Haiku Presence Award 2010

1st Prize (£100)

a stoat arcs into undergrowth thin winter moon
John Barlow (England, UK)


2nd Prizes (£25)

Spring rain
I’ve upset
the little stack of coins
Stephen Gould (USA)

evening star
    a patterning
        of bats
Quendryth Young (Australia)

the newborn’s hand
brushes my breast—
white camellias
Kathy Lippard Cobb (USA)

the cries of lapwings
in the darkness
halo of the moon
John Barlow (England, UK)

Commended

café breeze the beaded curtain’s quiet chatter
Pamela Brown (Wales, UK)

in the dark
I cradle snow
on my tongue
Kate B.Hall (England, UK)

the river high
the toll-keeper’s chickens
lose half their run
Ann Thomas (England, UK)

estuary mud
bleached in moonlight
boat bones
Clare McCotter (N.Ireland, UK)

slow day
the ant keeps returning
to stanza one
Lorin Ford (Australia)


Judge’s Report

The total entry was 460 haiku—our best response ever. Some radical pruning discarded not only those that were well wide of the mark, but also many that were, in essence, of publishable standard. That took us down to a shortlist of 25—and now it gets really difficult. Out go 11 examples of what might have been put down as “mere description”—but they were very well done—along with a couple that were closer to senryu, relying more on wit than poetry, and a couple that were potential winners, but felt somewhat conventional in their content or expression.

That last comment could also be directed at one of the commendeds, “slow day”, but it’s so striking that it forced its way into contention. “the river high” and &lqduo;café breez” raise description to the level of evocation, taking you right to the heart of a particular scene (and each also has its own quiet humour). “in the dark” is a truly excellent haiku that fell at the final hurdle only because I prize a concrete kick higher than dreamy beauty. “estuary mud” has all the concrete kick but I felt there was scope for improvement in the expression—just a tiny tweak might have made it a winner.

Each of the 2nd prize winners is of contest-winning standard in its own right. “the cries of lapwings” is intensely beautiful, if you can hear those cries. (I hear our own Northern Lapwing—other lapwings from elsewhere in the world might evoke other moods.) “evening star” is a triumph of economy, hinging on a perfectly chosen verb. “Spring rain” and “the newborn’s hand” superbly demonstrate the art of internal comparison—just close enough to be intriguing, but with enough distance to be tantalising.

And so to the winner. What’s fascinating here is what happens to the internal comparison depending on whether you see a stoat in its usual chestnut-and-cream or in its full winter coat of ermine. The latter may well have been the writer’s experience and intention, but then I find the internal comparison with the “thin winter moon” rather heavy. See a stoat that hasn’t gone over into winter and the image is, for me, more subtle and effective. But this poem has so much more to offer than a visual echo. It has close observation of an animal so subtle in its movements that it can only be observed by keeping quiet and still. It hinges on a verb that freezes time at the moment of capturing a lithe and supple motion. It has a close range focus against the chilling clarity of the background, held in balance. And it has sound—not only the implicit rustling of the “undergrowth”, barely heard, but also its own sound, the compelling rhythm of a unique incantation of words that will live long in the mind.

Many thanks indeed to all entrants for their support of the Award and for the level of competition they provided; and congratulations to those chosen for showing what can be achieved in the art of haiku.

Martin Lucas, editor, Presence