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THE SEA SHELL GAME #15
Judge: Jane Reichhold
October 28, 1998

ROUND ONE


1

Loud music and
vivid colors dance about
The tradition



2

sudden bend in pole
under purple setting sun
lavender sea trout


It is uncomfortable to begin these 'judgings' and to have to admit on the very first poem that I simply do not 'get it'. Jeez. Reading and re-reading it, I find I like the idea of music and colors dancing about tradition, but that is pretty 'far out' for most haiku hearts and minds. Going up against Ku #2, which is very good, makes Ku #1 lose this round.

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3

smiley faces smile
at me with their lovely smiles
smile, yellow faces



4

Saturday Morning
Haiku writer sits staring
At a blank white page


I deeply dislike the type of poem which #4 is - poems about writing poetry - and yet my notebooks are so full of them! When poetry becomes your focus and not much else happens in your life, you end up with poems like this one. Time to take a walk! Or draw smiley faces. At least with faces, you could win the round. Ku #3 goes ahead on grounds of subject matter.

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5

mixing the batter
reminiscing as i stir

of days long ago


6

eat an oreo
dunk it in some milk--yum yum!
eat another box


Subject matter seems the issue in this contest. Compare the thinking behind these two (I assume) authors. One is making something; the other is consuming. One has 'home' values - mixing a batter; the other one is into commercially produced Oreo cookies. If one takes the third line of #6 literally, one "eats another box" which pretty well describes the taste of Oreos - especially those low-fat ones! Haiku is much more than putting thoughts into three lines. It begins with how we live our lives. And how we see ourselves living our lives. And what we want to pass along to others from our lives. If I were the author of both of these poems, I would far prefer to 'project' myself as the writer of #5. Therefore, #5 goes to the next level. Hmm, why do I suddenly have this hunger for cookies?

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7

Growing Up


Like a flower I
Continue to blossom, each
Day, in a new way



8

Small, brave kitten
stalking prey across the rug
fierce killer of lint.


Both of these poems seem concerned with growing up. Notice how in #7 the attention is centered on the individual even though there is a strong image of a flower. The way the author works with a nature image and personal opinion is exactly what a tanka needs and works with. Here you can see the difference in subject matter between the two genres. Ku #8 focuses our attention on a kitten and shows us the learning process in exact haiku methods. This does not mean one way of writing poetry is better than the other. It is just the fact that #7 is complete tanka material and in a haiku contest. Therefore, #8 goes ahead. It is pretty well accepted now that haiku do not need or should have titles. Even most tanka do not have them. However, if one HAD to have a title, it would be more easily accepted on a tanka than with a haiku.

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9

Chill wind traces patterns
in snow, etches ice crystals;
winter tangled comb.


10

Girl on her doorstep
Tugs at woolen mittens;
Ventures into packed snow


Here we have a good example of two styles of haiku. Ku#9 offers an artistic image of nature. Ku #10 offers a plain and simple scene told in the most ordinary way. No fancy-smanzy stuff here. Just a calm peek out the window. We do not know where the girl is going, who she is, what she is doing except she pulls on her mittens and goes into the packed snow. Why do I need to know the snow is packed? I keep wondering if there IS a riddle in this plain-looking poem which I am missing. Why is the snow 'packed'? You can see, from my musing how these simple, but honest view-haiku can draw a reader in. So now you understand me better when I take #9 to go ahead? I am personally more fascinated by "winter tangled comb" than the calm scene (shasei) method.

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11

Little feet touch sand
And step toward ocean.
She grins



12

wonderful ball of fluff
tickling my feet
purring for affection


In both of these ku one gets the feeling the authors are reporting on scenes they are observing. Haiku has the disconcerting aspect of wanting to create distance between the author, reader and subject. By #12's use of "my" feet, the ku is yanked too close to the author. The word "wonderful" is usually tossed out of haiku. Yet the poem is complicated enough to make the reader try to figure out what the "ball of fluff" is. Close. I do not need "for affection". If one pared away the first and last words, I would feel the author had a first rate haiku, even with the "my". It would be easy to do as #11 does, and use a third person pronoun to create the distance that fits so well in haiku. #11 wins this round.

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13

Why am I here now
There is really no meaning
Only a purpose



14

clock ticks, keyboard clicks,
cold coffee, monitor glare,
children asleep upstairs


One of the attractions of haiku is the way philosophizing was outlawed in the genre. After the many years of our 'European' literary history in which intellectualism was prized over a celebration of the senses, poets are enchanted with a form that forces the author to simply observe. As the author of #14 does, and wins the round.

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15

Shuddering pages full
a pen to naked feet falls
Life on paper. Done.



16

Honeydew melon
Tastes like sweet rain on my tongue
Reminds me of fall.


