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Sea Shell Game #6
Jane Reichhold, judge

ROUND ONE

1.

as I lay
a furry head seeks my palm
we both purr

2.

all alone
completely surrounded
by nothing

Poem #2 flies, with wings outspread, in the face of the most basic ground rule of haiku -- use concrete images. Not having even one -- ust nothing -- it takes a walk and gives the round to Poem #1 because it gives the reader images and sensation around which to wrap one's mind.

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3.

office chair
slouching and picking her teeth
boss gone

4.

beautiful children
watch clouds overhead smile at you
laugh at their whimsy

In Poem #3, the author's desire to keep the poem short, has left out a designator. Thus it reads as if the office chair is slouching and picking 'her' teeth! Even so, I am able to figure out the meaning which is an observation about human behavior. The Japanese have a separate genre of poetry for that kind of material called senryu (sen-you-rue) which is related to and often confused with haiku. Just having a human in a haiku does not tip it over into being senryu, but to point out human behavior in this manner is exactly where senyu begins. At least #4 has a hint of nature -- the clouds -- to rescue it. Just enough to get it to the next round.

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5.

sitting alone
she creeps along walls
the silent mouse

6.

The roses laughed
Playfully I did join them
My dreams exploding

Did you ever hear a rose laughing? If so, what were you on? seriously, haiku snobs have a rule that 'things of nature should not be personified' meaning that roses can do a lot but they cannot laugh. Our western literary heritage allowed this kind of simile but the Japanese attempt to repress this kind of expression. Still one famous poet (not Basho) wrote of "hills smiling". On the whole, the best advice, is to avoid personification even though our clocks run and beds have heads and feet. Checking on the tone of #6, one would have to say that haiku are usually drier, more neutral, cool and precise. The author of #6 is simply have too much fun. Such a delightful experience is rarely in the realm of haiku. You are not grumpy enough for haiku. Maybe tanka? Anyhow, I am sorry to say you lose this round, but do not let it dampen your high spirits!

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7.

Sandy
gritty in my handy
I put them in my pany
then back into my handy.

8.

starfish rides atop
curly green-foamed ocean wave...
surf's up dude

It is this type of silliness -- in #7 -- which makes haiku so enjoyable. Haiku is like a drink of cool water after a bubble gum slurpy. Poem #8 wins.

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9.

rain drops falling down
pouring heavy from the sky
drenching all in sight

10.

flower petals
stranded beside the highway
scattered by passing cars

People do not often talk about the quest for using only a minimum of verbs in haiku, but #9 is a good example of how too many verbs can bog down the poem. Some Japanese people object to our use of gerunds (words ending in 'ing') so many people make and effort to never have more than one in ku. By also have the concept of only writing in the present tense, it sometimes takes some rewriting to get the gerunds contained. If you examine #9, you will discover that not much else is happening except the repeating verb action -- which is hardly haiku. Poem #10 takes its petals into the next round.

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11.

Rain falling
A child's face
Pressed against the window.

12.

A crisp fall wind howls
Whistling in my soft red ears
Winter is coming

The author of #12 is obviously working under the self-made rule that a haiku has three lines with 5 - 7 - 5 syllables and by Dangy s/he sticks with the rule even if it means padding out the lines with extra words. I think that if a fall wind is "howling", the idea that winter is coming is hardly news. Also, I never think of my ears as "soft". Do you? I think of my cat's ears being soft, but mine seem pretty stuffed with cartilage. Here too, I do not need back-to-back verbs -- howls /whistling. I know that in Western poetry we are taught to capitalize the first word of each line, but in haiku that is not necessary. Some haiku are written with no caps at all; some people (very few) cap the first word. On the same track: many haiku have no punctuation. This is another reason (if you drop the punctuation) to leave off the caps, too. Poem #11 wins.

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13.

A window seat
On a train set for points unknown.
Leaves whip against the glass.

14.

my lunchtime coffee
last mouthful suddenly sweet
the unused spoon shines

These two ku are closely matched. Only one tiny 'fault' in #14 keeps this from being a draw. It has three stopped lines. If there were punctuation, you would *feel* a period at the end of each line. A haiku with three stops is found to be 'choppy'. According to the *rules* you are 'allowed only two line breaks, with the last one being at the end of the ku. Otherwise you can place the break at the end of the first line, at the end of the second line or in the middle of the second line. Notice #13, even though the caps designate three lines, the sentence syntax runs lines one and two together -- as it should be. And on that point #13 wins.

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15.

my windowsill plant:
hot sun, leaves wilted, dry
pour cool water in

16.

