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SEA SHELL GAME #5

Judge: Jane Reichhold

May 28, 1997

ROUND ONE

1.

The meaning of life
Was explained for me today.
I was surprised.

2.

feathers fly
squawking jealous cocks
victory crow

Compare these two poems and just know what I am going to say. Poem #1 has the dubious honor of not having one concrete image in it. In addition, "The meaning of life" is about as abstract as one can get. Then to have it 'explained' is even less realistic. Usually, we each have to form our own idea of what the meaning of life is; it is not something someone else can tell us about. That the author adds, "I was surprised." makes me wonder if s/he accepted the meaning of life or not. It also implies that there is only one meaning of life; something that cannot be true.

How much more involved our mental picture making machines become with the second poem's flying feathers, squawking cocks (an audible image! nice) and the surprise of the victorious crow. Nothing gets people's attention like a fight! Here is something to wrap your mind around, to smile about and cheer.

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3.

Withering rose. . .
Dried on the table,
Sings a dying love song.

4.

Dazzling snow's crisp crunch
Old barn with sun-warmed brick step
Orange cat curled in sleep

Poem #3 presents us with several problems. "Withering rose" is a valid line. The three dots (ellipsis) usually stand for something left unsaid, but already line two chimes in with "Dried on the table". First of all, I cannot figure out what was unsaid in line one. Line 2 has a verb in the past tense -- something to avoid in haiku -- which disconnects the sense of the poem. Had the withering rose dried TO the table? I doubt it. The author adds a verb we do not need. It is enough to have a withering rose on a table.

Now comes the stinger -- "Sings a dying love song". So we have a singing, dying rose. Sounds more like an opera than haiku. In haiku, we avoid giving natural subjects human attributes (though, as you know, our common language does it all the time). So a singing rose has got to go. However, the author did find a good metaphor and two images that could be compared -- "a withering rose and a love song". With a bit of ingenuity one could meld a haiku out of these two.

A "dying" love song, though, is another thing entirely. Though some singers may 'kill' a song, and some songs do 'die out' as we forget them, it is unusual to refer to a dying song. Do not be discouraged, Author of Poem#3, we all came from this literary background when we first started to learn about haiku. Please continue to read haiku. As your admiration for the form grows, you will find yourself thinking and writing (almost automatically) in the haiku mode.

Poem #4 wins.

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5.

winter longing...
glistening in the sun
newborn tear

6.

five inches of
A.M. static between stations
talk shows about wood

Poem #5 starts out good. "winter longing.../ glistening in the sun" is an excellent contrast. Winter longing sounds like the subject is going to be dark and cold, and then the author gives us "glistening in the sun" which sounds so bright and cheery. And the last line subject does a perfect job of 'solving' the riddle of what can be part of winter longing and glisten in the sun -- right! a tear! Of course. But why, oh why, did you, dear Author, have to use the word "newborn"? Newborn tears? Fresh tears, but AUUUUGH. Sorry. You came so close.

Poem #6 shoots ahead.

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7.

Orange oak leaves falling
Silver moths flutter, the sky
Blue, cold as your eyes

8.

the soft wind of fall
blows the fallen leaves as
winter turns the corner.

Poem #7 seems to me to feel cluttered. Perhaps it is three colors? I do like the combination of silver moths and a cold blue sky. The garishness of "orange leaves" strikes a discord. The comparison of someone's "blue, cold eyes" seems more like an idea one would find in a tanka than a haiku. If the author wants to stay with the fluttering motion of leaves and moths (unusual, but therefore, to me, interesting enough to work with) one would perhaps find paler leaf colors that approximate moth colors. The orange would go with butterflies, especially Monarchs, but this has surely been done. I see the author was doing 5-7-5 syllables. This practice often leads one to cram too much into a haiku. Drop the rule for a time, tighten up the poem to its very essentials. Then, if you still want to do 5-7-5, add the words slowly proofing after each one if it is really needed. Poem #8 blows into the next round.

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9.

Veiled eyes behind your kiss
holding back from giving.
My lips stabbed by barb wire.

10.

A hand out-held, untaken;
Unaction
Showers the soul with thunder.

Did the author of Poem #9 really walk into a lip-high barbed wire? I doubt it. This is where using a metaphor that is unrealistic can trip you up in haiku. In Japanese haiku, the subject of kissing would hardly be used, although in English the subject is occasionally found. The emphasis of this poem is emotional life -- feelings. All not the realm of haiku. One could write a ku about the coldness of a person (Japanese women often did in their tanka) but the subject is rarely one for haiku. Poem #10 with all its commas, goes to the next round.

