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Haiku Competition winner

Gaynor Hill is the winner of The Lit & Phil’s 2020 haiku writing competition, selected from 455 entries by judges Ellen Phethean and Kathleen Kenny. Congratulations to her, and many thanks to the judges.

About her entry the judges said “Our winning writer gives a clear image of the brown egg, its warmth is palpable, but then we get the shock of the crow’s feet, creating the sense that this moment is fleeting, a sense of danger and what happens next? A lot to pack into 3 short lines. Simple and fantastic.”

Gaynor writes about herself: I am a former Learning & Development Professional who gave up City life to become a countrywoman, artist and writer.  I live with my husband and rescue border collie in the beautiful Welsh Marches where I gain much of my inspiration.  On the day I entered the competition my husband had found a solitary pheasant's egg in the middle of our lawn.  We guessed that it had been dropped there by the Jackdaws nesting in the chimney stacks of the house next door.  That small find prompted a variety of thought and emotion which I wanted to capture in the haiku.

The haiku I submitted for the competition were the first I'd written so I am astounded and delighted in equal measure.




The pheasant’s new egg
Smooth, brown and warm from the nest
Sits at the crow’s feet.

Gaynor Hill


The judges also chose five runners up:




first autumn cool breeze 

my barber brushes up soap

into silver dish


Judges: Here we have a season, a sense of autumn coolness echoed in the cold word of silver, a singing image that shines out in the moment. Also the comparison, the writer’s about to have a shave, just like autumn shaves the land?

Goran Gatalica, born in Virovitica, Croatia in 1982, got both physics and chemistry degrees from the University of Zagreb, and proceeded directly to a PhD program after graduation. He has published poetry, haiku, and prose in literary magazines, journals, and anthologies. He lives in Zagreb.When I was child I visited with my father an old barbershop. A barber shaved my father's beard. In the opening line I compared "first cool autumn breeze" with freshness of soap which the barber used. Many inspirations for haiku poems come from my memories.


Grey heron morning.

Two spindle legs, chopstick beak

fish the spring pond’s blue.


Judges: A great visual comparison that brings the heron sharply into focus: the spindle legs, the chopstick beak, and the moment of spearing the fish, reminiscent of a Japanese print.

Fiona Ritchie Walker, who is a member of the Lit & Phil, writes poetry and short fiction. Her haiku was inspired by a heron which is often seen at a local pond. She lives in Blaydon.




pots and pans at eight

shake the roosting birds from sleep

scattered in late sun


Judges: This uses compression to great effect: pots and pans at eight. This first line is so current, such a specific moment, noisy and joyful, and leads to the ambiguity of the last line.

Nev Clay: I am a retired community mental health nurse. Though I'm better known as a local singer-songwriter, I've been writing poems for much longer than my patchy songwriting career. I get most of my inspiration from the big housing estate where I live. I'm lucky to have a beautiful view of trees from the window of my council flat. I like Buddhism. With regard to the pots and pans haiku, I just wanted to snapshot a memory of these odd times. I've enjoyed standing on the sunset-facing balcony once a week, listening to the car horns and the fireworks, the cheering and the rattling kitchenware, thinking about my friends in the NHS, and was struck by the juxtaposition of that expression of solidarity with the silhouettes of startled birds fleeing. I live in  Longbenton.




Two empty swings hang

on chains. The world holds its breath –

while the blackbird sings.


Judges: This brings a poignant precise image - two empty swings, into a wider universe. The swings, like the world, are stilled, holding their breath, and the reader stops too, hearing that blackbird sing.

Pamela Gormally lives in Alnwick, Northumberland. She started writing after retiring as a primary school headteacher in London, followed by a M.A. in Creative Writing at Newcastle University. This Haiku was inspired by her daily walk during the April lockdown, sitting on a bench under the Apple Trees’ amazing blossom in the deserted park, opposite the padlocked playground.

Judges: This brings a poignant precise image - two empty swings, into a wider universe. The swings, like the world, are stilled, holding their breath, and the reader stops too, hearing that blackbird sing.


morning paints the sky

apple blossom welcomes the bee

buzz of lawnmower 


Judges: This has a fresh, hopeful sense. We get the seasonal reference of blossom and bee, and the wonderfully mundane, but immediate noise of the lawnmower. Nature goes on, whatever else is happening in the world.

George Colkitto lives in Paisley and writes for the pleasure of words. Recent publications are two poetry collections from Diehard Press, The Year of the Loch and Waitin tae meet wie the Deil, and a pamphlet from Cinnamon Press, Brantwood, that place of Little Green Poems.


The judges also made some comments and observations on the contest as a whole:

Ellen Phethean 

The Haiku is not a short poem. It has rules, in English, of 3 lines, of 5/7/5 syllables per line, a reference to Nature or Season, it contains one event, happening now (so written in present tense). It must arouse an emotion and because it has depth of meaning, it invites re-reading, perhaps provided by a startling or visual comparison. There is no rhyming and no unnecessary words.

It isn’t an easy thing to pull off! That’s not to say the rules can’t be broken to good effect sometimes, and many of the submitted haiku worked well. However, we looked for those who’d achieved the difficult feat of the correct syllable count, a strong visual image and a clear ‘now’ moment, that resonated.

Kathleen Kenny

When Ellen and I were first asked to judge this competition the estimated number of submissions was around 50 - 60 poems. As it turned out a total 455 haiku were submitted. Considering that many of us are currently isolated in our homes perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that the opportunity to share our creativity would be grasped so enthusiastically.   

The standard of submissions was very high and reading each haiku was a pleasure. Many wonderful poems didn’t reach the final stages purely because they veered from the traditional untitled, three line composition of 5/7/5 syllables. Sticking to this form felt harsh as so many fantastic pieces fell by the wayside, but it did help enormously with the task of slimming down numbers in order to arrive at some decisions. 

Firstly, Ellen and I read every entry and then communicated our thoughts via email. Sharing our initial choices, numbering around 100 each, we then began posting back and forth to see how many crossover poems we had. We then went about eliminating those which didn’t appear on both of our lists. And so, by degrees, the final 10 haiku were arrived at. Eventually we ended up with 6 we both agreed on. The winner was a unanimous choice, a haiku we both greatly admired. 

Congratulations to the winner and well done to everyone who entered the haiku competition. It was lovely to be able to read such a range of work and to be part of the judging process. Thank you so much for all the beautiful writing that has been produced. Power to your elbows.   

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