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THE SEA SHELL GAME #21

Judged July 15, 1999
Jane Reichhold


ROUND ONE

1

restless child
popping the heads
off bright marigolds


2

only a wisp of grass
liberated itself
from the crack in the asphalt

Once Basho's favorite disciple, Kikaku, came to him with a poem he had written which excited him very much. It was: "pulling wings off / the dragonfly / red chili pod". Basho's face showed his dislike for the ku and Kikaku knew it was an excellent use of the riddle technique and could not figure out why Basho looked so dark. Then Basho is reputed to have said:

adding wings
to the red chili pod
a dragonfly

For the same reason #2 goes on to win this match.

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3

on-shore wind -
on million crests
suns surfing in


4

Grandma's gnarled fingers
Trace the stitches of her quilt
Tears fill her dim eyes

Even though #4 has all the concrete images I say haiku have to have, do you see a difference between these two ku? The ku #4 is designed to make the reader pity the crippled grandmother. If you don't feel sad you have missed the aim of the ku. However, haiku are cool and objective. They sound almost as if feelings do not matter and they are not effective for those tender moments of grandmothers or lovers. Wrong genre. #3 goes ahead.

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5

winter sky-
a small grey feather swirls
against my coat


6

Stars shimmering
dotting the skies above
beauty so far away.

Ku #6 has several weak points. First of all, the three lines are 'stopped' at the end. Two of those lines should grammatically hook together (as they do in #5's lines 2 and 3). Also, haiku avoid opinions such as using the word 'beauty' in the print instead of letting the reader find the word for her/himself. Ku #5 goes ahead.

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7

salty taste
on tip of tongue-
from my cheek


8

great blue heron
waits patiently by still pond
breakfast jumps

Now this is an even match. As much as I admire #7 the phrase 'on tip of tongue' feels as if it should be: on the tip of my/her/his tongue. It is good to cut out unnecessary words but when the grammar gets stilted (some critics call these telegram haiku - saving money by leaving out assumed words) I, as reader, become uncomfortable. I wonder if the author was trying to avoid using 'my' twice in one ku - something I would do. But I feel the 'problem' is not adequately solved. Ku #8 goes ahead.

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9

finite night stars
lost in heavenly vista
city no time to dream


10

old fig tree
in the sunless corner -
small new green leaf

The author of #9 just had to put his/her opinion in the ku! and with that lost the match. Ku #10 goes ahead.

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11

White ceiling...
a gray moving shadow

my ceiling fan is on


12

Yellow candles burn
shadows flicker on the wall
a wood fire crackles

Something one does not need in a haiku are three verbs. Two at the most; and if you can, use one or less. Ku #12, though it paints a scene, romantic as is, in the best Shiki-style, simply has too much going on without showing a relationship between them. K #11 goes ahead.

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13

out-stretched for flight:
little wings are brushed
by a hazy, summer sun


14

Love shatters, fingers
On my pulse, broken heart beat.
Stop. Enough. Breathless.

With all my previous gripes, it should be obvious that #13 would be my pick to advance to the next round. Besides all the punctuation that detracts in #14, the subject matter (love, broken-hearted love) is simply out of the ball park for haiku.

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15

Stillness the fallen snow.
The sun glazing shine.
Of tree top capped.


16

A dozen silk roses
crowd the dry plastic vase
artificial love

The author of #15 has made it clear s/he wants each line to be an independent entity with those periods even though each line is not a sentence, but a phrase. The author of #16 has the correct haiku-style grammar and with that goes to the next round.

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ROUND TWO

2

only a wisp of grass
liberated itself
from the crack in the asphalt


3

on-shore wind -
on million crests
suns surfing in

Ku #2 faults itself in that it has only one stop. It is what we call a run-on sentence - the common error in the other direction. Many people write haiku in this manner and then use punctuation (they think) to correct the error. A haiku that is built correctly from its grammar needs (imho) no punctuation. Ku #3 goes to the next round.

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5

winter sky-
a small grey feather swirls
against my coat


8

great blue heron
waits patiently by still pond
breakfast jumps

A good match here. I can only think of calling this a tie; even if it totally skews the process.

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10

old fig tree
in the sunless corner -
small new green leaf


11

White ceiling...
a gray moving shadow
my ceiling fan is on

Earlier I criticized an author for not using the personal pronoun, yet in #11 I feel the 'my' in the third line could be omitted. Also, that line ends with a preposition. In haiku, too, this is not encouraged. The best practice is to end the ku with a noun. I feel #11 could become much stronger with a simple expression of the fan. Also, I see, too, the word 'ceiling' is used twice. Thus, #10 goes ahead.

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13

out-stretched for flight:
little wings are brushed
by a hazy, summer sun


16

A dozen silk roses
crowd the dry plastic vase
artificial love

Ku #16 begins beautifully, has the proper grammar and line breaks and then trips over the last line. The author needs to find another concrete image for that line. Two abstracts do not a winner make. Ku #13 goes ahead.

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ROUND THREE

3

on-shore wind -
on million crests
suns surfing in


5

winter sky-
a small grey feather swirls
against my coat


As good as #3 is, having lines 1 and 2 begin with 'on' is a fatal error. It only needs a search in the thesaurus. Also, line 2 feels like it needs an 'a' to have 'on a million crests'. Ku # 5 goes ahead.

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8

great blue heron
waits patiently by still pond
breakfast jumps


10

old fig tree
in the sunless corner -
small new green leaf


Ku #8 deserves to get so far. However, ending with a verb stops it from being a prize contender. I do feel the author may have known the rule was being broken and wished to do it to add to the surprise of the breakfast. And for that kudos are in order. Actually, the ku is much more interesting, to me, than the very correct, but very haiku, #10 which will probably go on.

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13

out-stretched for flight:
little wings are brushed
by a hazy, summer sun

By default, #13 goes to the winners' circle.

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ROUND FOUR


5

winter sky-
a small grey feather swirls
against my coat


10

old fig tree
in the sunless corner -
small new green leaf


13

out-stretched for flight:
little wings are brushed
by a hazy, summer sun


I like each of these three. None has anything truly structurally 'wrong' though I wonder why the author of #13 extended the last line by adding 'hazy' + comma when it would have been enough with either adjective alone with sun.

Ku #10 uses 'old', the most over-used word in haiku to evoke pity. Somehow, I feel I wish to see an 'a' beginning the last line so the phrase stands securely alone.

This leaves ku # 5 as winner. This ku has several additional advantages besides being completely correct in structure and tone. The author starts with a winter sky - good scene setter. Then by using the verb 'swirls' one gets the feeling the author could almost be talking about snow. By having 'winter sky' and 'swirls' the reader is set up to see the connection -- snow. But the author is talking about a feather and so makes the connection with "against my coat". This is lovely. The 'coat' of the bird comes to touch the author's coat in winter. There is something very poignant and sad that when it is cold, and the author is bundled up in a coat, the bird drops a feather. That the author has the feather be gray - like a winter sky, like sadness, like a snow-filled cloud - only adds to the perfection. All in all, an excellent haiku and one that deserves to win any contest.


Thank you, to M.L. for

winter sky-
a small grey feather swirls
against my coat


Thanks to everyone who entered the contest. I hope the remarks will only encourage you with your own writing. Blessed be.

All poems are Copyrighted © by Authors 1999.
Comments and Pages are Copyrighted © by Jane Reichhold.

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