Competition Awards

The Robert Spiess Memorial
2024 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 sometimes seeming conflict between innovation and tradition in haiku is actually salutary: it can be a creative tension, a system of checks and balances in which tradition keeps innovation from riding off in all directions at once, and innovation keeps haiku from becoming petrified.

With almost 550 haiku to read and contemplate, the judging of the 2024 Spiess Haiku Contest has been an interesting and enjoyable process. The Speculation itself became a system of checks and balances, allowing me to weigh each entry against this rather particular framework. I hope you’ll agree that the winning haiku are all superb examples of the haiku form in English, that carry their innovation lightly and seamlessly.

~ Sandra Simpson, Judge


First Place: Johnette Downing

Mercury retrograde —
the old clock

A planet in retrograde means it looks as if the planet is moving backward from Earth, but it’s an optical illusion. Mercury in retrograde happens three or four times a year when Mercury laps Earth on our slower orbit around the Sun. Kudos to the poet for the carefully considered layout of this haiku that ‘moves backwards’ as we read from the top and for the witty third line with time, as measured by an old clock, going backwards. The repeated ‘o’ and ‘clicking’ sounds, and the sly rhyme bouncing from the end of one line to the start of the next are further examples of the ‘creative tension’ that Robert Spiess describes in his Speculation. According to astrologers, things never go right during a period of Mercury retrograde—and there’s that smile from L3 again.


Second Place: Brad Bennett

y axis to x axis all day snow

The first five words of this haiku describe a cross with an intersecting point where the axes meet (‘origin’). If you draw the lines on white paper that creates four empty, white quadrants. In math, each quadrant has positive and negative x and y values which, poetically, we might liken to a black and white photograph, just as the world may look on a snowy day. We might assign those spaces values of six hours each or three hours each. This all-day snow might mean school is cancelled and our narrator is inside doing math homework, albeit struggling with a blank page and ‘brain fog’ or perhaps they are checking the homework of students (all day). Perhaps they’re outside standing at an intersection (origin) and surveying the axes and their four white quadrants as the snow keeps falling. Someone outside could be the point of origin with the x axis an imaginary line underfoot and the y axis linking the snowy heavens to the centre of the Earth right through the body of the narrator (a religious connotation to be explored too). Let’s not ignore the nod to the axes of haiku as posited by Professor Haruo Shirane: “If Basho and Buson were to look at English-language haiku today, they would see the horizontal axis, the focus on the present, on the contemporary world, but they would probably feel that the vertical axis, the movement across time, was largely missing.” An intriguing haiku—and I never thought I’d find myself saying that about anything to do with math!


Third Place: Frank Hooven

in remission
i            r        e
   f            l
      i            e

The poet feels like dancing with joy—perhaps really did when the good news was conveyed—but here lets their words dance instead, in imitation of fireflies moving through the air and blinking their tiny lights on and off. It may not be a long bow to suggest that the path to remission has been full of twists and turns, ups and downs. The seeming randomly placed letters beneath the first line imitate how one first sees fireflies—a light here, then no, over there, until the brain and eyes understand what is going on. Long may the remission of the poet, or the poet’s loved one, last, along with the simple joy of being alive. “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”


Honorable Mention Awards (ranked order)


a ladybug rests
at noon

William Cullen Jr.

A charming garden scene with a pretty insect taking a midday rest—hopefully after consuming many aphids—on a sundial. How cute! But if the ladybug is actually on the noon position then it’s in a thin slice of shadow/shade, so perhaps ‘rest’ might indicate the ladybug is dead (‘at rest’) or at least is retreating from the midday heat. Besides pollution, pesticides, and habitat loss, which are all contributing to the decline of ladybugs, climate change is a threat too so the bug’s scarlet color suggests what the noontime temperature might be like. Ladybugs are a gardener’s friend but also an essential part of the food chain and the loss of insects is a doomsday scenario for Earth—which leads to a connection between ‘sundial,’ one of the oldest known ways of measuring time, and The Doomsday Clock, which since 1947 has measured the risk to humans. In 2024 it stands at ninety seconds to midnight, thanks to nuclear and AI threats, remaining the closest ever to the symbolic hour of the apocalypse. Interestingly, ‘noon’ and ‘midnight’ are both outside time being neither 'ante' (am) nor 'post' (pm) meridiem. Thank you to the poet for offering such a verdant garden to explore.


the silence
after the read receipt . . .
young stars

Aidan Castle

Scientists are building a better account of the lives of adolescent stars, starting from their births in collapsing clouds of cosmic gas and dust to the time they "fly the nest" and drift away from other young stars in their original clusters. (Space.com)

The silence from offspring can be deafening, and even asking for/ replying to a read receipt isn’t prompting this young person—a ‘star’ human in the making—into further communication. A couple of years ago it was reported that Gen Z (18-26) dislike picking up the phone so much that fifty-seven percent blank calls from their parents! The future is here, and it’s weird (says a Boomer).


perhaps ond day I'll be a real boy . . .
                                                           yellow oak

Joe McKeon

Is the narrator a gender-assigned female? A man seeking still to become brave, truthful and/or unselfish? A man seeking to ameliorate a lost childhood? How does the author rate their chances? Well, let’s just say that yellow oak (chinkapin oak, Quercus muehlenbergii), native to Wisconsin, is apparently the rarest of American oaks. I wondered if the narrator was thinking of Disney’s ‘Pinocchio’, or the nineteenth century Italian tale—intended to teach children moral lessons—that saw the badly behaved wooden marionette learn the hard way, including being saved at the last moment from a lynching.


middle age
the invisible wings
of a hummingbird

Sasha A. Palmer

How quickly life seems to pass by once we reach about forty. This haiku sums that up with its compare/contrast to the musculature of these outstanding little birds. The number of times a minute that a hummingbird’s wings beat when hovering varies between species but ranges from 720 to 5,400, thereby making those wings invisible. The changes from ‘middle age’ (which is what, now that people routinely live to a hundred?) are, to begin with, invisible but yes, middle age is when the hard work begins and boy, do we need good muscles to be ready for old age! Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards—I wonder how many of us wish we could go back to our younger selves, knowing what they know now?


his face
on the ultrasound . . .
throb of fireflies

Aidan Castle

The poet has been able to discern a male child’s face via ultrasound waves—produced in pulses to create black and white images that consequently pulse on the sonographer’s screen. The dance of the fireflies (actually quite a range of beetles have this common name) is during mating season—males signal, females respond (or don’t) and when the swarm reaches a certain density, the fireflies blink (pulse) in unison. In Japan firefly viewing signifies the anticipated change from summer to autumn; for the expecting parents, their season of life is changing too.



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