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SEA SHELL GAME #37
Judged by Jane Reichhold
February 14, 2001

ROUND ONE

1
Growing orb of gold,
Curious face peeks over,
Then warms earthbound life

2
Creation in air
They vibrate with strength of mind
Forming new ideas

Why is it so hard for us Westerners to give up abstractions in poetry? Do we think it is non-poetical to simply write about things just as they are? Do we trust our minds more than our senses? Maybe the down-to-earthiness of haiku is part of its attraction for us. Anyhow, #2 shows you what haiku seeks to avoid while giving #1 the match.

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3
as frozen hands hold
an unexplored universe
in each broken clock

4
cat sleeping on couch
can opener sound next room
couch empty no cat

Again we have the intrusion of Western poetry ideals. We want our poetry to tell a story, even if we have only three short lines. It can be done, but it is not easy. And the first rule is to not repeat any of the words in the images. This moment could be turned into a 'haiku moment' by telling the story by using only haiku techniques. This author does get credit for the 5-7-5 achievement, but can you do it again without the repeats? While we wait the match goes to #3.

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5
A bouquet of kimonos
on the train to Kamakura -
soft rain

6
dawn
bindweed blooms
in the sidewalk crack

I am always suspicious of a ku that is written as if the author was in Japan or uses Japanese words or images to 'make' the haiku. True, half the battle of getting us to recognize a verse as haiku is won if you add Japanesque elements. The comparison of kimono to soft rain is completely charming and a valid haiku technique. I guess I stumble over the plural "kimonos". Japanese nouns do not signify the plural with an 's', but are like our words "fish" and "deer" which are used the same in both cases. Verse #6 wins on a technicality.

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7
A little girl
with big beautiful eyes
life is her surprise.

8
a freshly scented
bouquet of flowers arrives
from mother nature

Both of these verses have the two-part construction, so they are home safe with that feature. Yet something is wrong with them. What is it? The abstract idea that "life is her surprise" feels wrong to me. I would rather be shown what surprises her so it can surprise me also. Then I could see if it was really a surprise. There feels as if there is too much description of the child and not enough said of the world around her. The match goes to #8.

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9
Your colorful wings,
They now hold you in heaven
You are in my heart.

10
clean smell
in the ancient tea house
new tatami

The several personal pronouns of #9 are clues to why #10 will win this match. I do like the idea of the colorful wings holding someone in heaven (both abstract ideas no matter how you may think about religion) and feel the author is on to a good idea for a tanka. This verse is not a tanka but something interesting is happening here that could lead to one. But again it would help to focus on the wings and not on the person.

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11
Life is like a flower,
it grows in to a little bud,
Then blooms and begins to wilt away.

12
An oyster on the outside
is how some people feel
inside them I see a pearl.

Here we have a meeting of the philosopher's consortium. Evidently early haiku writers decided that they had had enough of this in the tanka so they banished all wisdom, philosophy, and nearly all the religious ideas from haiku. Somehow when a person realizes a world truth, the urge to share it with others, and to share it in a poem, is one reason (I think) that poetry is often not valued. I know for certain that haiku writers try to stay away these kinds of sentiments. Because #11 has avoided the use of personal pronouns it wins the match.

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13

Cemetery gate
creaks open during the night
Earth spins toward light

14
apple blossom
petals fall diagonally
with snowflakes

When I started to write this I was going to give the match to #14 because it is such a good example of the classical haiku. Everything is perfectly matched and in a cool, calm rational way excellent haiku in thought, tone, shape and form. But then I noticed that it was a complete sentence. Ku #13 goes ahead.

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15
Grape vines stand in rows
like charred venus de milos
posing with mustard

16
Your kisses fill me
Your touch stirs my soul to life
I'll always love you.

If you have had to endure all my previous griping about personal pronouns in this round you will know which verse will not win this match. Ku #15 wins, even without arms for hugging and kissing.

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ROUND TWO

1
Growing orb of gold,
Curious face peeks over,
Then warms earthbound life

3
as frozen hands hold
an unexplored universe
in each broken clock

I have the feeling that the author of #1 is trying to use the riddle technique (wherein the reader is given clues about a thing and then in the third line reveals the answer) while adding a twist to it so the reader has to figure out even the last line. The line "Curious face peeks over" would work if it did not refer to the sun but to a person. But then the final line would have to be the stroke of genius that could combine these two ideas by showing a situation where these two images come together. Ku #3 goes ahead.

