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SEA SHELL GAME #36
Judged by Jane Reichhold
July 8, 2000

ROUND ONE

1
see-saw
a boy peek-a-boos
his father

2
tree squats
on a mountain ledge
clouds pass

Both of these look and sound like haiku and are fairly evenly matched. I will pick #1 to go forward because I miss the article ('a' or 'the') in the first line of #2. As good as it is to drop words whenever possible in haiku, I feel it is important to keep English syntax intact. In the last line, the loss of the article seems to be right and fine. Somehow the word 'squats' combined with a tree feels strange and unnatural but the loss of the article disturbs me more.

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3
a broken river
falls misty, survives,
flows on

4
listening to a conch
the old fisherman
tastes a tear with his tongue

Again, two excellent ku! What kind of haiku heaven have we entered? There is so much good happening in #3. Normally it is unusual to show such a long continuum in a haiku (the river, the falls and the river again) but somehow the feelings are very valid. I guess it is the word "survives" that stops me, That and the commas. It feels that with a tiny bit of rewriting this could be a smashing ku. Perhaps as "falling mist /a broken river /flows on" or something similar. Thus, #4 goes ahead.

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5
sea of lace
cobwebbed grass waves
in the wind

 

6
She swings back and forth.
Hair in eyes from the false breeze,
quiet winter wheat.

As the author of #6 correctly perceived, this ku is divided into three separate parts (notice the punctuation) and thus loses this match. Sometimes it actually helps to let yourself write without counting syllables to see what your heart really wants to say. That is more important! Ku #5 goes ahead.

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7
cool breeze of the night,
whispers quietly to you,
listen silently.

 

8
Walking down the street
The autumn leaves wave to me
One falls at my feet

Both of these ku have the same problem - stops in syntax at the end of each line. I take #8 because I like what it is saying even though there are good points in #7. At first I was uncomfortable with "listen silently" but the longer I thought about it, the more I rather liked it. Yet having "quietly" and "silently" together in one ku is something I would rewrite out if the poem were mine.

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9
I think I should write,
sharing my thoughts with the world -
circling through cold space

 

10
leaves in cups
a morning of rain
the water boils

Ku #9 is a prime example of the attitude of modern free-verse: self inspection, introspection and me, me, me in the foreground. Where once this was "freeing", fascinating and fashionable; now haiku seems fresh and tart and more interesting as it does an 180 degree turn-around. For those reasons, #10 goes ahead.

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11
Sad lonesome starlight
shimmer glimmer glow
watch it fade away

12
summer afternoon
watching minnows-
watching me

Ku #11 has the dreaded three line end stops. Done. Ku #12 gets that much brighter.

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13
windswept dunes
reflect the sun's light,
burning eyes

 

14
wildflowers and weeds,
both sweetly kissed by spring rains;
lovesick frogs chorus!

Aside from other considerations, one of these ku is stating the bare facts of scene (Shiki would have loved you) and the other plays with our ideas about love in a humorous way (I enjoy having my funny-bone tickled). Is one haiku and the other not? Does giving the one ku17 syllables make it a haiku? That is no guarantee (imho). Finally, it is the punctuation and end-stops in #14 that stop me from letting it go to the next round.

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15
the tree swallow's
reflection in the pond...
so fleeting!

16
golden yellow wheat
gently swaying in the field
a peaceful rippling motion.

I am very attracted to #16 because in these July days I see the sea meadows of tall grass bending gold all around me and I keep searching for the words that could make this scene stay alive for me. If #16 were my poem I would be crossing out that last line and trying to find another image, one that leaps away while still being connected to the image in the first two lines. For me, lines 2 and 3 are basically saying the same thing and in haiku we simply do not have that much space to repeat ourselves. Ku #15 goes ahead.

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ROUND TWO

1
see-saw
a boy peek-a-boos
his father

4
listening to a conch
the old fisherman
tastes a tear with his tongue

Though I love the sounds of "see-saw" and "peek-a-boo" - both are excellent for a verse about a child, and I liked having the father involved instead of the mother, and the ku paints a lovely scene, I will go with #4 as winner because I perceive more depths in it.

