Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize Longlist

Last night was the Tauranga event introducing the longlist for the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize, worth $50,000 and part of the Ockham Book Awards. As you may remember from the inaugural announcement last year, it’s an anonymous Tauranga resident who has donated the $50,000 prize – in perpetuity – which the Acorn Foundation administers.

A recent Book Council survey found that New Zealand fiction is little read and offered some reasons why. Read the Booksellers NZ response to that report. In September The Listener quoted a 2014 figure of NZ fiction making up only 3% of total book sales in this country.

Chris Baskett, co-owner of Books A Plenty, gave us a great run-down of each book and noted that before the Acorn Award (ie, November 2015) the store sold 5.8% of NZ fiction from its total – now the figure is 11.2%. “That’s one of the great thing about awards,” she said. “They give readers a focus.”

Chris Baskett introduces ‘Tail of the Taniwha’ by Courtney Sina Meredith. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Catherine Chidgey, author of The Wish Child and a multi-winner of awards and prizes, came ‘over the hill’ from Ngaruawahia to talk about her book – which comes 13 years after her third novel, The Transformation – and to read from it.

Catherine Chidgey at last night’s event. Photo: Sandra Simpson

She said her first book, The Fishbone Church was set in New Zealand and written while living in Germany. This book is set in Germany and written while living in New Zealand. The Wish Child is set in World War 2 and told from the viewpoint of two children with a mysterious narrator – to reveal the identity of the “obscure historical figure from the 1930s” would, Catherine said, destroy the story. Anyone in the audience who had read it, nodded in agreement.

The longlist comprises:

The Wish Child by Catherine Chidgey (Victoria University Press)

A Briefcase, Two Pies and a Penthouse by Brannavan Gnanalingam (Lawrence & Gibson)

My Mother and the Hungarians by Frankie McMillan (Canterbury University Press)

Love as a Stranger by Owen Marshall (Penguin Random House)

Tail of the Taniwha by Courtney Sina Meredith (Beatnik Publishing)

Billy Bird by Emma Neale (Penguin Random House)

Deleted Scenes for Lovers by Tracey Slaughter (Victoria University Press)

The Name on the Door is Not Mine by CK Stead (Allen & Unwin)

Dad Art by Damien Wilkins (Victoria University Press)

Strip by Sue Wootton (Makaro Press).

Chris noted the number of poets represented among the authors – and it was also interesting that a number of the books are, effectively, short story collections, a genre that a leading literary figure told me in 2014 “no one wants to publish”.

Book sales were great on the night. Photo: Sandra Simpson

See the full set of Ockham categories and nominees here.

The shortlist will be announced on March 7 and the winners on May 16.

Something that Chris neglected to mention last night: Books A Plenty was the deserving subject of the winning Love Letter to Bookshops competition held in October by Booksellers NZ. Read the winning letter from Marcus Hobson of Tauranga.

Katikati Haiku Contest 2016 results

There were 360 haiku entered from 8 countries. The organisers would like to thank all those who entered for supporting the pathway project and Katikati-based King’s Seeds for sponsoring the cash prizes.

autumn moon
eclipsed for a moment
migrating geese

– Tracy Davidson, UK, First

A classic seasonal scene which offers two readings thanks to its pivot line – the autumn moon is eclipsed for a moment by migrating geese; the migrating geese are eclipsed for a moment by the autumn moon. Purists will know that in Japanese haiku tradition ‘autumn’ doesn’t need to be attached to ‘moon’ as ‘moon’ is recognised as signifier of that rich season – and an autumn moon is always a full moon or harvest moon unless otherwise specified. So this haiku has two season-setters – autumn moon and migrating geese – but I don’t find that to be burdensome as the poem is full of sound and movement (geese), calm (moonlight) and subtly asks us to ponder the mystery of the birds’ powerful urge to migrate at a certain time and uncanny ability to do so over long distances. The beauty of the moment is intact and shines as brightly as that moon!

clear sky
a refugee kisses
the café window

– Cynthia Rowe, Australia, Second

From classic to modern – a good demonstration of how haiku can be used for any topic, including Europe’s refugee turmoil. Has the word ‘café’ been chosen deliberately to place this poem in France, possibly even Calais where a notorious refugee camp was recently demolished?

