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Nick Virgilio

Nick Virgilio with his trusty Remington typewriter

Nick Virgilio (born Nicholas Anthony Virgilio, June 28, 1928, Camden, New Jersey, U.S.A.; died January 3, 1989, Washington, District of Columbia, U.S.A.), radio broadcaster and haiku poet. He lived most of his life in his family’s row house in Camden. From 1963 until his death, he published more than 795 poems, almost all haiku. Two editions of his Selected Haiku appeared in 1985 and 1988. Virgilio is considered a founder of haiku written in the American idiom.

Early Days

Nick Virgilio was the eldest son of Anthony Virgilio, a violinist, and Rose Alemi Virgilio, a seamstress. His brothers were Anthony (“Tony”) and Lawrence (“Larry”). The family lived at 1092 Niagara Road, in the Fairview section of Camden. Fairview, formerly known as Yorkship Village, was a 225-acre planned community, based on the “garden city” model popular in England early in the 20th century.1 Built in 1918, Yorkship Village was meant to house the influx of workers at the nearby New York Shipbuilding yards. The architect of the village, Electus Darwin Litchfield, envisioned it as “a place of light rooms and clean yards, with adequate playgrounds and amusement fields; a place of beauty and appropriateness and cleanliness.”2 Something of this ideal of beauty and happiness, surrounded by encroaching urban decay and the sorrow of death, may be found in many of Nick Virgilio’s haiku.

Nick Virgilio graduated from Camden High School in July of 1946 and enlisted soon afterwards in the U.S. Navy. He served for two years on the USS Carpellotti, a destroyer escort and transport vessel, and on the USS Okanogan, an attack transport ship, both serving primarily in the waters off Norfolk, Virginia.3 Returning to Camden in 1948, he attended South Jersey College (now known as Rutgers University–Camden) and graduated from Temple University in 1952. He moved to Texas in the 1950s, where he engaged in a romantic relationship that ended badly. Suffering from a breakdown, Virgilio sought the help of a therapist, who advised him to take up a diversion. Virgilio showed the therapist a poem he had written and asked if he might become a poet, which the therapist encouraged him to do.4 Returning to Camden in 1958, he launched a career in radio and sports broadcasting, working with Jerry Blavat, “The Geator with the Heater,” at dances and on radio shows. He earned the nickname “Nickaphonic Nick,” and developed a wide following as a disk jockey. It was said of him that he was “always willing to jump off the stage and dance if things got too quiet.”5

A Life in Haiku

Virgilio’s career as a radio personality, however, was interrupted in 1962 when he came across a volume of haiku poetry in the stacks of the Rutgers University Library. The book was A Pepper-Pod, an anthology of translations of poems by BashōBusonIssaShiki, and several other Japanese masters of haiku. The haiku were translated by Shōson, the haigō or pen name for Kenneth Yasuda, who appended 59 of his own haiku in a section that he called Experiments in English. The book was literally an experiment to see if the Japanese form, consisting of three lines of measured sound units, could be adapted for use in English. Yasuda found that the first and third lines in Japanese haiku were the same length, and the middle line about a third longer. He devised a mathematical formula that defined haiku as “a line of from sixteen to eighteen syllables divided into three parts or lines in such a way that the first is the same length as the third, and one half of the first goes into the second three times, i.e. the three parts are in the approximate relation of 5, 7, and 5 syllables.”6 In fact, almost all of Yasuda’s translations and original poems are written in lines of 5–7–5 syllables, with the first and third lines rhyming. Whatever caught Nick Virgilio’s eye in A Pepper Pod, he became an instant convert, and soon after gave up his radio career to continue his own experiments in haiku.

Over the next 26 years, Nick Virgilio became a powerful force in the development of American haiku. Some of Virgilio’s earliest poems are widely considered to be among his best. His first published haiku appeared in American Haiku number 1 (1963), and was subsequently quoted or reprinted in at least ten haiku collections:7

Spring wind frees
    the full moon tangled
        in leafless trees.

This poem follows the Yasuda model, in which the first and third lines are rhymed, but it departs from the 5–7–5 syllable count in favor of a 2–3–2 metrical pattern, more typical of English prosody. Virgilio took even greater liberties with the haiku form in his most famous poem:

   out of the water …
       out of itself.

