First written in July of 2010, and published on the Washington Poets Association site.
Michael Dylan Welch, Judge
The entries for the 2009 Porad Haiku Contest came from numerous countries around the world, as well as many states and provinces in North America. Their diversity was not just geographic, but also in style and content. Despite much diversity, the top two poems both dwell in a sensitivity to cats, which I could immediately identify with even though I’m not a pet person. All of this year’s selections demonstrate a careful consideration of craft, which extends beyond the triviality of syllable-counting to capture what French philosopher Roland Barthes called “a faint gash on time.” They also show not just fine crafting, but the art and power of haiku, which Ludmila Balabanova, the president of the Sofia Haiku Club in Bulgaria, has described as being “directed inside, deeper than the decorative possibilities of language.”
First Place ($100):
the cat’s ashes
no more than a handful
Carolyn Hall, San Francisco, California
The first-place poem hints at the wrenching story of a pet’s death, confronting the reality of how even life itself is ephemeral. While the cat’s ashes amount to no more than a handful, we know intuitively that the poet’s memories of this beloved cat are vastly larger. It’s fitting that the poem is set in the fall season, which signifies waning and old age, yet the garden location still suggests the promise of spring and the hope of healing.
Second Place ($75):
the snowprints of the stray
who curled by our door
Dejah Léger, Shoreline, Washington
Likewise, the second-place poem shows caring and empathy for a pet. This time it’s a stray cat, and I suspect the poet would feel the same tug of concern for this lost cat even if it weren’t the generous season of Christmas. The sadness and mystery of this poem lie in wondering where the stray has gone, and if it will survive the day—and even the month and year. Somehow, at least for me, the poem conveys the hope that it will.
Third Place ($50):
by a wash basin
Roland Packer, Hamilton, Ontario
The third-place poem surprises us, to the point of shock, with its last line. Yet it does so matter-of-factly, without fanfare, even clinically. The white towels by a wash basin might at first suggest the ritual in some Christian traditions of foot-washing—this did at least occur to me. That sense of accepted humility and service is deepened in the third line by the sadness of the unknown deceased person whose body is about to be prepared for burial, if not an autopsy. The profound sadness of dying unknown, and perhaps unloved, is countered by the redemption of whiteness, which is perhaps even a symbol of resurrection. And we also feel empathy for the person whose job it is to cleanse and bathe the body before its next stage of existence.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
just sad enough
Francine Banwarth, Dubuque, Iowa
an eagle’s rib bones
cradle the snow
Cynthia Cechota, Dubuque, Iowa
the tender way he holds
his comic book
Tanya McDonald, Woodinville, Washington
Regarding the honorable mentions, each one presents a clear and immediate image, with wide-ranging emotions. In the first poem, the moon itself isn’t inherently sad, nor is mandolin music, but something in the poet’s life is sad, and the moon and the music somehow echo this fact. The second poem presents a stark image, yet it is rich with detail, such as the sky being milky, and how the curved ribs “cradle” the snow. We may associate milk with sustenance, too, which echoes with the fact that a bird of prey is now cradling snow. And in the third poem, we can enjoy the humor of seeing someone, surely a first-time father, who will soon exchange his care for comic books with care for an infant. This father is growing up, yet we can feel confident in his abilities as a caring father because of how he cares for his comics.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to judge these poems. My congratulations to each of the top winners and honorable mentions. Each poem captures a striking moment of personal perception and feeling. For those wishing more information about haiku in Washington State, I recommend visiting the Haiku Northwest group, which was founded in 1988 by Francine Porad, for whom this contest is named. For more information about haiku, visit the Essays page on this site.
—Michael Dylan Welch, Sammamish, Washington