There’s a good deal of mystery in this poem: Why is the refugee kissing the café window? Has s/he just got a job there, heard some good news, is doing something to reflect his/her good fortune at being accepted for settlement? Is the refugee awaiting settlement or has s/he been received into a new home country? Is s/he inside the café or outside? Whatever the answers each reader brings to this haiku – and its zany echo of Pope John Paul II kissing the ground whenever he arrived in a new country – I think we can safely say the future is looking good. The author has carefully chosen the words used – the hard ‘k’ sounds balanced by the soft sounds.

Although the lines between haiku and its cousin senryu are now often blurred or ignored, this poem is more properly a senryu as it’s concerned with the doings of humans rather than nature. Another clue is that there’s no immediately definable season, although online sajiki (list of season words) place ‘clear sky’ as autumn or winter. However, my gut instinct is that this is a spring scene, with ‘clear sky’ and ‘kisses’ combining to produce, for me anyway, an optimistic reading.

autumn garden
 my thoughts
a deeper green

– Scott Mason, US, Third

The surface dichotomy of this haiku puzzled and intrigued me at first – why would the poet’s thoughts in an autumn garden be green? Then the penny began to drop – it might be a reference to environmentally friendly practices. For instance, collecting all those beautiful leaves to make a rich mulch or just raking them over a bed that’s put to sleep for the winter,  or using pruned branches as stakes or to make a ‘bug hotel’, keeping beneficial insects snug for winter. Perhaps the poet is assessing a garden that’s fading and planning fresh plantings for the spring and summer to come. ‘my thoughts /a deeper green’ are very satisfying lines to read and say.

Best Local Haiku

pruning –                                                                    
I leave the twig
with the ladybird

– Catherine Bullock, Waihi (NZ)

Highly Commended

museum –                                                                  
in the artist’s ink stone
ancient  pines

– Andre Surridge, Hamilton (NZ)

unclipped forsythia                                                     
     all children
     can sing

– Scott Mason

hot morning:                                                              
the sister’s peaked hat
is an exercise book

– Robert Alcock, Spain

heavy traffic                                                               
the fragrance of jasmine
crosses the road

– Elaine Riddell, Hamilton (NZ)


tidal pool sea shapes glide past sea shapes              

– Cynthia Rowe

daytime moon –
the lightness
of plum blossom

– Catherine Bullock

name tapes                                                                
on boarding school clothes –
my mother cuts the thread

– Joanne Watcyn-Jones, Australia

a child                                                                        
hiding in a hayfield
cloud drift

– Elaine Riddell

flight arrival   
the slow descent and taxi
of a pelican

– Jan Dobb, Australia

garden concert
the aroma
of mozart

– Ernest J Berry, Blenheim

Judge’s report by Sandra Simpson.

Carlos Colón: In his own words

Carlos Colón (Haiku Elvis) died suddenly on October 30, aged 63.

His sister placed this note on Facebook: “R.I.P. my dearest brother Carlos Colón… He died yesterday, October 30, 2016, from a sudden heart attack. Fortunately, those present were his family and his first grandchild, a 7-day old grandson who Carlos was visiting for the first time. Performer and author, Haiku Elvis is known nationwide for his variety of poems, specifically his comical haiku poetry performed in Elvis costumes. My brother Carlos is the single most fascinating man I have ever had the privilege of knowing, and he just happens to be my brother.”

I met Carlos at Haiku North America in 2013 although we already knew one another by email a little bit. He shared a lunch table with me one day – I was so taken with his beautiful Louisiana accent and his sense of humour. He was a real gentleman – even when dressed as Haiku Elvis! He did a short talk at the festival about his path to becoming Haiku Elvis, needless to say it was hilarious.

