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Haiku Foundation winning poems and Judge's Commentary


Below are the winning haiku from The Haiku Foundation's 2012 competition, and my judge's citation for the winner and two runner-ups. The "traditional" category means haiku written in the tradition 5-7-5 form, with a seasonal reference included. The "contemporary" category, judged by Jim Kacian, and the "innovative" category, can be seen as well at this link:


The Haiku Foundation is one of the foremost organizations supporting the writing of haiku in English. Another is the Haiku Society of America, findable here:


And anyone interested in an introduction to haiku in general, and its originating poet, Basho, might be interested in this 99 cent Kindle Single published last summer, The Heart of Haiku (readable on any computer or smart phone with a free app):



The Haiku Foundation HaikuNow! International Haiku Contest 2012

Traditional Category

First Prize

Leonid showers —
the sky continues falling
one star at a time

      Michael Henry Lee (USA)

Judge’s Comments:

Of the finalist poems I received in this year’s Traditional Category, the haiku “Leonid showers” stood out for me for its sharp precision and particularity, for its use of language that felt perfectly natural, undistorted by the need to meet syllable count, and for the surprising power of its image’s held meaning.

This haiku is a description of the actual, but as with all successful haiku, a description that pulls with it a larger wake of meaning and feeling. When we see shooting stars, they are just shooting stars; we know the science of it: a bit of errant comet dust blazing as it enters the atmosphere of earth. Yet I have never seen one without being moved. A shooting star (let alone the cascading many that come on a good night of the Leonids) is both beautiful and a startlement, a disruption of expected orders of being. Stars are supposed to stay in place, to move almost imperceptibly over the long course of a night. When one suddenly grows implausibly bright, and arcs swiftly out of being, the unavoidable emotional response is something that has struck human beings in the same way over history, in every place and time.

Out of many equal existences, one steps forward. It takes our attention, our hearts. Then it is gone. Just so, we experience the lives of those we love, in this world. In a shooting star, in that single heightened glimpse of existence and loss, all loss becomes visible. The whole sky is falling. (I will add here that I myself enjoyed the mild Chicken Little echo in the phrase, rather than finding it jarring). And when one life disappears, the world comes to an end. We see this happen all our lives, disappearances one by one, over and over. How can we bear it? “The sky continues falling/ one star at a time.” The verb tense here is this haiku’s heartbreaking key.

                                                           – Jane Hirshfield


veterans graveyard
the tracers of fireflies
crisscross the silence

            William Cullen Jr. (USA)

September morning . . .
sunlight in the impressions
of three thousand names

                   Alice Frampton (USA)

Runners – Up Commentary:

Each of the two haiku I’ve selected for runner up notice emerges from the awareness of war — a state our country has now actively been in for ten years.

One refers to the (now newly finished) September 11 memorial so tactfully that it takes a moment’s attention (“Why 3,000?”) for the reader to recognize the haiku’s actual subject. The early morning light bringing the chiselled names into the realm of the visible; the reader’s memory of the violence that is the reason this scene of light and names now exists — it is the tactful juxtaposition of these two events, one momentary and irrevocably altering, the other ordinary and repeated daily, that shakes the awareness. And being shaken into awareness is here the point.

The haiku “veterans’ graveyard” is more instantly graspable—it announces its meaning in its first line — yet the juxtaposition of firefles and the image of military tracers is for me something new, and moving. What is ordinarily beautifully transient — fireflies — takes on a different, darker meaning, here. This haiku feels to me to be saying that even in death, the veterans are consigned to relive war, though now in ghostly echo. They are beyond further harm, but what was does not entirely disappear.

                                       – Jane Hirshfield


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Gorgeous poetry! I enjoyed your commentary as well. It made me want to read more haiku. Thanks.