Seward Park Torii Haiku Contest

In 2013 and 2014 I judged a haiku contest for adults and youth in support of fundraising and publicity for the Seward Park Torii. From 1934 to the mid 1980s, a large torii gate had existed in Seattle’s Seward Park, and in 2021 a replacement torii gate was erected. Read more about the torii’s history. On 15 January 2013, I gave a workshop, “The Nature of Haiku,” sponsored by the Friends of Seward Park and the Seward Park Torii Gate Restoration Project, at the Seward Park Environmental & Audubon Center. I judged all the haiku contest submissions in November and December 2013, with results announced in January 2014. The winning adult poem appeared on a T-shirt, as shown here. My selections and commentary for this haiku contest also appear on the Seward Park Torii website.

Adult Winner


sunny afternoon—

some walk Seward Park clockwise

some the other way

David Berger


The best haiku often exhibit a disarming simplicity, and we certainly see that here. We also feel summerness in this poem, which deftly captures an experience that every park visitor can relate to. This poem also reminds me of a classic haiku by the Japanese master, Issa: “in this world / even among insects, / some sing well, some don’t.” We each have our way of being, or our way of travelling, and ultimately this winning poem is about making Seward Park our own.


Honorable Mentions

(listed in order of merit)


snowberries and rosehips


rain of maple flowers

Erica Howard


This poem presents strong images, something that’s vital for effective haiku. But listen, too, to this poem’s sounds: snow and rose, and remain and rain, plus the consonance of each “r” in the poem, plus a few “s” sounds. We get a robust sense of the season in this mellifluous poem.


sheltering forest—

the great horned owl’s

deep whoo whodoo

Angela Terry


It’s fun to play with sounds in some haiku. And here’s a haiku about sound. We get to experience the owl for ourselves through this poem, with the added environmentalist reminder that the forest is needed to shelter this majestic bird.


blooming cherry blossoms

line the road—

an eagle returns home

Te Wayne Tsuki Kaneko-Hall


Key techniques for writing haiku are to have two juxtaposed parts, clear and primarily objective images, plus a seasonal reference. We see all three techniques in use here. Haiku do not need to be 5-7-5 syllables in English—they don’t even count syllables in Japanese, but sounds, and a poem of 17 syllables in English is actually much longer than a traditional haiku in Japanese. What matters more are the other techniques I’ve mentioned, which help to create experiential immediacy, as we see in this poem.


nothing to see

through the bright fog

but the black cormorant

Erica Howard


Direct immediacy of a notable image experienced through one of the five senses. Perhaps we see the fog more clearly because of that black cormorant.


the smell of rain

on the tops of the mountains

colors of autumn

Tatjana Debeljački


For a brief moment the experience of this poem is the smell of rain, suggesting that it isn’t raining yet, but soon will be. Before the clouds arrive, we can see off into the mountains where fall colors tinge just their tops. We know autumn is coming, and with it the autumn rains.


on every bench

kids in T-shirts eat cookies

mallards raft offshore

David Berger


A summer moment. The mallards, it seems, are hoping for handouts. Even if not, the birds are enjoying each other’s company just as the kids are. It’s easy to picture this scene in Seward Park.


Thank you to each of the 36 poets who entered the Seward Park Torii Haiku Contest for adults, and for each of their moments of imagistic seasonal celebration.

Youth Winner


no matter what season

the sun glistens sometime

the sun is always there

Emily Goodman and Ryanne L. Jones


This is a Seattle poem, a city where it’s often cloudy, even if it’s not raining. The clouds make us appreciate the sun even more, in every season of the year. When we’re outdoors, at a place like Seward Park, we long for the sun even on rainy days, and can know that it’s still there behind the clouds, all the more appreciated when it does begin to glisten on the water that surrounds the park.


Honorable Mentions

(in no particular order)


the lily pads grow

the sun shines through the water

everything is calm

Shannan Leitner


A clear, immediate, and serene image—a moment of stillness, with an intimate view of sunlight through water by lily pads. You can easily imagine a frog jumping in!


the leaves are falling

crumbling as people stomp them

rainy, cold and wet

Shannan Leitner


lots of umbrellas

rain beating down like a drum

slipping on wet leaves

Shannan Leitner


The previous two poems capture the feeling of our Pacific Northwest rain.


everything is warm

this is a great time to swim

I can go outside

Christopher Wiehle


Pure and direct in its simple appreciation of summer pleasures, to the point of feeling disarming.


cold breeze on my nose

children playing in the snow

silent falling snow

Laila Pickett


A strong sense of winter is emphasized by the “o” sounds of cold, nose, and snow. It may be cold, but not too cold for children to enjoy the snow.


swimming in the lake

at the very crack of dawn

the sand already hot

Laila Pickett


Yes, it gets hot in Seattle too, and this poem presents the tactile experience of hot summer sand, and the joys of taking an early morning lake swim.


the park gets full

people at the beach

lifeguards come back

Emily Goodman


This poem remembers the lifeguards of the previous year, and celebrates the moment when they return to the beaches. Maybe this is when summer officially begins.


Seward Park—you can go

spring, fall, summer and winter—

lots of things to do

Benjamin Krownbell and Simon Kiner


While most haiku focus on just one here-and-now experience, this poem reminds us that the park has much to offer all year round.


swimming in the pond

dad is at the BBQ

grillin’ cheese hot dogs

Ryanne Jones


Can you get more summery than this?


orange red glowing orb

setting over placid water

falling yellow leaves

Emily Goodman and Ryanne Jones


The color of the sun echoes the color of the falling leaves in this harmonious image of autumn.


splashing in water

sunny days finally here

fragrant barbecue

Ryanne Jones and Emily Goodman


Who could resist splashing in the water on such a sunny summer day? And with a barbecue awaiting you, too!


Thank you to each of the 94 children and youth who entered the Seward Park Torii Haiku Contest for those age 14 and under. It’s a pleasure to read your moments of seasonal experience, whether set in Seward Park or in places like it. Try writing more haiku as a way to record keen moments of awareness of the world around you and its unfolding seasons.