Carlos as Haiku Elvis on board the Queen Mary at the Long Beach, California, Haiku North America in 2013. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Carlos was long-time librarian at Shreveport Memorial Library (he was born in Shreveport, Louisiana) and curated revolving exhibits of haiku by poets from around the world for the Electronic Poetry Network from 1997-2011. The library website has a small appreciation of Carlos accompanied by this haiku

fading moon
the gates to Graceland
click closed

– Haiku Elvis, aka Carlos Colón

Carlos authored at least 12 poetry chapbooks and had more than 900 poems printed in a variety of magazines including Modern Haiku and Frogpond. He was one of the poets featured in Tazuo Yamaguchi’s Haiku: Art of the Short Poem, a DVD documentary and has three haiku in Haiku in English: The First 100 Years (W.W. Norton, May 2013).

Here’s a 2009 selection of his senryu, plus a great photo of Carlos.

In 2015 I asked Carlos to contribute to the My Favourite Haiku section at Haiku NewZ, which he did – twice (see his final selection here). In a misunderstanding, Carlos first provided 10 favourite haiku that he had written (it seems he couldn’t help but make me smile). He wrote in the email:

“Oh, good grief! I just completed the assignment and realised I did it the wrong way.  Anyway, see what I sent you. Feel free to use it or discard it as you see fit.”

So here I am using it – Carlos, in his own words.


Having misinterpreted the assignment (sigh), I am offering my Top Ten favourite poems of the ones I have written.

at the hazardous
     waste site      
an eight-leaf clover

The best of my early poems, this one was reprinted more than 20 times including in The Red Moon Anthology (1997) and Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac.

Between 2002 and 2006, the Shreveport Regional Arts Council and Lamar Advertising collaborated on a project called “Highway Haiku”. These two haiku above were among the 37 poems by 16 poets that were featured.

“overtaken” has been reprinted 15 times including in Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years.

“zen concert” has been reprinted 16 times including in the DVD Haiku: The Art of the Short Poem.

my way home
the starfish   

This is my favourite poem, with “zen concert” being a close second.  It is interesting that both of them were inspired by Alexis Rotella links from the same renga (“Mardi Gras Parade”).

cassette tape
sound of the tonearm reaching
the last groove                                    

This poem speaks to my love of music and to the vinyl record collection I used to own.  Now, being a lot lazier, I listen to most of my music through iTunes and Rhapsody. I am also intrigued that the layout of the poem coincidentally resembles the end of a tonearm.

corncob smoke
the sound of a hound
in the hunter’s moon   

During my middle- and high-school years, I became a fan of Jesse Stuart, a regional writer from Kentucky.  This poem was inspired by Stuart’s novel Hie to the Hunters, in which Did Hargis, a runaway city boy, is befriended by a rural family and experiences a different way of life.  The corncob smoke comes from Arn Sparks, as she listens to the hounds hunting a fox.

strawberry blonde reading thackeray with a daiquiri

When I first began writing, I mostly wrote structured, rhymed poetry, and I still have a strong fondness for internal rhyme.  This is the hokku for “Reading Thackeray”, a rhymga” (rhyming renga) I wrote with Marlene Mountain.

in the wrong
place again
my accent

– Cärlōs Cólòñ

This poem originally appeared in the local literary magazine of The Trapped Truth Society. When John Stevenson accepted the poem for From a Kind Neighbor: Haiku Society of America Members’ Anthology 1997, he made the marvellous suggestion of changing “my accent mark” to “my accent”.

This poem first appeared in Mountain Climbing, a book of haiku and concrete poetry that I self-published in 1993 and dedicated to Marlene Mountain.  Narcissus was inspired by Marlene’s “peacock” from the second edition of The Haiku Anthology, edited by Cor van den Heuvel. For the previous 20 years, I had been experimenting with concrete poetry, especially with rhymed poetry.  Seeing Marlene’s visual (“unaloud”) haiku was the catalyst for me to try to write some myself.

six k places i at t once t this e new n

When I sent a copy of Mountain Climbing to Marlene, she asked if I would like to write linked haiku together.  This poem is part of “One Eight Hundred”, our first collaboration and is my first attempt at writing a concrete renga, although only about a third of the poem is concrete.

