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THE SHELL GAME 2
Judge: Jane Reichhold

ROUND 1

POEM 1

A fire in the eyes
The soul is on the prowl
To hunt in hidden curves

POEM 2

spiraling effortlessly
smirking at the Air Force jet.

While I have nothing against a two-line "haiku" -- heck, half of the renga are made of them -- I feel it is absolutely necessary to see the previous link in order to see 'the rest of the poem'. So POEM 2 leaves me wondering what is the object of this poem? What or who is spiraling and smirking. It is an intriguing idea. The poem just begs for a third line that answers the riddle. For this reason, by default, POEM 1 wins.

______________________________

POEM 3

tell me of the shipwrecked men

echo final words

POEM 4

It is spring again.

Dogwoods blooming in the wild...

Look -- a butterfly!

Though POEM 4 is thoroughly in the traditional haiku mode with nature, its three lines, the delight in discovery, it has several serious drawbacks. Most of all it lacks an 'aha', a verbal discovery the reader finds. Here the author points out that there is a butterfly. That's all. The fact that each line ends with punctuation makes the haiku feel choppy. Theoretically, there should only be a break at the end of the first OR at the end of the second line, but not at both lines. By stating that "it is spring" the author wastes words with also telling us that the "dogwoods bloom". That only (usually) happens in the spring. The first line could have been better used to set up a riddle to answer with the butterfly in the third line. I pick POEM 3 as winner.

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POEM 5

Afternoon window

A fly thumps upon

Warm glass

POEM 6

white against white

the crocus breaks through

the winter crust

Though at first, POEM 6 seems like a lovely and perfect haiku, knowledge of reality ruins the image. When crocus first poke through the snow, it is a green tip one sees, not a white one. The image of white crocus blooming in snow would be a proper idea of 'white on white'. For this reason, POEM 5 wins.

___________

POEM 7

Internet Insanity

I dream of huge webs

entangling me completely.

Hell as Internet!

POEM 8

fallen leaves and plastic waste

share a melody the planes' shadow gliding

over the snow

This match is much harder to judge. POEM 7 is a good example of the new breed of 'haiku' which has bred and proliferated through the several haiku web sites set up by persons with only a slight encounter with the genre. Perhaps this is the best way to get English haiku launched as a poem form independent of its Japanese ancestor. For me, the poem would work better, and the surprise would be more exciting if there was no title. Most haiku have no title for this reason and because the title operates as another line -- something most people do not need or want. The poem has some merit because it states a thought most of us have had and it has an interesting play on the words of 'inter' and 'net' and 'web' along with 'entangled'. This is a good attempt but there is a strange, and interesting, interplay in POEM 8 which causes me to pick it.

__________________________

POEM 9

a cooped white peacock
shows its train

POEM 10

mind wanders drifting with thought
stop and think haiku

So two two-liners against each other. But the battle is not fair. Though POEM 10 is written as two lines, I feel a break at 'wanders' so one has: mind wanders / drifting with thought / stop and think haiku. POEM 9 however, leaves me with only two images. I want to ask the author what is significant, or what other information shows a relationship between the two. Why do we need to know the peacock is white? Is it pure? Virginal? Obviously the second line lets us know it is sexually aroused. And line one tells us it is shut up, but is it by itself? Or not? Sorry, I need to know more. So don't throw the poem out. Just find a good third line for it. That is the hard part of haiku writing. Though I dislike poems about writing poems, I will pick POEM 10 as winner of this round.

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POEM 11

sweet as sugar

grand as gold

POEM 12

Tattoos

Needlepoints of color.
Shy person's
worldly statement.

Poem 11 has almost nothing to give the author the idea that it even might be a haiku. First of all, haiku do not state comparisons in this a very Western way. The use of the words 'like' and 'as' are usually outlawed. Secondly, haiku are concerned with concrete images. 'Sweet' is a sense judgment and 'grand' is an abstract concept. This one is so far off that POEM 12 wins easily.

______________________________

POEM 13

the motionless toad

in summer grass

POEM 14

the tired woman

stooped walking, and looked up at

the dark sky and cried

Another a two-liner! You guys have to stop this! You drive me nuts trying to guess what a great third line could be! Finish the job. That is your part -- to find the answer to the riddle. Otherwise, the subject matter is haikuish and the poem is worth saving for that reason. I'll go with the tired woman. Suddenly SHE speaks to me in POEM 14

________________________

POEM 15

Old harvest moon
three curlews fly east
four thin crescents

POEM 16

summer night...

on the kitchen table

stinking fish

Finally two poems that both are 'real' haiku. And they are fairly well matched. POEM 16 is from the school of haiku which advocates that all the writer has to do is to accurately portray a scene, which this author has done well. Sorry, but this kind of haiku leaves me saying, "So what?" What is there about the scene that makes it noticeable? Beside the smell? How did the fish get there? Why are they there? Sorry, but for me, summer night is not enough exact information. I think fish could stink if left on the table in any season. POEM 15 squeaks by for a win.

