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SEA SHELL GAME # 59
March 22, 2008
Judge: Jane Reichhold

ROUND ONE
1.
Snowy branches wave
Bleek, grey skys weep heavy tears
The stream runs no more

 

2.
economy wine
mind off the replicating
virus in your ear

Even though what one writes about and how one says it is very important in haiku, haiku also demands writing skills. Having three words in the second line misspelled, along with the caps beginning each line and the three stops at the line ends, eliminates #1 from this round. Poem #2 goes to the next level.
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3.
Spring snowflakes falling
Wet and cold upon my tongue
Winter not yet done

 

4.
Trailing tears
along a winding road
growing flowers.

I suspect the author of poem # 3 is counting syllables. This is not a “wrong” thing to do in haiku writing but it does lead one to try to tell the reader more information than a haiku be giving. Take “spring” out of the first line and the poem is fairly good. If the poem were in my notebook, I would be looking for a better last line – one that showed, as the snowflakes do, that winter is not yet over. Kudos too to the author for not ending the poem with a preposition, but finding a better word for “over.” Poem #4 goes forward.
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5.
arid wind –
a dried blossom falls
from a pumpkin

6.
winter quilt
a sunlit patch of calico
catnaps

Poem #5 looks like a very good haiku. I am having trouble figuring out why the author is telling us this tiny story. Also I am wondering why he or she used both the words “arid” and “dried.” The blossoms wither and drop off because the nourishment goes out of the flower into the fruit, but does it need an arid wind? Here is a place where one could, by changing one or both of these words, give the haiku more meaning. Poem #6 goes forward.
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7.
sultry summer-
even the chilled beer bottle
sweating

8.
buzz of florescent
the plastic ivy
never withers
Both of these haiku are good but #8 attracts my eye because of the very short two last lines. I feel they could be one line and then the author could add another, and very expert third line that really makes the haiku ring. The poem feels undone to me and there is too little for me to ponder. #7 goes to the next round.
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9.
waterfalls and fire
flies above a wooded pond
may day turn to dusk

10.
Naked ghost gums stand
   with bark skirts
       fallen at their feet
I really hate to eliminate #10 from this round because the poem makes me smile and the poem is very skillfully conceived. Some might fault the poem because it personalizes the gum trees, giving them shirts and feet, but this is necessary to make this poem work. My problem is the syntax of the poem. It reads like a sentence taken from a free verse poem. A haiku demands a special way of building the grammar underneath the images to create the tension and the proper line breaks. Poem #9 goes forward.
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11.
temple bells
a single star
dusk

12.
satin pillowcase
with your head sleeping on it
draws me closer still
Here we have two haiku with the opposite problems. One is too short and the other too long and wordy. The author of #11 gets credit for trying to be succinct and goes to the next level.
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13.
How softly passes
What can never be again –
One summer weekend

14.
crouching in the dark
silently waiting to strike
a playful kitten
It is touching when someone, who has been writing free verse, comes to haiku and wants to write a haiku without comprehending that haiku are more than the ideas and cadences of free verse being chopped up into three lines. Having the lines fit into the 5,7,5 box, no matter how touching or accurate they may be, still does not make this poem a haiku. Poem #14 goes ahead.
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15.
long-legged plover
scurries through the dewy field
my morning shadow

16.
Flotsam and jetsam
Clear running waterfall
The human race
Even though it is “wrong” for haiku writing to begin each line with a capital letter, this feels right for poem #16 because each line does stand alone as surely as if it ended with a period. As I read #16  I have a small idea that the author is comparing the river’s flotsam and jetsam with humans and that the “waterFALL” is their race. All of these are indications of negative thinking, something to avoid in haiku writing and thinking. That and the three breaks at the end of each line in #16 allows poem #15 to scurry to the next round.

