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Chad Lee Robinson — Touchstone Award for Individual Poems Winner 2022

Chad Lee Robinson is the recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2022 for the poem:

a bookmark
where my son
grew too old

Prune Juice Journal, Issue 37

Commentary from the Panel:

A poignant haiku that draws me in with the first line, a bookmark. This marks the occasion, for the parent, where the child changed, became different, grew up in some way. It’s telling that the three stressed syllables in this haiku are, book, son, and grew; a suggestion that the child could see beyond their reading to something else in their life.

Questions beyond the words of the haiku come to me. Does the parent recall some way the child changed when reading the book? Did the parent happen upon the book while cleaning up the mess left when the child went off to college or elsewhere in life? Is the bookmark found by the mother or the father? The simple act of finding the bookmark sets the parent on a path of love and remembrance in this haiku.

A relatable poem about things left behind at the subtle point between childhood and adolescence. The hard k sound ending that first line creates a natural kireji, much like the point at which a parent marks a point of no return – literally in the book and figuratively in the child’s journey from having books read by a parent to reading on their own, or perhaps losing interest in a narrative they’ve outgrown.

Here we are presented with the universal themes of love and loss, beautifully evoked in this simply worded haiku. Because the haiku shows rather than tells, the reader has work to do. The poet rightly eliminates extraneous description, such as the appearance of the bookmark or the title of the book. There is an additional omission found in the ending of line 3. This lack of specificity adds a layer of mystery to a very fine haiku, one that perhaps is best viewed through the prism of the individual reader’s experience. In doing so, this poignant haiku, like the bookmark, is complete, the same, yet different.

A poignant note on how quickly time passes as a child grows up. One day you’re happily cuddled on a couch reading a book together and the next day he’s out playing ball or riding his bike with friends. He is moving on, leaving you behind. That bookmark in a sense is his declaration of independence, something very final.

The poem (senryu) is written in a formal style without a distinct line break. Generally, the word ‘bookmark’ refers to a marking tool such as a card or a colored fabric to keep track of the progress of reading a book. Here it embodies a sense of emotive attributes. Parents reminisce about their kids’ birthdays with profound happiness. As the kids grow, they experience the divine beauty of the journey of life.

There is a sense of insightful observation (ugachi) in the poem. Now the kid is grown up and will enter a different world. The poem is transcendental and the mother recalls the joy of the journey from the birth of her child to the present.

The words ‘grew’ (written in past tense), and ‘too old’ depict emotional resonance. Could it be that she lost her son at an early age and she is still in shock? The poem is characterized by the sense of wabi-sabi. Might be she holds the ‘bookmark’ that her son/daughter made long back, especially for some memorable occasion and now she recounts the past in solitude. The poem elucidates a metaphorical insight.

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.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. a bookmark
    where my son
    grew too old

    — Prune Juice Journal, Issue 37

    I don’t understand this judges’ comment (from above)

    ” The hard k sound ending that first line creates a natural kireji,”

    Since ‘kireji’ , when translated to English, means something like “cutting word”, I wonder what a natural cutting word might be? (and what an unnatural cutting word might be, too)

    Or could it be that the author of the comment has confused kire (the cut) with kireji ( a word which, in Japanese, shows where we are to read the cut)

    Of course. we don’t use kireji/ cutting words in EL haiku. I suppose what’s intended is that though there doesn’t appear to be a cut in this haiku, the bookmark (which would usually indicate something like “to be continued”)
    “. . . marks the place where a story ended. ”

    My comments on this true-to -life haiku can be found in the ‘Comments’ section of re:Virals 373

  2. Interesting that some are assuming a mother found the bookmark. I went the other way because of the poet’s name. So now I’ve once again had to remind myself to be open to either/or.

    1. Eavonka,
      I always presumed a father because of the author’s name, but you are correct, it could be an either/or situation. That’s why the senryu resonated with me. My son and I still share a love of reading, and often, by extension, read the same book and have discussions about it.

      With the birth of his own son, I can only hope they will share the love of reading, and the tradition will continue.

  3. Congratulations Chad! What an insightful senryu. Yes, the bookmark creates a strange feeling in our minds. It depicts an end or pause in reading. Is it the end of the close relationship between the mother and son, or is it the busy schedule of a grown up child who has no time to spend with his parents? I think of many kids who leave their motherland and go for higher studies or employment. Thank you judges for selecting this.

  4. If I recall correctly, this senryu was discussed in Re: Virals. At that time, it hit me so powerfully because it reminded me of my son and me. We shared reading (and subsequent discussions of) a particular book series. There were so many books in the series, many of them offshoots. As new ones were published, I would buy them for him. Eventually I realized he had stopped reading them, turning to other books and interests. How did I discover this? Finding an abandoned book, his place marked. I would have continued reading them just for the joy of our conversations, but alas…

    I just love this senryu of Chad. Poignant and says so much in just a few words. Congrats, Chad, and thanks for writing it.

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