2015 Griffin-Farlow Haiku Award Winners
North Carolina Poetry Society

Results published in Pinesong Awards 2015 (Southern Pines, North Carolina: North Carolina Poetry Society, 2015). Publication included a short bio but not the commentary, thus the commentary is first published here. These awards were announced 30 May 2015 in Weymouth, North Carolina, and my commentary was shared with each winner.

Michael Dylan Welch, Judge

First Place

        partial eclipse

        the jigsaw puzzle’s

        missing piece

                Patricia Daharsh

                Pinellas Park, Florida

This poem offers a striking juxtaposition that goes beyond an obvious connection, thus engaging us in thinking about both parts of the poem. Of course, the puzzle is missing a piece, just as the sun or moon is missing a piece. But more than that, we know the eclipse will end, and perhaps the puzzle’s missing piece will be found. Perhaps that hopefulness extends to other experiences in our lives, that the missing pieces in our lives might also be found and slipped into place.

Second Place

        plantation tour—

        I follow a swallowtail

        up to the slave house

                Crystal Simone-Smith

                Durham, North Carolina

First, notice the sounds in this poem, especially follow and swallow, the P sounds in plantation and up, and the T sounds in plantation and especially tour and tail. These sounds combine to unify the poem, creating contrast, in both sound and content, to the word slave. We think, too, of the butterfly’s freedom, which contrasts with the constrictions of slavery.

Third Place

        thinking of mom . . .

        the calligraphy

        of snow geese

                Che-ou Liu

                Ajax, Ontario

It’s uncommon for a haiku to succeed with an overt metaphor, but here’s one that does. As we contemplate the patterns that snow geese make, we realize that the straight lines they make while flying differ from their wandering tracks on the ground. Calligraphy is full of loops and curls, so surely the calligraphy these geese make is on the ground. In the context of thinking of one’s mother, one might find longing in those wandering tracks, as if the geese might soon be taking off for a flight far away.

First Honorable Mention

        autumn moon

        no longer alone

        with my shadow

                Tracy Davidson

                Straford-on-Avon, England

In the Japanese tradition, any mention of “moon” is automatically understood to be autumn, and I believe that we in the west would tend to think so too. What I like about this poem is the poet’s realization that the moon is also a companion, not just the shadow.

        white night

        the beams of a lighthouse

        crocheting my thoughts

                Judit Katalin Hollos

                Budapest, Hungary

Another appealing metaphor in haiku, this time as a verb. We can easily imagine lighthouse beams weaving across the landscape, and also with our thoughts. The first line suggests fog, which makes the beams of light more visible, but also brings to mind the idea of a “white knight,” who comes in shining armor to save whoever needs help within reach of the lighthouse.

        magnolia scent                                                     magnolia

                Nancy Shires

                Greenville, North Carolina

Haiku form need not be limited to the urban myth of 5-7-5 syllables, or even to three lines (in Japan, haiku is written in one line, vertically, not three, and the word haiku itself is counted as three sounds, not as two syllables as we count it). Here, the space between the first two words and the final word demonstrates how strong the magnolia smell must be. Thus the poet uses visual methods in the text itself to convey the moment of experiencing the scent . . . and then, some distance away, seeing where the scent comes from.

General Comments

Thank you for the opportunity to consider the poems submitted for the 2015 Griffin-Farlow Haiku Award, sponsored by the North Carolina Poetry Society. Of the 56 entries, the top three poems were very quickly among my favorites. These haiku demonstrated knowledge of the two-part juxtapositional structure of haiku, and the common use of seasonal references and primarily objective sensory imagery, devoid of excessive judgment or analysis, allowing the poem to imply emotion or meaning. Poems with titles (about a third of all submissions) were automatically unlikely to be selected, not just because haiku don’t have titles, but because an unawareness of that fact nearly always indicates a lack of awareness of other haiku traditions and necessities, as proved to be the case. Likewise, poems about Japanese topics (chopsticks, for example) were also unlikely to be selected, because haiku in English does not need to imitate Japan. Also, if a poem was 5-7-5 in syllable count, that too was a red flag that the poem probably had little understanding of the genre in English, choosing to adopt only the most superficial (and ultimately misleading and even incorrect) notion of haiku. Haiku has unfortunately been taught incorrectly for generations in North America schools, so I see such poems as victims of this misinformation, so their authors can hardly be blamed. Two submissions, inexplicably, had each word initial-capped. Tontoism (the omission of necessary articles) also marred some poems, as did occasional grammar and spelling problems. The authors of problematic poems might want to spend more time reading some of the leading books about haiku, as well as anthologies and journals that feature haiku. Fortunately, a good number of poems demonstrated a broader experience with the genre, and provided ample possibility for selection. Thank you to each poet for entering.