ROUND TWO
2.
economy wine
mind off the replicating
virus in your ear

4.
Trailing tears
along a winding road
growing flowers.

The author of #4 uses the capital letter to begin the poem and a period to end it as if it is a sentence, but the structure of the poem is perfect haiku. What jumps out at me, is the use of the gerund (ing) in each of the lines. It would be easy to rewrite this haiku to work without them. However, the idea that it is the tears shed along the road is what causes the flowers to grow is a Western literary convention that we have outgrown. The virus lives on.
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6.
winter quilt
a sunlit patch of calico
catnaps

7.
sultry summer-
even the chilled beer bottle
sweating
Ah, the chance of matching brings use two excellent haiku and each are using the very same techniques. Each ends with a verb, not the best practice in haiku but acceptable. What is good is that both verbs end the haiku by completing the “riddle” so the reader does not feel cheated out of any information. Both of these are good and either one could go forward, but I will take #6 because it is slightly more subtle.
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9.
waterfalls and fire
flies above a wooded pond
may day turn to dusk

11.
temple bells
a single star
dusk

Poem #9 is a good example of a 5, 7, 5 haiku that (almost) works. I am confused in the third line by “may day turn.”  Does the author mean “a May day turns”? If so, then use the needed words in spite of the word count! Get out of this box you are imposing on yourself! There is good thinking in the poem (I love the enjambment of “fire” and “flies”) and you are too good to be imposing a ridiculous rule on your work. Say what you mean using the words you need. Poem #11 goes to the next round as my blood pressure returns to normal.
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14.
crouching in the dark
silently waiting to strike
a playful kitten

15.
long-legged plover
scurries through the dewy field
my morning shadow
Again we have two poems skillfully using haiku techniques. They both use the first two lines to set a scene and then in the last line, pull a surprise on the reader. If the author had not been counting syllables in poem #14, he or she could have dropped “crouching” which would have grammatically combined lines one and two and made an excellent haiku. Therefore,  #15 goes forward.

ROUND THREE
2.
economy wine
mind off the replicating
virus in your ear

6.
winter quilt
a sunlit patch of calico
catnaps
Each time I read #2 I wonder why the author uses “your” in the third line. Isn’t he or she writing about him or herself (being gender correct really messes up the grammar). Has this person heard the haiku rule that one should not write about oneself and does this toe-spin to avoid revealing who has the infected ear? I am also wondering why the author uses “economy” instead of “cheap”? AHA! counting syllables! That rule has ruined more excellent haiku than I wish to think about. That would explain the very unhaiku-like word – replicating. The word is chosen for its ability to fill space and not carry information! This is the worst thing one can do to a haiku. Poem #6 goes to the final round.
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11.
temple bells
a single star
dusk

15.
long-legged plover
scurries through the dewy field
my morning shadow
After all my ranting, along comes a properly short haiku, #11, and it fails to give the information needed in the way a haiku should. Three short lines with three stops, with no verb, no action, and no ideas. This feels like one of those poems written by haiku generator where appropriate haiku images are popped out at random. An easy win here for #15.

ROUND FOUR
6.
winter quilt
a sunlit patch of calico
catnaps

15.
long-legged plover
scurries through the dewy field
my morning shadow
When I saw these two poems matched up, I asked myself if I was really going to make the 5, 7, 5 syllable poem the winner because I really liked the skill of the way #15 is conceived. Plovers do have long legs, but the author’s reason for mentioning this feature is because it is the connecting image to him or herself. Both the plover and the shadow have long legs and are in a field. The word “scurries” has bothered me from the beginning. Is that the best verb to describe both the hiker and the bird? This verse has great poet –potential and I wish the author would rewrite it using only the words and images needed to carry the splendid idea. In this whole game #15 is the best haiku written in 5,7,5 and for that deserves runner-up.
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WINNER
Congratulations to Joellen Strandberg for an excellent haiku. I love the subtlety of “winter quilt” to express coldness and to explain the reason a cat would be sleeping inside. The idea of combining the image of the calico fabric with the kind of cat is excellent and then instead of telling the reader this combination, you use the word “catnaps” which allows the mind to rejoice in so many ideas about this simple scene. Your writing skills are superb and you have written one of the best haiku I have read in a long time. Congratulations. 
6.
winter quilt
a sunlit patch of calico
catnaps

 

Poems Copyright Individual Authors 2008.
Commentary Copyright Jane Reichhold  2008.

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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