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August 2006 Issue VI:3

The Scorpion Prize for Best Haiku/Senryu of ISSUE V:1

It is an honor to be asked to adjudicate the first of what I hope will be many Scorpion Awards for Best of Issue for the journal Roadrunner.  Scorpion is an interesting choice for such an award: a powerful presence, with an unmistakable attitude, certainly not to be identified with the most traditional of haiku values. As Roadrunner seeks to find a new edge in this ancient art, this seems an appropriate choice, and I hope my selections and comments reify this direction. And, to mark this inaugural award, I would like to recollect some appearances of scorpion in the annals of haiku literature, none, as you will note, from its most mainstream aspect:

and a scorpion
jacking off to commercials
the words of power
            D. A. Levy

flying Pope
often takes a pinch
of fried scorpion
            Ban'ya Natsuishi

sand storm
the scorpion's stinger
aiming at the wind
            William Cullen Jr.

And now to the first award:

It was pleasing to note that there were several strong contenders for this first award. My finalists were the following:

yesterday's shirt
tumbling in the dryer
I hum a Bob Dylan song
            Fay Aoyagi

over the crest
the wet road snakes
sky-blue
            Sue Stanford

airport queue
a security guard
separates our family
            Joann Klontz

reading Chrysanthemum Love
I start from
the back of the book
            Raffael de Gruttola

alone, the mare
faces the mountain,
one foot tucked
            Marian Olson

After living with these poems for a few days, two in particular seemed to sustain their energy and my interest. The first, Joann Klontz's, is the more topical, and has, if it may be so characterized, more of the scorpion's sting to it.  In a year or a hundred the peculiarities of our current social and political malaise will seem either ludicrous or like the good old days, but there will always be a certain strong-arming of the populace (always with the best intentions, of course), so I don't fear that the poem will lose its import. An admirable and telling poem which would have made for an excellent first prize.

However, in setting the tone for this award, I didn't wish to emphasize the political or social at the expense of that which I believe haiku best presents: the personal. There is an ongoing debate about the importance of the name attached to the poem, especially in a work so brief as a haiku, where the name can amount to fully half the text.  Raffael de Gruttola's poem takes this further, and argues for the importance of the attached intelligence which accompanies knowledge of the name of the poet: if we don't know that Chrysanthemum Love is a recent collection by Fay Aoyagi, offered with her characteristic acerbic vulnerability and oblique justesse of images, then we will miss a great deal of the enticement which de Gruttola feels. It is a natural enough temptation to know "how things turn out," to flip to the end of, say, a mystery. But this is a book of poems, and what expectation there is to be found must be manifested by knowledge of the circumstances brought about by the title, the look and feel of the book, and yes, by the name of the author. While I was more "disciplined" than de Gruttola in this instance, I recognized the same impulse in myself in approaching this work, an impatience to know that the poet was all right in the end, a kind of fraternal protectiveness come upon me. This is a tribute to the quality of the body of work which Aoyagi has created, and the sort of empathy which her name therefore triggers. The present poem, then, works on several levels: a simple statement by the poet of his reading practice in this circumstance; a paean to the mentioned book and poet; a recognition of the basic human impulse to know how things end; and a strong argument that "name matters" when we approach an unknown work.  This last need not be seen as a negative: respect is earned, and it is by approaching new and especially difficult work with respect, and thereby a willingness to grant the benefit of the doubt and to work harder, that art remains vital. This attitude seems to me to embody the utmost the Scorpion Award  can aspire to achieve, and in this spirit I award this poem the first such prize.

Jim Kacian
March 2005

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