This verse, which won first prize in American Haiku’s 1963 haiku contest and was published in the second issue of the journal, was an immediate classic and even drew praise from the Crown Prince of Japan. It had a major impact on the writing of American haiku. The poem has only 11 syllables all told, too few for haiku at the time, but it has a metrical pattern that is consistent with the mathematical proportions of haiku as described by Yasuda. The internal punctuation marks, which are sound units in Japanese, slow the poem and give it gravity. More importantly, it paints a “word-picture” of a particular event that compares the lily’s material origins with its transcendence of them, which places it in the Yasuda tradition. The Lily poem is inscribed on Virgilio’s podium-shaped grave marker in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden.

Though Virgilio never articulated what form an “American” haiku would take, he thought carefully and wrote about his own poetic practice. In his undated essay “On Haiku in English,” Virgilio addressed some of the formal questions that generally arise in discussions of haiku. He endorsed Harold G. Henderson’s definition of haiku as “a record of a moment of emotion in which human nature is somehow linked to all nature.”8 This definition, noted Virgilio, departs from the practice of Bashō, whose haiku were strictly “nature-oriented.” Buson, however, wrote “human-oriented” haiku that could more properly be called senryu rather than haiku. “This is the best approach to haiku for a Westerner rather than Bashō’s ‘nature-oriented’ manner. To write like Bashō, one must live as he did,” wrote Virgilio, referring to Bashō’s periods of seclusion and wandering. Virgilio’s haiku may invoke nature in the form of a season word, but they are often set in an urban environment that challenges or contradicts the natural world. As Cor van den Heuvel has said, “Virgilio was like Issa—he could go directly to nature in his haiku but he also had to bring his family and community with him. He intermingled his human relationships with nature and his relationship with nature with his love for human beings.”9

Virgilio also followed Henderson’s advice on some other points that make haiku a distinctive form. Virgilio agreed with Henderson that haiku must refer to “a particular event,” one that is “happening ‘now’—not in the past”10 In Bashō’s haiku, a frog jumps into the water of an old pond, and makes a splash—that sound is enough to connect us to the universe. In a poem from the school of Buson or Shiki, however, the poet constructs an “imagined reality” with elements that may not be present in the particular event itself. The poet uses a “word-painting technique” to imaginatively compare elements that seem unalike, or that are drawn from the human as well as the natural world, or from the past as well as the present. The juxtaposition of these elements arouses an emotion in the reader based on an imaginative comparison of human and natural elements.

For examples of this “imagined reality,” Virgilio printed in his essay four of his previously unpublished poems:

a mossy willow,
   tossing in the autumn wind,
      touches a tombstone.
the misty woods:
   an uprooted hickory
      bridges the brook
little brother’s grave
   covered with dewy cobwebs—
       he loved spiders
a voodoo drum
   echoing through the jungle
      reflects the autumn moon

We see at once that each of these haiku has one or two natural elements, and also one that may be considered human, or man-made. The mossy willow and the autumn wind belong to nature, while the tombstone is a memento mori created by humans. The willow and the wind combine to “touch” the tombstone in an ambiguous gesture. Is it merely a Zen moment, as might be expected in a haiku by Bashō, or is some human emotion implied, as in a poem by Buson or Issa? Virgilio’s stated attachment to the Buson/Issa school, and his frequent use of grave markers to add a note of sorrow to a scene of nature, suggest that the gesture is meant to evoke a human emotion. The poem is not merely a “word-picture” of a particular event, but an “imagined reality” in which the willow links the autumn wind with the sorrow implied by the tombstone.

In the second poem, set in “misty woods,” an uprooted hickory has fallen across a brook. The image is “nature-oriented,” but the implied result of the falling of the hickory is the creation of a bridge—a human (or animal) means of crossing over a natural obstacle. The discovery of a bridge in a “misty woods” may not by itself evoke a powerful emotion, but it would be a welcome sign to travelers, or to souls who are wandering in some spiritual way.11

The haiku whose setting is “little brother’s grave” reveals several more characteristics of Virgilio’s verse. Here also there is a balance of human and natural elements—the grave and the dewy cobwebs—that, between them, create a space into which the observer interjects his own recollection of his brother’s fondness for spiders. The interjection seems entirely at odds with the “word-painting” of the grave and cobwebs. It recollects a fact that is not in evidence from the painting, but which resides instead in the poet’s memory. The disruption of the poem by this interjection seems violent, suggestive of the pain felt by the observer of this tranquil scene, and it helps us feel the pain too. The poem is not about a Zen-like merger of the self with a larger universe, as in Bashō, but about the loss of a piece of that universe for the self who is left alone—in this case, Virgilio’s loss of his younger brother Larry, who was killed in Vietnam.

