Memorial Haiku Contest Winners
National Haiku Writing Month is pleased to announce the winners of the Johnny Baranski Memorial Haiku Contest, judged by Paul Miller, editor of Modern Haiku magazine, held as a once-only contest in 2018. You can read more about Johnny on the Haiku Northwest website. That content includes a spotlight article about Johnny from Modern Haiku magazine that Paul wrote in 2015.
It was an honor to judge the 2018 Johnny Baranski Memorial Haiku Contest. I had met Johnny personally a handful of times, at Seabeck and Haiku North America, and I found him to be a generous and likable person, in addition to being a talented poet. We corresponded in more detail when I asked if I could write a Spotlight on his poetry for an issue of Modern Haiku (46:2). It was gratifying to see a strong turnout for a contest in his honor. In judging the contest, I looked for haiku that created an immediate response, primarily through a traditional two-part structure where the relationship between the images wasn’t explained to me. I believe haiku should be a shared experience between the writer and the reader, and that writers trust readers to immerse themselves into the poem without their having to explain it. I also looked for natural language. Haiku have been called “wordless poems,” not because of their short length but because, through direct and plain language, the words melt away and all that remains is the experience described. Many of the submitted poems fulfilled these expectations and I was not disappointed. While every judge brings his or her own subjective taste to the process, I hope I was able to cast a fair net. Congratulations to the authors of the winning haiku.
Bristol, Rhode Island
First Prize ($100)
after the rape
A number of haiku submitted to the contest described violence against women, and of those this poem stood out. While the poem can be read as a single sentence, a more powerful reading is found by noticing the effective pivot in line two and how it breaks the haiku into two two-line sections (“naked oak / still standing” and “still standing / after the rape”). The first two lines set up a perfectly natural autumn scene in which an oak has shed its leaves—we are not surprised to see it still standing. But the powerful and unexpected twist in the third line shifts our focus from the tree to a human being who has gone through a terrible trauma. The nakedness of the tree parallels the physical and emotional nakedness of the victim, increased by the new chill of the season. While it may be a lot to ask, hope is suggested. Like the tree, the victim is “still standing,” and we hope that just as spring growth will re-blanket the oak the victim too will be at least partially healed.
Second Prize ($50)
scent of oranges
in his call
This haiku operates on several sensory levels: the sight of the vendor, the sound of his call, and a scent that is evoked from memory. All this comes together in a sharp moment with the reader at its center. Our senses ground this haiku, so even though the vendor is mentioned only with a single word, we can conjure a full scene. I easily imagine the heat and dust (you may imagine differently) of Los Angeles where I born. I can practically taste the air. This is what haiku do best: they evoke so much with so little.
Third Prize ($25)
how many more
clouds will pass before it rains
Another poem that leapt off the page on first reading. The first two lines are a puzzle because it seems that the poet is strangely desirous of rain, and even after the mention of a miscarriage in the last line we still wonder why. I believe this poem describes a moment in which a woman, still in shock, is perhaps looking for permission to grieve, to once again be in sync with a cruel Nature she thought her pregnancy a part of. A deeply lonely haiku—very powerful.
Honorable Mentions (ranked)
There is something ironic in the unreadable scrawl of a prescription. Its use is a vital necessity, yet a doctor’s carelessness seems to belie that. This authoritative abandonment pairs nicely with a winter rain, a season when our future seems equally unknowable.
hearing a story
much different from her words
Jessica Malone Latham
Valley Ford, California
The internet reports that a “bone moon” is a Native American name for a February full moon and is so named because of the scarcity of game during this winter month. This sense of rawness is an excellent pairing with a personal story. We can imagine all kinds of shared narratives and revelations, but after the last line of the poem the reader should suspect that a harsher truth lies beneath the spoken words. Like the scarce food supply, important things are unsaid.
how brightly shines
the barbed wire
Florin C. Florian
Winter finds the prison yard, yet an inmate discovers unintended beauty that even the prison walls can’t keep out. A sense of hope in a dark time. I enjoyed the nod to Johnny Baranski, who wrote so many prison poems.
Anne Frank haus postcard unwritten
Some places—and this is true about the Anne Frank House—are too wrought with emotion to put into words, so we sympathize with the poet. But the poem also reminds us of the fact that Frank’s future itself was never written—or never had a chance to be.
On behalf of National Haiku Writing Month, I offer my gratitude to everyone who entered this contest, which sought to remember Johnny Baranski, a widely loved haiku poet who was a long-time participant in NaHaiWriMo. Johnny passed away at the age of 69 in January of 2018. You can read more about him at “Johnny Baranski: A Poet of Conviction” and at Johnny’s Haiku Northwest memorial page. Thanks also to Paul Miller, editor of Modern Haiku magazine, for serving as our judge. And of course, congratulations to all poets whose poems have been selected here. We received 274 poems by 141 poets from around the world, and it’s a pleasure to have received so many fine submissions in honor of Johnny Baranski.
Michael Dylan Welch
See this contest’s original submission guidelines.