And the Winning Haiku Are …

It was no easy task for West Virginia’s Poet Laureate Marc Harshman to pick the winners for Weelunk’s inaugural haiku contest.

And not only did Harshman choose the winners, but he offered commentary as to why he selected the winning top three haiku. He also named four honorable mentions.

The theme of the contest was the Wheeling riverfront, and haiku focused on everything from “ice cream stained cement” to Waterfront Wednesdays to childhood memories to “silent stars” to fireworks to dead bodies floating in the water.

Weelunk thanks Harshman for his diligent judging and all who submitted entries. A total of 84 haiku were entered into the contest.

Haiku winners are invited to read their poems aloud today, June 16, at the Ohio Valley Writers booth at the Arts & Culture Festival, Wheeling Heritage Port. The winning haiku are on display in the booth during festival hours, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., today.

Winners also are welcome to send a video of themselves reading their haiku to for future posting. Please put HAIKU WINNER in the subject line, and submit the video by June 22.

Here are the winners:

The first-place winner is Kathy Shapell. As her prize, she will enjoy lunch with Harshman, compliments of Weelunk. (We will be in touch to make arrangements.)

Second place went to Earl Keener, while the contest’s third-place winner is Jeremy Larance.

Four haiku received honorable mentions. Those were written by Lauren Kaniecki, Bill Baker, Julia Payne and Patty Ciripompa.

Harshman called Shapell’s haiku “thoughtful” and “the clear winner” in the contest.

Coal barges drifting

under a suspended bridge

as the blues lament.

“I have chosen this thoughtful haiku as this year’s winner because it captures so much despite the limitation of the always challenging and spare form we call the haiku. Not only does it lift up the Wheeling waterfront, but our annual blues festival, the bridge, the barges with their emblematic coal, movement in that word drifting, and the bedrock of the blues’ emotional appeal, that perfectly chosen finale lament — all of these help lift this poem up as the clear winner for this year’s competition,” he said of Shapell’s poem.

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Keener’s second-place haiku speaks of skulls and the blues and perhaps, a “darker reality,” Harshman commented.

In the place of skulls —

the addicted zoning out

to the sound of blues.

“This haiku stretched my vision not only of what a haiku can do, but of how I might re-see this place where I live, this Wheeling, this ‘place of the skull’ as some take the Lenape phrase to have meant. And not only does this poem accomplish this graceful look toward our origins but suggests by innuendo both the power of the blues, how we approach an addicted ‘zoning out’ to their sound but also suggests, perhaps, the darker reality that we are a nation struggling with addictions of all sorts and if that isn’t the blues, I don’t know what is,” said Harshman.

Harshman commented on Larance’s “clever thinking” in the haiku he submitted:

A wall with no gaps:

good rivers make good neighbors …

as if nature knew.

“This is very, very clever thinking to see our river as a wall and then let that most iconic poem, Mending Wall by Robert Frost, drape the image with another level of meaning, and then to go even further and tease us with that slightly sardonic ending, as if nature knew — Bravo!” Harshman said.

Harshman chose the following four poems as honorable mentions:

Pewter, murky depths

The water thrills yet scares me,

I must keep looking.

               — Lauren Kaniecki

Dusk by the river

Music on the evening breeze

The stars dance to it

               — Bill Baker

Heron teaches me.

Focused, attentive, patient.


             — Julia Payne

Like a ribbon thrown,

River winds in rippled light,

Untied, flowing free

          — Patty Ciripompa