Katikati Haiku Contest winners for 2021

A total of 404 entries from throughout New Zealand and 32 other countries were received in the 2021 Katikati Haiku Contest to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Katikati Haiku Pathway. We were delighted to have some schoolchildren enter even though there was no special category for them this year – we wish you many years of haiku enjoyment. Our grateful thanks to Kings Seeds, a Katikati company, for sponsoring the cash prizes.

Judge’s Comments

It has been an honour to judge the 2021 Katikati Haiku Contest, which is judged blind (no names attached to poems). The overall standard was pleasingly high and made short-listing and ranking the poems a pleasurably difficult task.

A few general comments to the beginners who entered. Haiku is a rich and rewarding art form so don’t be disappointed if you haven’t succeeded this time. I would recommend that newer writers read further about haiku, ensuring you use reputable sources. Educating yourself about haiku will eliminate the errors that included putting titles on haiku, rhyming them, and using personification. Haiku NewZ, part of the NZ Poetry Society website, offers many good essays and articles about the craft of haiku.

One of the things to keep in mind as you read the winning poems below is that the very best haiku are about things, but are also, if you’re inclined to think more deeply, also about other things. These tiny poems can hold worlds. Thank you to all the writers who shared their work with me.

– Sandra Simpson, October 2021

First place

autumn rain…
the desire to become
his urn                                                                      

– Cristina Apetrei, Romania

This powerful haiku suffused with longing is a fitting winner of the 2021 Katikati Haiku Contest. My reading of it, and so the commentary that follows, is of a mother mourning her son – others may see it as a wife grief-stricken for her husband and that is equally valid. One of the marks of an exceptional haiku is that it remains ‘open’ enough for the reader to bring their own experiences and interpretations to the poem.

Initially, the first line seems simple, a scene setting only, but as we read the rest of the haiku, it’s worth circling back to line one to appreciate the heft it brings to the rest of the poem. In autumn leaves lose their ability to photosynthesise, so colour up and fall (die); it is the season of harvest (in this case of a human); the season when the verdant growth of spring and summer withers and decays. From all this, we might deduce we are mourning a man in his prime. And we can certainly read ‘rain’ as literal rain and metaphorical tears. The ellipses, meanwhile, has the effect of slowing us down as we enter the main part of the haiku, as well as graphically representing raindrops/tears.

The body that grew inside the poet’s for nine months, that relied on hers for nourishment and oxygen, is now ashes. And she fervently wishes she could protect and hold him again, as she did before he was born and many times after. It’s not possible to ‘reanimate’ a dead body and the poet has accepted this – she is not longing for her son to come back to life. Instead, her thoughts have led her to a particular desire, the sort we might find in a Greek myth that is as much curse as solution. She would turn herself into a stone womb for her child and be his protector for evermore.

Second Place

pottery class
i remember what
i am made of                                                          

– Alvin B. Cruz, The Philippines 

Abrahamic tradition (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) relates that God created Adam, the first human, from ‘the dust of the ground’. After the disobedience of Adam and Eve, who was formed from one of Adam’s ribs, God curses Adam, and all of humanity, to die and return to the earth from which he was formed.

Here our narrator – who is in the act of creation – is considering the malleable wet clay beneath his fingers, his mind apparently turning, just as his pottery wheel is spinning or as the layers of a hand-built piece of pottery grow, and making the link between the vessel he is building and the vessel of his own body. The hum of several wheels working in the studio-classroom, and the concentration required to make a plate, mug or bowl, may be adding to his meditative state.

There is an echo of ‘feet of clay’ to be enjoyed too – the pot being made, depending upon the skill of the potter, may end up with a fundamental flaw, perhaps reflecting something the potter feels about himself.

The ancient craft of pottery is a humble one, as are many hand-made vessels. The poet acknowledges his place in the web of life with the lower-case repeating ‘i’ emphasising his own humility – he is not placing himself (and his ego) above the clay he is using. The poem’s words have been chosen carefully and the repeating soft ‘m’ sounds support an overall effect of quietude.

A deeply satisfying haiku on many levels.

Third Place

rattling wind chimes
a breath of sea air
begins its journey                                                 

– Barrie Levine, USA

A lovely sensory haiku using sound and touch with ‘rattling’ a grand onomatopoeic start, and with lots of hard and soft sounds within the poem to imitate both the rattling and the gentle puff of air. The poet invites us to make this moment our own by not offering detail about the wind chimes. Are they metal or wood? In a verandah or a tree? We are allowed to hear whatever melodious sound we like before we move on to discover we’re at the beach (so the wind chimes may be home-made from beach finds).

