Bryan Rickert is the recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2022 for the poem:
shifting clouds my child’s pronouns
— Prune Juice Journal, Issue 38
Commentary from the Panel:
At first glance, this haiku appears deceptively simple with its image of shifting clouds. However, much is contained in the phrase that follows: my child’s pronouns. There is the implied change from the child’s original pronouns (he/him or she/her) to the child’s preferred pronouns (perhaps they/them) or a switch of the more standard pronouns (he is now she or vice versa). The poignant, almost musical phrasing of this five-word, one-line haiku makes it a standout for me. Its beautiful imagery links to a more personal, yet universal issue, and gently nudges the reader toward contemplation of a topic many people avoid. This superbly crafted haiku does not rely on artifice: there is no hidden political message shrouded in wordplay. It only asks to be heard.
This so sweetly captures a child’s openness to redefining gender norms and a parental figure’s processing of it as a gentle natural force of nature taking its course. This poem doesn’t try too hard; it is tender and simple, appealing to the heart, and links a hot current societal topic to the nature that haiku holds dear.
Should a haiku speak to its time? I think so, yes. This poem speaks to a reality that has existed throughout human history, but that people have been (perhaps) more willing to talk about and acknowledge openly in recent years. Children, young adults, and adults are claiming their authentic selves, an act of bravery, especially in the face of backlash, including family backlash.
This is a beautifully simple haiku — only five words — and it is this simplicity that is its strength. The poem holds much, without the excess baggage of commentary, judgement, extra words, or images. How are the clouds shifting? We don’t know for certain, and there is much to ponder, a good thing when it comes to haiku, leaving the reader with room to feel, think and interpret. It is a personal haiku, the poet speaks of “my” child’s pronoun, and strikes me as a poem of love and acceptance.
While I’m fairly certain this haiku was written in response to the gender issues dominating the news today, I read an alternative meaning into it of the early days of pregnancy when the parent(s) don’t yet know the sex of their unborn child and are wondering who he, she, they will be. That time of eager anticipation when anything is still possible and dreams float like clouds shifting through a summer sky.
Children, over the age of one to four years, learn different pronouns in a natural way as a part of speech and language development processes, initially through parental interaction and gesture.
The monoku in its simplicity and lightness (karumi) unfolds curiosity and profundity of child psychology. Here the word ‘pronouns’ bears the poetic beauty to reveal a lot associated with the journey of clouds and the child’s inherent inquisitiveness. Perhaps the poet wishes to express the nuances of clouds with the use of gerund, ‘shifting’, thus enumerating the well-crafted fragment section of the monoku.
The exquisite feeling of mother and child is manifested through the layers of imagination with the use of pronouns. Kids express their observations and feelings emanating from the tender mind and the poem embodies the novelty of child psychology. Might be the child is just at the intersection stage to playfully address correctly his sibling. Interacting with the mother, the child might query: how do these cloud float, and could he/she board together and roam around the sky? Which place can they travel to with the clouds? Can I invite those clouds to our home? Linguistically, it appears as if the monoku amalgamates the personal pronoun, the demonstrative pronoun, the interrogative pronoun, the relative pronoun, etc. Indeed, the joyful interactions between the mother and child extend beyond the horizon, to the skyward! The word phrase ‘shifting clouds’ collectively juxtaposes the child’s dreams of magical stories. The monoku in its brevity and succinctness resonates with the rhythmic sounds of ‘s’.
I like the allusions that the reference to ‘shifting clouds’ has many layers of interpretations. Is it that the child has faced difficulty due to receptive language disorder? Slowly the kid overcomes the difficulty through speech therapy and the mother exults as the clouds of difficulty disappear.
Interestingly the visual image ‘shifting clouds’ is subtly used as a metaphor in this monoku to reflect sensibility. The poem is characterized by linguistic inventiveness. There is intense creative synergy between the image and the human aspects.
Touchstone winners receive a crystal award to commemorate their selection. See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.