2014 Henderson Haiku Contest—Haiku Society of America

First published in Frogpond 37:3, Autumn 2014, pages 138 to 144.

Judged by Tanya McDonald and Michael Dylan Welch

Emily Dickinson once wrote that “The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.” The poems we’ve selected from 739 entries for the Haiku Society of America’s 2014 Henderson Haiku Contest all speak to some degree of ecstatic experience found in life’s everyday mysteries. These experiences have reached their authors—and us in turn as readers—because each poet stood ajar, their emotional doors open to what life had to tell them. We hope you enjoy the ecstasies in these winning haiku.

—Michael and Tanya

First Place ($150)

county fair

second place ribbon

in an empty stall

            Joe McKeon

            Strongsville, Ohio

This haiku not only captures a moment, but piques the reader’s curiosity with unanswered questions. What happened to the occupant of the stall after the judging was finished? Was it taken home? Auctioned off? What kind of animal was it? Why was the ribbon left behind? How did its owner feel with the second place designation? Proud? Disappointed? There is a whole story in this poem, and it draws the reader in like good stories do. “County fair” serves as a summer kigo, and with those two words, one can imagine the scent of the barn, the sounds of the other animals, perhaps the crunch of hay underfoot and the taste of dust. It’s a poem to linger in and let the imagination roam.


I’m sure there’s much amusement to be found in a second-place ribbon winning first place in this contest, but beyond that, the poem offers deeper resonances. I find myself immediately engaged by the question of why the stall is empty, and where the owner and animal are now. Was the second-place ribbon forgotten because the winner was too busy tending to the animal after the fair? Or was it forgotten because the animal’s owner was disappointed at not winning first place? We can also wonder what sort of animal it was—a horse or rabbit or chicken? County fairs are rich sources for haiku inspiration, and a distinctly American seasonal subject. This poem demonstrates that even second place can win first place after all.


Second Place ($100)

junk car

the hum of bees

beneath the hood

            John Stevenson

            Nassau, New York

To everything there is a season. This old car has found new life as a home to bees. The hum of the motor is now replaced by the hum of bees. The rust of the car makes me think of autumn for this poem, but I also think of the heat of summer when the bees would be thriving the most. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what had happened to every car you ever owned? And wouldn’t it be a pleasure to discover if one had found new life as a home for bees? A finely crafted poem that says just enough and not too much.


This car isn’t likely to rumble down the highway again, isn’t likely to fulfill its purpose of transporting someone from one place to another. It has become stationary, a home for bees, and they bring a new life to it, buzzing where an engine once revved. It’s not being recycled, as would happen if it were turned into scrap metal, but reused by the bees, and it’s this reappropriation by nature of something man-made that hints at our complicated place in the universe.


Third Place ($50)

   the Christmas

after we told them

   artificial tree

            Joe McKeon

            Strongsville, Ohio

The mystery of this haiku is what grabbed my attention. It does not state what was told, nor to whom. It could be the truth about Santa Claus, or it could be something else. Whatever was revealed, the artificial tree suggests that there is no longer a need for pretense. Perhaps the news was not taken well, and Christmas no longer merits a real tree. It’s a poem that keeps me wondering, both wanting to know the rest of the story, and leaving me content to come to my own conclusions.


The mystery of this poem is the uncertainty of what was told to whom. That Santa wasn’t real? That mom and dad were getting a divorce? The possibilities are endless and far-ranging, and thus we may easily dwell in this poem to find possible answers. The Christmas season, for those who celebrate it, is rife with complex emotions, both happy and sad. This haiku bristles with tinges of sadness, and hints at the growth of children who have learned something new about life. In this way, like practically all haiku, this is a poem about change.


Honorable Mentions

(in no particular order)

a bit of rust

on the Chevy’s fender

harvest moon

            Terri L. French

            Huntsville, Alabama

a lightning strike gives up a flower

            Rob Dingman

            Herkimer, New York

  forest clearing

      a scapula

left for the moon

            Scott Mason

            Chappaqua, New York

that time of year

moonlight fills

his empty chair

            Phyllis Lee

            Sebring, Ohio

birding . . .

