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Brad Bennett — Touchstone Distinguished Books Award Honorable Mention 2022

Brad Bennett is the recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Honorable Mention for 2022 for the volume a box of feathers (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2022).


Commentary from the Panel:

Brad Bennett, a long-time teacher and poet, in his latest collection a box of feathers, brings his readers on a field trip of a lifetime. Outside we go to, discover the marvels of the great outdoors in all its refined detail. And like those early adventures from grammar school days, Bennett’s poems conjure a similar appreciation for the wilderness within each of us.

His newest book begins with a poem that alerts readers of a contrast from his two prior collections, A Drop of Pond (2016) and A Turn in the River (2019), signaling that the poems within this collection are COVID-era poems:

 

summer sky

how could nothing

be so blue

 

Of course, “summer sky” is not limited to this single interpretation. Running over a total of about 80 haiku, the pandemic is largely in the backdrop, but shows up again here and there:

 

your dry cough

the only sound

rock lichen

 

remote learning

he holds up a jar

of tadpoles

 

We noticed the poet’s inclusion of the same purposeful fragment construction of season-plus-sky in each season’s section. Explicitly naming the season or month in a haiku is referred to as jikō in Japanese. Bennett’s work consistently exemplifies seasonality. He is able to notice small details and find something profound in them that says something about the broader scene he is in either philosophically or emotionally. Often, his poems are invitations (or reminders) to be mindful in a world that is spinning by quite fast:

 

meadow buttercups

we pause to apply

more sunblock

 

summer days

the green croquet ball

ticks against the blue

 

Any haiku that push beyond the traditional elements remain rooted in direct, lived experiences that exude authenticity:

 

all at once millipede

 

which already sounds like an instant classic. Or this one-liner that shows Bennett’s inventive nature:

 

wind uprivering ripples

 

In the section following summer, Bennett accomplishes the season-plus-sky poem in conjunction with another dominant theme—the creative writing process. Poems about the creative process show up a great deal:

 

autumn sky

should I go

with bold or italics

 

We picture the poet inviting us to finish this haiku. What is a bold autumn sky? We thought it might be filled with dark storm clouds. What is an italics autumn sky? Perhaps very blustery.

Bennett jovially touches on writing throughout the book:

 

the pause

of an ellipses

pond lilies

 

where to place

a line break . . .

moss between stones

 

There are arguably no senryu included in A Box of Feathers. Bennett includes only what George Swede defines as Type 1 haiku (nature only) and Type 2 haiku (nature + humans). If there are humans in Bennett’s haiku poetry, they are often auxiliary to the natural element in the poem or working to make their environment better:

 

shortening days—

I stomp in the leaf barrel

to make more room

 

lunch break—

freeing milkweed

from its pod

 

The winter section’s season-plus-sky haiku encourages readers to take on the winter with a sense of humor:

 

it’s always something winter sky

 

This collection also celebrates the writing life and those who pursue moments of perception keenly perceived.  Even phenomena in day-to-day life that are outside of our control, are filtered through this poet’s hopeful lens that meets each with enthusiasm, if with some occasional hesitancy:

 

my old fear of new

 

Over the last half of this collection, the reader observes winter transition to spring:

 

winter sleet

a sheet pan buckles

in the oven

 

each day follows the next duckling

 

Bennett has written essays and taught workshops on achieving a unique musicality in his haiku through sound devices and repetition. See how the word “song” is used twice before it “grows stronger”:

 

briar buds

a song sparrow’s song

grows stronger

 

my first

first warbler poem—

a break in the rain

 

In the end, the reader is left with a collection of poems that encourages our humanity. Bennett seems to suggest in his title poem that we savor the time we are given, especially the time we take to be out in the natural world. Perhaps we are best off sharing the moments that have meant the most to us. No matter what one’s age. In this pandemic-prone world, Bennett’s is a much-needed voice of optimism:

 

summer’s end

a box of feathers

for show and tell


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

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Thanks to the “Commentary from the Panel” for so beautifully capturing the essence of this wonderful book!
    Besides Brad’s amazing writing, he is a fabulous teacher!

  2. Congratulations Brad! I own A Turn In the River and it never gets old so I’m sure this book is just as good.

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