Finally, the voodoo drum poem sets up a contrast between human elements (the drum, and voodoo) and the natural world of the jungle. The contrast is bridged (or in this case reflected) by the autumn moon, a common image in Virgilio’s haiku. In his essay, Virgilio comments that “A sense of mystery and harmony (drum-jungle-moon) pervades this poem.… A primitive ‘formal’ religion blends with, and is compared to, the ‘informal’ religion of nature.”12 The poem may be based in Virgilio’s personal experience, given his years of naval service in the Caribbean, but the emotion seems less deeply felt than in the other three.

Another early poem by Virgilio that has often been reprinted was first published in the same issue of American Haiku as the Lily poem. The poem began as two lines on a page in Virgilio’s unpublished papers:

The monk watches,
     and scratches his head

A little further down the page, the poem has grown to three lines:

Scratching his head,
     the monk watches bass pick bugs
          off the moon.

On a later page in the manuscripts, the finished draft appears:13

     picking bugs
          off the moon!

Like the Lily poem, the Bass poem strips the image down to its essentials, which it renders in just seven syllables. The second and third lines, which are perfectly rhythmical, transform the natural leap of the bass into what seems a super-natural union of fish and moon. The exclamation point, used in the first American Haiku printing of the poem and in The Haiku Handbook by William J. Higginson,14 provides a human and an emotional commentary on the extraordinary “word-painting,” perhaps referring obliquely to the bewilderment of the monk in the earlier versions.

But Virgilio wrote several other haiku that are based on the image of a leaping bass. His unpublished manuscripts include a series of six poems about “The mistaken bass.” Each one is a variation on the theme of a bass who has been fooled by starlight, or a firefly’s light, on a dark lake. One of them reads:

The mistaken bass
     leaping for a firefly
          the star in the lake.

Another, circled and marked with a star by Virgilio, expands the image:

The mistaken bass
     makes a pass at the morning
          star in the dark lake.

None of these “mistaken bass” poems, however, were published, and probably were never submitted for publication, meaning that Virgilio considered them failed haiku. Each of them conforms to the 5–7–5 syllable model, each employs a slant rhyme (bass/lake) in the first and third lines, and each creates a “word-picture” of a bass erroneously leaping at a reflection in the pond. Why then were they failed haiku? Perhaps the problem was the implication that the bass was “mistaken,” which is hardly Zen-like; perhaps it was the lack of meter or rhythm in the lines, or the subjugation of their rhythm to a syllable count; perhaps it was the failure of the final line to transcend the event with which the poem opens. In any case, the poems are still interesting for what they tell us about the leaping bass in Virgilio’s “imagined reality.” We can learn almost as much from Virgilio’s failures as we can from his successes.

Nick Virgilio’s Legacy

For the last twenty-six years of his life, Nick Virgilio roamed the streets of Fairview and the city of Camden, stopping off at Sacred Heart or at the Elgin Diner to see his friends, or crossing the Delaware on the bus to the Reading Terminal, where he bought fresh produce for people in his neighborhood. He read his latest haiku to friends, saying “What do you think of this one?” He gave readings at the Painted Bride coffee shop in Philadelphia, where he read each poem twice, explaining that “the first time you hear the words, the second time you get the meaning.”15 He also gave readings at the Walt Whitman Center for the Arts and Humanities in Camden, which he had helped to establish and where he was the poet in residence. Apart from occasional trips to New York to attend meetings of the Haiku Society of America, of which he was a founding member, he stayed close to his home in Camden, where he wrote haiku on his upright Remington in the basement, cared for his ailing mother, and visited the grave of his brother Larry, who figured largely in his “imagined reality.”

Nick Virgilio died in Washington, D.C., on January 3, 1989, while prerecording an interview about haiku with Scott Simon, who was filling in for TV host Charlie Rose on the CBS-TV program Nightwatch. Frogpond and Modern Haiku, the journals in which Virgilio most often published, both honored his life and work with special memorial pages.