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11.

When born we die
And love brings forth the birth
So love kills

12.

Cherry-blossom candle-pink on bough
falls
a kiss to earth

Poem # 11 is so full of Western philosophy, it is a mini-argument. All those verbs and no concrete images. Sorry. It is not wrong to have such thoughts. If you really want to write haiku, you must learn to write of things. The way your words present these things will reveal your attitudes about life and death. Haiku seems slight and common, and it is. However, the deep-souled writer will imbue these common subjects with the vastness of eternity and nature's ways to lift them into a higher plane. That is the art: to speak of simple things in a profound way without being profound. Poem # 12 skims by to the next round.

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13.

weeping willows s p r e a d
l-o-n-g tendrils around me
offering protection

14.

The wind whispers its love for
the earth,
softly caresses it.

You are right in Poem #14 that wind "whispers" and even "caresses" the earth and yet haiku readers and writers reading your poem would be jumping up and down saying, "You cannot give human actions to nature." And to some extent, by avoiding personalization, haiku can be distinguished from Western poetry. Though we can never rid ourselves of this completely, we can choose to use the words and images which avoid blurring the line between the genres. The idea, and it is only an idea -- not a perceivable sensation, that the wind "loves" anyone or anything further distances this poem from being a haiku. What we want is for you, the author, to love the earth and take care of it! The wind does wind things in the wind way. Poem #13 seems to have also been infected by personalization, but has one less symptom and thus wins this round.

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15.

slicing silver streams
splashing silver staccato sabers,
soft wind whistling

16.

blood stained pillows
where tears have always been
you hit me

Poem #15 raises some interesting hackles. Haiku rule makers stoutly insist that haiku does not use alliteration (repeating of sounds). Yet Japanese haiku (and their other poetry) not only use alliteration, poems which do it skillfully, are prized and treasured. Then why do the rule makers deny us this tool? Probably because we Occidentals cannot use it skillfully. I cannot think of a Japanese prize poem where the same sound is used in all three lines. It feels to me like Western overkill. Maybe one line of ssss? Then the alliteration would be a surprise and stay delightful. It is best used if it can point to something about one of the nouns -- the s-sound for water is a normal use in English (timeworn and too safe, now). This author is asking us to be more aware of sounds in our haiku; something most writers ignore in their eagerness to get the facts in. What sound does water make? Long aah? Ter,ter,ter? lolololo? or as Basho said, "frog". Right on, old master.

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ROUND TWO

2.

feathers fly
squawking jealous cocks
victory crow

4.

Dazzling snow's crisp crunch
Old barn with sun-warmed brick step
Orange cat curled in sleep

Poem #4 is easy to love because it creates such a marvelous picture of a winter day on the farm. It even has a good association of the brick step's color and the cat. Right on. There is also a good association between the "brick step" and the "crunch of snow". Marvelous. Now unravel this poem to make two haiku out of it? It could be done and the poem would then be in the current fashion of shorter English haiku. Still, this ku is not without value and who knows, in the future writers may return to this and find it the prize. Poem #2 goes ahead even with its violence and war and all those supposedly non-haiku subjects. The world is not fair. And #4 is so generous.

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6.

five inches of
A.M. static between stations
talk shows about wood

8.

the soft wind of fall
blows the fallen leaves as
winter turns the corner.

Poem #8 has a marvelous tanka device in it. Sorry to see it 'wasted' on a haiku. "Winter turns the corner" is so good, and yet in haiku it is 'now allowed' because it is thought of as being fanciful -- winter has no corners you know! But how nice it is to think of winter's 'roughness' having a corner, too. Not everyone is equipped (spiritually and emotionally) to write haiku. The genre requires a calm, reasonable, precise, exact type (gather round all you Virgos, Capricorn goats,). And if you are under another sun, you may be attracted to haiku simple because you NEED some of this down-to-earth being groundedness. Notice also, the ku has no line stops at all. It flows into a real sentence. The author is really a romantic at heart. The "soft" wind of fall? Crisp, yes. First, okay. But do you really conceive of autumn winds being "soft"? Maybe summer or surely spring winds...

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10.

A hand out-held, untaken;
Unaction
Showers the soul with thunder.

12.

