The Sea Shell Game

Do you enjoy finding which of two similar things is the better? Do you like to learn by observing how two poems compare? Would you like to see a poem of yours compared to one by someone else? Stick around. Investigate this old game still used in Japan in poetry contests.
WHAT IT WAS is found below the long list of winners. Scroll.



A sample game

Sea Shell Game #61 6/18/2009 was won by Devin Jones.

Sea Shell Game #60 2/20/2009 was a tie between Larry Willmarth and Jill Stanley
Sea Shell Game #59 3/22/ 2008 was won by Joellen Strandberg.
Sea Shell Game #58 6 / 11/ 06 was won by  Wendy Storey Sahagen.
Sea Shell Game #57 6/27/03 was won by Brian Gierat!
Sea Shell Game #56
3/8/03 was won by Joan Luckey!
Sea Shell Game #55
10/25/02 was won by Darrell Byrd and Kate Creighton in a tie! Congratulations to both for work well done!
Sea Shell Game #54
6/29/02 was won by Philip Noble!
Sea Shell Game # 53
5/12/02 Judged by Jane who had a four-way tie with Elissa Malcohn, Kathy Lippard Cobb, michael blaine and jjc!
Sea Shell Game #52
2/28/02 Judged by Richard Watkins who picked Heather Hernandez as winner!
Sea Shell Game #51
  2/4/02 Judged by Jane who picked Jennifer O'Neil's haiku as winner.
Sea Shell Game #50 2/14/02 Judged by Richard Watkins was won by P.M.David!
Sea Shell Game #49
11/12/01 Judged by Richard Watkins was won by ADK who also won #44!
Sea Shell Game #48
10/29/01 Judged by Richard Watkins was won by Jenny!
Sea Shell Game #47
10/12/2001 Judged by Richard Watkins was a tie between donald j. lanska and gill collingwood
Sea Shell Game #46
9/28/01 Judged by Richard Watkins was won by Darrell Bryd!
Sea Shell Game #45
9/19/01 Judged by Richard Watkins. ADK wins with a (now) eerie entry.
Sea Shell Game #44
9/12/01 Judged by Richard Watkins. Debi Bender is the winner!
Sea Shell Game #43
8/26/01 Judged by Richard Watkins who picked Chris Patchel's haiku as the best!
8/8/01 winner is paul t. conneally!
7/3/01 winner is jen!
2/26/2001 winners are Andrea Young and Brian Gerat!
2/9/2001 is a three-way tie between Pat Grantt, Stephen Amor and lisbeth cheever gessaman!
11/5/2000 winner is giovanni!
SEA SHELL GAME #37 2/14/2001 winner is Darrell Byrd!
SEA SHELL GAME #36 7/8/2000 winner is Mark Fisher!
SEA SHELL GAME #35 6/17/2000 winner was P.M. David!
6/17/2000 winner was Kirsty! Again!
4/24/2000 winners are Nigel Gibbons and lisbeth cheever gessaman!
SEA SHELL GAME #32 4/13/2000 winner is Steve Amor!
SEA SHELL GAME #31 4/12/2000 winter was Kirsty!
SEA SHELL GAME #30 4/9/2000 winner is robbynl!
SEA SHELL GAME #29 4/8/2000 winner is J. Chris Baltzley (again!).
SEA SHELL GAME #28 2/21/2000 winners are Mary Beth and We'moon!
SEA SHELL GAME#27 2/7/2000 winner is Mary Beth!
SEA SHELL GAME#26 2/28/300 winner is Ed Button!
SEA SHELL GAME #25 1/2/2000 winner is J. Chris Baltzley!
SEA SHELL GAME #24 12/2/99 winners are M.O. and Richard Francis
SEA SHELL GAME #23 10/7/99 winner is Rachael!
SEA SHELL GAME #22 10/6/99 winner is Oliva Monell!
SEA SHELL GAME #21  7/15/99 winner is M.S.!
SEA SHELL GAME #20 3/24/99 winner is M.S.!
SEA SHELL GAME #19 2/11/99 winner is Thomas Harrison!
SEA SHELL GAME #18 2/11/99 winner is the mysterious R.S.
SEA SHELL GAME #17  2/8/99 winner is Gerla Weidema-Brekkee!
SEA SHELL GAME #16 Halloween 1998 winner is Gene Doty!
SEA SHELL GAME #15 10/28/98 Winner is Annie Delaney!
SEA SHELL GAME #14 10/27/98 Winner is Danilo Celi!
SEA SHELL GAME #13 8/1/98 a draw with Winners marjorie chew and Michelle V. Lohnes!
SEA SHELL GAME #12  7/1398 Winner is Timothy Richards!
SEA SHELL GAME #11  6/19/98 Winner is Donald McLeod!
SEA SHELL GAME #10 5/25/98 Winner is Joyce Clark!
SEA SHELL GAME #9 Judged by Paul MacNeil - 3/13/98 Winner is Mark "mark e" Everett!
SEA SHELL GAME #8 Judged by Harsangeet Kaur Bhullar - 2/7/99 Winner is Allan Dystrup!
SEA SHELL GAME #7 Judged by Francine Porad - 8/2/97 Winner is Amanda Fixsen!
SEA SHELL GAME #6 Judged by Jane Reichhold - 8/12/97 Winner is Penny "pen" Greenwell!
SEA SHELL GAME #5 Judged by Jane Reichhold - 5/28/97 Winner is trinity!
SEA SHELL GAME #4 Judged by Jane Reichhold - 3/20/97 Winner is Kathryn Terrell!
SEA SHELL GAME #2 Judged by Jane Reichhold - 10/20/96 Winner is Philip Noble!
SEA SHELL GAME #1 Judged by John Hudak - 6/13/96 Winner is Jeanne Emrich!