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5
sea of lace
cobwebbed grass waves
in the wind

8
Walking down the street
The autumn leaves wave to me
One falls at my feet

Here we have two scenes, yet one is saying more than just a view of something interesting. Because the leaf falls at the author's feet, because it is autumn, the time of sadness, loss and parting and it all fits together so perfectly. One cannot help but feeling hopeful that 'if a leaf can come to me, I am not alone'. How can I make this ku the winner when I have such an urge to remove the first line? Probably because I like ku which have more than one layer. Ku #8 goes ahead. I admit when I started to read #5 "sea of lace" made me have a mental image of the shreds of foam that lie on the sea during wild surf times so I was surprised (and delighted) to find the shift of images onto dry land. Good move!

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10
leaves in cups
a morning of rain
the water boils

12
summer afternoon
watching minnows-
watching me

These two are well-matched. Either one of them could be accepted in any haiku magazine. Ku #10 uses the 'riddle' technique perfectly, yet as I look at it I wonder what would happen if one switched the first and second lines around. Ha! then one could get 'leaves' to function as a verb and as a noun. Great! I love the connection between rain and tea water, but the ku could, as you see, undergo some re-writing if it were in my notebook. Ku # 12 wins.

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13
windswept dunes
reflect the sun's light,
burning eyes

15
the tree swallow's
reflection in the pond...
so fleeting!

The longer I read #13 the more meaningful the ku becomes as I find cross connections between the elements. Are the dunes also "burning eyes"? Or does the sun seem a burning eye also? Do the dunes reflect the "burning eyes"? I love it when a poem makes me do this - change my mind about 60 times on its meaning. At first I admired #15 the most because of its connections to which my mind came so easily. But now. . . but I do love "tree swallow" next to "pond' - that is so good. When I count the images given in the two ku, I like the fact that #13 has three (#15 has two and an opinion) so I will take #13.

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ROUND THREE

4
listening to a conch
the old fisherman
tastes a tear with his tongue

8
Walking down the street
The autumn leaves wave to me
One falls at my feet

The two pronouns ("me - my") in #8 make it very easy for me to pick #4 as winner even though I really like the mood and thought #8 expresses. It shows how one can 'use' a natural occurrence (the falling of a leaf) or (the waving of leaves) to carry emotion without mentioning these states. How much more interesting to understand the welcoming feeling on gets from thinking that the leaves beckon. And then to discover the feeling of acceptance and acknowledgment when a leaf presents itself to one. With some twisting and turning, rewriting, or more experience one, could get the same result without the pronouns.

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12
summer afternoon
watching minnows-
watching me

13
windswept dunes
reflect the sun's light,
burning eyes

These two are so evenly matched - even their punctuation falls in the same place. They look as if they are by the same author. Something I cannot tell as in my version here, there are no names, but it certainly looks that way. As much as I love the convolutions in #13, #12 is simpler and still carries many associations and levels. Thinking of only the scenes as described, I think I find the one in #12 softer, more gentle, more inviting than the one in #13. Therefore, I will pick #12 even with its pronoun.

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ROUND FOUR

4
listening to a conch
the old fisherman
tastes a tear with his tongue

12
summer afternoon
watching minnows-
watching me

 

Many times haiku uses the tension between senses and that is what the author works with in #4. The reader, surmises from the first line that this is going to be an auditory ku. How many ku have been written about the sound in a sea shell? But I love the switch the author makes, right at the very, very end to tasting. Salty tears and fishermen are a natural but not often used in English ku. The idea of a man sticking out his tongue to catch a tear is very descriptive, very accurate, of someone who has worked so long with both hands full that he has no reflex of using a hand to wipe away a tear. In this match, the beautiful simplicity of #12 comes in second.

The winner is:

listening to a conch
the old fisherman
tastes a tear with his tongue

..................Mark Fisher

Congratulations to Mark for a touching poem! And thanks to all who participated by lending us their haiku! Good show!

Poems Copyright Individual Authors 2000.
Commentary Copyright Jane Reichhold 2000.

Let me read another Sea Shell Game .
Show me the form so I can submit my haiku to the Sea Shell Game.
Maybe I need to read up on haiku.

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