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6
dawn
bindweed blooms
in the sidewalk crack

8
a freshly scented
bouquet of flowers arrives
from mother nature

The phrase "mother nature" is a perfect example of personification giving nature the attributes of a woman that is just as wrong as making God male. Fortunately haiku writers over the ages have found enough to debate without getting into this religious argument! The phrase "mother nature" is an abstract concept and simply not allowed in haiku. Ku #6 wins the match.

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10
clean smell
in the ancient tea house
new tatami

11
Life is like a flower,
it grows in to a little bud,
Then blooms and begins to wilt away.

It is possible to sneak your philosophy of life and living into haiku but you must be very subtle. You simply cannot use a phrase such as "Life is like . . .". You have to take your comparison to the next level by showing the reader what you saw instead of what you thought. In this way, haiku are more 'advanced' than tanka because they force the author to make an extra internal step away from the first idea when writing about an idea. Yet, once one has learned this little side-step of dancing around the subject, it can become second nature to the writer. This author stands at a crossroad. Will s/he go farther into haiku writing or slip over into tanka? In the meantime, the round goes to #10.

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13

Cemetery gate
creaks open during the night
Earth spins toward light

15
Grape vines stand in rows
like charred venus de milos
posing with mustard

Ku # 15 makes me smile because the description is so very accurate. I have seen that scene but never thought of the bare curving vines as little Venus de Milos statues standing out there wearing only the glory of mustard (plants which bloom yellow in the spring before the grape leaves appear). If this were my verse the first of my revisions would be to get rid of the word "like". I would be bothered by the idea of "charred venus de milo with mustard". Somehow I cannot make a reality of eating statues like hot dogs. I would omit "stand in" by saying 'rows of charred venus de milos" if I could make myself accept this rather bizarre idea. Too many things to fix here, so #13 goes ahead.

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ROUND THREE

3
as frozen hands hold
an unexplored universe
in each broken clock

6
dawn
bindweed blooms
in the sidewalk crack

As much as I like the phrase "an unexplored universe" (an abstraction!) and the connection between this and the stopped hands of a clock (a marvelous idea) this is not classical haiku material. Using a complete sentence finishes the chances of this verse winning by giving #6 the match.

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10
clean smell
in the ancient tea house
new tatami

13

Cemetery gate
creaks open during the night
Earth spins toward light

At first, I had to think a while about the line "Earth spins toward light", wondering what the author meant and then I realized this was a greater truth than our normal idea of 'the sun rises' because it doesn't. The author is right. The earth does turn itself so that the light comes and goes. I feel this idea (or my discovery of it) makes this verse very valuable. I am still pondering why the cemetery gate swings open. Is the author saying that with the coming of the light all the dead will rise? There is something happening in this verse that intrigues me but not as much as the rhyme bothers me. If this is to be a contest of haiku I will have to pick #10 to go ahead.

ROUND FOUR

6
dawn
bindweed blooms
in the sidewalk crack

10
clean smell
in the ancient tea house
new tatami

I keep trying to figure out why the author of #6 used as the flower "bindweed". The name of the flower needs some connection to the rest of the poem. I can think that a crack needs 'bindweed' to hold itself together, but then what importance does the first line have? Why must it be dawn? I do know that morning glory, bindweed's tamer cousin, opens with the morning light. The opening of the day? the opening of a flower? the opening of a crack in the sidewalk? All work together and the longer I think about the verse the better it gets for me. Yet, compared to #10 it would lose a small point for its irregular shape. With a little rewriting one could make the verse much more intriguing by making the last line the second line. Then it would work perfectly as the riddle technique. "dawn / in the sidewalk crack " (what is that?) answer: "bindweed blooms"

THE WINNER:

10
clean smell
in the ancient tea house
new tatami

Darrell Byrd

In addition to being perfectly formed, this haiku has the riddle technique is perfectly employed (what smells clean in the tea house?) answer: the new grass mats. Part of the ritual of the tea ceremony is the extreme cleanliness of the place, the participants (even down to their minds emptied of all daily affairs) and the cleansing taste of the tea. This haiku focuses on this important factor and with words and images makes it clear and clean as a cup of tea. Part of the charm of old things is the attention given to them to keep them clean and fresh with use and devotion. The Japanese find this concept so important they have a term for this condition sabi. That is why the "teahouse" had to be "ancient" and the mats new (and not the other way around!) This ku truly deserves to be a winner. Thank you, Darrell for your example.

Poems Copyright Individual Authors 2000.
Commentary Copyright Jane Reichhold 2001.

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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