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Sea Shell Game #43
Judge Richard Watkins
August 26, 2001


FIRST LEVEL


1.
Stately monarchs stand
guarding the gate to heaven;
their arms await souls.

2.
See I cannot write
My lame words move like dead leaves
Across plains of sleep

Yes, these are  lame words indeed. In the world of traditional haiku words can not be lame--people or animals yes but not words and capitalization is not used. Check your web site references for further examples of haiku conventions. Although the subject in #1 is not suitable for haiku at least I can understand what the writer is writing about however improbable the image strikes me. #1 passes through the gates to the second level.

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3.
the crushed rose
shares it's perfume
with my foot

4.
early morning-
waist deep in tomato plants
I think of Grandpa

Although the image of a crushed rose seems a bit brutal, I am drawn by the sharing perfume with my foot which presents an interesting mystery . Where is the rose? How or why did it get crushed? by a naked foot? Grandpa in #4ís tomato patch intrigues me. Did he spend his early mornings there? On the basis of the unanswered questions raised, I choose #3 for the next round.

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5.
bird planted the tree
sitting on the rugged fence
digesting berries

6.
small even stitches
on wedding quilt for June bride
my elbows crowded

The sequence in #5 confuses me a bit. How can a tree sit on a rugged fence which is digesting berries. I like the thought of the birdís digestive efforts having planted trees. This ku has possibilities once the fences and digestion get sorted out. Haiku is concerned with natural events as birds on fences etc. Small even stitches and crowded elbows do not fall in this category. So #5 goes to the next round.

7.
haystack standing
too long in the weather
mice live there

8.
lone pine scratching sky
needles covering the ground
a dusting of snow

Some one once told me if you can eliminate a word from haiku and retain the image you have a "heavy" haiku. Haystack standing could be more effective with tighter editing. The writer of #8 has fallen into a common trap with aspiring haiku poets i.e. personalizing natural objects. More specifically pine trees can not scratch the sky. I would also suggest alternatives to the multiple gerunds; as in scratching, covering and dusting. This ku does observe one of the conventions of haiku with the shift of focus i.e. from the sky to the ground. This is a tough one to call but all things considered, I give the call to ku 7.

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9.
She swings back and forth -
Hair in eyes from the false breeze
quiet winter wheat.

10.
yuppie-street
glistening on the sidewalk
a snail's trail

#9 is not the first ku in this set to be forced into the dreaded 5-7-5 squeeze. Perhaps the rigid adherence to this convention is a result of lack of experience writing traditional haiku. Of the many conventions defining haiku, the old problem of syllables is easy to deal with. Much easier than dual focus or subtler shadings such as wabi. While Iím on the topic of conventions Iíll also mention the restrictions on capitalization and the emphasis on natural events. #10 might have some elements of haiku in its topic but the structure interferes with my understanding. On the basis of those elements Iíll pass #10 to the next level.

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 11.
Portrait reflection.
Looking ponds of painted glass,
Drawn pool eyes of mine.

12.
celadon washcloth
her intimate companion
bathroom steam rises

Perhaps I should not have mentioned the curse of the syllables. Here we have it in both poems. I really canít follow the meaning in #11. Read it again closely with me. Have I missed something or is has the writer not given sufficient time to develop the thought? What does the writer mean "looking ponds of painted glass, drawn pool eyes of mine"? Sorry I donít get it. #12 on the other hand, save for the celadon washcloth, is obvious. I always thought celadon was a type of pottery glaze for which the Orientals were famous. Intimate companion and steam rising brings to mind some very un-haiku images. Goodness whatís going on in that bathroom? Despite these misgivings I pass #12 on to the next round.

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13.
migrant workers
in a field of fragrant color
honeybees

14.
a shooting star
the splash of a frog
in the stillness

Now this is much, much better. What a pleasant relief to read these two ku. It gives one a nice feeling. Donít you like the "field of fragrant color"? The expectations of the opening line followed in the end by the delightful surprise. Well done. Splashing frogs has a long tradition in classic haiku. They seemed to be popping up all over the place. But Iím having a bit of a problem dealing with the shooting star unless this is a focus shift situation. Our attention is first drawn to the heavens then snapped back to earth by the splash in the stillness. But even then there is a connection between the celestial silence of the heavens and that surrounding the pond. All in all, I go for the honeybees.