Cherry-blossom candle-pink on bough
falls
a kiss to earth

"Showers the soul with thunder" would have haiku writers clasping their foreheads with ink-stained fingers, smashing their brushes against their rock-hard heads. First of all, the concept of soul, which we accept so completely, is fairly foreign to Orientals. They may speak of the gods in a thing or a person, but that's about as close as it gets. Then, count the stops in this poem -- 4 of them. Also two negatives untaken and unaction (?) are both unwanted. Avoid negative aspects and comments. Often the ku only needs a bit of rewrite to make it more positive. Japanese traditionally wrote of bright things, shining, radiance -- it is a way to express joy and beauty. And this is one of the charms of haiku; especially for us Westerners who have had our fill of dark subjects that "Shower(s) the soul with thunder" . Those kissing blossoms win again.

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13.

weeping willows s p r e a d
l-o-n-g tendrils around me
offering protection

16.

blood stained pillows
where tears have always been
you hit me

It is hard for me to not see these two ku in combination. Poem #13 attracts the blue pencil first because of the run-on sentence. There are no line stops. You see, I rather harp on this. Some critics would object to the use of the personal pronoun "me", saying the author should get out of the picture and let the willows do willow actions. They would also add that the willow's life-work is not to protect you. You may feel protected by the willows and the idea is lovelier if the willow weeps as it does this, but you have dragged your poem over into tanka territory at best and you could be shot for collaborating with the Western bunch too much. Don't let them scare you. You have a good idea for a poem, here. Just decide which genre presents this idea best and go for it. And keep it out of the haiku camp. It could get roughed up. "Blood stained pillows" win the bout.

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ROUND THREE

2.

feathers fly
squawking jealous cocks
victory crow

6.

five inches of
A.M. static between stations
talk shows about wood

Poem #6 looks and sounds like a fine haiku. I can find nothing wrong with it. I love the idea of "five inches of static" and the line stops (today's sore point) are in place correctly. I love the ambiguity of the two ways of reading "talk show about wood". (the) talk show on the subject of wood and the talk about wood shows. Excellent. I simply fail to see the connection between the two parts of the poem. From all these other sterling attributes, I feel the author has a firm grip on haiku and knows what s/he is doing. I feel a bit dumb because I cannot follow the clues. This is a bad situation to place the person who is judging a contest. I am supposed to feel on top of things, in command, all-knowing. I admit it. I get lost in this one. The crow gets this round on the judge's inability to comprehend the leap.

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12.

Cherry-blossom candle-pink on bough
falls
a kiss to earth

.......................Nick

16

blood stained pillows
where tears have always been
you hit me

trinity

Poem #12 with its "kiss to earth' already has a red flag before the bull. To have to describe the cherry blossoms as candle pink (which is apt and interesting and new) instead of juxtapositioning candles in the proximity of cherry blossoms is a real heart breaker. I hope the author will store this poem away in his/her notebook and read some of the mass of Japanese ku on cherry blossoms. Perhaps then it will be clear that this poem has the correct instinct but just needs to be rewritten in haiku style. And avoid any blossoms which kiss you.

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ROUND FOUR

2.

feathers fly
squawking jealous cocks
victory crow

....................K. Terrell

16

blood stained pillows
where tears have always been
you hit me

...................trinity

Poem #2 has three line end stops. If the word 'from' had started line two there would have been a smooth correct sentence syntax for this part of the ku. I liked the idea of the multiple concepts of "feathers fly" in the use of feathers loosened in fight fly into the air, and the victorious crow flies his feathers away. This 'comparison' of feathers, makes this poem for me and lifts it out of being just a mini-glance into a natural happening.

Poem #16 is faultless in form and movement. It ends with a surprise which is traditionally not such a surprise (again the Japanese are much more subtle). The poem correctly sets the scene with a first line that grabs one's attention much more quickly than 'spring rain' or 'autumn leaves' would. I would consider this a plus point for the poem. I like the ambiguity possible with the second line. Read lines 1 & 2 and let a picture form in your head. Now read only lines 2 & 3 and see a different picture? I call this 'getting mileage out of line' -- when it indicates one thing with the upper line and something else when connected to the bottom line. Haiku czars would go ballistic over the violence in the poem, but it is not alone in these times to find similar haiku in the more modern haiku magazines. So the poem is a shocker, still I am proud to say it has won this round. Congratulations to the winner and thanks to everyone who shared their work with us for teaching and learning. I learn something every time.

And though it got knocked out earlier, I still like the ku:

4.

Dazzling snow's crisp crunch
Old barn with sun-warmed brick step
Orange cat curled in sleep

...........................SKA

It deserves to be reread and compared to the winner. Think about it. Two very different styles but both haiku.


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