Wabi Sabi Haiku
(Winners of the Still in the Stream Haiku Contest)

haiku with commentary (this page) | haiku without commentary

1st Place
each nail
grieves in its own voice
leaving the wood

xxxxxxxxx- William Hart
This haiku by William Hart is faithful to the spirit and discipline of haiku while utilizing elements from the western poetic tradition. The poem starts with a small and specific image, a nail, and then atributes an anthropomorphic element to it, a controversial technique among haiku aficionados. The poem is saved from disqualification by the last line which completes the image and produces an aha! experience. The word 'grieves,' we realize, does not attribute a human emotion to an inanimate object, but allows us to hear the sound in a new way.

A less experienced poet might have said that the nails 'sing' as they leave the wood, but William Hart avoids such overused comparisons and employs the simple and ambiguous, yet pleasingly evocative, 'voice' to convey the auditory element of the image.

The nice almost hidden rhyme between "each", "grieves", and "leaving" creates a feeling of something being drawn out. The poem's second line in particulary becomes, in tonal register, a sob. The breath runs out in the last line and softens nicely in the lower sound of the last word. This linguistic structure satisfyingly compliments the sound of the nail which has the same quality but with a more tortured edge. The poem, then, both magnifies the moment and transmutes it from a harsh sonic image into something poetic. This meets the classic definition of a work that is sabi and executes its effect with impressively quick strokes.

The poem also trusts the reader. There are deep, almost spiritual, echoes summoned by such a piercing moment, if the reader brings her own loss to the poem. The nail is gone, there is a hole in the wood, and the reader's own sense of grief expands away from that hole, softened by the tonal values. This is, admittedly, just an image of old nails being removed from wood, but it hints at something more significant. This is the poem's success, and one of the great virtues of the form.

Rarely does one poem contain a balance of this many successful poetic elements in such a tight and efficient execution, earning it top marks in this contest.
2nd Place

benumbed by coldness,
in the empty swallow's nest
the last butterfly

xxxxxxxxx- Vasile Moldovan

This haiku by Vasile Moldovan captures the end of a season. In these few lines we understand, without being told, that the swallows have flown off somewhere warm but the butterfly has not, either because it was too late emerging from its chrysalis, or because it is not the sort of butterfly that migrates. Either way we comprehend something sad but beautiful in this fragile creature resting in an empty nest.

While this poem draws attention to the transitory beauty of the butterfly, it relies on the context of the empty nest for some of its poetic effect. This is not a butterfly nest, it is a swallow nest. And swallows as far as we know do not marvel at the beauty of their meal. I'm not sure if swallows eat butterflies, but they certianly eat lots of their cousins. Yet as this late flyer rests here in this deliberatly crafted cup of mud, we are reminded that swollen chicks recently fledged, that swallows are made up of insects, that this rounded vessel contains not just this one butterfly, but a summer's worth of bugs and other gnats. They were consummed, their suggary body casings providing the energy to construct the nest as well as the feathers, bones, and beaks of the chicks. The nest is a record of swallow hours, a season of gathering, feeding, or leaving and returning and finally a timeclock that was punched out.

There is beauty left in the empty nest, even if the butterfly was not there to draw our attention to it. The absence of a former fullness, the "shellness" of things, the after effect, what is left after life moves on, these indefinable remainders have their own beauty. Footprints, a rowboat in a boat shed, a locked car in a scrap yard, all empty. Empty nests, empty houses, empty containers, point to something missing, something gone, something used up.

This haiku reveals that every delicate butterfly is a shard of color in a larger mural, a piece in an intricate puzzle too beautiful to comprehend as a whole. Instead we must gaze on what we can, emptiness as much a part of the picture and fullness, winter as essential to the cycle as summer.
3rd Place

ringing through morning mist
church bells mingle
their different faiths

xxx- Beebe Barksdale-Bruner
Mist can bring softness to a poem, or silence, or darkness, or even a chill. This haiku by Beebe Barksdale-Bruner contrasts the soft silent mist with the loud bright tones of bells effectively dampening one sense (sight) while another sense is heightened (hearing).

This poet includes with the description of mist and mingling bells, a final observation, the different faiths represented by each bell. In this way we hear not only the bells mingling, but the messages represented by each bell. To experience the mingling of bells in a cool fog is to hear beauty. Is the mingling of faiths so beautiful? Such a deep question from such a small poem.

The depth of the poem goes further, touching on yugen, that mystery behind or beneath things. The image of bells in a mist is measured. The reader stops to listen, then continues on. The beauty of institutionalized religion is represented by the bells calling the lost to a safe shore. In counterpoint to this clear call we feel the expanse outside the steepled sanctuary, the unknown, hidden by mists and mystery. Further reflections reveal that the bell's call to join those already gathered, allows those not gathered to exercise a different fellowship. This differentiation points to the wabi way, gives permission to listen, to notice, to be a priest of solitude, scribing a course through the fading tones.
Honorable Mention

prairie wind
the pheasant's cry

xxxxxxxx- Jim Kacian

after the shower
the snout of the terrier
deeper in the grass

xxxxxxxx- Frans Terryn

ancient headstones
the names and numbers
worn to mutters

xxxxxx- William Hart

morning fog
the scratch of the street sweeper's

xxxxxx- Santiago Pacquing Jr.

first snowflakes
on the windowpane--
darkness and my face

xxxxxxx- Sasa Vazic

desert twilight
black velvet bat
gathers the dark

xxxxxxx- Mike McCulley

morn walk
from the temple
chant of the same monk

xxxxxxx- John Tiong Chunghoo
© January 2007. The commentary on this page is copyrighted by Richard R. Powell. All haiku are used by permission and the copyright remains with the authors. Contact details for these authors is located in the About the Authors Secton on the Site Map Permission to reprint these poems must be obtained from the copyright holders.