Publication credits

at the hazardous waste site              Point Judith Light II.2 (1993)
cassette tape                                    Frogpond XXVI.2 (2003)
corncob smoke                                 Haiku Headlines XV.7 (2002)
in the wrong place again                  Sunday at Four V.2 (1996)
Narcissus                                         Mountain Climbing (Tragg Publications, 1993)
overtaken by weeds                         Haiku Headlines X.3 (1997)
pointing my way home                     RAW NerVZ HAIKU III.1 (1996)
six places at once                            Mirrors, Winter 1995
strawberry blonde                            RAW NerVZ HAIKU VII.2 (2001)
zen concert                                      RAW NerVZ HAIKU III.1 (1996)

Paulownia – the haiku tree

The paulownia trees are flowering just now – they always catch my eye because the purple flowers seem such a long way up. We used to have one on a boundary with a neighbour but it’s not so much the flowers I remember from that tree but the sound of sparrows rattling the seed pods.

Paulownia (empress tree, foxglove tree) is named for Anna (1795-1865), the daughter of Tsar Paul 1 of Russia (1754-1801). Courted by many, including it’s said Napoleon Bonaparte, she married the future King William II of The Netherlands, who stayed with the Russian royal family for the best part of a year before she agreed to the match. In The Netherlands, she was known as Anna Paulowna, which gives us the tree’s botanical name. Read more of this story here, as well as some botanical background.

Just about past, the blossoms of a paulownia tree. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The faintly perfumed wood is traditionally used in Japan for clothes chests, particularly kimono, as it contains a natural insect and mould repellent, and is slow to burn (a big consideration when everyone lives in wood and paper houses). Read more about Japanese traditions associated with the paulownia here, including the planting of a paulownia when a daughter is born.

Underlining its treasure box status is the fact that in The British Museum is a set of four calligraphy albums featuring haiku by Basho – one album for each season and each album stored in a paulownia box.

I wasn’t able to find any haiku about paulownia blossoms – only the tree’s leaf fall in autumn which has significant, and ancient, connotations for Japanese and Chinese poets.

hitoha chiru / totsu hitoha chiru / kaze no ue

a leaf falls
Totsu! A leaf falls
on the wind

– Hattori Ransetsu (1654-1707), tr William Higginson
The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology (Courier Corporation, 2012)

The notes with the haiku say this (in part):

The term ‘one leaf’ in a Japanese haiku is code for paulownia (kiri in Japanese).The fast-growing tree’s leaves drop throughout the year and symbolise loneliness and connote the past. The large, purple flowers are deeply associated with haiku because they hold 3 prongs of 5-7-5 buds, respectively. The blooms and their bracket of leaves form the crest of the Empress of Japan. Totsu is an exclamation uttered by a student of Zen Buddhism when enlightenment is achieved – it is also said to be the sound a paulownia leaf makes as it hits the ground upon falling.

Sourced from the Old Pond Comics website.

naku semi mo tsurete fuwari to hito ha kana

with a singing cicada
one leaf falls

– Issa, from Haiku of Kobayashi Issa website.

David Lanoue’s notes say: The phrase, “one leaf” (hito ha), specifically denotes a paulownia leaf in the shorthand of haiku. Shinji Ogawa notes that naku semi mo tsurete means “together with the singing cicada”. The falling leaf has a passenger!

The footnote to another poem amplifies the power of ‘one leaf’: Shinji Ogawa comments: “In a Chinese book, Enanji (in Japanese pronunciation) published in the early third century, it is written that when a paulownia leaf falls, the world’s autumn is known. The ‘world’s autumn’ implies the changing of the dynasty. Since paulownia leaves are the crest of the Tyotomi family that ruled Japan in the sixteenth century and was ruined by the Tokugawa, the word hito ha (“one paulownia leaf”) implies a sort of sadness.”

