Martin Lucas Haiku Award 2021 – report

First Prize

frost field
a quiet walk through
the Milky Way

Jennifer Hambrick

Second Prize

missing mum’s stories
her cat winds infinity
round my ankles

John Hawkhead

Third Prizes

the nearness of nothing
the wispy end
            of a frond

Jenny Fraser

the light ticking
of strips of birch bark
snow on the wind

John Barlow


adult children
not knowing the name
of her priest

Laurie D Morrissey

I blow the dust
from a bowl of sea glass

Sheila Butterworth

vesper bells …
a skiff slips beneath
the moon bridge

Terri L. French

after hours janitor
sweeping the hall
to a salsa rhythm

Jay Friedenberg

I thank the Presence team for inviting me to judge this year’s Martin Lucas Award. Thank you as well to everyone who participated and gave me the pleasure of reading, sifting and choosing.

What guided my choices? I like to keep in touch with the origins of haiku, the wonderful translations which set me on the haiku path. Also, I’m really drawn to work that has the ring of direct experience. I’m impressed when words seem to click into place, when they deftly gather whatever surprises and moves.

So many superb haiku were submitted for this competition. I walked around the room with them and said them aloud. All the poems in my final selection have taken me places.

The first prize winner is rare and beautiful. It has a kind of transparency which allows an easy step into an immense scene. A very cold night provides it all. The frost field glitters before us, the sky above it opens without a trace of cloud. One word – quiet –  guides us into a contemplative mood and, for this reader, the feeling is one of awe. Nine words make this happen. I want to add one further and very simple comment: I love this haiku.

The second prize winner presents an intimate setting, perhaps a kitchen or a fireside. Stories of course are a part of the fabric of our lives. When a parent is gone we really miss those stories which go back to their childhood and to our own childhood. How poignant that mum’s cat comes close, comes to be stroked, and in so doing reminds the poet of her absence. The cat unknowingly is a messenger as it winds infinity round the ankles. This is such a striking observation and the moment is deepened by it.

The tied third prize winners both have engaging images from the natural world, one we see – the wispy end of a frond – and one we hear – the light ticking of birch bark. Both are remarkably delicate. The first of these haiku brings us close to nothingness and is subtle, a little mysterious. The second moves into the wind and snow. I often think that the weather finds a really good home in haiku, certainly when the words are chosen with an exactness, as they are here.

All four commended haiku capture moments which are singular. The adult children I see gathered from afar for what is probably their parent’s funeral. I say afar and mean essentially an emotional distance, an estrangement. This is a straight, truthful poem, and sad. Vesper bells sounding at the time a skiff moves on the water gives a restful feeling and appeals to the senses, which is why I want to commend this haiku. It’s an evocation. Sea glass in a bowl, dusty, is given new life just when it’s needed. Smooth glass picked from a beach has waited for this particular time. The first word – instead – is an original and suggestive touch. It retains a reticence, leaving the reader to explore possibilities. Finally, the sweeping janitor is depicted in the hall and is obviously transported somewhere else. The salsa inspires that leap in the imagination. Surely our poet has a tender heart.

                                                                                       Colin Oliver