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Sea Shell Game #52
Judged by Richard Watkins
February 28, 2002

FIRST ROUND

1.
winter sun
on the water
ducks doze

2.
he has served his country
fighting for our freedom
a hero to all

Ku #2 certainly expresses a very noble human endeavor; the struggle to maintain liberty but this is not the place for such thoughts. Haiku typically deals with events in nature such as dozing ducks on a sun lit winter pond. Ku #1 to the next round please.

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3.
the river is ice -
whisper your mistakes
to the bare thicket

4.
Losing Family
The worst feeling in the world
Time will help the pain

And again we have a universal human experience; loss. And again this ku is contrasted with one of a more natural topic although, at the moment I am stumped by the second and third lines. Nonetheless # 3 to the next round.

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5.
morning mist -
a bucket of clams
escape the mud

6.
The wind moaning
the sound of him
dying

The connection of the moaning wind and the sound him as in a hymn adds an interesting dimension to this ku. It is a mournful image but , it centers on a human presence or experience and is not appropriate for haiku. On the other hand ku #5 and a bucket of clams escaping the mud, creates a lighter mood and yet speaks of the deeper aspect of freedom. I want to compare that one with another so it advances to the next level.

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7.
The clashing tulips
over the glaring meadow
butterfly hoovers

8.
ripples around trunks
splintered branches come undone
beneath the surface

Did you mean "hoovers" as in the name of a vacuum cleaner? or hover as in to suspend above or over an object? I think "hovers" is a better choice. Then we must deal with the harshness of "clashing" and "glaring". I presume that your clashing refers to colors and not the clashing of tulips as the wind bashes them about. If you consider the use of "glaring" then we are dealing with clashing colors and not wind-swept flowers. Can you see how distracting those words are in the transmission of your image? Ku #8 suggests a gentler scene with water rippling around fallen tree trunks. The word "ripples" is contrasted with the more forceful "splintered" created by the storm that felled the trees. Letís see how #8 holds up against another ku in the next round.

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9.
A soft cool breeze blows
Silently stony clouds swirl
Calm before the storm

10.
an arch bridge
trees tower above it
sunlight peeks through

This is certainly a set of water themes. I have several reactions to #9. First, although trivial but still distracting is the use of the capital letters. Secondly given the structure of the lines and the inclusion of unnecessary words I suspect this ku has been written by a fairly recent student of haiku. And finally stormy clouds swirling is a clichť. I think the word "stony" also needs to be reconsidered. As it stands there is no tension or mystery in the ku. Perhaps when you rewrite this you will want to reconsider the degree of the alliteration with the Ďsís. For the moment Iím passing the bridge to the next round.

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11.
Off in the distance
Trees of yellow, red, and orange
Soon to lose their leaves

12.
a scratchy beard
invades my lips
warm breath on mine

Ku #12 presents an interesting anatomical puzzle...if the beard is in your mouth...how can warm breath be on yours? the word "invades" sounds very intrusive...it is too forceful. Comparing these two ku and the subject matter of them I go for #11 and the more natural choice of topics.

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13.
wind torn
the leaf surrenders
to its fall


14.
in the corner
dangling by a thread
the spider's corpse

Ku #13 presents an image of struggle with the words "torn", "surrenders" and "fall". It suggests a valiant effort of the leaf to resist the power of the wind only to yield in surrender. How is it that leaves can surrender? Or even yield for that matter? You see where this has taken us? This ku leaves (no pun intended) too much for the reader to inject. Ku #14 however conjures up a more challenging image. For me the main obstacle is the business of the spiderís corpse. Usually would it not be another insectís corpse, a fly or moth and not a spider. What has caused the web to be damaged to the extent that the corpse is left dangling by a thread? But perhaps that is part of the mystery. You are able to create a picture of sinister mystery using only one verb and a gerund at that. Hang around for the next round please.