We can intuit that it’s been a hot, still day, ‘not a breath of wind’, and now the merest hint of briny air is ruffling through the chimes and across our skin, signalling the start of a welcome sea breeze. Anyone who has visited or lived in tropical climes will know well the delicious moment when a late afternoon / evening breeze begins – in Western Australia the phenomenon even has its own name, ‘The Doctor’, for the relief it brings.

The science of a sea breeze is that it is caused by the uneven rates at which land and sea heat and cool – during the day a cool breeze flows from the ocean to the land; at night cool air flows from the land offshore. The poetry of this particular sea breeze is that we witness the moment of its birth – able to see it and hear it, thanks to the wind chimes, before it rolls out towards the ocean, gathering strength as it goes, continuing the cycle that is as old as the planet itself.

Highly Commended

blue sky 
you know the rest                                                 

– Tony Beyer, New Plymouth

when sunlight
becomes moonlight
an owl’s echo                                                         

– Brad Bennett, USA

gust of wind I am grass                                        

– Stefanie Bucifal, Germany

in my shadow
a soundless flock
of shadows                                                              

– Scott Wiggerman, USA

ravens on snow
it’s not all
black and white                                                     

– Jay Friedenberg, USA


the birthmark
that grew with me
plum blossoms                   

– Engin Gülez, Turkey

twilight . . .
a heron soars
to the first star                                                       

– Barrie Levine, USA

autumn breeze
ruffles the reeds…
almost birdsong                                                    

– Neena Singh, India

night pond
a buck hooks
the moon                                                                


tree house
the old oak remembers
Matilda by heart                                                    

– Vandana Parashar, India

sun shower passing
a hillside shimmers
into birdsong

– Marietta McGregor, Australia

skipping a chapter
now and then 
summer breeze                                                     

– Helge Harle, Sweden

Best Local Haiku

spring sun      swallows                 and

– Cathie Bullock, Waihi

This haiku delighted me from the moment I read it, with the poet ably translating the darting, skimming movements of the swallows on to paper to create a visual poem, as well as a word poem. The spring sun is welcome after a long winter – I can imagine its warmth on my face as I watch, with the narrator, these delightful birds enjoying a feast on the wing. Haiku are sometimes described as ‘wordless poems’, that is, the words fall away and we, as readers, share (experience) the moment being described. This is a fine example of a ‘wordless poem’.

Highly Commended

Almost spring
Three young sparrows sitting in a line
On a line

– Pat Watson, Katikati

The big, wide world

New Zealand moves to Alert Level 2 on May 14, which gives us more freedoms – shops and cafes can open, we can socialise in groups of up to 10, etc – but it’s still restrictive. I suppose the fear is that if we move to ‘normal’ too quickly a second wave of coronavirus will break over us and we’ll have to go back to our self-isolating bubbles, which might be hard to do once they’re fully popped.

Our political leadership has been exemplary over this period – decisive and clear – but  chaos is creeping in as we move into the lower Alert Levels. Too many people were out and about last weekend, despite Level 3 restrictions not being that different from those of Level 4. People queuing for junk food/coffee too close together, hundreds of people exercising/strolling on public footpaths. Sad and aggravating at the same time.

So not quite freedom, not yet. And now that I’m used to being at home all day and every day I’m finding it hard to get my head into the space beyond my own front gate!

Here are some haiku that celebrate the world outside that gate.

what would it hurt
to open the door

Mimi Ahern
from Windflowers (Red Moon Press, 2020)

bobbing up the riverbank
the dust of a rabbit
skipping stones

Marion Moxham
from number eight wire (Piwakawaka Press, 2019)

the night sky
away from the campfire
our small words

paul m
from Another Trip Around the Sun (Brooks Books, 2019)

lakeside geese –
my map takes off
in the wind

Martha Magenta
from Presence 63 (2019)

Since I chose this haiku of Martha’s to use, I’ve heard of her death from cancer. Hopefully, she’s flying free now too.

field of dandelions
thousands of wishes
go unused

Adelaide B Shaw
from The Wonder Code (Girasole Press, 2017)

herd of deer
my road through
their togetherness

Mary Stevens
from The Heron’s Nest 22.1 (2020)

beach innings
three driftwood stumps
and a dog at mid on

Tony Beyer
from number eight wire

morning glory –
gently the postman
opens the gate

Robert Gilliland
from Another Trip Around the Sun

prairie canola
a hitchhiker cradles the name
of a far port

LeRoy Gorman
from Presence 66 (2020)

Review of Noon: An anthology of short poems

NOON: an anthology of short poems, edited by Philip Rowland (Isobar Press, Tokyo & London, 2019) ISBN 978-4-907359-26-3.

