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Sea Shell Game #1

JUDGE: Jane Reichhold
DATE: August 1, 1995
PARTICIPANTS: Anonymous

ROUND ONE - A

1.

ripples
on calm waters
sailors' dreams

2.

artist's diet
how lovingly she traces
the sandwich

Even though #1 is an excellent poem and completely without a flaw, I could not pick it for a winner because it is too close to Basho's famous poem, "summer grass / the dreams / of warriors" which was possibly read by the author. There is a strong suspicion that having once seen wind rippling long grass on hill so that it looked as such a scene must have to Basho, that ghostly warriors were storming the rise. One of the ways of learning how haiku works is to take the Old Masters' works into a new situation, as was done here. However, the question is, does one enter such an exercise in a contest? It is an excellent haiku and if Basho had not beat the author by his arrival on earth 300 years earlier, it would be a winner. So, I pick "artist's diet" as winner of this round.

ROUND ONE - B

3.

dimples in a spa
the fat lady
and the rain

4.

still asleep
everyone but bald monks
praying at dawn

Though #3 is hardly profound, it does contain a comparison of the dimples rain would make in an outdoor (which is not clear, and here is only assumed) with those which one could see on the fat lady's skin. And, there is a good chance that no one in haiku history has made that comparison! The poem is built on the very simple technique of using a phrase that encompasses both parts of the comparison.

It is almost like a riddle: where are the dimples in the spa? The word "dimples" could lead one to think "fat person". The bit of nature "the rain" comes along as a bit of a surprise. It causes the reader to think: how do drops hitting water look? and how does a dimple look? and are they really that similar.

What bothers me in this poem is the phrase "the fat lady". It moves the poem into an area of poetry the Japanese call "senryu" (SEND-JEW or SEN-YOU-ROO) which uses the haiku form to criticize others or make cruel jokes about them. The poem may make some readers smile, but it could be offensive to large women.

The poem "still asleep" has some problems in it, but because of the potential cruelty in "fat woman" I will pick #4.

ROUND ONE - C 5.

candled egg
the moon too seems full
of new life

6.

a binge
and two aspirins
poems arrive

"Haiku" similar to #6 make the hairs on the back of my neck to rise. Whether the poem is short and haiku-like or a long modern free verse work; there is something about this kind of bellyaching that makes me feel the writer is wasting the opportunity to be a poet. "Poems" complaining about how hard it is to be a poet or get a piece written is not about *vision* or *seeing*. No. # 6 tells us too much about the author. I would rather read the poems. Just looking at the shape of the two poems, however, it *feels* as if #5 is too long or too full and #6 has the traditional/modern (you got that?) look. But the content in #6, in this case, turns me against the work -- a case where a personal prejudice of the judge can ruin a perfectly good poem.

ROUND ONE - D

7.

on the path home
cold frost darkens
children's ruddy cheeks

8

children's cheeks
windfall apples in a sack
still the tree is huge

Here we can see an author trying to work through what s/he would probably call "a haiku moment". By reading both the poems one gets a pretty clear picture of what it was that was found to be touching. The poem #7 sets up a very interesting riddle. Something unknown which is "on the path home" is *darkened* by frost. Most often in haiku (which stressed the light in life), frost is thought of whitening everything it touches. As one contemplates the phrase "frost darkens" the reader is forced to look at the other side of frost and to see that it does, later, cause vegetation to turn dark. So what is the answer? -- "children's ruddy cheeks"? That is not what the reader expected to read! How great! A surprise! (it wakes the reader up!). When I was at the end of line two I expected to read "tomatoes" with the sad thought of those awful black globes on the plants the next morning. How welcomed it was then, to read "children's ruddy cheeks". To have used the old man's ruddy cheeks would have spoiled the joke. It seems the word "cold" is not needed. Most frost is cold enough, unless the author needed another word or two to lengthen the second line. This is known as "padding" and is a questionable procedure. It is like a hem on a dress. One needs it but if the technique shows it was not done well. Rewrite. Thus, in this round, #8 wins.

ROUND TWO - A

2.

artist's diet
how lovingly she traces
the sandwich

4.

still asleep
everyone but bald monks
praying at dawn

The poem #2 has some of the qualities of "a binge" as above, as it speaks of the *agony* of being creative. However, here the *picture* is somewhat clearer. It is easier to *see* a woman who is very hungry, not because of poverty but from dieting, bent over the drawing board idly drawing around the sketch of a sandwich while waiting for it to be time for lunch. There are reverberations regarding the drawn image and the real thing, and the *work of art* relating to the inner needs of the artist. I would question the use of the word "lovingly" in a haiku; it tends to be judgmental and attributes an emotion which may or may not be felt by the actor in the poem. If one could find a synonym for "lovingly" which could also be applied to both drawing and eating (none come to mind at the moment, but there must be one!) the writer could bump this poem into the winners' list. Until then #4 "still asleep" will win.

ROUND TWO - B

5.

candled egg
the moon too seems full
of life

8.

children's ruddy cheeks
windfall apples in a sack
still the tree is huge

Both of these poems use the comparison technique. In #5 the candled egg is compared to the full moon and I wonder how many people still know what a "candled egg" is. Still, if you have ever held a fertilized egg up to the light and have seen the dark shape of the chick within, you can appreciate the comparison. The last line bothers me since "of life" is a phrase fragment. It would feel better to have "full of life" be the third line. The words "too seems" are *weak* words and "seems" as too close to "as" or "like" -- the dead giveaways for English metaphor. Just to say "candled egg" and "the moon" and "full of life" are all too close. There is no mystery or leap. No. #8 has the fault of not having one grammatical stop. It has two -- at the end of both the first and second lines which causes it to sound choppy. But the poem does contain a comparison and the mystery is there because of the puzzle in the third line. No #8 wins by default.

ROUND THREE - END

4.

still asleep
everyone but the monks
praying at dawn

8

children's ruddy cheeks
windfall apples in a sack
still the tree is huge

No. 4 contains a puzzle that results from the way the poem is written. Does it mean everyone is asleep except the monks who are praying at dawn? or does it mean all those who are asleep are praying -- accepting the idea that sleep is a type of meditation? or a different kind of prayer? Would the poem work without the word "still"?

No. 8 has too many breaks. If it were possible to put a verb in this haiku that applied to "cheeks" and a sack of apples (maybe bulge?) the poem could be rescued. The idea of putting the comparisons together "ruddy cheeked children" "apples in a sack" coupled with "the tree is huge" sets up a tension the mind cannot quite comprehend but want to think about with the hope of finding an answer. That is one of the secrets of an unforgettable haiku -- when the mind thinks there is a connection but cannot solve the riddle. Since neither poem is perfect, for this contest I would call it a draw.