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15.
morning sun
sets the snow on fire
races down the ridge

16.
lonely desolate trunks
reflected in deadly water
a forest is gone

What a vivid picture of the sun as it eases over the crest to strike on a slope across the way. Am I to assume that the snow changes color from white to fiery red as the sun races down the ridge? Now the perspective bothers me. I think a more appropriate word would be "slope" instead of "ridge" but perhaps that would create too much alliteration. Try reading just the first and last lines for a moment. "Races" is not accurate is it? Both events described in these ku depict natural scenes - the one in 16 is certainly the more somber of the two. The first line repeats the fact of desolation with lonely desolate.... "Lonely" is extraneous and I am put off by "deadly" water. Would not stagnant have been just as effective without the distracting element of deadly? Iím going with the racing sun to the next round.

SECOND ROUND

1.
winter sun
on the water
ducks doze

3.
the river is ice -
whisper your mistakes
to the bare thicket

Ku#1 is the preferred ku in this pair because of its focus on a natural event. The scene in #3 is also water based but it shifts to a human element with the advice to whisper mistakes whatever that means and violates one of the basic tenets of haiku.

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5.
morning mist -
a bucket of clams
escape the mud

 

8.
ripples around trunks
splintered branches come undone
beneath the surface

In this pair again we have the element of human intervention, i.e. the bucket of clams contrasted with the image of what must have been flood damage. Ku #8 is visually well constructed with the 5-7-5 format and deals with a natural scene. Ku #8 bobs to the next round.

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10.
an arch bridge
trees tower above it
sunlight peeks through

11.
Off in the distance
Trees of yellow, red, and orange
Soon to lose their leaves

OK, first off I would eliminate the capital letters in 11. They distract from the overall image. Next Iíd have another look at the use of "off" especially when "in the distance" conveys the same meaning and avoids an extra word. Then you have the problem of the extra syllable in the second line. What about "yellow, red and orange trees"? Even then youíre left with the problem of slipping from the present tense, where haiku should be, into the future. Haiku stays in the moment with what "is" Ė never predicting the future. Have another go at this and try to recall what brought your attention to the scene in the first place. Iíll cross the bridge to the next round.

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14.
in the corner
dangling by a thread
the spider's corpse

15.
morning sun
sets the snow on fire
races down the ridge

I find the syntax of #15 awkward. To my mind the second line demands an "and" to connect it to the third but then we end up with a run on sentence. I also have a problem with the sun racing down the ridge unless weíre viewing the scene through time lapse photography. What about "flows" down the ridge to call up an image similar to a lava flow which would be consistent with the fire business. Even then we still have a run on sentence. So #14 hangs in there by a thread to the next round.

THIRD ROUND

1.
winter sun
on the water
ducks doze

 

8.
ripples around trunks
splintered branches come undone
beneath the surface

Although I like the sound of ducks doze that is not enough to support the ku when compared to #8. Also, I am bothered by the ku ending with a verb instead of a noun. As I mentioned above #8 has the immediate advantage of looking like a haiku. It also has other advantages that Iíll discuss in the next round.

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10.
an arch bridge
trees tower above it
sunlight peeks through

14.
in the corner
dangling by a thread
the spider's corpse

This pair presents quite a contrast. The open scene of a bridge with sunlight through the trees. Then there is what my imagination insists on seeing as a dark corner in a basement. Not to labor the point but the bridge scene is open whereas the corner one strikes me as sinister and mysterious. It is suspenseful in that it suggests that there is more to come. I am really bothered by the verse ending with a preposition (even sentences shouldnít do that) and especially for the choppiness of three line end stops instead of two. For that reason I choose #14 for the final level.

 

FOURTH ROUND

8.
ripples around trunks
splintered branches come undone
beneath the surface

14.
in the corner
dangling by a thread
the spider's corpse

Letís look at the line breaks in these two. Ku#8 has the break at the end of the first line before it shifts focus beneath the surface. Our attention is directed to the effect of the water on the trunks...held in suspension appropriately enough. Then look below the surface to the impact of the water on the trees. The use of the present tense also gives this ku a sense of moment. The event takes place as we watch it. Very subtle. Ku #14 places the break at the end of the second line and leaves us in suspense. Briefly we wonder whatís dangling by a thread? Then we are left with puzzle of why or how did the spider end up in the web. And finally I revert to an earlier comment about the structure of #8...classic 5-7-5. Yes I go with #8 as the winner in this set. Congratulations to Heather Hernandez. Well done.

 

Poems Copyright © Individual Authors 2002.
Commentary Copyright © Richard Watkins 2002.

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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