The author of #15 has learned too well the classical Western poetry. Totally ego-centric. And for us who have studied so much of it, it is boring even when it is presented in such a stunning manner. Melodramatic at its best. But out of the realm of haiku. Which is why the Japanese were so fascinated when they discovered other poets were not so cool, calm and collected. No wonder they flew to Western poetry like bees to honey. And why it seems like vinegar to us! #16 makes an about-face and comes closer to haiku to win.

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ROUND TWO

2

sudden bend in pole
under purple setting sun
lavender sea trout


3

smiley faces smile
at me with their lovely smiles
smile, yellow faces


The author of #3 manipulates the 'rule' of haiku of using a word only once in a ku to express (I think) a bit of disgust with the overuse of the smiley faces. It is a valiant, and excellent attempt, and as it is, I feel, it works. However, in a contest for an exemplary haiku, we have to give the round to #2.

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5

mixing the batter
reminiscing as i stir

of days long ago


8

Small, brave kitten
stalking prey across the rug
fierce killer of lint.


After writing why I felt #8 should win by writing what was 'wrong' with #5 I deleted the whole paragraph. The more I studied #5 the more I preferred its warm, homey, sad feeling to the small joke with the kitten. #8 has the proper breaks, and everything is seemingly done 'right'. Yet when I read with my feelings I prefer the ones associated with #5 rather than the ku with such words as "brave", "stalking", "prey", "fierce" and "killer". Though the author could make a good case for needing these words for the 'joke' they give the ku a harsh feeling that is often not admired in haiku. #5 goes ahead on the skids of emotion of sabi and wabi - Japanese terms to given to such vague, but important feelings.

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9

Chill wind traces patterns
in snow, etches ice crystals;
winter tangled comb.


11

Little feet touch sand
And step toward ocean.
She grins


As charmed as I am by #9, the extra breaks in the lines, the too-much information detract from my love of the final line. That in itself is so intriguing I would love to make the poem win, but the other two lines pull the poem back from the winner's tape. Ku #11 goes ahead.

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14

clock ticks, keyboard clicks,
cold coffee, monitor glare,
children asleep upstairs


16

Honeydew melon
Tastes like sweet rain on my tongue
Reminds me of fall.


The author of #16 has all the right emotional equipment, the proper haiku radar to pick the proper subject, feelings and connections. Everything is there except for the overlay of Western poetry which pokes through with the phrases: "tastes like" and "reminds me". Can you just see the 'corrections' that could make this into a super haiku? It is all there. You just need to use the cupcake pan instead of the bundt pan. #14 nicks into the next round.

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ROUND THREE


2

sudden bend in pole
under purple setting sun
lavender sea trout


5

mixing the batter
reminiscing as i stir

of days long ago


As much as I love the feeling in #5, it is basically tanka material. Many people would not agree with me and on the basis of its seductive charm, give this ku the win in this round. Yet comparing the two ku, I would have to say that #2 is pure classical haiku material. Thus it goes to the winner's circle.


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11

Little feet touch sand
And step toward ocean.
She grins


14

clock ticks, keyboard clicks,
cold coffee, monitor glare,
children asleep upstairs


Here we have a good example of two ku painting a scene. Both do it quite well. It is clear what is happening in each scene. The author of #14 uses many pauses (commas) which is a no-no in my book of haiku rules, but I find myself being forgiving because the scene is set so well. Yet, if we compare the just 'feeling' pictures here, which one is more exciting to memories? the parent alone with "cold coffee" and "monitor glare" while the children sleep far away? or that magic moment of holding a child who is touching the ocean for the first time surrounded by grins? The child's grin? Mom's grin? Grandma's grin or Mother Nature? All of the above. The poem wins this round.

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ROUND FOUR - THE WINNERS' CIRCLE

2

sudden bend in pole
under purple setting sun
lavender sea trout


11

Little feet touch sand
And step toward ocean.
She grins


Staying with the aspect of subject matter: Here in #2 you see the traditional, classical image of a haiku against #11 which in modern times is accepted also as haiku. The punctuation in #11 stops me, as do the caps. Also the fact that the ku ends with a verb counts against it. It would so easy to rewrite that to "her grin". #11 loses to an excellent haiku in the grandest sense. Ku #2 is perfect in every aspect. The flash of one tiny moment caught and held in all the right words. The first line grabs the reader. How could anyone stop reading there? The combination of the sun (which would be 'in' the water) and the lavender trout together is perfect haiku technique. The fact that the sun is 'dying' as the caught trout soon will die is admirably reflected in the 'sad' color of purple/lavender. Though reds or pinks would have also been accurate, the choosing of purple with coming death is unbeatable. That the author used 5-7-5 without making the poem overloaded or giving it a feeling of being padded-out deserves many kudos. I am missing a few articles, but to not have them in English stretches the language to the limits were it approaches Japanese. It could not be better done. Congratulations to a fine haiku writer. If all the poems in these contests were as good as the ones in this winners' circle, it would be easier to get other haiku writers to judge these games.


THE WINNER IS:

2

sudden bend in pole
under purple setting sun
lavender sea trout

annie delaney


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