______________________________

POEM 17
Your shadow sleeps --

Wearied by its wax and wane

following your steps.

POEM 18

Pruned tree

one leaf left

for autumn

Again, this is a good match. Perhaps the best yet. Either of these poems could be picked as a winner. Yet, POEM 17 is weakened by the idea of a person's shadow being able to sleep. In some ways, by some people this could be seen as personification of a natural thing (something that I find interesting, but many haiku persons claim should not be done). Though the poem is very clever and gives the reader a new way of thinking about shadows, there is a sadness and regret in POEM 18 that tips the scales in its favor.

_____________________________

POEM 19
violent snowstorm
waters still
beneath the ice

POEM 20
Little match girl

burns the dreams in my mind

to keep warm.

Again, a good match (pun not intended but welcomed). Here is a good example of a haiku and a tanka written as a haiku. POEM 20 handles the material commonly found in tanka -- literary reference, a personal reference, and a lyric concept. Perfect. But not as a haiku when POEM 19 has it all as a haiku should.

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POEM 21

sands burn red

passion and flame spout forth

desire burns to ash

POEM 22

red leaves from maples

dash through air like scarlet birds

flee bitter winter

Both of these poems bear the signs of authors new to haiku. POEM 21 shows most clearly the Western-orientated writer's desire to hang on to the emotional-loaded abstractions (passion and desire) while trying to equate them with things from the natural world (sand, flame and ash). This poem has possibilities as a tanka or just the three words could be recombined to "suggest" the emotions the author equates with these images. POEM 22 does this by 'saying' that the birds/leaves are fleeing winter which implies an action she could relate to. POEM 22 wins here.

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ROUND 2

POEM 1

A fire in the eyes
The soul is on the prowl
To hunt in hidden curves

POEM 3

tell me of the shipwrecked men

echo final words

Here again we have a poem which is a grand beginning for a tanka. POEM 1 has the lyrical beginning, the personal reference, the pivot of 'hunting' and 'fire' in the hidden curves. Written in Japanese, anyone would accept this as a very exciting tanka. In English, you only need to find a way to say it in five lines. Sorry this is not a tanka contest. POEM 3 wins by default.

_________________

POEM 5

Afternoon window

A fly thumps upon

Warm glass

POEM 8

fallen leaves and plastic waste

share a melody the planes' shadow gliding

over the snow

POEM 5 does all the right things a haiku should do. It sets the scene with the first line, the second line elaborates by introducing the action and we are sailing right along perfectly. Except the second line ends with a preposition that leaves the reader hanging. A move which is not all the bad. If only it set the reader up for a jolt. Instead we get warm glass. Just what one would expect on an afternoon window where a fly was. One might be tempted to put the warm glass up on the end of line #2 and go for a punch, a surprise, a delight, a twist in line #3.

Afternoon window

A fly thumps upon warm glass

Around stale beer

This is not great, but perhaps you can follow my thinking for an example. POEM 8 escapes whole and unscathed.

_______________________

POEM 10

mind wanders drifting with thought
stop and think haiku

POEM 12

Tattoos

Needlepoints of color.
Shy person's
worldly statement.

I wish the last line of POEM 10 was not about writing haiku. If there just could have been a reference to something of the natural world -- a concrete image to tie down the ideas in the first line. There is just too much mind play, mind stuff. The first line does attract me and sets me to having thoughts. I want to add a canoe and stream to the poem. Therefore, (when I want to rewrite a poem, I know it is less than perfect) POEM 12 wins this round.

__________________________

POEM 14

the tired woman

stooped walking, and looked up at

the dark sky and cried

POEM 15

Old harvest moon
three curlews fly east
four thin crescents

Why? I want to ask POEM 14. What was the author really trying to say with all this information? I get a clear picture of the scene yet my mind does not quite know what to do with it. Am I to deduce that because the woman is tired and stooped a dark sky makes her cry? What made her tired and stooped? Why is she walking? Where is she going? And two 'ands'? Yes, haiku should open up the reader's mind, but the images should act as terminal so the thinking, in its leap from one idea to the next, comes upon another unspoken or just indicated idea. The whole make-up of the poem, the comma in the middle of the second line, the run-on syntax make me suspect this was lifted out of some less than perfect prose. POEM 15 wins.

_______________________________

POEM 18

Pruned tree

one leaf left

for autumn

POEM 19
violent snowstorm
waters still
beneath the ice

This is the best match yet. Both of these are, each in its own way, perfect haiku. Each could be accepted anywhere for publication. I love the idea in #18 that the one leaf was left just so the tree could experience autumn (or demonstrate autumn or have something to give to autumn). Lots of good thoughts are generated (as you see) by this poem. POEM 19 shows the reader a bit of reality that might have been missed: water in its three forms dividing stillness and activity. I find much to reflect upon thinking about this. It is hard to decide, but I will go with POEM 18.