Nick left behind a trove of unpublished manuscripts. Fourteen boxes of typescripts of his poems, published and unpublished, passed into the hands of his brother Tony Virgilio. With the encouragement of the newly-formed Nick Virgilio Haiku Association (NVHA), Tony established a fund for the preservation and wider appreciation of his brother’s legacy. In 1990 this group established the Nicholas A. Virgilio Memorial Haiku Competition for High School Students, which is administered and judged by the Haiku Society of America and remains the most prominent student haiku contest in North America.

Nick Virgilio
Photo by J. Kyle Keener

Nick Virgilio’s original typescripts were entrusted by Tony Virgilio to the English Department at Rutgers University–Camden, where Nick had first encountered haiku poetry, along with a fund to encourage the teaching and writing of haiku. After a series of conferences and seminars, the English Department and the Special Collections Department of Robeson Library at Rutgers University–Camden collaborated with the NVHA on a plan for the digitization of the Virgilio collection. The digitization project, directed by Special Collections librarian Julie Still, was completed in 2019. The digital collection of Nick Virgilio’s unpublished haiku, which it is hoped will provide teachers, scholars, and writers with a valuable resource for their work, may be accessed online at the Nicholas Virgilio Haiku Archive in the Rutgers University Digital Collection.

Sources / Further Reading

General works

  • Henderson, Harold G. Haiku in English. New York: Japan Society, Inc., 1965.
  • Higginson, William J., with Penny Harter. The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1985.
  • Yasuda, Kenneth (Shōson). A Pepper-Pod: Translations of Classic and Modern Japanese Poems in Haiku Form, Together with Some Original Haiku Written in English. Foreword by John Gould Fletcher. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Borzoi Books, 1947.

Virgilio’s published work and papers

  • Ankenbrand, Frank, Jr., ed. Haiku Broadsides. New Britain, Conn.: Central Connecticut State College (Robert E. Massmann), 1967. Individual broadsides each with ten haiku by Frank Ankenbrand, Jr., Bashō (translated by Harold G. Henderson), Nicholas Virgilio, Thomas J. Harkins, and Clement Hoyt.
  • de Gruttola, Raffael, ed. and intro. Nick Virgilio: A Life in Haiku. Arlington, Va.: Turtle Light Press, 2012. 148 haiku, photos, essays, and an interview.
  • Virgilio, Nicholas. Nicholas Virgilio Papers. Camden, N.J.: Special Collections Department, Rutgers University Libraries, Rutgers University–Camden, https://collections.libraries.rutgers.edu/nicholas-virgilio-papers.
  • Virgilio, Nicholas A. Selected Haiku. Windsor, Ont. / Sherbrook, Que.: Black Moss Press / Burnt Lake Press, 1985. 80 haiku.
  • Virgilio, Nicholas A. Selected Haiku. Sherbrooke, Que. / Windsor, Ont.: Burnt Lake Press / Black Moss Press, 2nd edition, augmented, 1988. 138 haiku.
  • Virgilio, Nick. “A Journey to a Haiku.” Raffael de Gruttola, ed., Nick Virgilio: A Life in Haiku (2012), 103–6. Essay.
  • Virgilio, Nick. “A Mote of the Universe: Nick Virgilio’s Last Reading.” “In Memory of Nicholas Virgilio: Out of the Water,” Chapter 26 of A Haiku Path: The Haiku Society of America, 1968–1988. New York: The Haiku Society of America, 1994, 286–7.
  • Virgilio, Nick. Nick Virgilio Poetry Project. Camden, N.J.: English Department, Rutgers University–Camden: https://nickvirgilio.camden.rutgers.edu.
  • Virgilio, Nick. “On Haiku in English.” Raffael de Gruttola, ed., Nick Virgilio: A Life in Haiku (2012), 107–10. Essay.
  • Virgilio, Nick. “A Note to Young Writers.” Raffael de Gruttola, ed., Nick Virgilio: A Life in Haiku (2012), 111. Essay.

