Winner and Runners-up of the Society of Classical Poets 2021 Haiku Competition

Judged by Margaret Coats (see her remarks below)

See all entrants here.




Fog enshrouds the night
Woven in the heavy mist
A thread of fireflies

—Joe Tessitore



RUNNERS-UP in seasonal order


Spring in the hedgerows
Magpies busy canceling
Fresh twitter accounts

—Sean Hickey


How short is freedom
gained by the cherry blossom
released from the branch

—Germain Droogenbroodt


wearily she waves
the white flag of surrender
cobwebbed butterfly

—Tracy Davidson


Wisteria bloom
Along a sidewalk café
Coffee in the air

—Ravi Kivan


Boughs froth with new blooms
when the monsoon rain sweeps through
trees toss their bouquets

—Rachel Nel


Bear cubs watching men
Walking through a sylvan glen
The forest shudders

—Roy E. Peterson


Hundreds of faces
Turning to sun and to seed

—Lisa White


The young boy splashes
in the backyard swimming pool
facing subs and sharks

—Bruce Dale Wise


watermelon patch
I let the weathered scarecrow
try on my straw hat

—Darrell Lindsey


Issa, tonight you
hold the honored place at my
table, hungry fly

—Mark Philip Stone


Looming laden clouds
Blanket Bombay’s bustling streets
And storms paint the sky

—Stuti Sinha


A minute’s silence
for the atomic bomb day
The wind also dies


—Toshiji Kawagoe


Falling August stars
The sky is full of beauty
So many wishes



end of the summer—
the calm surface of a lake
absorbs the twilight

—Marek Kozubek


Curious concert—
crickets croon to a cornfield
of indifferent ears

—Martin Elster


As winter draws near
Fabulous floral worlds bloom
The solace of books

—Mia P Solomonides


one lone(ly) mallard
ignored by his own echo
quacks again, hoping

—James Ripley


black skyscrapers scratch
at something beyond the gray
as white flakes drift down

—Spencer Green


taste of morning tea
the delicate ray of sun
through an icicle

—Daniela Misso


Dark branches stripped bare
cold and sad, quite unaware
stirrings down below

—Linette Eloff



Comments from Judge Margaret Coats

Congratulations to the winner and runners-up for their fine haiku! There were very many good haiku among the poems submitted by 339 contestants this year (up from 246 last year). Thank you all for your skillful contributions to this display of poems.

As the competition was proceeding, there was some discussion in Comments about the requirements, especially the required seasonal reference. The excellent haiku above help show what it means to say that the seasonal reference ultimately depends on the poet’s artistry, rather than on choosing a word from a list.

Seasonal words are called “kigo” in Japanese, and there are many lists of them. If our winner, Joe Tessitore, had consulted one, he would have found “fireflies” in the summer section, and “fog” in autumn. Does this mean he cannot write a haiku describing fireflies in fog? Not at all. The poet must be true to his observations and his imagination. Even in Japan (despite kigo lists) heavy mist may arise over a lake during a summer night.

Joe says, “Fog enshrouds the night,” suggesting the dead of night, since a shroud covers a dead body. When he goes on to say, “Woven in the heavy mist,” the word “woven” emphasizes the dense, fabric-like texture of the fog. “A thread of fireflies” not only provides light in the dark natural scene, but completes the fabric metaphor with gold thread embellishing dark cloth. Joe’s haiku presents a summer night scene from nature—and suggests things beyond the scene (a beautiful textile, thoughts of light and beauty despite darkness or death).

Lisa White tells what season it is with a riddle rather than a word. What does she describe in her haiku’s first two lines? A field of sunflowers! Her final line makes excellent use of five syllables in the word “imperceptibly” to carefully specify the slow speed of the “turning to sun and to seed” mentioned in line 2.

Spencer Green also uses description rather than a seasonal word in his ingenious winter cityscape. Tracy Davidson saves the spring word “butterfly” to be the surprise answer at the very end of a puzzle personifying the creature in distress. Roy E. Peterson sets the season in “Bear Cubs” as the time when cubs who know the forest first encounter men. When is that? It takes a little thinking, even if the reader knows bear cubs are born during winter hibernation.