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15.
And the oceans flow
and enter the skys pure soul
True love as they met

16.
bedful ache
beneath beauty smooth
arm can sleep

Oh dear back to mystification again and another bout of the syllable curse. Ok so letís consider #15. You see what I mean by syllable stuffing in the first line ĎAndí the oceans flow and a capital And at that. Are we thinking cosmic or personal events here? Must be cosmic what with the skys (sic) pure soul and true love. All this is a bit too esoteric for haiku. Perhaps in these cases one should remember to keep it simple. Now we have to deal with "bedful ache" "Bedful ache"! What on earth is bedful ache? Does the writer mean belly ache? One strong possibility is that this poem got scrambled in the transmission. How else can one explain "beneath beauty smooth arm can sleep". For the sake of balance Iíll pass ku 16 to the next level.

 

SECOND LEVEL

1.
Stately monarchs stand
guarding the gate to heaven;
their arms await souls.

3.
the crushed rose
shares it's perfume
with my foot

I am overwhelmed by the image of monarchs guarding the gate to heaven. My first response was to yield the benefit of doubt and assume the poet meant monarch butterflies. Well donít laugh! They could be described as stately if the poem was not meant to be a haiku. In that case we can have stately butterflies so that possibility is eliminated. So what remains appears to be a fragment of what could develop into a hymn or inspiration for a richly decorated oil painting with curly haired angels, beautiful clouds etc. Definitely not the material for haiku. So the simplicity of a crushed rose wins for the next round.

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5.
bird planted the tree
sitting on the rugged fence
digesting berries

7.
haystack standing
too long in the weather
mice live there

In both cases here we have the potential for some pleasing haiku were it not for the peculiar sequences. Both would benefit from closer editing but Iíll give #7 the pass for its more clear structure.  

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10.
yuppie-street
glistening on the sidewalk
a snail's trail

12.
celadon washcloth
her intimate companion
bathroom steam rises

I fail to see the connection between yuppie street and snailís slime on the side walk unless it is Between yuppies and slime. Do you reckon thatís it? The ku certainly establishes a mystery which traditionally should be resolved at the end but in this case I donít get it. What is meant by yuppie street? Iíll consider any suggestions. That leaves us with the worrisome steamy bathroom scene. I canít see any association with natural events in this ku and therefore pass the next level to slimy trail #10.

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13.
migrant workers
in a field of fragrant color
honeybees

16.
bedful ache
beneath beauty smooth
arm can sleep

If youíll recall my comments earlier concerning ku #16 it will not be any surprise to you that I pass #13 on to the finals.

THIRD LEVEL

3.
the crushed rose
shares it's perfume
with my foot

7.
haystack standing
too long in the weather
mice live there

I must say Iím a bit put off by the harshness of the crushed rose even though I like the idea of it sharing its perfume. Although the haystack is not without room for improvement I choose it for the next round because it is more of an observation of nature, pure and simple.

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10.
yuppie-street
glistening on the sidewalk
a snail's trail

13.
migrant workers
in a field of fragrant color
honeybees

Perhaps if more time had been given to ku 10 we would have had a better image to draw on. As it is I still havenít gotten past the yuppie street. Besides that, #13 is a very good ku and desires to advance.

 

FOURTH LEVEL

7.
haystack standing
too long in the weather
mice live there

13.
migrant workers
in a field of fragrant color
honeybees

As I said above ku 7 is about nature, pure and simple but #13 is al about nature pure and simple with one other important variable. Not only is it an interesting observation of nature but it also contains a part of the mystery of Nature in a way. What was your first response to reading #13? Migrant workers in the fields perhaps in the American southwest harvesting crops under the hot, blue sky.

Then comes a clue....fields of fragrant color......hmmmmm must be thinking of fields of flowers. Then the mystery is solved. Honeybees.

Nicely done, and the winner of this set is:

migrant workers
in a field of fragrant color
honeybees

Chris Patchel

 

Poems Copyright © Individual Authors 2001.
Commentary Copyright © Richard Watkins 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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