NZPS International Haiku Contest 2017

Judge’s report

The standard among the 401 entries was high and so the poets who have been given placings, highly commended and commended have every right to feel pleased with themselves. The competition was stiff. Walk around for a few days with your chest puffed out and a little smile plastered to your face, you’ve earned my admiration with your first-class work.

The poets who haven’t had work placed shouldn’t lose heart. I hope reading the commentary on the five winners will provide some tips for future success. Particularly important is the ‘show, don’t tell’ essence of haiku. Each of the top five haiku can be read literally, but each can also be mined for other meanings and so reward several re-readings.

Haiku have the ability to speak across national borders, across language, across oceans and across time – and all of these haiku do exactly that.

Sandra Simpson

sowing mustard seed …
the brush of a bumblebee
against my skin

– Margaret Beverland, Katikati, First & Jeanette Stace Memorial Award

This arresting haiku well deserves its First placing and Jeanette Stace Memorial Award. The poet has subtly indicated a season – it’s up to the reader to decide which it is (mustard as a green manure crop is sown late autumn/early winter; or if being grown to harvest, mid-spring). Here in Tauranga, bumblebees are active throughout the year so that’s not so much of a help for me, but it may lead others to pick spring. In any event, there is a broadcast of seed followed by an ellipses, a lovely visual representation of that seed fallen on the earth. Unlike honeybees, bumblebee bodies are covered in thick, fuzzy hair, allowing them to work longer than honeybees (earlier and later in the day and in colder, wetter weather) and collect pollen all over their bodies, thanks to the electrostatic charge they build up as they work. ‘Bumbling’ from flower to flower, it isn’t surprising they bump into things, including humans – and what a sensation when one brushes past bare skin!

A beautifully observed haiku that lets us stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the poet in his/her garden but which also hints at how all living things on this wondrous planet are connected. Without pollination we humans would have a pretty difficult time. Our self-destructive behaviour – pollution, wars, overpopulation, etc – must seem like the worst sort of foolishness to a bumblebee. The natural world will always be here. I wonder how much longer we’ve got?

night driving
in the rain in the bush
in myself

– Katherine Raine, Milton, Second

The poet has this just right. A road (or track) at night, the world outside shrunk by the rain hitting the windscreen and what little the headlights illuminate of the bush closing off sight to the sides. The windscreen wipers, white lines and dashboard lights are all there is. No wonder the lonely driver has retreated even further within his/her ‘tin box’ and gone inside the self.

We can use our marvellous brains to problem solve but, equally, we can use them to beat ourselves up and fall into dark despair. Are the driver’s thoughts useful or is s/he mulling old hurts and past injustices? Is this someone contented with the moment, happy to be surprised by what’s around the corner or someone longing for company and fearful of what lies ahead? The darkness, the rain, the wall of trees, the introspection and the lack of punctuation suggest to me the latter and lend this a haiku a decidedly claustrophobic, if not gothic, air.

whale migration
under a dark sky
a darker sea

– Simon Hanson, Australia, Third

Whales migrate to polar areas in summer (to feed) and warmer waters in winter (to breed) with different types having different summer destinations. For instance, in the Pacific it may be the Philippines, Hawaii or Mexico; or the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. The repeated use of ‘dark’ leads me to suspect that winter is coming and the whales are off to warmer climes. How do we know whales are passing? By spotting their backs or tail fins for sure but, and this is a particularly subtle use of a sensory element, also by their sound as they shoot super-heated air out of their blowholes. Sometimes hearing this whooshing sound or spotting the spout is the only way to know whales are nearby.

The poet’s location is wide open – on the water or on land? At any rate we know that colour has gone from the sky, but again the poet is leaving the interpretation open – is it a storm brewing or night falling? An elegantly crafted haiku that ends with an echo of ‘wine-dark sea’ from Homer’s masterpiece about another epic sea-voyage.

our boots
far too loud …
wild orchid

– Jan Dobb, Australia, Fourth

Have you seen a wild orchid? Sometimes they’re hard to spot even when in flower. My companions were singularly unimpressed by a Pterostylis australis (greenhood orchid) flowering right beside a track near Mt Ruapehu (I was thrilled and down on my knees trying to photograph it!). Sometimes the only way you’ll know Earina autumnalis (ruapeka) is close by in the bush is by a waft of gorgeous perfume when it’s in flower. Most of New Zealand’s native orchids are pretty small and yes, it can feel like we’re too big, clumsy and noisy as we pass by unaware or as we lumber over for a closer look. The poet is also quietly drawing attention to how humans bestride the world, for better or worse.

A true story from the world of NZ orchid conservation: Corybas carseii , the swamp helmet orchid, is hanging on at a single wetland. In 1991 a team of scientists wallowed through the peat bog for 4 days without sighting a plant, paused for lunch … and realised they were sitting on what they were looking for!

long wait backstage –
the evil giant reads
a self-improvement book

– Catherine Bullock, Waihi, Fifth

The mark of a good senryu is not the smile it brings on the first reading, but the pleasure it still brings on the fifth or seventh or fifty-seventh reading. The poet has a light hand with the humour making this more than just a ‘punchline’ read – and while I find the last two lines amusing, they could also be read with a more serious take, given the prevalence of domestic violence in our society.

The choice of the fairytale-sounding ‘evil giant’ is genius. Evil giants sniff out Englishmen, make life hell for Greek seafarers, scare small children silly – but they also meet particularly nasty ends, often thanks to someone called Jack. This evil giant (or at least the man under the greasepaint) is not kicking up bobsidi, or even kicking over the scenery, at the long wait but putting his time towards figuring out how to change his ways for the better. Hope for us all.

Highly Commended:

plovers landing
each shadow widens
to receive its bird

Katherine Raine
death of a friend
stormwater carves new tracks
through the bush

Vanessa Proctor, Australia

breaking waters
the beginning
of the beginning

Katherine Raine

the squeal
of an empty swing …
fall equinox

Cynthia Rowe, Australia

winter sun a trail of ants to the compost bucket

Catherine Bullock

ghost suburb
our headlights catch
a broken pane

Barbara Strang, Christchurch


this wet spring –
in the alley a dish of catfood
brimming with rain

Catherine Bullock

retirement village
I avoid the old witch
in the mirror

Karen Peterson Butterworth, Waikanae

over the swede paddock evening swans return

Katherine Raine

southerly change
the thunder over the thunder
of the surf

Katherine Raine

gravel road
a small bridge over

Katherine Raine

clearing skies
every puddle ready
for its moon

Katherine Raine

night camp
something squawking
before the quake

Nola Borrell, Lower Hutt

morning frost …
sparks fly from the hands
of a knife maker

Ron C Moss, Australia
old gardener
his rake scraping autumn
to a close

Jan Dobb

april lake
just a line of blue hills
between sky and sky

Katherine Raine

abandoned swallow’s nest her last child reconsiders

Cynthia Rowe, Australia

the family never talked about …
papers past

Margaret Beverland, Katikati