Short poems have received quite a lot of attention (none of it undue) in New Zealand recently, with the publication of Jenny Bornholdt’s Short Poems of New Zealand (Victoria University Press, 2018) and Number Eight Wire: the fourth New Zealand haiku anthology (Piwakawaka Press, 2019), edited by Sandra Simpson and Margaret Beverland. Consequently, this international anthology is a welcome addition to the mix.

NOON: a journal of the short poem appeared in print from 2004 to 2009, then online from 2014 to 2017; with an imminent revival in 2019. The poems in the anthology are selected from the 13 issues so far by the sole editor, Philip Rowland. Because the enterprise as a whole has been an individual project for Rowland, his overview is significant. Rather than focusing on a specific genre of short poem, like haiku or tanka as in several other magazines, NOON has developed a more inclusive approach, aiming at a wider representation of the contemporary short poem. Rowland is correct in denying in his introduction that this representation is comprehensive (how can it be?) but modest in downplaying how generous and wide-ranging the scope of his concept actually is.

Equally intriguingly, Rowland’s introduction goes on to describe the physical production of the hand-bound print issues of NOON in Japan. While more technologically assembled, the anthology itself is a handsome volume. Genres of poetry encompassed include mainstream English-language haiku in one or three lines, translations of 20th-century Japanese haiku, haibun, prose poems, lyrics and satire, and the elegant vispo of Richard Kostelanetz and Philip Terry.

Terry also contributes some finely misunderstood ‘Mistranslations’, which are part of the entertainment of the selection. Experiment might also mean healthy irreverence. The austerity of Roberta Beary’s haiku

day moon –
we windowshop

is balanced by (Philip Terry again!) ‘Larkin Paraphrased’, a prose reconstruction of ‘This be the verse’ which restores some dignity to the ghastly doggerel of the original.

Elsewhere, well-known international poets such as Jeff Harrison, Carrie Etter, Bob Heman, Scott Metz and Rick Tarquinio rub shoulders with Marlene Mountain, Gary Hotham, Lee Gurga, Dietmar Tauchner and George Swede, names more usually associated with the haiku world. It’s refreshing, for example, to find Jim Kacian in an inquisitive mode with his ‘Sonnet for Philip Glass’. Mixed company throughout the anthology is stimulating for the reader and justifies Philip Rowland’s approach in general. As intended, single poems are given space to breathe but are equally part of a more collective voice.

New Zealand is well represented by some typically acute haiku from Sandra Simpson, Wes Lee’s hard-edged stanzas and, via the Tasman, the indefatigable Mark Young. There are rewarding and intelligent poems from considerable writers throughout, among them Morris Cox’s ‘Untitled Poems’, Alan Halsey’s ‘Ars Poetica’ and Bob Arnold’s surprising ‘Sidewalk’. Articulate discourse is moderated by sound in Robert Sheppard’s ‘hammerhead’. Helen Buckingham’s wry haiku complement Jane Hirshfield’s poised lines.

Quotation of too many of these poems would give their game away. If only more anthologies were as diverse and enriching as this one. Philip Rowland has identified and demonstrated a strong vein in contemporary poetry and deserves continuing attention for his commitment to it. Although Basho’s ghost (and his frog) haunts the spirit of this collection, it is excitingly open to what may come next in the always changing condition of creative imagining in words or their shapes or sounds.

– Tony Beyer

Mainstream media coverage

New Plymouth poet Tony Beyer has been interviewed by Taranaki Daily News about his involvement with number eight wire, and the piece has appeared on the Stuff website today. Read it here.

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Poems have been carefully selected to produce a meaningful flow throughout the anthology, creating a cohesive, assured collection. While many of the haiku feature the natural world, which is ever present in New Zealand, there are also many accomplished senryu. The wonderfully quirky New Zealand sense of humour surfaces often in this anthology – Vanessa Proctor, reviewing for Haiku Oz. Read the full review here.

Without doubt, the poets featured here have resourcefully adapted haiku to their own circumstances — those unique and those universal – Paul Miller, reviewing for Modern Haiku

Aside from the wonderful poetry in the book, the hard copy itself is very nicely done and has a real ‘quality’ feel to it – Sian Williams

Number Eight Wire is a splendid effort … Very thorough in coverage of the last decade and all my favourites are there – Tony Beyer