Haiku anthologies and selections of Virgilio’s work

  • Burns, Allan, ed., Where the River Goes: The Nature Tradition in English-Language Haiku (2013). 19 haiku.
  • Gurga, Lee. Haiku: A Poet’s Guide. Lincoln, Ill.: Modern Haiku Press, 2003. 2 haiku.
  • Hardy, Jackie, ed. Haiku: Poetry Ancient & Modern. London: MQ Publications, 2002. Also American, French, and German editions. 2 haiku.
  • Higginson, William J. Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac. Tokyo, New York, and London: Kodansha International, 1996. 1 haiku.
  • “The Living Legacy of Nick Virgilio,” Living Haiku Anthology: https://livinghaikuanthology.com/index-of-poets/livinglegacies/2647-nick-virgilio.html. Biographical sketch, 10 haiku, and the YouTube video, “Nick Virgilio Remembered: Life and Death in 17 Syllables” by Frank Rossi (https://livinghaikuanthology.com/index-of-poets/livinglegacies/2647-nick-virgilio.html).
  • “Nick Virgilio’s Haiku.” Terebess Asia Online: https://terebess.hu/english/usa/virgilio.html. 51 haiku.
  • Pizzarelli, Alan, ed. “Featured Poet: Nicholas A Virgilio.” Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry 7:1 (Spring 2009): http://www.simplyhaiku.com/SHv7n1/senryu/senryuFeature.html. Biographical sketch and 11 senryu.
  • Ramesh, Kala, Sanjuktaa Asopa, and Shloka Shankar, eds., Naad Anunaad: An Anthology of Contemporary World Haiku (2016). 6 haiku.
  • Ross, Bruce, ed. Haiku Moment: An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku. Boston, Rutland, Vt., and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1993. 11 haiku.
  • Rotella, Alexis, ed., The Rise and Fall of Sparrows: A Collection of North American Haiku (1990). 1 haiku.
  • Swede, George, and Randy Brooks, eds., Global Haiku: Twenty-five Poets World-wide (2000). 22 haiku.
  • van den Heuvel, Cor, ed., The Haiku Anthology: English-language Haiku by Contemporary American and Canadian Poets (1974). 15 haiku.
  • van den Heuvel, Cor, ed., The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English. Revised [2nd] edition, 1986, 1991. 50 haiku.
  • van den Heuvel, Cor, ed. The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English. New York and London: W.W. Norton & Co., Expanded [3rd] edition, 1999. 39 haiku.

Periodicals that published Virgilio’s haiku

  • American Haiku
  • Asphodel
  • Brussels Sprout
  • Camden County Record
  • Cicada (Toronto)
  • Frogpond
  • Haiku Highlights
  • Haiku Magazine
  • Haiku West
  • Modern Haiku
  • Wind Chimes