The symbol of the Japanese empress – three paulownia leaves – is seen on a roof tile in the Imperial Palace, Kyoto. (The tadpole-type symbols on the other tiles are apparently water drops that act as a ‘charm’ against fire.) Photo: Sandra Simpson

making sure we know 
that autumn is here, a leaf
from the empress tree

– Den Sutejo (1633-98) tr Makoto Ueda
Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women (Columbia University Press, 2012)

Presence & NOON

Presence 56 arrived in the letterbox yesterday containing 4 of my haiku, including

poolside zinnias –
the hummingbirds

– Sandra Simpson, Presence 56

This haiku was written during our visit to the US in June and July. We were kindly hosted by an illustrious haiku writer who had a swimming pool with zinnias planted nearby. The hummingbirds love the zinnias, we were told, but we must have been too noisy or too many or too something because they barely made an appearance while we were there.

Presence is a great publication that has been steady as she goes, despite the untimely death of editor Martin Lucas in 2014. There are, however, some changes afoot. Alison Williams is taking the role of tanka editor, the first time they’ve had a separate editor for that section; the submission window has been reduced to 6 weeks (from 2 months); and new maximum submission limits set (10 haiku or tanka, down from 12). You can also read details of the Martin Lucas Haiku Award (closes December 31) at the website.

This latest issue features Hamilton (NZ) poet Andre Surridge in the Focus section.

suddenly colder a spider comes in with the evening paper

– Andre Surridge, Presence 56

NOON 12 has also appeared, this is an online publication put out by Philip Rowland from Japan who from 2004-09 produced hand-sewn limited edition issues. Online issues begin at NOON 8 and can be seen at the website. I have 2 haiku in the latest issue.

the last sister
escorted to the front pew –
dandelion lawn

– Sandra Simpson, NOON 12

NOON is sub-titled “journal of the short poem” so doesn’t restrict itself to haiku or haiku as you might recognise it. Always an interesting read.

                      some of the darkness
is us

– Rick Tarquinio, NOON 12

The Mamba arrives

Had a nice surprise yesterday morning when the latest issue (number 2) of The Mamba arrived in my inbox. I’d submitted to the pdf journal put out by the Africa Haiku Network from Ghana, had my submission acknowledged and never heard any more – and found three of my haiku had been included. Yay!

To go on the mailing list to see future issues, email the editors (Adjei Agyei-Baah and Emmanuel Jessie Kalusian). They kindly allow submissions from poets living outside Africa, but do ask that haiku reflect an African experience in some way. Find submission details here.

“We must quickly add that the first issue indeed had not only been an inspiration to haijins at home alone, but abroad as well, compelling writers from USA, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, Ireland etc. to share their experiences through haiku in this 2nd issue, when they came to Africa as visitors, tourists, teachers, aid workers and researchers. We need put it on record necessarily that, this has outrightly enriched this particular issue in hearing African experiences told from the other sides of the globe,” the editors say as part of their introduction to this issue.

It was a nice exercise to cast my mind back in an effort to try and write something relevant from visits to Kenya (1982) and Gambia (1985). Haiku Husband also spent 6 weeks working in rural areas in a Nigerian province in 1981 but as yet I haven’t tapped into his stories.

undulating through elephant grass the day’s first water jars

– Sandra Simpson, The Mamba 2

As well as doing a safari tour of Kenya – in the back of an old Bedford truck and led by an Australian – and going up the coast to stay in Malindi and Lamu, we also hired a (small) car and made a day trip to Kericho, the tea-growing area. The haiku above came from that, sometimes hair-raising, experience driving amid massive tankers and trucks. They say that it rains in Kericho every day at 3pm. It did for us, fortunately we were sitting on a verandah having a cup of tea!

