Competition Awards

The Robert Spiess Memorial
2023 Haiku Awards

This year’s theme: Haiku are to be written in the spirit of the following "Speculation" (Robert Spiess, A Year's Speculations on Haiku, Modern Haiku Press, 1995):

The value of juxtaposition of entities in haiku, when appropriately accomplished, is that the often rather divergent qualities or characteristics of the phenomena act like the striking together of flint and steel: a spark flashes forth that is analogous to an illuminative experience or intuition.

There were over 500 entries for this year’s Spiess Awards. Thankfully my experience as a selector since 2014 for the Red Moon Anthology series didn’t make the number a fearful prospect. Reading them one at a time at various sittings takes some of the demand out of the process. And it is a pleasant experience to have some very good haiku appear in the process. It is a wonderful world of adventure when new collections of haiku show up—either in an anthology or a magazine or a in book by an individual. I might add reading thru old copies of anthologies and journals and collections by individuals can bring joy as one remembers the pleasure one had many months or years ago with some of the haiku contained. The great thing about re-reading haiku or types of poems is that they don’t fail in quite the same way that much of the prose we have read in the past does. For example, Supreme Court rulings— whether one agrees with them or not—can cause the molars in one’s mouth to ache just reading the first paragraph. All that brilliance of mind and scrupulous care in writing them and we would rather not again. OK, I am not against the written work of lawyers and judges I’m just saying there can be a problem with how it is said. God gave us poetry to add some sparkling energy to our language, to make us sit up and take notice. And that is probably why much of the Old Testament is poetry.

Advice for some of the newcomers to the English-language haiku. Many of the more experienced haiku poets already know this. It is easy to put too many words in a haiku. The new writer wants to get all the moment or state of being into the haiku. The problem is all those words create many more moments. The haiku becomes a busy highway. Haiku need a tight focus. Drain the swamp so that the reader doesn’t sink below the surface. As Lorine Niedecker pointed out in her thoughtful poem, "Poet’s Work," learn to condense. Others want to make sure the reader knows how to feel or experience the moment when all that is needed are the words to let the readers feel or experience that moment for them- selves. Not so easy to do which is why writing a haiku is not as simple as the form might suggest.

OK, you are probably thinking I went on and on what will his comments do to the selected haiku. Well, I am not going to exegesis the life out of each haiku. I am looking for fresh imagery and in the case of the Spiess speculation a juxtaposition that adds to the sparkle of the haiku. So just a few words about each.

~ Gary Hotham, Judge


First Place: Alan S. Bridges

train tunnel —
sliding a bookmark
between pages of a mystery

This one jumped out at me in the first reading of all the haiku. Tunnels, bookmarks, mysteries—how often does one see that in a haiku. All that darkness in a tunnel and all that darkness for the bookmark in the middle of a mystery. It is very easy to experience this haiku.


Second Place: Scott Mason

lace curtains
the visiting nurse
tries to find a good vein

There is a lot of careful work in making lace curtains—at least before the engineers came up machines to replicate it. And finding a vein can be a very difficult and demanding effort. Will machines ever take over that skill?


Third Place: Ronald J. Scully

raking leaves
all the words
never used

Some might be unhappy with the choice—what another autumn leaf haiku! This is a new way of thinking about autumn leaves from which many many haiku have been created. I’m partial to the effect of autumn leaves. When raking leaves there are a lot more that never get raked just like words gathered into a dictionary that we never speak.


Honorable Mention Awards (unranked order)


empty pockets
in a secondhand coat
Indian summer

Robert Witmer

A sad moment when there is nothing in the pockets that might let us know something about who wore the coat before. Or maybe you were expecting a forgotten coin or two.


lifted by the tide
the scatter of his ashes

Mj Mello

I have never experienced the scattering of human ashes. I have only seen them buried. I have seen lots of moonlight. This haiku is written so that one can easily experience the writer’s moment in whatever shape the moon was in. And the 2nd line works both the 1st and 3rd lines.


robin songs
an immigrant's child
translates for grandpa

Joe McKeon

When we hear a robin or any bird, we probably give it our human inter- pretation. One wonders what twist the words of the child is giving to grandpa’s.


finding where I belong
the empty space
in a jigsaw puzzle

Alvin B. Cruz

Here it is the contrast between the ease in filling the space in a jigsaw and problem of finding our own space in life. The jigsaw puzzle space doesn’t move around like the space we are trying to find.


sweeping fog
her last breath
still in the room

Antoinette Cheung

The thing about a sweeping fog is that it keeps moving until it is gone. The last breath of someone we care about remains with us.



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