Works about Virgilio

  • Black, Rick. “Nick Virgilio, Walt Whitman, and the American Poetic Tradition: An Interview with Kwame Dawes.” Frogpond 38:1, 99–112 . Interview.
  • Brann, Henry, ed. Nick Virgilio Writers House Poetry: Haiku, Senryu, and Tanka, Volume 1, 2019. Camden, N.J.: Upright Remington Press / Nick Virgilio Haiku Association, 2019.
  • Bull, James E. “Maturity of Form.” Modern Haiku 1:4 (Autumn 1970), 26–28.
  • Clausen, Tom. “Nick Virgilio, My Haiku Hero.” Frogpond 35:2 (Spring/Summer 2012), 87–93. Essay.
  • Doyle, Michael. “A Tribute to Nick.” Raffael de Gruttola, ed., Nick Virgilio: A Life in Haiku (2012), 115–20.
  • Harr, Lorraine Ellis. “Nicholas Virgilio: Portrait of a Haiku Poet.” Haiku West 6:1 (July 1972), 36–40.
  • Higginson, William J. “About Time: An Essay Review.” Frogpond 8:3 (Aug. 1, 1985), 20–23. Review of Selected Haiku.
  • Higginson, William J., with Penny Harter. The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1985.
  • Higginson, William J. “Seasoned Haiku: ‘Nick Remembered’.” Frogpond 14:1 (spring 1991), 39. Workshops and readings.
  • “In Memory of Nicholas Virgilio: Out of the Water.” Chapter 26 of A Haiku Path: The Haiku Society of America, 1968–1988. New York: the Haiku Society of America, 1994. The chapter consists of three parts (listed separately in this bibliography): “Nicholas Virgilio,” by Kathleen O’Toole and Charles D. Nethaway, Jr., 271–4; “The Quick in Us: An Interview with Nick Virgilio,” by Marty Moss-Cohane, 274–85; and “A Mote of the Universe: Nick Virgilio’s Last Reading,” by Nick Virgilio, 286–87.
  • O’Toole, Kathleen, and Charles D. Nethaway, Jr. “Nicholas Virgilio,” in “In Memory of Nicholas Virgilio: Out of the Water,” Chapter 26 of A Haiku Path: The Haiku Society of America, 1968–1988. New York: The Haiku Society of America, 1994, 271–74.
  • Moss-Cohane, Marty. “The Quick in Us: An Interview with Nick Virgilio,” in “In Memory of Nicholas Virgilio: Out of the Water,” Chapter 26 of A Haiku Path: The Haiku Society of America, 1968–1988. New York: The Haiku Society of America, 1994, 274–85. Excerpts from the “Radio Times” radio show on WHYY Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, within the week prior to December 22, 1988. The interview is reprinted in Raffael de Gruttola, ed., Nick Virgilio: A Life in Haiku (2012), 81–100.
  • Litchfield, Electus D. “Yorkship Village.” The American Review of Reviews 6 (December 1919), 599–602.
  • McClintock, Michael. “The Camden Elegist.” Modern Haiku 4:3 (Fall 1973), 7–11.
  • “Nick Virgilio.” Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Virgilio.
  • O’Toole, Kathleen. “Afterword: An Echo in Time.” Raffael de Gruttola, ed., Nick Virgilio: A Life in Haiku (2012), 73–77.
  • O’Toole, Kathleen. “In Memoriam: Anthony Nicholas Virgilio, 1929–2015.” Frogpond 38:2 (Spring/Summer 2015), 118–20. Obituary of Nick’s brother.
  • “Renowned Camden poet Nicholas Virgilio, 60, dies in Washington,” Philadelphia Inquirer, January 4, 1989, B1. Obituary.
  • Rossi, Frank. “Nick Virgilio Remembered: Life and Death in 17 Syllables.” Photography by J. Kyle Keener. YouTube video (duration 6:33): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjq6TmbTabc
  • Sexton, John W. “Aural Experience: Sound and Rhythm in the Haiku of Nicholas A. Virgilio.” Frogpond 32:1 (Winter 2009), 66–72.
  • Tico, Tom. “The Raccoon Hunter’s Torch: A Reading of Nick Virgilio.” Modern Haiku 21:1 (Winter–Spring 1990), 63–67. Workshop.
  • van den Heuvel, Cor. “Nicholas Virgilio and the End of Innocence.” Frogpond 12:2 (May 1989), 28–30. Essay.
  • van den Heuvel, Cor. “Nick Virgilio and American Haiku: Creating Haiku and an Audience.” Nick Virgilio Poetry Project website: https://nickvirgilio.camden.rutgers.edu/scholarship/papers/cor-van-den-heuvel/. This paper was prepared for an international haiku forum, sponsored probably by the Haiku International Association and held in Matsuyama, Japan, in 1990, but it was never delivered because the author was asked to speak on another subject.
  • Virgilio, Nicholas. “An Unknown Flower.” Leatherneck 51:3 (March 1968), 89.
  • Virgilio, Nick. “On Haiku in English.” In Raffael de Gruttola, ed. and intro., Nick Virgilio: A Life in Haiku (2012), 107–10.
  • Virgilio, Nicholas. The Nick Virgilio Haiku Archive, Rutgers University–Camden: https://libguides.rutgers.edu/c.php?g=928964&p=6692722.

