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David J Kelly — Touchstone Distinguished Books Honorable Mention 2020

David J Kelly is the recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Honorable Mention for 2020 for his volume small hadron divider (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2020).

Commentary from the Panel:

As David J Kelly tell us in the introduction to his outstanding book, small hadron divider: haiku and related work, he divides this collection into six ‘flavours’ of quarks (up, down, strange, charm, top, bottom), serving as the main headings for each section, with a final section he calls gluons that, like glue, bind quarks together. Kelly derives his intriguing title from the particle accelerator Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Cern, Switzerland, substituting ‘collider’ for ‘divider’ to highlight, as he says, the individual nature of each quark, and perhaps changing ‘large’ to ‘small’ to underscore that his poems work as small vessels filled with potential life like seeds on the head of a dandelion dispersed in the wind, as beautifully illustrated on the cover by artist Kate Ramasawmy. In fact, each section is introduced with a drawing by Ramasawmy, along with the section title that suggests what is to come.

The variety of forms Kelly employs, haibun, haiku, senryu, and visual haiku, add shifting dimensions to the reading experience, similar to the forming and vanishing of quarks and antiquarks inside a hadron, yet leaving a familiar feeling that we have been here before. What a brilliant move and a fun way to structure a book of poems with science. Each section begins with a haibun, followed by a concrete haiku, and then a particular hadron ‘flavour’ is mapped out on an emotional landscape, expanding the possibilities of English-language haiku, sometimes uncomfortably.

up

arriving late
through the arch
of your eyebrow

waterboarding
. . . my teabag reappears
at the surface

down

keepsache

inside
trying to escape the rain
inside

strange

uneasy

Too lazy to make an omelette, I tossed the egg into smouldering fat and watched in grim fascination, as the while blistered, then discoloured round its broken yolk. Now, surveying that blind, unblinking eye, squealing like an injured mouse, I can’t help wondering if anyone deserves to die alone and in pain.

doctor’s advice
making plans to stop
making plans

hall of mirrors
the multiverse
looking back

charm

country lane
losing myself in the darkness
between stars

baptism of fire
the gingerbread men
meet their baker

top

red velvet carelessly unwrapping new antlers

head space
swinging Schrödinger’s cat
between my ears

bottom

dead chameleon
disappearing
into tarmac

beneath a pine tree
fallen needles
point everywhere

gluons

walking between stops bus bus bus

bullet hole
through a metal door
darkness staring back

This work is a lot of fun, filled with wit and humor, beginning with the title, and inventive word play, but there is also plenty of complex human emotion to be found as well, refreshening and deepening our lives through language. Rich experiences reward the reader each time they return to Kelly’s particles of life, poems fully deserving of special recognition for their perceptions of our quarky lives.

 

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

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