Sean Hickey names spring in his haiku’s first line, but he could have identified the season merely with his pun on “twitter,” referring to the cries of baby birds in spring. When he speaks of “magpies canceling fresh twitter accounts,” he describes notorious magpie aggression destroying the chicks or eggs of other bird species—but of course he mocks human cancel culture as well.

These examples of seasonal reference show that it can be an opportunity for the poet to demonstrate his or her skill. Simply naming a season, or using a recognized seasonal word, is fine. But be aware of how much a season includes. Human life takes place in the seasons of nature, and seasonal human activities or observances can be good ways of indicating a season.

Notice the poem by Toshiji Kawagoe about the minute’s silence recalling the atomic bomb blasts in Japan near the end of World War II. This takes place every year in August, and it is quite stirring to participate when traffic and talk stop on busy streets and in stores. The first two lines of the poem may look like a senryu rather than a haiku, but “the wind also dies.” The nature reference effectively deepens the thought.

There may seem to be no nature at all in Bruce Dale Wise’s poem on the boy in a backyard pool. But swimming has long been recognized as a human activity associated with summer, and the poet uses it well to open up the boy’s imaginative prospect of what he might possibly see in ocean waters.

One more haiku to mention here is Mark Philip Stone’s salute to the Japanese poet Issa. Issa comes right after Basho and Buson among the great masters of the form. He was a poor man who lived in a miserable hut. His poems address a cricket and a grasshopper as if they were human friends, and compare the poet himself to the neglected baby bird in a nest who never gets enough food. To call him a hungry fly is his very own style. Thanks for this nod to the haiku tradition!

If and when the Society of Classical Poets sponsors another haiku competition, poets will probably be asked to submit only haiku written since the last contest closed. This was not required in the 2021 competition.

Here are some suggestions for becoming a little more familiar with the Japanese haiku masters, and with some good English haiku in the 5-7-5 syllable form.

English translations by Peter Beilenson in his Peter Pauper Press books are great. Japanese Haiku was first published in 1955; it contains 220 poems in a beautiful little book with attractive artwork, and it is available online. It was followed by three more books in the same format: The Four Seasons, Cherry Blossoms, and Haiku Harvest.

One short and worthwhile kigo list is “The Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words.” Remember, though, it lists words for Japan. The best way to use it is to study the categories: the heavens, the earth, human activities, human observances, animals and plants for each season. Imagine how these categories apply to your location—and you will be able to create seasonal references that suit your poetry. There are many other lists created by haiku schools in different places. None is comprehensive or universal; additions are made whenever they are considered useful. The number of words can run to many thousands, and a reader may miss your seasonal reference if you choose an obscure one. All the more reason to be clear and clever about the season when writing traditional haiku, even if you use a kigo list to find inspiring suggestions or to check your initial thoughts.



NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets.

The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or commentary.

CODEC Stories:

43 Responses

  1. Brian Yapko

    Congratulations, Joe, for your beautiful winning haiku! Congratulations as well to all of the runner’s up, who have written some memorably lovely poetry.

    And a huge shout-out to Margaret for your very thoughtful, sensitive and judicious deliberation and decision-making.

  2. Patricia Redfern

    I am so moved by these moving haikus! Best wishes, Joe!
    To all others…you moved this poetic soul, greatly. All touched me, truly!

  3. James A. Tweedieq

    Well done, Joe, and a mighty thanks to Margaret for sorting through the web of haiku enchantment and distilling the best of the best for us to savor alongside her marvelous commentary!

  4. Toshiji Kawagoe

    Congratulations, Joe! Your haiku seems to me a metaphorical representation about our life in the COVID-19 pandemic: ‘heavy mist’ means a perpetual struggle against the pandemic and ‘a thread of fireflies’ our hope in the future.