Awards and Contests

  • 1967—Nyogen Senzaki Memorial Haiku Prize, Poetry Society of Texas, for The old wind-swept house/ weather stripping hums a tune / in a minor key.
  • 1967—R. H. Blyth Memorial Contest Awards, 1st Place, Haiku West 1:1 (June 1967), for The sack of kittens / sinking in the icy creek, / increases the cold.
  • 1968–1988—Awards by the Haiku Society of America 1968–1988: “For haiku early in the period that exerted a seminal influence on modern haiku, and for his development of a distinctive, personal haiku style” (A Haiku Path, 302) for Spring wind frees / the full moon tangled / in leafless trees (American Haiku number 1 [1963] and After snowfall … / a child hopping in the footprints / of his father. (American Haiku 4:1 [1966]).
  • 1968—Critic’s Choice for the best poem submitted to the Haiku Society of America meeting of November 21, 1968 (one of two awards) for The museum steps: / dust … an old newspaper / waiting for the wind.
  • 1969—Cash Award, Haiku West 2:2 (January 1969), for The cathedral bell / is shaking a few snowflakes / from the morning air.
  • 1970—Cash Award, Haiku West 3:2 (January 1970), for The windy swamp grass: / a raccoon hunter’s torch / licks the autumn moon.
  • 1971—R. H. Blyth Award, Haiku West 4:2 (January 1971), for The sack of kittens / sinking in the icy creek, / increases the cold.
  • 1972—Shiloh Award, Modern Haiku 3:3 (1972), for The first snowfall / is coating a small stack / of rusty cannon balls.
  • 1974—Purely Personal Award, Modern Haiku 5:1 (1974), for The bare maple sways, / and a tire on a wire cable / swings in the spring air.
  • 1975—“In Memory of Harold Henderson,” Honorable Mention and Purely Personal Award, Modern Haiku 6:1 (1975), for Down the dark road they go / blossoms, wind, leaves and snow / following Tairo.
  • 1976—Purely Personal Award, Modern Haiku 7:2 (May 1976), for empty mission / filled with flocks of pigeons: / eggs in poor box.
  • 1976— Special Mention and Purely Personal Award, Modern Haiku 7:3 (August 1976), for A distant bell buoy, / and the fog horn beyond: / the cry of a gull.
  • 1977—Clement Hoyt Memorial Award, Modern Haiku 8:1 (February 1977), for alone on the dark road / reaching the last milestone / and beyond ….
  • 1985–1986 Merit Book Awards for books published in 1985–1986, Haiku Society of America, Award for Special Recognition for Nicholas A. Virgilio, Selected Haiku.
  • 1988—Merit Book Awards for books published in 1988, Haiku Society of America, 1st Prize for Nicholas A. Virgilio, Selected Haiku, 2nd edition.
  • 1988—Museum of Haiku Literature Award for best haiku in issue, Frogpond 11:1 (February 1988), for on the cardboard box / holding the frozen wino: / Fragile: Do Not Crush.

Author: Geoffrey Sill


  1. Electus D. Litchfield, “Yorkship Village.” The American Review of Reviews 6 (December 1919), 599–602. []
  2. Litchfield, 599. []
  3. For photos of these vessels, see the Navy Log, navymemorial.org., accessed 5/30/2020. []
  4. Philadelphia Inquirer, January 4, 1989, B6. []
  5. Ibid. []
  6. Kenneth Yasuda, A Pepper Pod (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1947), xxviii-xxix. []
  7. Information in this essay about Virgilio’s published haiku was generously provided by Charles Trumbull. []
  8. Nick Virgilio, “On Haiku in English,” in Raffael de Gruttola, ed., A Life in Haiku (Arlington, VA: Turtle Light Press, 2012, 107–10. Virgilio was quoting from Harold G. Henderson, Haiku in English (New York: Japan Society, 1965), 9. []
  9. Cor van den Heuvel, “Nicholas Virgilio and the End of Innocence,” Frogpond 12:2 (May 1989), 29. []
  10. Virgilio, “On Haiku in English,” 108. []
  11. It may be relevant to the composition of this poem, if not the reading of it, that the poem appears on a manuscript page with several poems that refer to “Walden Pond” or to a “different drummer.” The Nick Virgilio Haiku Archive, Box 13, folder 06, page 8/50. []
  12. Virgilio, “On Haiku in English,” 110. []
  13. The Nicholas Virgilio Haiku Archive, Box 05, Folder 27, p. 5/52; Box 05, Folder 12, p. 21/50. The manuscript pages cannot be dated, so “later” is a conjecture. []
  14. American Haiku, number 2, 1963, 43; and William J. Higginson, ed.,The Haiku Handbook (1985), 67. []
  15. George Vallianos and Henry Brann, members of the Nick Virgilio Haiku Association. []
Updated on August 16, 2023