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November 2008 Issue VIII:4

The Scorpion Prize for Best Haiku/Senryu of ISSUE VIII:3

entering barefoot
the scent
of lemon

Patrick Sweeney

 

running
for nothing
rainy headed boys

Patrick Sweeney  

 

dust devil on a dead planet

John Stevenson

 

down all the alleys
of seventeen
lilacs

Ann K. Schwader

 

through me the reedy night harmonica

Billie Dee
 

in a seed I don't know the answer

Peter Yovu

 

Is forsythia the wrong destination

Grant Hackett
 

I was born here
with those cold angels
and their trumpets

Paul Pfleuger, Jr.
 

Capturing a butterfly the American in me

Paul Pfleuger, Jr.
 

where blood shouldn't be young leaves of dogwood

marlene mountain

 

altered memories
birdsong tugging
at the sky

Carolyn Hall

 

glühwein—
a dark hole
in his laughter

Fay Aoyagi
 

into the whys of the river bend    the pied-billed grebe

John Barlow
 

moonlight
on the tips of her fingers
crushed moths

John W. Sexton

 

wind-borne seed
         I have
         my doubts

Peggy Willis Lyles
 

 

There is much to say for all of them, but I will restrict myself to the top 4:

 

Capturing a butterfly the American in me

This is second runner-up for me, and in part because of its timing. It has not been a good time of late to be an American abroad. This is in large part a self-inflicted malady, but to be better fellow co-habitators with the world, we will certainly need more rather than less self-awareness. Paul’s sensitivity to certain predispositions in himself is a start. The poem also suggests that there is more than the single component involved here, that other options reside within and in no way does the poem condemn this component: it marks it, making it available to the poet as he grows and shifts perhaps at another time and on another continent some other choice will be made. Hopefully the poet will be just as aware—and communicative—in that circumstance.

 

down all the alleys
of seventeen
lilacs

First runner-up is this compressed idyll. I enjoyed running with "sally down the alley" of reminiscence, courtesy of that most primitive and powerful of the senses, scent. But what opened for me was the poet's deft conjuring of the haiku art—she might easily have chosen sixteen, fifteen, eighteen and they would have worked fine but seventeen is a magical number, a totem, to haiku poets, perhaps even more to those of us who don't use it any more. Seen this way, the lilacs open those many alleys to further sensuous experience, beyond reminiscence and into the present and we are all seventeen in the present.

 

wind-borne seed
         I have
         my doubts

And

in a seed I don't know the answer

A pair of seed poems is my top choice, and I offer them as equal firsts. Both seek, successfully, through similar content and different techniques, to distinguish between meaning and value. Both seize upon the image of a seed, the quintessence of promised life, fecundity and hope. Both take for granted the value of the seed but neither poet can be at all certain of the meaning of the seed. The manner in which they each solve their common challenge is instructive.

In the first instance, the occasion for doubt is obvious: the wind-borne mode of seeking new and fertile opportunities seems fraught with risk and so it is, but we also know nature's strategy to overcome this risk: sheer overwhelming number. This seed is one of billions, most of which will fail to realize their potential. But nature is content with this strategy, seemingly, since she employs it in so many diverse circumstances.  What of the individual case, this wind-borne seed—what are its chances?  It is with the individual that we must pause, because seen this way, the specific instance has just as much value, but loses meaning. With the poet we too might have our doubts as to our individual enterprises, and for much the same reasons. Technically this poem is a haiku qua haiku: that is, it is exemplary of its type. It is also a compelling explanation of why we don't use metaphor in haiku. The reason is because haiku is already metaphor, and entertaining metaphor within its compass most often dilutes its larger effect. And a fine metaphor it is, resonating in each of us via an experience we have all had and can conjure whole.

Perfect co-equal with this tour de force is a one-liner which is equally outstanding in its way. What often makes one-liners expand beyond mere lines of prose is the option of multiple readings. Here one may read the poem as 3 words, then 5, or else as 6 words, then 2.  Both are interesting readings, and neither is so ultimate as to preclude the other. The first of these readings is the more circumspect: a statement that even faced with this burgeoning life, the poet doesn't know the meaning. The second is more gnomic: an unknown seed offers some insight that has previously eluded the poet. Is it meaning? This particular meaning?  Is this the key to understanding, the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and the way of the universe?  To quote the first poet: "I have my doubts."  Still, an answer—a glimpse of meaning, even if it will prove provisional, as with the rest of life. These poems concur with the same reservations we might have pondering this plethora of life on own but they do it poetically—that is, as one of the highest acts of culture we have realized. What more can words do than to confront our largest questions?

This is why both are first-rate haiku.

Jim Kacian

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