    Many thanks to Margaret for your Herculean labors to selecting best haikus from so many candidates. I also thank you for your thoughtful comments to selected haikus and further references.

    Finally, thank you for everyone participating in this contest. This contest is quite eye-opening event to me. I am very glad to see your enthusiasm about haikus and to find many fine haikus in English.

  5. Douglas Lanzo

    Congratulations Joe on a masterfully evocative haiku weaving wonderful imagery and metaphors. Congratulations to all of the runner-ups as well – a great and diverse collection!

    • Traci Connor

      Hi Joe,

      I’m writing from a combined science center/ children’s museum in NC. We are working on an exhibit about Nature and I’d love to use your haiku on a sign. We want to try to inspire our visitors to try their hand at writing haikus at poetry as well. If that would be ok with you, how would I go about requesting permission to do that?

      Many thanks for considering the request,
      Traci Connor

  6. C.B. Anderson

    A bunch of watermelons, if you ask me. But since nobody asked, I’m sorry if I spoiled the party. My opinion does nothing to spoil the end-result of Joe’s effort, which is a pearl among a host of inedible oysters.

    • Mia

      My thoughts and prayers have been with the people of
      New York and all bereaved families.

      What is a little triumph compared to the larger scheme
      of things, even if it is one little ray of sunshine amongst
      a very bleak landscape. But if even this has to go, so be it.

      Anyway I love watermelons. Congratulations to all fellow
      watermelons !

      Congratulations Joe, an extremely worthy winner that does
      indeed outstrip the others although I thought one (not mine)
      came a close second.

    • BDW

      by “Clear Dew” Ibuse

      Cool watermelons—
      in small cubes, shall we cut them?
      or slice them in rounds?

      • Mia


        round watermelons
        tough, green skin, red, juicy flesh
        -best cut in triangles

      • BDW

        as per “Clear Dew” Ibuse—

        just using a riff on a Basho (1644-1694) haiku to comment on Mr. Anderson’s “observation”

        hatsu makuwa
        yotsu ni yawaran
        wa ni kiran

        triangular slices are nice—too

  7. Norma Okun

    Congratulations to Joe T. I thought the first time I read the haiku he wrote I thought wow that is a beautiful image. I was glad to see it be the winner. Well deserved. I thought the haikus chosen by Margaret well of great choices. Congratulations to all the winners. Great job.

  8. Stuti

    Congratulations Joe and everyone else. What a fabulous bunch of entries and special mentions

  9. Mike Bryant

    Joe, congratulations on your win. There are so many beautiful haiku, but yours is really exceptional. It’s no surprise as you so often put so much into so few words. The haiku may have been invented just for you!
    And Margaret… What a Herculean task you took on single-handedly. Susan and I had a difficult task with far fewer entrants. We are impressed with the beautiful results.
    In fact, we believe you are the perfect person for the job!

  10. Vita

    Congratulations to the winner!!! You are the best!!!
    It was my first time of taking part in such kind of contest and liked it a lot!!! Thanks to the organisators!!!

  11. Paul Freeman

    My brain went foggy;
    the grey mist dulled my neurons;
    Joe and co shone bright.

  12. Sharmon Gazaway

    Congratulations Joe Tessitore! And to all the runners-up. There were so many incredible haikus this year and Margaret Coats did a great job.

  13. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Huge CONGRATULATIONS to Joe – your haiku is simply exquisite. Thank you, Margaret, for your insightful and educative analysis. I’ve read all the entries with intrigue and have to say that I have every respect for the hard work put in by the judge – very well done, indeed.

  14. Margaret Coats

    We also require a seasonal reference, Richard. I will take time here to make the Witling Award for the best non-qualifying haiku submitted during the contest:

    What is a Haiku?
    Beautiful words . . . not many
    Alas, not these words!

