Gary Hotham is the recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Honorable Mention for 2019 for his volume Rightsizing the Universe: Haiku Theory (Scaggsville MD: Yigralo Press, 2019).
Commentary from the Panel:
The first thing that strikes the reader about this collection is its extraordinary title. Like many of the haiku within, the title offers more than one meaning: It sets the bar very high with its promise of haiku that will optimize our perspective on the universe, even as it suggests the key is in a smaller, downsized view. Gary Hotham’s Rightsizing the Universe is deeply reassuring, particularly at times when what we think we know about the world has been upended. It affirms that haiku can, indeed, rightsize the world.
It is a small collection of 32 haiku, each presented one to a page. Certain images and words — stars, clouds, fog, footprints, rocks — repeat in ku that deepen our understanding and underscore the vastness of vision.
letting us back
making us hear our feet
Humans appear in ways that help us realize our place in the universe:
long after Wordsworth
clouds wandering over
space for snow to fall
It is hard to write strong haiku using universal imagery that engages on such a deep level. It is also hard to write haiku about cherry blossoms that are new, that give the reader pause. Hotham succeeds at both.
Haiku that feature the iconic blooms — and the only time they appear — bookend the collection, establishing the thesis and giving us that amazing title.
into our universe
drifting cherry blossoms
While this review is focused on the haiku, it should be mentioned that Hotham also photographed the images that appear in the book. Of particular note are the photographs on the front and back. The front cover features a close-up of rusty spikes and bolts used to fix a railroad; the back cover is a wide-angle view of the ocean. It’s an intriguing juxtaposition of imagery and serves as a visual echo of Hotham’s theory.
After the final “drifting cherry blossoms,” Hotham includes two quotes that serve as a postscript. One is from Hebrews 11:3; the other is by Vern S. Poythress, who wrote: “Language has its own productivity and fecundity. We can produce new utterances using old words.” Hotham has done so. This is a remarkable collection that rewards re-reading.
See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.