By Kate Garrett
When I was asked to judge the Pankhearst Haiku Noir competition, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I love a nice haiku. A noir haiku – or many noir haiku – had to be even better, right?
On Sunday morning I discovered dozens of tiny, gritty poems had dropped into my inbox under cover of darkness. I read them all multiple times – blind – each haiku had a number, there were no names. I floated downstream on a river full of fresh, anonymous word-bodies, line by five-or-seven syllable line. I had an idea of what I wanted from Haiku Noir, and every entry provided me with at least one tick. It was a pleasure to read them all – and that made it a tough call for the top five – but after coffee, deliberation, and more coffee, I was happy to make the final decision.
So what did I want to see in winning haiku? Well, they had to have a noir theme. Simple. They also had to be haiku. There are varying definitions of what people think a haiku is, but for the purposes of this competition it was three lines of 5-7-5 syllables. Because of this, I wanted every word to count, to add to the piece, not simply fill a rogue syllabic gap. Word-play and/or original word choices helped as well. I was also hoping some arresting images or glimpses of a strong plot in the poems would jump out and grab me by the throat. After all, someone who can tell a story in seventeen syllables – and many of the entrants did exactly that – deserves a prize.
I picked the five winners because they ticked all those boxes. Again, the overall standard of entries was high, but these five writers told me tales and left me with impressions I won’t forget. It wouldn’t surprise me if the “Cold dock water” eventually “seeps and swirls” into my nightmares, and the tongue-in-cheek-at-the-gallows twist of “I loved her. But – / her check was still good” had me smirking for hours after I read it. Imagery that turns from soft, sensual bosom to hard metal instrument of death in three lines will always be a winner, so the creator of our lady of the “cold pocket-nine” has to be rewarded for this leap. I could see the “Cold Japanese beer” as it “drips over her stilettos”, and the associations of the word “reload” for me were numerous, each as dark and intriguing as the next. Finally, the ambiguity of using “neck” and “promises” with “Easily broken” is not only clever, but phrased well, and this haiku was a fast favourite for me amongst the contenders.
Inevitably there will be gaps in a story told in the confines of a haiku, but those gaps aren’t a problem in these five pieces. I could see the characters in my mind, and the narratives, once read, expanded to action beyond what had been written. Congratulations, winners. And well done to all contributors for sending in your brilliant work. I had never read a noir-based haiku before this competition, but now that I’ve had a taste of them, I’ll be waiting for another fix.
OUR FIVE PRIZE WINNERS ARE:
Sticky sewage fog,
Cold dock water seeps and swirls,
Clings to her eyelids.
Frances is an English student at The University of Liverpool. Sketch comedy fanatic and sometime performer, old book sniffer and tea snob. Writes by compulsion, edits under duress, prays for gainful employment. Follow her @Frances_G.
She wore them heavy
Like breasts should be worn, hiding
Her cold pocket-nine.
Clayton is a photographer and graphic designer from Prescott, AZ. He is also the art director for Motso Books, an independent publisher of genre fiction.
Cold Japanese beer
drips over her stilettos.
She’s quick to reload.
Martin is a critically acclaimed writer with his own entry in Wikipedia and everything.
Chic gamine swan neck
Falls for Bourbon promises
Lucie is a new pornographer. She blogs at She Came To Stay. And will publish a novel ‘one day’.
The girl died. Bullet
meant for me. I loved her. But—
her check is still good.
Annabeth writes erotica of many flavors. Her most recent book is The Fugitive’s Sexy Brother, a tale of a low-level bounty hunter and what goes wrong when she takes her biggest job yet. It can be found at Ellora’s Cave.
Guest judge Kate is a poet and student from Ohio, now resident in Sheffield, UK. Her work has been published in Now Then, Ink, Buddhist Poetry Review and FlashFlood Journal. A sequence of five of Kate’s poems will appear in the Pankhearst YA collection, Heathers.