    — Norma Pain

  15. Mia

    Thank you judge Margaret for your patience and hard work
    as well as all the information. You are inspiring. Can’t stop writing Haiku!

    rhythmic raindrops on
    crunchy, golden, swirling leaves,
    soft petals falling

  16. Margaret Coats

    Keep a notebook, Mia! This one illustrates good regular rhythm–an artistic feature worth noticing, even though not required in haiku. Your first line has accents on syllables one, three, and five; the second line accents syllables one, three, five, and seven. The third line changes the pattern to accent the second and fourth syllables. The change in rhythm corresponds to the progress in topic from leaves to petals. Rhythm helps show the two parts of the haiku working in contrast to one another–and this is something every haiku should show. Notice the very same kind of rhythm above in Joe Tessitore’s poem and in the one by Roy E. Peterson.

    • Mia

      Thank you so much for such a beautifully clear explanation.
      It is so helpful to know that.
      I have enjoyed reading your poems on this site; I am so impressed with your
      knowledge, skill and dedication.
      Kind regards

  17. Toshiji Kawagoe

    I enjoyed reading several comments and afterthoughts to the result of the contest. Everything seems to be concerned with a question “What is an essential element in Haiku?” Then I, a mediocre amateur haiku poet in Japan, would like to share my idea on that topic with you.

    Rhythm is, of course, also respected in Japanese haiku, but if we are asked whether it it essential or not, probably the answer is no, at least in Japan.

    The reason behind this conclusion is the fact that Japanese language metrical structure is not based on accents. Rather the 5-7-5 (haiku) or the 5-7-5-7-7 (tanka) syllabic pattern simply sounds poetic to the Japanese ears. Of course, if your haiku can successfully be rhymed or alliterated, it definitely adds value to your haiku.

    Then, to the best of my knowledge, the most important suggestion made in Japanese textbooks, TV educational programs, the judge’s comments in the contest to compose a good haiku is to use ONE AND ONLY ONE seasonal reference (a word or a phrase) in a single haiku and that seasonal reference should be a PRINCIPAL SUBJECT in the haiku.

    A seasonal reference in a haiku neither only signal a particular season, nor set up the situation behind the haiku. It is a principal subject in a haiku. A seasonal reference evokes a shared image and feeling of a particular season, landscape and event on earth. The other part of haiku decorates it, exploits and expands its hidden meaning and imagery.

    In other words, haiku poet’s task is to find a brand-new meaning and imagery in a used seasonal word.

    We Japanese remember a particular haiku by its association with a particular seasonal reference because such a haiku vividly expresses our feeling toward a particular seasonal event which was once vaguely recognized and/or change our point-of-view on the seasonal event. Even if a haiku is composed rhythmically poor fashion, when it seizes a hidden treasure in a particular seasonal reference, it will be remembered.

    Of course, I must admit that English haiku has a long tradition and its aesthetic criteria including rhythmic structure. But unfortunately, rhythm in a haiku will be almost lost when it is translated into different language, for example, in Japanese.

    But if that haiku provide a brand-new image for a particular seasonal reference, I believe it will be acclaimed, remembered and mentioned everlastingly in the haiku worldwide, as the haikus of ancient masters such as Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki etc. are.

    I thank again every participants in this contest. It was a good opportunity for me to think haiku in different point-of-view and culture. Thank you for your attention.

    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Toshiji, for taking the time to give your point of view. I consider your remarks very valuable for us who try to follow the poetic tradition of both Japanese and English haiku. Although I lived in Kyoto for several years, and observed International School haiku competitions, you tell much more than I could about how this poetic tradition is observed in Japan today. Your emphasis on a single seasonal reference as the focal subject of the poem is most interesting. This is certainly the case with many masterpieces from the great haiku poets of the past. Looking at our 21 poems above, I would say this is the procedure in about two-thirds of them. And although we writers of English haiku do not always observe this method, I believe it could teach us a great deal about haiku, and enable us to write better poems, if we wrote in this manner at least some of the time. Thank you for your perspective!

  18. Toshiji Kawagoe

    Dear Margaret,
    Thank you for sharing your experience of haiku with us. Certainly the years you stayed in Kyoto deepens your view of haiku and I agree with you that the most of 21 haikus also meet a standard of haiku in Japan. Thank you again for your effort as a judge in the contest!

