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February 2007 Issue VII:1

The Scorpion Prize for Best Haiku/Senryu of ISSUE VI:4

It seems to be the tradition, in presenting the Scorpion Prize, to comment on a number of poems before coming to the selection itself. I'm glad to observe the tradition since there are many poems in the November issue worthy of comment. Here are a few of them.

old school
the coldness
of the triangle

                       Helen Buckingham

I actually began my education in a country schoolhouse where the children were called in from recess by the clang of a triangle. Students were given their turns at the job of rattling an iron bar around the inside of the iron triangle. As winter came on, before the snow prevented outdoor recess, that bar was sometimes cold enough to sting a little. And the sound of the triangle itself seemed somehow colder. This strikes me as a poem that deals with the immediacy of memory. And this emphasis upon the senses as a gateway to intuition seems very much from the "old school" of haiku.

 

             bells fading in the wind drifting seeds

                                                                         Ian Daw

Here is a moment of suspension. A different effect could be achieved with the use of present tense, rather than present progressive and present participle (bells fade in the wind seeds drift). This would sharpen the grammatical break(s) and suggest a more capricious wind. Leaving aside the potential for misuse of the present progressive and present participle in haiku, a topic of dispute in some circles, their uses here emphasize the lightness and steadiness of this particular wind. And this effect plays with the openness of these archetypal images. What are the bells telling us - come to church? A life has ended? What kind of seeds are these? Ambiguity is a problem in a haiku if there is any sense that we ought to know the answers to such questions. But in this instance, it seems clear that we are free to supply the details from our own experiences, actually invited to do so. I heard wedding bells and saw cottonwood seeds.


a pile                                                                          an old wall
of adobe bricks                                                          just an old concrete wall
she won't change her mind                                          summer haze

                                      Charles Trumbull                                         Bruce Ross

I've put these together, despite being quite different in their intent and effect, because I'm struck by what a lot of mileage each gets from specifying a particular kind of building material. Haiku thrive on this kind of precision.

northern lights . . .
the distance between
words

                      Laryalee Fraser

With its simultaneous shift of diction and meaning at the final line break, this is a clever poem. That description is not particularly complementary when applied to a haiku, though cleverness is one possible value for a senryu. This is a nicely observed moment of awe. And, read as senryu, it suggests a correspondence between the mysterious quality of the northern lights and the inexplicable complexity and austere beauty of what may pass between human beings in a moment of silence.

My selection for the Scorpion Prize from among the poems in the November issue is:

lilac scent
all the secrets
we share

                       Dietmar Tauchner

Ambiguity again; in this case serving to present something ineffable; a gentle teasing. Key words that remain undefined are "secrets" and "we." If this is read with the idea that there are particular answers to the question of who "we" are and what "all the secrets" are, the poem fails. But I prefer to see both as open questions. What would characterize the various secrets shared by any two people - two lovers, best friends, conspirators, the poet and reader - and by all of us that are or ever were sentient human beings? In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the ultimate answer to all questions is 42. Here it seems to be lilac scent.

If the narrative qualities of this poem are based upon ambiguity, the diction is clear and stiking. And the rhythmic qualities of this poem are interesting. One device I've always appreciated in printed poetry is the offer of choices about which syllables are to be stressed. In this poem, the dominant pattern seems to call for a single stress in the last line, falling upon "share." But there is also the option of a single stress on "we" or of various degrees of shared stress between the two words. Each choice offers nuances.

So much of what I see fails to meet my need for clarity, simplicity, and directness. What makes the ambiguity of this poem effective for me is that it rests upon the foundation of a clear, sensual, and vivid opening image (for those of us who live in a climate where lilacs bloom). Thus grounded in the senses, the answer to each of my subsequent questions is no more and no less than "lilac scent"—a most satisfactory answer.

John Stevenson

P.S. The senryu reading of this poem might suggest that those secrets we don't share with anyone are the ones that stink.

JS.

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