It’s always interesting how some memories stay fresh and vivid, no matter how many years have passed, while others fade, crumble and disappear. I think Kenya has stayed with me so strongly because it made such an impact after just over a year of living in London. It wasn’t until I arrived in Kenya that I realised what I had been missing about New Zealand – big skies and long horizons. Somehow, I felt very comfortable there even while my senses were being overwhelmed by everything that was different. It seems Africa does that to people.

jacaranda season —
the young hawker carries
his oversize shoes

– Sandra Simpson, The Mamba 2

Read more about jacarandas here. (In Nairobi we stayed at the Jacaranda Hotel – the street trees were all jacarandas.)

One of the nicest things about The Mamba is meeting poets who are writing interesting and assured haiku. If you’d like to see The Mamba, email me and I’ll forward the pdf on.

weaver birds …
the bombed market
echoes back to life

– Chibuihe-Light Obi, Nigeria

dry land
the dung reaper
picks the span of the barn

– Ayisi Gordon Gullanyi, Ghana


an old novel —
the skeleton of an ant
stuck on a page

– Patrick Wafula Wanyama, Kenya

Errors made

I’m repeating a posting I’ve made this morning at Haiku NewZ, because I think it’s an important issue.

The Apokalipsa Haiku Contest (Slovenia) has disqualified one of the three haiku that judges had selected as First equal. After the awards had been made on September 24, it was discovered that the haiku by Ernest J Berry of New Zealand was a very slightly modified version of one of his which had won the James W Hackett contest (run by the British Haiku Society) in 2008 and been published in white lies, the Red Moon anthology of 2009.

family bible
a wisp of baby hair
in genesis

– First equal Apokalipsa contest 2016; disqualified

family bible
a wisp of baby hair
in Revelation

– First place, James W Hackett Award 2008, published white lies, 2009

The judges say (in translation): “The commission unanimously believes that it is the same haiku, although [there is a] word change … in the third line, so unfortunately it cannot be taken into account. The other two first prizes remain unchanged.”

The two poets who share First prize are Marinko Kovačević of Croatia and Dimitrij Škrk of Slovenia. Ernie also had 4 Commended haiku.

I’ll also note another similar, recent example I’ve come across.

spring sunset
the breath of a fawn
ripples the pond

– Ramesh Anand, First place, European Haiku Society Contest 2016 (announced in April and for which he won €700)

spring dawn
the breath of a fawn
ripples the pond

– Ramesh Anand, Paper Wasp 22.2, 2016 (submissions closed at the end of May)

As it was the final issue of Paper Wasp, the editors were disappointed but not inclined to follow up.

I draw no conclusions about the motivations (if any) of these poets but note this isn’t the first time Ernie has been caught out like this.

Such examples should be a warning to us all to keep meticulous records of published and unpublished work – and to be very clear on what constitutes acceptable writing practice. Read my thoughts in the essay Cleaning up our Act and Michael Dylan Welch’s response to that, Plagiarism and Deja-ku.

Postscript: It never rains but it pours …

Word has just reached me that The Living Haiku Anthology Contest which announced its prizes this week has “vacated” first place after discovering the haiku had already been published! All other prizes will stand.

starry night
I carve the constellations
on his skin

– Diksha Sharma, First place, Living Haiku Anthology contest 2016, disqualified

Published as a single-line haiku in Asahi Haikuist Network, September 2, 2016.

starry night —
I trace the constellations
on his skin

– Diksha Sharma, published cattails haiku journal, May 2016

Second postscript: Another reader has pointed me to this:

starry night —
I carve the constellations
on his skin

– Diksha Sharma, published Sharpening the Green Pencil e-anthology (Romanian Kukai Group), April 2016

So this haiku was published a whopping three times before the author entered it in the Living Haiku Anthology contest! It seems obvious, but maybe the point needs to be made that contest entry rules should be read carefully. Most of them say “unpublished and not under consideration elsewhere” …