Summer 2006

The Robert Spiess Memorial
2006 Haiku Awards

As a memorial to Editor Bob Spiess, who died on March 13, 2002, Modern Haiku sponsors The Robert Spiess Memorial Award Haiku Competition.

The editors of Modern Haiku are pleased to announce the winners of the fourth annual competition to commemorate the life and work of Robert Spiess.

The judges were Francine Banwarth and Charles Trumbull. There were 402 entries from 104 poets, representing seven countries. Haiku were to be written in the spirit of the following “Speculation” (Robert Spiess, A Year’s Speculations on Haiku, Modern Haiku Press, 1995):

Juxtaposition of entities in haiku cannot be simply the throwing together of just anything; the poet must have the intuition that certain things, albeit of “opposite” characteristics, nonetheless have a resonance with each other that will evoke a revelation when they are juxtaposed in accordance with the time-tested canons and aesthetics of haiku.

The awards are as follows:

First Prize: $100 plus a signed, like-new copy of Bob’s first book, The Heron’s Legs (1966, out of print); Second Prize: $50 plus a copy of Bob’s The Shape of Water (1982); Third Prize: $25 plus a copy of Bob’s Some Sticks and Pebbles (2001). Five poets will be awarded Honorable Mentions and each will receive a copy of Bob’s A Year’s Speculations on Haiku (1995).


First Prize:

plum blossoms
I make plans
for my ashes

Carolyn Hall

This poem draws us in by its delicacy, that of the plum blossoms as well as the delicate subject of considering the unthinkable … making plans for one’s remains. Plum blossoms to the Japanese are the first flower to bloom in spring, while ashes are rather terminal. The link between the whiteness of the blossoms and the whiteness or grayness of the ashes reverberates. The poet’s aim is true, and the haiku calls out to the heart; a felt connection—how fragile and brief the blossoms, how fragile and brief the sum of one’s years. The poet’s craft is very fine: “I make” is much better in this poem than “making,” which most of us might have written. The sounds are exquisite: the repetition of m, the s in “blossoms” and “ashes,” as well as the paired 2-syllable count of these images, which provides an echo, a bell sound reminding us to live each day in a way that, when the time comes, allows us to plan for our passing.

Second Prize:

the piano hammers
barely moving …
night snow

John Barlow

One barely needs to breathe when reading this poem. It is so quiet. There is an unnamed presence, someone touching each ivory key on the piano, that triggers the slow motion of each hammer, and, with each white flake silently falling outside the window, one feels utter peace in this moment of night. One can imagine a Chopin nocturne softly played, or the gentle chord changes in Bill Evans’s “Peace Piece.” Hammers often evoke heavy sounds and clamorous activity, but here the piano hammers, touched so lightly, hardly make a sound. Our sensibility is awakened. The ellipsis serves to slow us down even further, letting the quiet enter in. As for the final line, what could be quieter than “night snow”?

Third Prize:

I read her poem

Jim Kacian

Here too is a haiku of exquisite delicacy. This is the most innovative of the haiku we selected. It speaks to the insights we discover in changing light and all that it touches. Though not a specific season word, “dusklight” gives an autumnal feeling. It compels us to slow down, perhaps to look carefully once more at the poem in the fading light, to open oneself to subtle meanings and nuances that might have escaped us in the brighter light of day. In the last line we might expect a word such as “again” or “carefully,” but we are surprised with ”differently,” which reflects a deeper aspect of the haiku. There is a felt connection with its author. It bespeaks an intimacy that, perhaps, negates speech, but that one feels deeply with mind and heart. This haiku links nature with human nature with a few finely chosen words.

Honorable Mention (no rank assigned):

first snow—
my child’s footprints no longer
fit inside of mine


This haiku speaks to the transience of the natural and human worlds—the snow, a child grown, the passage of time. The break after line 2 holds an element of surprise because the words “no longer” could take us in any of a number of directions. The poet chooses wisely, and we enter into the universal world of parent and child. If only we could keep them small a little longer!

Honorable Mention (no rank assigned):

late winter …
a king snake stretches
across the road

Darrell Byrd

Finally, it is the end of the coldest season and the hibernating world begins to awaken. The king snake is seeking warmth and reaching for light, and is perhaps trying to satisfy its appetite. It is a symbol of all that we hunger for by the end of winter. The length of the snake juxtaposes nicely with the road, a sign that we’ll all move more freely once spring arrives.

Honorable Mention (no rank assigned):

evening news
the soothing weight
of the quilt

Peggy Heinrich

Here, “evening news” evokes the diverse aspects of life that weigh one down by the end of a day. We hear the discourse repeated nightly by the newscasters who bring the world into our living rooms and bedrooms. The line break at “weight” nicely links the heaviness of the news with that of the quilt. But the warmth of the quilt makes it all a little easier to bear, calls us to sleep, and we awaken fresh to start a new news day.

Honorable Mention (no rank assigned):

snow flurries
the square dancers

w.f. owen

Of the haiku we selected, this one is the lightest in tone and mood. The juxtaposition of the images is perfect, with a season word and connection between humans and nature. The crafting of this poem is pleasingly concise, and the “s” alliteration gives us a feel for the liveliness and activity, inside and out, in the dead of winter. We feel the play of words through the comparison of “flurries” and “dancers,” both do-si-doing. We can almost hear the music, and we smile every time we read the haiku.

Honorable Mention (no rank assigned):

off falling snow—
the silent no in her smile

Linda Jeannette Ward

This haiku conveys an element of surprise. In line 3 we expect “yes” to follow the bright image in the first line. The poetical “sunglints” is a fine stroke of economy, which adds interest and resonance to the haiku moment. The elements throughout combine to reinforce each other. The snow is silent too, and in the “snow” the “no” embedded there, which the subjective eye falls on. Is there a bit of irony here, or perhaps wistfulness? Her answer is not in her eyes or a frown, but in her smile. One of the strengths of this poem is its ability to intrigue and delight us.

Billie Wilson, Robert Spiess Memorial Contest Coordinator
Francine Banwarth & Charles Trumbull, Judges


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