Judging Report – A Little Iris Haiku Contest, Croatia 2021

Judging Report – A Little Iris Haiku Contest, Croatia 2021

By Debbie Strange

Theme: Book and Reading

My thanks to Djurdja Rozic for inviting me to adjudicate this contest, and to the entrants who entrusted me with their work. Congratulations to the winners! It was an honour to read the entries for this challenge, and even if your haiku was not chosen, it does not mean it was without merit. Judging choices are subjective, so please don’t be discouraged from submitting your poems elsewhere. You just might be the next winner!

I keep the following quote in mind when I submit my own work for consideration:

“What has praise and fame to do with poetry?” —Virginia Woolf

I think we writers have an ingrained love of reading that has likely been present since our childhoods. Who cannot remember the pleasure of learning to read their first book, the delight in practicing their first letters, or the joy in penning their first poem? Literacy gives us access to all the knowledge this world has to offer, and it is a privilege not to be squandered. We all understand that words have the power to hurt or to heal, and they must be wielded with care.

Themed contests present unique opportunities for writers to venture beyond straightforward interpretations of the subject matter. Thinking outside the box is vital in order to lift one’s haiku out of the ordinary realm, into the extraordinary. The competition is fierce when all of the contestants are on the same page, so to speak!


First Place: Taylor Jo Kelly, United Kingdom

dark forest
a young girl lost
in chapter two

I was drawn to this haiku from the first reading. A cinematic natural scene is set in the first line, or so we might think. The second line seems to reinforce the idea of a young girl’s misadventure. In the final line, we are treated to a charming surprise, and a feeling of joy. How wondrous that feeling of being “lost” in a book! I commend the multiple uses of ambiguity in this poem. Is the girl reading her book in an actual forest, or is it simply the chapter’s backdrop? Pivot lines in haiku are intriguing and rather rare, and the adept use of the zoom-in technique lifted this finely crafted poem into “something other” for me.


Second Place: Alan Peat, United Kingdom

drifting snow —
burying her nose
in a new book

This haiku appeals to me because it leaves something to the reader’s imagination. The snowy scene and “burying her nose” immediately conjured the image of my dog exploring the delightful scents of winter. I enjoy the little twist in the final line, and I’m sure we can all relate to the sensory message in this poem. The use of a dash in the first line represents a pause for readers to immerse themselves in the atmosphere, whilst creating what I feel is a necessary grammatical break. The first line might also be taken as a metaphor, as haiku books often showcase one poem per page, surrounded by the “snow” of white space.


Third Place: Julie Schwerin, Wisconsin, USA


                                    a story opening to the timeless moonflower


Moonflowers are thought to symbolize dreams of love. This beautiful single-line haiku might be comparing the beginning of a romantic relationship to the “opening” and “timeless” beauty of moonflowers. On the other hand, the “story” might also be interpreted as a fantasy that invites the reader to unlock their imagination. I applaud the writer’s creativity in using a format that allows the poem to be interpreted in more than one way, depending on where one chooses to place the emphasis.


Honorable Mentions (unranked)

The following poems impressed me with their imagery, originality, nuance, and whimsy:

Gregory Piko, Canberra, Australia

pastel sunrise
the soft cover
of this book


Karin Hedetniemi, Canada    

orange sun —
we share the newspaper
in equal segments


Baisali Chatterjee Dutt, India

river poem…
how the words
flow through me


Greg Schwartz, USA

dogwood blossoms
her smile the first time
she reads a page


Agnes Eva Savich Austin, TX, USA

poems as long
as the light allows…


Alvin B. Cruz, Philippines

reading Neruda
I follow the river
rather than cross it


Alan Peat, United Kingdom

another chapter —
back on the moon
in pajamas



Debbie Strange is a Canadian short-form poet, haiga artist, and photographer whose work has been widely published internationally. Her chapbook, The Language of Loss: Haiku & Tanka Conversations, was the winner of the 2019 Sable Books International Women’s Haiku Book Contest. She is also the recipient of the 2020 Snapshot Press Book Award for her forthcoming full-length haiku collection, Random Blue Sparks. For further information, please visit her publications and awards archive at: https://debbiemstrange.blogspot.com.