s death to the silence of the leaves—the leaves are of course not saying anything, nor is the observer. Likewise, too, perhaps the father’s death occurred as silently and as irrefutably as the fall of an autumn leaf.

Third Honorable Mention


        alone at the playground

        november wind

                —[poet unknown]

A sense of loneliness and mystery (sabi and wabi) pervades this poem. Is the wind swinging the swing, or is a lone person swinging in the November wind? Because of the season (autumn in the northern hemisphere), I think of aging, and thus see an adult here, swinging alone at the playground, reminiscing nostalgically about the past before the wind brings snow and further change.