Those icky stigmum
You've tried brubbing and scrushing
but they still find you

Poem #15 is a fine demonstration of the wrong idea that exists -- that haiku should tell a tiny narrative about an incidence. The author has done a correct job of fulfilling the wrong idea. Even the line breaks are correctly done, but there is simply too many words saying too much. Writing haiku means whittling down to the barest essentials and then finding an inner relationship between the elements that causes the reader's mind to leap between them. Poem #15 is linear; it requires no leap of imagination to complete its meaning. Sorry. #16 wins.

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ROUND TWO

1.

as I lay
a furry head seeks my palm
we both purr

4.

beautiful children
watch clouds overhead smile at you
laugh at their whimsy

I am not clear, but I know #4 has clouds "smiling" and maybe even laughing at someone's whimsy. The poem can be read several ways, which is usually a plus in haiku -- get all the mileage out of your ideas you can! Still there is just too much fun going on in this ku to be a *good* haiku. It is just a bit too sweet in tone. Maybe not a bubble gum slurpy, but surely the strawberry flavored one. Poem #1 purrs on to the next round.

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5.

sitting alone
she creeps along walls
the silent mouse

8.

starfish rides atop
curly green-foamed ocean wave...
surf's up dude

It has been my experience, living on the Pacific coast, that when a starfish "rides atop" a wave, it is because it is dead and has been washed up off the bottom. If the author had just been a bit more authentic, I would loved to see that very unhaiku line, "surf's up dude" win. Haiku have to be based in reality to work. If you put a gull or even a jellyfish up on that wave, it would have been into the next round. The mouse wins over the starfish.

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10.

flower petals
stranded beside the highway
scattered by passing cars

11.

Rain falling
A child's face
Pressed against the window.

I wish #11 had been written as:

A child's face
Pressed against the window.
Falling rain

so I could just declare this ku the winner and stop typing. Poem #10 makes a nice use of ambiguity. The way it is written the reader is not clear if the petals or the author is stranded by the highway. Surely it is the petals that are scattered by passing cars, but one who often walks along highways (we have no sidewalks) I feel I, too, am scattered by passing cars. As you can see by my comments, this poem has pulled me into it, has gotten me to activate my memories so that I have become part of it. I guess I have talked myself in finding #10 the winner.

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13.

A window seat
On a train set for points unknown.
Leaves whip against the glass.

16.

Those icky stigmum
You've tried brubbing and scrushing
but they still find you

I may be dense and I truly am not cool -- I am not clear what this poem refers to and what the meaning of it may be. I have never met an icky stigmum (stigmata are found on saints and think they are usually pretty proud of them and do not try to wash them away). Poem #13 wins because I cannot follow the author's thinking on #16.

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ROUND THREE

1.

as I lay
a furry head seeks my palm
we both purr

5.

sitting alone
she creeps along walls
the silent mouse

These two are close. Each has a small nick out its perfection, but they are very close. In tone they are equal. Both describe a moment in time that is special. Both pose a riddle that is answered in the third line. I suppose purring is preferable to mice, but haiku will often swing toward that which is unusual. I think the extra line break in #5 would convince me to send #1 into the final round.

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10.

flower petals
stranded beside the highway
scattered by passing cars

13.

A window seat
On a train set for points unknown.
Leaves whip against the glass.

Now we have sifted out the haiku with obvious short-comings. Both of these are excellent haiku and either one could logically be picked as a winner. In comparing these two poems as atmosphere, I would prefer #13 because of its upbeat sense of mystery. I know scattered flower petals are a staple of Japanese poetry and the author has been quite brave to combine cars and highways with petal and I do admire courage. But. #13 goes ahead.

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ROUND FOUR

1.

as I lay
a furry head seeks my palm
we both purr

13.

A window seat
On a train set for points unknown.
Leaves whip against the glass.

I would pick #13 as winner because I admire the resonance that is set up between the phrases "points unknown" and "leaves whip against the glass". The idea of a seat (probably empty) going somewhere unknown, with leaves brushing the window creates a mood of mystery that excites my imagination. And that is what one wants to do in a haiku -- involve the reader's imagination so s/he becomes co-creator in the poem. Poem #1 creates a warm, fuzzy feeling that makes this haiku very attractive. It well-deserves a place. It is only second because I prefer mystery to the comfortable known, companionable atmosphere.

Congratulations to the author of:

A window seat
On a train set for points unknown.
Leaves whip against the glass.

The Unknown Poet

Note: Disaster struck. My habit has been to make a file with the entries as they come off the web with names and e-mail addresses. Then I would make a new file without names for judging. When I went back to the entries file there was only one entry on it and it was not the winning entry. My mailbox had been long cleared and I had no way of finding the name of the author of this winning haiku. Sorry. And my apologies to the author. I am very sorry for my error. But thank you for sharing your poem. Jane

 

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