the unfamiliar path


            Julie Warther

            Dover, Ohio

winter solstice

the tilt

of her hospital bed

            Carolyn Hall

            San Francisco, California

first morning

firecracker papers

wander the streets

            Joseph Robello

            Novato, California

I recently came across a quotation from Albert Einstein that struck me as applying to haiku. He said that “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead—his eyes are closed.” The honorable mentions we’ve selected offer a cornucopia of experience, and the emotion that goes with each experience—each poem from a poet whose eyes are open in wonder and awe. That’s what haiku is all about. The mysteries of life don’t have to be opaque, but if something is just beyond our understanding, it can engage our curiosity. In these haiku, we may wonder when an animal died, leaving its bones to the moonlight, or ponder what had caused the departure of a beloved family member or friend who leaves behind an empty chair. We may find amusement in our passion for activities such as birding that take us so far from our regular paths that we have to find a new way home. We may wonder, too, at the winter solstice, when the earth is tilted away from the sun, why a hospital bed—perhaps empty after death or recovery—is also at such a tilt. What do these images and experiences mean? We are engaged in this mystery, and celebrate the wonder of life through haiku poems that catch and release this mystery. We may find resolution in accepting the unfolding of time revealed in the growth of rust on a car’s fender when the harvest moon has rolled around again, or in the delight of seeing a flower—freshly and surprisingly—at the moment of a lightning strike. Or we may find ourselves feeling like those firecracker papers that blow in the streets on that first morning of the new year, spent but celebratory, anticipating what is to come in the year ahead. Thank you to each of these poets for taking a moment to pause and to wonder, and to notice the mysteries of life.


Of the first honorable mention, one can picture the rust-colored moon, hanging in the autumn sky. It also suggests that if the Chevy is acquiring rust, it may be facing the autumn of its life. The second haiku is intriguing for the way the flower is revealed. The lightning doesn’t just brighten the flower enough for it to be seen, it “gives up” what it is illuminating. Another way of reading it could be that the lightning strike itself sets something on fire, and that sudden flame looks like a flower. The third haiku seems straight-forward enough on the surface—a bone left in the moonlight—but the poet has noticed that it’s a particular kind of bone, a scapula, laid bare by time and teeth until it matches the moon for paleness. The fourth poem suggests a sadness or melancholy. The time of year is not stated, so we are left to guess if it’s the same time of year when the chair’s former occupant departed, or simply the time of year when the moon shines at an angle that will illuminate the chair. Whatever the case, the emotion is beautifully depicted, giving us time to reflect upon the absences in our own lives, and what fills the places they have left. The fifth poem is more personal to me. As a birder, I’ve experienced the way one gets wrapped up in looking for birds. A little bird disappears into the forest, and you follow by sight or by sound, keen to discover what it is. By the time you turn back, you might be a little misplaced. The thrill of birding, of discovery, is juxtaposed with the different route one must take back to familiar territory. But much like an unfamiliar bird, the unfamiliar path can be a delight unto itself, and this haiku leaves room for both interpretations. There’s a sense of transition in the sixth haiku. In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night, as well as the end of autumn and the onset of winter. But after this, the hours of daylight begin to increase, even as temperatures often get colder. The angle of the hospital bed suggests this transition period, too. Is the bed occupied, or empty? Is it the start of a recovery, or the end of an illness, or somewhere in the middle? The spareness of the language invites us in, lets us make our own judgments about the situation, and this haiku is stronger for it. And in the seventh haiku, I appreciate that the poem does not focus on the fireworks exploding the night before, but rather on the quiet aftermath the following morning. Chances are, most revelers are still asleep, leaving the leftovers of their celebrations to “wander the streets” as they might well have wandered them the night before. Congratulations to each poet whose poem we’ve selected here.


Tanya McDonald has been actively writing haiku since 2007. She served as the regional coordinator for the Washington State Region of the HSA for three years, and has been published in various haiku journals. She also coedited the Haiku Northwest 25th anniversary anthology, No Longer Strangers. In September 2014, she was one of four featured readers at the 25th annual Two Autumns haiku reading in San Francisco. Currently, she is revising her young adult novel and working on the sequel.

Michael Dylan Welch is founder of National Haiku Writing Month, and cofounder of the American Haiku Archives and the Haiku North America conference. He has also been an HSA officer for many years, and founded the Tanka Society of America in 2000, serving as its president for five years. His poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in hundreds of journals and anthologies, and he has won first prize in the Henderson, Brady, Drevniok, and Tokutomi contests, among others. His personal website is Graceguts.