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THE SEA SHELL GAME #20
Judge: Jane Reichhold
March 24, 1999


ROUND ONE

1

Dusty old harp...
Sounds of time gone by,
Remember?


2

Alarm bell ringing
Duvet unfurled over room
Grey cloud behind glass.


Ku #1 loses by throwing away the third line. If this was a tanka contest one could accept the use of "remember" as a line. Here in a haiku it has the effect of shifting the emphasis and picture away from the scene to a person, to another time. The poem itself would have, if the third line had been used to give more information, caused the reader to remember without being told to do so. In haiku, there are readers who insist they scream every time they read 'old' in a haiku. "dusty" would have been enough. Ku #2 wins this match.

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3

Winter solstice ~
shadow-light of a full moon
over snow



4

bitter lemonade
a summer amidst garden
rolling upon grass


In #4 I am not sure who or what is rolling on the grass and why the lemonade must be "bitter". What is the connection? And why is the summer seen as being "amidst garden" - that feels awkward. Still the author gets credit for having three images, no punctuation or caps. However, due to my confusion, #3 wins this match.

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5

children at the beach
in the water having fun
and building sand castle.


6

wind wrestles snow
among boughs of courtyard pines
sun warms window palms

I seem to have trouble fitting the lines in #5 together. If the kids are in the water, how can they be building a sand castle? Obviously it is a 5-7-5 syllable poem, but I would have preferred to trade in the "and" for an "a" to make the last line grammatically correct. Or one could have 'castles' to make the grammar right. Haiku does not need to tell us "having fun" -- this is judgmental. How can the author know the fun part? Do we as reader need to know this? Thus, #6 wins this round.

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7

Hot and thirsty, I
drink the sweet iced tea and

honeysuckle air.



8

Lurking rumble,
monster in the next part of town,
Summer thunderstorm


All things considered, these two ku are pretty evenly matched. Many purists would grumble about the use of the personal pronoun in #7 (it is so un-Japanese Zen monkish), but the use of "honeysuckle air" delights me (and is thus, probably viewed by those same purists as being 'too lyrical' for a haiku). Even though #7 is sunnier and a more romantically attractive subject matter, #8 wins the match because it employs (properly) a haiku technique.

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9

cloud patches-
in the hook of the moon
just one star


10

Down at the curb
the night wind toppled a barrel.
Bang! but no one heard.


Judging from the punctuation and caps, I would quickly guess that the author of #10 has spent less time with haiku and more time in English lit. courses. Then to use a reheated serving of the old question which technology has answered for us "if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?". This is un-haiku material yet it is right up there with all the Zen haiku of Japan. I'll go with #9 for this match.

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11

The path narrowing ...
Suddenly ankle-deep
In huckleberries


12

Sitting in the aisle,
A dream, I still don't believe

This "Boeing" can fly.

Ku #12 is so saturated with the ego and personality and thinking processes of the author that it slides right off the scales leaving #11 to win.

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13

Orange sun atop
highway ramp running uphill.
Red sign says "wrong way".


14

as I make the bed
a light breeze stirs the curtains
the sheets - still warm


Since I am on a rant to get rid of personal pronouns, and to be consistent, #13 gets the match.

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15

Spiderwebbed snowflakes
falling quickly on
Godiva tears of pain


16

Freshly minted snow
an oak branch ~ spent in one flick
of a squirrel's tail!


Both of these ku have similar faults of having slept too much with Western literary practices. The use of "Godiva" simply sets off my thumbs-down alarm, leaving #16 to slither into the next round.

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ROUND TWO

2

Alarm bell ringing
Duvet unfurled over room
Grey cloud behind glass.


3

Winter solstice ~
shadow-light of a full moon
over snow


Ku #2 has the ill-fated chop-chop-choppiness that is so fatal in these contests. The idea is one 'of a moment' and is worth the rewrite it would take to 'save' the ku.

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6

wind wrestles snow
among boughs of courtyard pines
sun warms window palms


8

Lurking rumble,
monster in the next part of town,
Summer thunderstorm


The idea of "wind wrestles snow" is quite picturesque and engaging. Probably a tad too much for a haiku prize. The author has understood and used well the technique of making one nice image out of the first two lines and another one out of the second and third line. The contrast between snow / sun and pines /palms is interesting and new. All those compliments and #8 wins the match. Contests are never not fair!

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9

cloud patches-
in the hook of the moon
just one star


11

The path narrowing ...
Suddenly ankle-deep
In huckleberries


I may be exposing my ignorance, but I did not know huckleberries grew so low to the ground. I hate to sound like a snotty Californian, but here our huckleberries come on head-high bushes. Blueberries? Cranberries? In addition to being absolutely accurate with the names of things, unless one has had the experience, such 'accidents' can occur when writing 'made up' haiku. In addition, the name of the thing mentioned should offer some connection or wordplay. Which of the low-growing berry bushes has the 'best' name for the poem? Solve this and bring the poem back again. While we wait, #9 goes ahead.

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13

Orange sun atop
highway ramp running uphill.
Red sign says "wrong way".


16

Freshly minted snow
an oak branch ~ spent in one flick
of a squirrel's tail!


The author of #16 causes the reader to compare snow to money with such words as "minted" and "spent". This is a Western literary technique which bears more investigation and practice. By the inference, however, of money (a subject that is usually not connected with the purity and nature stuff of haiku) #16 gets dragged out of the competition. #13 wins the match.

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ROUND THREE

3

Winter solstice ~
shadow-light of a full moon
over snow


8

Lurking rumble,
monster in the next part of town,
Summer thunderstorm


Godzilla is loose in the haiku scene. Run for your lives. Where is Fay Wray when we need her? Okay, enough being silly. We have a peaceful winter night up against words like "lurking", "rumble" and "monster". Such words are hardly images of haiku's ever-serene territory where "moon" and "snow" reign supreme.

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9

cloud patches-
in the hook of the moon
just one star


13

Orange sun atop
highway ramp running uphill.
Red sign says "wrong way".


Both of these are good haiku. Many persons who are tired of the seriousness, the coolness, the purity of haiku would greatly welcome the laugh #13 gives us. And in a collection of haiku, this could be the perfect poem to add a bit of color and spice to rows of mind-numbing perfect haiku. Because #13 gives us a laugh some people would not even consider it a good haiku. But there are times this is exactly what the mind needs. (And in readings this kind of humor works the very best for keeping the audience awake.) Here, in a contest, where we are going for the very best haikuiest haiku, I would have to take #9.


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ROUND FOUR

3

Winter solstice ~
shadow-light of a full moon
over snow


9

cloud patches-
in the hook of the moon
just one star


When I do these judgings, I rarely know from the first read-through which poem I will find the best in the end. At times, I am attracted to a certain ku, but then as I look at it, proof it and compare it, it begins to lose interest for me. Another ku which didn't impress me much at first, does, after a while totally engage my thinking. This is exactly what happened in this case.

The images in #3 were instantly attractive to me and I felt very happy thinking on it. But during the afternoon, I have grown to love #9. I think the word "patches" is what carries it, for me, into another realm. There is a certain 'poverty' about "cloud patches", a moon with a hook that manages to catch only one star. It has a certain mysterious sadness which is also treasured by Japanese readers. In Japan people can often not agree when or where these conditions work in a ku, so it usually is a personal preference. And that is what, in the end, picks the winner of this game.


Congratulations to the mysterious M.S. for sending in:


cloud patches-
in the hook of the moon
just one star


Remember the poems are Copyright © by their authors 1999.

And the comments are Copyright © by Jane Reichhold 1999.

Look at another Sea Shell Game which has been judged.

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