Writer and poet Alan Summers, Guest Judge for the IAFOR Vladimir Devidé Haiku Award 2016, presents his special selection and commentary on the theme of “justice”.

I was delighted to see so many authors use the theme of justice as inspiration for their haiku. There are all kinds of justice – it has its own lexicon of both sorrow and joy, from the victims who barely survive injustices, to those who win the fight for justice. These remarkable haiku showcase various poignant approaches to the conference theme.

Wabi-sabi (侘寂) is a Japanese term that describes the acceptance of imperfection, impermanence and incompletion, manifested in the art of kintsugi (金継ぎ) in which broken pottery is repaired with golden lacquer. These haiku are likened to the golden repairs, in that they represent the acceptance, reflection and celebration of the overcoming of injustice.


1st Choice

sunny afternoon
a shadow
on the mammogram
Suraja Roychowdhury, United States

We start with an innocuous sunny day and then a shadow, and all seems well. Then the last line jolts us. The shadow is not an innocent passing phenomenon of a bright sunny day, but is instead a more ominous presence on a breast cancer x-ray.

The haiku is well crafted, building up line by line until the reveal, the twist in the narrative, perhaps encouraging us as readers to appreciate every single second of a sunny day.


2nd Choice

first snow
the red hat
of a refugee
Skaidrite Stelze, United States

Red is a potent symbol against the fresh snow. I’m reminded of Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Schindler’s List, in which a little girl wears a red coat and everyone else is in monotone. Red against the white snow at first suggests warmth, comfort and safety, which quickly turns to danger for the refugee who will endure winter on cold, unfamiliar ground. The line order of the poem builds suspense and subtle emotional undertones.


3rd Choice

after therapy the same war
Lamart Cooper, United States

This haiku is extremely well crafted and utterly haunting, pared to the bone with just five words. It touches on the war that so many suffer within their own minds, but also hints at despair of the world’s physical conflicts. Many can experience an internal war, even after therapy for treatment of trauma experienced through violence, war or injustice, but this sufferer is exhausted by the fight, both with themselves and with others.


4th Choice

hallowed ground
so many ringtones
among the stones
Earl R. Keener, United States

There is a poignant note to the first two lines, with the suggestion that all those buried in recent years are bound to their mobile devices even in death, and that those mourning are too attached in life to switch off, even on “hallowed ground”. The haiku uses end rhyme, with “ringtones” and “stones”, as well as a strong assonance. For me the “own” sound in “tone” and “stone” makes this more deeply moving. We can’t take the things we own with us into death.


5th Choice

war-torn city
all the coffin makers
working overtime
Barbara A. Taylor, Australia

With powerful brevity we are placed into war, almost as a witness, in which justice takes a back seat. The coffin makers are making a living amongst the many dead and mourning, working hard to bring some dignity to the victims. It serves as a reminder that ordinary people, businesses and lives exist in these sites of terrible injustice.


Haiku often feature the human condition in an unexpected way. A subtle “sadness” that isn’t “sad”, or an “aloneness” that isn’t “lonely”, which is so typically Japanese. This is often a keynote in haiku and draws on the universality of experience. Each haiku evoked a deeply poignant response within me, and I hope they do the same for you.

– Alan Summers

Award-winning writer for The Japan Times, founder of the literary workshop and event provider With Words and author of the forthcoming book Writing Poetry: The Haiku Way. Follow Alan on Twitter.