For centuries part of the training of Japanese children to be sensitive to beauty and the different levels of it was accomplished by a game. Even adults, in their lighter moments, will start a game with shells, or leaves or flowers. Perhaps you, too, have done the same process in order to find the best or loveliest in a collection.

From a pile of, let us say, stones one person draws two stones at random. The stones are compared and then judged to say, "This stone is lovelier than that one." The *winners* go in one pile, the *losers* in another until all the stones have been compared. Then the process is repeated with the *winners*, again and again, until one stone remains.

When poets would gather for poetry contests, often sponsored by the emperor, even in times before Japan's written history (764 AD), this same process of elimination was used. The prizes then were bolts of silk or, if a poem was really special, the emperor would give one of his possessions -- a musical instrument or his fan.

When Basho was a young teacher of renga (the linked poetry form) he felt that the first verse of a renga (then called a hokku) was so important that his students should be made aware of the difference between a *good* hokku and a great one. Basho would organize contests built on the old principles of comparing things. Thus, in 1672 he commissioned scribes to write down records of his judging comments to be saved and these he collected under his title of "The Sea Shell Game." This was the only book he published in his lifetime. Other books that he compiled or advised were all published by his patrons or students. Translations of "The Shell Game" give us a peek into what and how he taught.


For the first time, we are playing the Japanese Sea Shell Game in English. Poems which are called haiku are compared, commented on, and sorted out until one poem remains as *winner*. Various persons who are active haiku writers will be invited to do the judging. Your own haiku may be submitted for the contest.

Your poem will be printed without your name but with a pen name if you so chose. These will be picked, two at a time, at random. The judge will display the poems, comment on each and choose one over the other. This process will continue until one haiku is left. This one will be declared winner, the author's name will be revealed and a prize awarded. A list of the winning haiku will be kept so that people who are new to the game can read the winning poems and authors' names. The judges' comments, as well as the poems discussed, will be archived in the AHA!POETRY Archive for reference and downloading.

Click here to see the entry form so you may send your poem to The Sea Shell Game.

Page Copyright Jane Reichhold 1995.