2020 Sharpening the Green Pencil Haiku Contest

First published on the Sharpening the Green Pencil blog in March of 2020. Commentary originally written in March of 2020, with selections made from 175 submissions.

First Prize

diagnosis . . .

how easily we become

autumn leaves

Sanela Plisko


This poem offers a confrontation with mortality. Even if the diagnosis is not terminal, it’s still a sign of getting older, of becoming like the leaves of autumn. Human nature is seamlessly melded with nature and its unfolding seasons in this poem. Haiku often celebrates the ephemeral, and here we are reminded that even our entire lives are not to be taken for granted.

Second Prize

bitter frost

nothing left to offer

the homeless man

Tracy Davidson

United Kingdom

This is a poem of empathy, made more intense by how cold it is. I appreciate how “offer” empowers the homeless man to decline an offering, a word choice that humanizes him. And yet this is a poem of introspection, too, in that the poet wonders if he or she might do more to help but can’t.

Third Prize

hunger moon

the long shadow

of this world

Agus Maulana Sunjaya


The coronavirus is sweeping the world as I write this, so I immediately project that crisis into the meaning of the world’s long shadow, and how we hunger for resolution. Readers are free to interject whatever shadow meaning they wish into this poem.

Honourable Mentions (in ranked order)

four years now

the pink fairy dress

she would have worn

Joanne van Helvoort


We are not told what happened four years ago. Perhaps a death or some accident or injury? The pink dress suggests that the poem is about a child, but it might not be. The poem exudes love and grief at the same time.

no names . . .

on the common grave

spring wildflowers

Antonio Martinez Rubio


The beauty of spring is lost on the dead, but not lost on the observer, who may wonder at the lost identities of those interred in this common grave. Even the wildflowers are not named, but the poet may imagine that those who died equally brightened the lives of others.

adding milk to my tea . . .

the many shapes

of morning clouds

Olivier Schopfer


I enjoy the idleness in this poem, that moment of having morning tea, of sitting at a window or on a patio. The purpose is to have tea, not look at clouds, but still the poet notices the clouds and their many shapes, and perhaps those shapes represent the many duties that lie in the day ahead. Having tea has brought the poet into closer awareness of nature. I imagine this to be summer.

Commended (in ranked order)

asked to give

yet another eulogy

biting wind

Louise Hopewell


The word “another” deepens the sadness here. We can imagine a time of war or sickness, or a place and time where many elderly people happen to be dying, and how this takes an emotional toll on the person asked to provide so many eulogies.


bowed with the dew—

morning prayers

Rodica Stefan


The beautiful image of the flowers bowed with dew lets us imagine the person being bowed in prayer. The person here has gone outside to pray and becomes one with nature at noticing not just the snowdrops but also the dew.

evening chill

under the pear tree

the smile of a strange woman

Radostina Dragostinova


This is an enigmatic poem, not just because of a strange woman’s smile but because of its relationship to a pear tree. We don’t know the season here, such as whether the pear is blossoming or not, or why the woman is “strange” (maybe just a stranger), but the chill of evening suggests that the woman’s smile is foreboding.