SIXTH ANNUAL SENRYU CONTEST
Thank you so much to all the poets who participated in our contest this year. We received over 140 entries and our judge, Christine L. Villa, had a hard time picking the top five poems. Congratulations to the winners and many thanks for your support. Until next year, keep writing, editing, and polishing your undiscovered gems!
About Christine L. Villa:
Christine L. Villa is an award-winning tanka and haiku poet published in numerous respected online and print journals. Her collection of Japanese short-form poetry is entitled The Bluebird’s Cry. She is the founding editor of Frameless Sky and its imprint Velvet Dusk Publishing. She is also the editor of Ribbons, the journal of the Tanka Society of America. Website: www.christinevilla.com
Sixth Annual Senryu Contest (2020)
. . . into silence
- Vinay Leo R.
social media even there I wear a mask
- Susan Beth Furst
alone at the viewing lilies
- Kat Lehmann
not yet used to
- Pragya Vishnoi
of mother’s death
i set two tea cups
- Pamela A. Babusci
I chose this senryu as the winner because, in just five words, this poem encompasses the insidious consequences of fetal death. With the use of alliteration, it repeats the sibilant to create a tone of danger. If the side-effects of this misfortune are not prevented, it could lead to a chain reaction that would, perhaps, affect the lives of many.
In the first line, a fetus is declared stillborn. I hear silence just by reading the word, “stillborn.” Silence continues onto the second line as a mother is overwhelmed with shock, blame, guilt, grief, and unanswered questions regarding the cause of death. The ellipsis in the third line evokes the unexpected outcome—without a concrete explanation, deep empathy, and the support from the physician and other health workers, who are also at a loss for words, the effect becomes more detrimental to the mother. The bereaved couple “slips” into a space where “silence” becomes the best way to communicate. This overarching silence becomes unbearable and palpable when friends and family of the couple fail to realize the gravity of losing an unborn child.
I selected this monoku as the second place winner because it is not only relevant to our current Covid-19 pandemic situation, but also because it has a lot of dreaming room. Since we are living in uncertain and scary times, nobody feels safe anymore. This message is cleverly implied by the poet through the use of hyperbole. Obsessive compulsion and global paranoia have set in because of too much fear and the negative impact of the media. A lot of us are experiencing this now, but if it were to come to the point where we feel the need to literally wear a mask even when engaging on social media, then such an act would clearly serve as an indicator of our deteriorating mental well-being.
On second reading, the mask symbolizes the shield that the poet uses to protect themself from the toxicity of social media. While the positive aspects of social media are many, we cannot ignore the evils such as cyberbullying, addiction, and phishing scams among others. It is a topical poem that deserves our serious attention.
Upon first reading this poem, I pictured a funeral, a grieving person offering a bouquet of lilies to the departed loved one. Then, I saw another scene. A coffin with no family or friends beside it. Just lilies. Either scene is sad and depressing until one digs deeper into the poem.
The visual structure of this senryu signifies the very essence of life and death. The straight line shows our journey and it begins with the word “alone.” Just as Hunter S. Thompson says, “We are all alone, born alone, die alone...” But death is not seen as a dreadful moment in this monoku because it ends with the word “lilies.” Since lilies symbolize the purity and innocence that the departed soul will now return to, the reader feels a sense of peace and tranquillity. Having the word “lilies” at the end without the period also conveys the cyclical nature and the continuity of life in the form of rebirth.
Honourable Mention one:
I believe that you have to be a mother in order to fully understand the purport of this senryu. The first line, “midnight rain,” serves as a metaphor for the visceral feeling of this “not yet used to motherhood” state. It evokes the sleepless nights and struggles of caring for a baby and the postpartum depression associated with childbirth. Not having children of my own makes me wonder if there is indeed such a stage as “getting used to motherhood.” Just like the “midnight rain,” motherhood often takes you by surprise. In that sense, a mother is never truly prepared for the trials and tribulations that come her way. This poem skillfully highlights the constant challenges mothers face, just as much as life itself is unpredictable and prone to change.
Honourable Mention two:
This poignant senryu deserves recognition because it is not merely telling a story. It plumbs the depth of pain and leaves the reader with unanswered questions. Could it be that the daughter is reliving one of her many conversations over tea with her mother or is she, for the first time, sitting down and pretending to have tea with her mother, so she can finally confront her to ask for forgiveness, to share a secret, or to tell her things she never told her before? Reading this poem is both heartbreaking and comforting at the same time.