I’ve forgotten the details of this small contest, or how results were published or announced. I believe I wrote these comments in April 2006. See also “2005 Gem State Writers’ Guild Haiku Contest,” which I also judged.
Two of the following three poems are about beds, and another two are about death (the death bed and the widow’s wake). This similarity is purely by chance, as the poems were selected not by subject matter but to represent the best of the poems submitted. Another judge might well have picked different poems, but I looked for immediate imagery, natural diction, and an intuitive or emotional effect, which the first poem does best (not just in the sadness depicted by the subject of death, but in the deeper sadness of her tears running down his cheeks). A significant number of the poems submitted were actually not haiku but senryu (a cousin of haiku that focuses more on humour or satire in the human condition rather than on nature and seasonal content), and the third-place poem is the best representative of those senryu.
her tears running down
We are given an immediate location and image in this poem—the bed of a dying person, whether in a hospital, a hospice, or perhaps at home. The rest of the poem reads well as a single phrase spread over two lines, and this two-part structure, with the last two lines juxtaposing with the first line, is vital to successful haiku. The last line offers a poignant surprise, with her tears running down the cheeks of the dying man. Perhaps with her tears she wishes to give him life and health, but we know it will be in vain. Just as they come together in physical proximity, they also come together emotionally at this sad time, and she cries tears for a person so ill that he may be unable to cry himself.
Cold foggy morning
no sign of the sun
my bed unmade
The lethargy of a cold and foggy morning keeps us uninspired to make the bed. While this poem could be improved by having two rather than three grammatical parts, and by showing more than telling, we can relate to its clear and immediate image. Perhaps on a bright spring day we jump out of bed eager to fulfill the day’s plans, leaving the bed unmade because of this distraction. But on a foggy morning we have no plans and feel, like the poet, no motivation to take care of household duties.
at the widow’s wake
This senryu presents a believable slice of life—not that all wakes for a widow would attract more men than women, but that this widow’s wake did. Perhaps we all know such widows, who enter a second youthfulness and enjoy the company of men-friends. Though a wake is often a sad time, this wake, as with the poem, seems to be lightened by some degree of humour.
This contest received a total of forty poems from four entrants. Thanks to all for entering, and thanks for the opportunity to make these selections.
—Michael Dylan Welch, Judge