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ROUND THREE

POEM 22 (lacking a match, POEM 22 advances)

red leaves from maples
dash through air like scarlet birds
flee bitter winter

POEM 3

tell me of the shipwrecked men
echo final words

POEM 22 is a classical example of an attempt to put into 5-7-5 syllables a Western concept while doing all the right things with concrete images. I do not need both 'red' and 'scarlet' in one short poem. The use of 'like' is frowned upon in Oriental poetry. It is enough to juxtapose leaves and birds and let the reader figure out their similarities. I am bothered, too, by the choppiness caused by 'flee'. This poem should not be abandoned. With just a bit of tinkering, it could be a very credible haiku. POEM 3 is rescued, again.

____________________________

POEM 8

fallen leaves and plastic waste
share a melody the planes' shadow gliding
over the snow

POEM 12

Tattoos

Needlepoints of color.
Shy person's
worldly statement.

Here POEM 12's title works as additional information instead of repeating words within one of the lines. If you must have a title, most people would be against it, but this would be the best way. For me, the problem is that the first line gives away or immediately explains the title. I can imagine it written as:

needlepoints of color
a shy person's worldly statement
tattoos

Can you see how lines 1 and 2 set up a riddle which is then answered by line 3? You might check on some of the classical Japanese haiku and see how often this is done. Somehow the subject matter feels, though, that the poem should be written as a tanka instead of a haiku. POEM 8 gets the nod to go on.

________________________________

POEM 15

Old harvest moon
three curlews fly east
four thin crescents

POEM 18

Pruned tree
one leaf left
for autumn

POEM 15 looks like a worthy haiku at first glance. And I admit I have admired it because it has mystified me. I loved the idea of the crescent shape of three birds added to a moon's shape made four crescents. For a long time I was thrown by the expression of 'old harvest moon'. For me, a harvest moon is the full moon in autumn. If line #1 had been ' new moon' (which does have a crescent shape) this would have made more sense to me. POEM 18 goes forward.

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ROUND FOUR

POEM 3

tell me of the shipwrecked men
echo final words

POEM 8

fallen leaves and plastic waste
share a melody the planes' shadow gliding
over the snow

This is tough. I am really bothered by 'share a melody' in POEM 8. I do not need that information (I don't think) and besides, the phrase is very foreign to haiku. I do like the resonance between 'fallen leaves' and 'plastic waste' and a 'plane' 'over snow'. It sounds like an accident waiting to happen. This is the kind of tension in a poem that makes a haiku interesting to me. Still there is an unreality in the poem in the fact of having both snow and fallen leaves on the ground. I know it IS possible, though usually when one writes of the shadow on the snow one wonders where the trash and fallen leaves are? Under the snow? I would love to know the author's inspiration for this poem. Perhaps there is a good haiku in it somewhere. Thus, POEM 3 moves up into the last match.

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ROUND FIVE

POEM 18

Pruned tree
one leaf left
for autumn

POEM 3

tell me of the shipwrecked men
echo final words

I like POEM 3 for its rhythms. That feels like a good haiku to me. There is a resonance between 'tell me' and 'echo final words' that feels perfectly haiku. And the whole poem gives me a scene my mind can comprehend even though, and this may make the poem as special as it seems to be, it has so little concrete images. This poem is an excellent example of what I would call a 'cross-over' haiku. A Western literature poem that has borrowed the best and the brightest from haiku without imitating the genre. I feel POEM 3 deserves Second Place.

POEM 18 is simply the classical haiku in nearly every way. I would leave off the upper case p in pruned, but beyond that I can find nothing to criticize. It is perfect. And in addition, it has what the Japanese call 'wabi' or a sense of poverty or sadness. Here the tree has been cut away so that it has only one leaf left and that one leaf is 'for' autumn. At that thought, I feel tears crowding the back of my throat. Thank you.

Winning Poems with Author's names:

POEM 18

Pruned tree
one leaf left
for autumn

pdn

(philipdnoble@easynet.co.uk)

POEM 3

tell me of the shipwrecked men
echo final words

krk

(krkimray@unccvm.uncc.edu)

POEM 8

fallen leaves and plastic waste
share a melody the planes' shadow gliding
over the snow

M. Bekker

(tilde@dcs.qmw.ac.uk)

Thank you to everyone who participated in this game! Blessed Be! Jane Reichhold

 

Poems Copyright © Individual Authors 2006.
Commentary Copyright © Jane Reichhold  2006.

Let me read another Sea Shell Game .
Show me the form so I can submit my haiku to the Sea Shell Game.
Maybe I need to read up on haiku.

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