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THE SEA SHELL GAME # 12
Judge: Jane Reichhold
July 13, 1998


ROUND ONE

1.

Rich warm brown earth clods
Like moist chocolate cake crumbs
Nature's mouth waters



2.

I bled out into
A time of unspokenness,
And died unknowing


Poem #1 wins because it is closer to being a haiku than #2 which is a perfect example of a three-line poem faking a haiku.

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3.

trees tremble
earth buckles
screams pierce, life dissembles



4.

little girls laughing
as the merry-go-round turns
tears follow dad's grin


With chills up my spine, #4 wins. #3 makes the fatal error of 'naming the action'. #4 shows us the ingredients of the scene and lets the reader draw his/her conclusions.

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5.

Falling leaves...
The last hope of summer
crumble under foot.


6.

forbid expression
must draw within penciled lines
crayons lie untouched


I get the feeling that the author of #6 had an important message, wanted to use only 17 syllables and really needed one more to change 'forbid' to 'forbidding'. It seems the situation is still close to the author's heart to have the distance to speak of it briefly. #5 goes forward.

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7.

near the beach you can see
waves splashing rapidly
loud as thunder


8.

the summer air soft
gently blowing in the wind
it feels like spring time


Both of these have haiku-like material, look like haiku, are close to haiku. Question is: are they strong enough to be winners in a haiku contest? #7 loses because it is a run-on sentence. #8 goes ahead.

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9.

along the seashore
softly, waves roll back and forth
seagulls rest their wings



10.

Manuscript upon
my shelf, gathers idle soil,
dreams smothered in dust.


A comparison of these two poems are a good example of why good haiku are seen as being 'dry', 'cool', 'objective'. Haiku are an exercise in getting out of one's emotional space. To be clear, cool and clean as #9 is. Haiku has no room for pity even when the situation is sad.

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11.

rain in the evening
branches overhead collect
splat! drop on my nose


12.

cicada rhythm
beats at artificial light
casts dragon shadows


This is a more evenly matched contest. It is hard to say. I will take #12 has some unusual and interesting aspects. Still #11 is very interesting.

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13.

silky coated cat
sitting on cement porch step
light gray on dark gray



14.

Ambulance flashing:
bomb blast in Jerusalem.
Holy Sepulcher.


How can I pick a drab ku like #13 - gray on gray over the excitement of #14? Easily. Haiku is training in seeing the small things in life and having an appreciation and reverence for even the quietest manifestations. I know one thinks that putting worthy subjects into a poem should make it a winner, but in haiku one has to go in the opposite direction.

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15.

Moon on the back fence;
dog fox silhouette, one flash
then gone, no paw prints.


16.

Mud in the garden
is frozen. The earth locks up,
winter opens out.


Both of these have such a choppy feeling caused by the commas and the need to fill out 17 syllables. Please, give yourself the freedom to let your ku use only the most necessary words to carry your thought. I'll go with #15.

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ROUND TWO

1.

Rich warm brown earth clods
Like moist chocolate cake crumbs
Nature's mouth waters


4.

little girls laughing
as the merry-go-round turns
tears follow dad's grin


The word "like" in #1 sets off all my no-no bells. Also the personification of Mother Nature's mouth watering over dirt clods is just too bizarre. #4 wins.

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5.

Falling leaves...
The last hope of summer
crumble under foot.


8.

the summer air soft
gently blowing in the wind
it feels like spring time


Here again, we have "like" ("it feels like") which is absolutely unnecessary in haiku. Simply putting 'spring time' in the poem is enough. Let the reader figure out how the first two lines make one feel. #5 wins.

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9.

along the seashore
softly, waves roll back and forth
seagulls rest their wings



12.

cicada rhythm
beats at artificial light
casts dragon shadows


This is very close. Personally I find #12 a much more interesting ku as it states something that takes me awhile to get mind wrapped around, and I prefer that. However, #9 is a good example of Shiki's 'sketch' method of writing haiku where one simply states what is there without searching for more or having another level to the ku. I think I have talked myself into picking #12.

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13.

silky coated cat
sitting on cement porch step
light gray on dark gray


15.

Moon on the back fence;
dog fox silhouette, one flash
then gone, no paw prints.


I like the idea of having "no paw prints" in the ku, but the choppiness of the lines bothers me too much. I feel the ku could be easily written to be an outstanding haiku if the author would allow him/herself to use less than 17 syllables. #13 wins.

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ROUND THREE


4.

little girls laughing
as the merry-go-round turns
tears follow dad's grin


5.

Falling leaves...
The last hope of summer
crumble under foot.

Although #5 feels excellent, the idea of "the last hope of summer" is just too abstract for me. If the author could make the reader feel that phrase by finding another image instead of those words. #4 wins here.

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12.

cicada rhythm
beats at artificial light
casts dragon shadows


13.

silky coated cat
sitting on cement porch step
light gray on dark gray


See, when it comes right down to the finish line, I will pick the ku that whets my imagination, gives my mind somewhere to go, something to do. Also, #13 would have been stronger if the first line had been saved until the end so we had "light gray on dark gray /sitting on cement porch step and the answer to the riddle: "silky coated cat".

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ROUND FOUR


4.

little girls laughing
as the merry-go-round turns
tears follow dad's grin


Timothy T. Richards


12.

cicada rhythm
beats at artificial light
casts dragon shadows


kn


Does anyone doubt which ku would be picked as winner? #4 is packed with emotion and yet each word, the images, the situation are all ordinary and everyday. For me, the genius stroke in #4 is the word "turns" as it fits both the action of the merry-go-round and the changes in the dad's face turning from grin to tears simultaneously. #12 works hard to create an interesting situation for the reader, but #4 has an interesting and heartfelt 'moment' and describes it perfectly. Congratulations to Timothy T. Richards, the winner and to runner-up -- kn.


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