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Annette Makino — Touchstone Individual Poem Award 2020

Annette Makino is the recipient of a Touchstone Individual Poem Award for 2020 for her poem

long before language the S of the river
(Francine Porad Haiku Award, 2020)

Commentary from the Panel:

“Water is inextricably linked to life, existing long before and continuing long after the obfuscating layers of abstraction of words and of mind reflecting back upon itself. Haiku uses words to express that which cannot be expressed in words, and long before language the S of the river reminds us that there are other ways of knowing that function outside language, outside of logic (perhaps more intuitive, more heart-centered), ways that can help us to reclaim and re-energize a felt sense of communion with the original source of language — pure Nature. A richly lyrical haiku, it possesses the liquid musicality of its subject. Like the water element, it is ever expansive, it eludes our grasp, but remains true. This exceptional haiku is illustrative of deep listening.”


“The monoku has an interesting characteristic of the vertical axis alluding to the time domain. It coagulates the evolution of language that humans had evolved with the depiction of the early existence of the landscape of the river system. A simple observation of a meandering river has been expanded to the history of the evolution of language and alphabet. The monoku in its simplicity shifts the visual observation to unexpectedness (atarashimi) in expression referring to ‘long before language’, thus rendering beauty and ecstasy to the haiku. Meanderings are generally ‘S’ shaped formed in the lower course over the plain area as the river adjusts with the slope and deposits the sands along its bank before merging with the sea. Right from the early evolution of human beings, our ancestors must have observed this scenic beauty of meandering and they might have expressed it in common language much at a later time.

“Nature, by virtue of its vastness, embodies the essence of human learning. William Croft says “studying languages as the products of nature, it is interested in the biological origin and development of language.” Interestingly in English, the poetic expression “nature and nurture” has been in use and here the river symbolizes the energy. The timing of the evolution of language has been much debated by anthropologists, biologists, psychologists, and others based on the use of sign language, biological instincts, cognitive modelling etc.

“Geologically river system evolved millions of years ago before the evolution of human beings. In this beautiful monoku, the long existence of ‘S’ shaped meanders of the river has been corroborated with the learning of language and alphabet by man. The modern form of language evolved barely 50,000–150,000 years ago. The modern English alphabet has been originated from Latin script around the 7th century. Interestingly there has been a reference to the letter ‘S’ in the Phoenician alphabet. The reference of nature’s manifestation of the trend of the river with the alphabet ‘S’ has been portrayed with elegance. This is unique in creative (zoko) excellence with sublime poetic allusion. The monoku has a sublime musicality that enhances its aesthetic milieu.”


See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. This was my favorite haiku for 2020. Annette Makino has hit this one out of the stadium. Everything about it is perfect. The three word intro, ‘long before language’, followed by the five word surprise ending, the S in the river’ speaks truth with humility on so many levels, it’s better left unsaid.

  2. Congratulations to Annette Makino!
    The detailed commentary by the learned panel and their expertise in selecting this monoku shines bright! Leaves me speechless.

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