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Charles Trumbull — Touchstone Distinguished Books Award Winner 2019

Charles Trumbull is the recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2019 for his volume A History of Modern Haiku (Lincoln IL: Modern Haiku Press, 2019).

Commentary from the Panel:

The longest running haiku journal outside of Japan, Modern Haiku observed its 50th year in existence in 2019. For most of us, it has been the haiku journal of note throughout our writing lives. We are most familiar with the contributions of editors Charles Trumbull and Paul Miller, and how they have shaped Modern Haiku. But like Miller in his introduction, many of us are unaware of its early history. So it is all the more important to have Trumbull’s A History of Modern Haiku mark the journal’s golden jubilee.

A significant work of scholarship, Trumbull’s History documents the journal’s development under each of its five editors and its path — through “151 issues, 14,000 pages and 50,000 haiku” — to becoming a premier publication for haiku poets around the world. In the process, it also chronicles the course of English-language haiku.

Trumbull devotes a section to each editor, providing detailed information in the form of statistics and specifics on features they favored or introduced, as well as a rich sampling of work published in each editorial era. Of particular interest are the many contributions from some of the form’s greats that provide insights about the different editors.

In the Foreword to the journal’s inaugural issue, Harold G. Henderson applauded Kay Mormino, the founder and editor, for favoring no particular school of haiku. Her openness to innovation, along with her collaborative model for editorial selection, laid the foundation for the journal’s excellence. Mormino’s profound influence on the haiku community was best expressed after her passing in this haiku by Geraldine Clinton Little:

the way
a single wave moves
the whole sea

Mormino’s successor and Modern Haiku’s longest serving editor, Robert Spiess could be intimidating, but he was just as well known for encouraging and mentoring writers. In addition to his own Speculations, Spiess provided a platform for influential pieces on haiku theory and practice by Haruo Shirane, Lee Gurga, Paul O. Williams and Cor van den Heuvel.

Lee Gurga brought the journal into the 21st century, incorporating it as a nonprofit with by-laws and a board of directors. He had Lidia Rozmus design a sleek new look for the cover, Charles Trumbull moved subscription records to a computerized database, and Randy Brooks established an award-winning website for the journal. When Gurga stepped down in its 37th year, Trumbull — who became the journal’s fourth editor — noted that “Modern Haiku has never been healthier, whether measured in terms of literary excellence, influence . . . or financial wellbeing.” Under Trumbull’s leadership, email submissions were accepted (albeit reluctantly!), haiga was featured regularly and haibun and haiku sequences were submitted for the Pushcart Prize. After 20 issues, he handed over the reins to Paul Miller, who has increased the journal’s visibility and welcomed more new poets. He also expanded on Trumbull’s practice of submitting work to outside contests, with the result that Joyce Clement’s sequence “Birds Punctuate the Days” was included in Best American Poetry 2018.

The fact that Modern Haiku has survived and thrived for five decades is a tribute to the dedication and vision of its editors, who have encouraged so many of us. The list of names among its most published and award winning poets reads like a Who’s Who in English language haiku.

A History of Modern Haiku is, in many ways, a history of contemporary English language haiku, but few of us have the skill, scholarship or commitment required to document an epoch. The haiku community owes Charles Trumbull a tremendous debt of gratitude for this outstanding achievement.

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

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