    Then, I’d like to share one more information about haiku in Japan you may be interested.

    As for the role of a seasonal reference (“Kigo”) in a haiku, the following critical comment sometimes is made by the judge and participants in a haiku meeting (“kukai”) and in the contest: “That seasonal reference is replaceable. ” (“Kigo ga ugoku” in Japanese.) In other words, a seasonal word or phrase should be indispensable and inseparable in a haiku.

    This means that a part of haiku other than a seasonal reference should capture something essential in that reference. In this sense, haiku is told as a Kigo-centered poem.

    Probably, that view of haiku was proposed at first by Shiki Masaoka, a founder of modern haiku, and then was strongly advocated by his first disciple, Kyoshi Takahama. Kyoshi’s position is summarized as follows: “a haiku should be an objective sketch of nature. ” Thus, in this position, if a seasonal reference in a haiku is replaceable, that haiku fails to capture something essential contained in the present natural scenery and event. In my view, Kyoshi’s position is still dominant in Japanese haiku.

    For example, in a popular weekly TV show “Pressure Battle!” (「プレバト!!」in Japanese) in Japan, a professional haiku master, Itsuki Natsui, for ten years, critically gives comment to the haikus submitted and corrects them. Basically, her comment follows the Kyoshi’s position and she usually suggests to use a single seasonal reference in a haiku and to make it a principal subject (Kigo-centered).

    プレバト!! (in Japanese)

    You may see that a haiku juxtaposes two completely different words or phrases (“toriawase” in Japanese) to make a synergetic or defamiliarization effect. It is another approach toward haiku. Even in that case, such a juxtaposition is praised as a success when Kigo is a principal subject.

    Of course, English and other language haiku may follow different aesthetic criterion such as beautiful rhythm and rhyme and I’d like to know it. Only thing I intended to do here is to tell a conventional idea in making a haiku in Japan, which may be lost in translation, to you all. I’m pleased if my explanation is something helpful for you and invokes your further interest toward haiku.

  19. Roy E. Peterson

    Thank you, Margaret, for your recognition in my poem of the fact cubs are born in winter and associating that with the “sylvan” glen that can only be that way in spring and summer, at least in my mind. Congratulations to Joe and all the runners up.

    • Roy E. Peterson

      I should mention “the forest shudders,” because mama bear is near and ready to protect her cubs. That was the image in my mind when I wrote it.

    • Margaret Coats

      Roy, I found your haiku quite interesting in several ways. The seasonal reference is indeterminate, because cubs would not leave the hibernation den until spring at least, and men are most likely to explore the forest in summer. Therefore, I placed your haiku between spring and summer in the seasonal list. You also used rhyme to end lines one and two, with no rhyme in line three. Thus rhyme-to-non-rhyme functions as what Japanese call the “kireji” or cutting word, dividing the haiku into two parts that work in contrast or in tandem with one another. And in your poem, the rhythm is another kind of kireji. You accent the odd-numbered syllables in your first two lines, but the even-numbered syllables in the last line. When you say, “The forest shudders,” I took it quite literally to mean the trees. I didn’t think of mama bear, or even of the cubs who would at least recognize men as something strange, not native or normal in the woods. I was envisioning a sympathetic reaction in the entire natural world, akin to some marvels involving nymphs in Greek myth. Shows you wrote a well-laden haiku, with varied responses possible in different readers!

      • Roy E. Peterson

        I love your artistic analysis. I likely am the only one who envisioned a mama bear nearby and for that the forest that is watching hypothetically shudders. Your timing is accurate for nature: for the cubs, the men, and the sylvan allusion. I have learned much from you and extend my gratitude.

  20. James

    Congratulations Joe and everyone. Some wonderful poems. Although I do wish my punctuation had been left as written in the submission.

  21. Rachel Nel

    I just discovered that I am one of the runners-up and I couldn’t be more delighted and honored! Thank you so much and congratulations to Joe! A worthy winner indeed.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.