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Gregory Longenecker — Touchstone Award for Individual Poems Winner

Gregory Longenecker is the recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems published in 2019 for his poem

strawberry season
acres and acres
of bent backs

published in The Heron’s Nest XXI:1.

Commentary from the Panel:

“This haiku begins with a seasonal fragment that teases our sense of sight, taste, and scent. The alliteration in lines one and three is balanced on the fulcrum of line two’s assonance. It’s a familiar scene to many of us, especially in the top-producing countries of China, America, and Mexico. Often, it’s migrants who toil for our enjoyment by doing this back-breaking work. It’s not only a tedious job, but one for which foreign workers generally receive low wages and often live in deplorable conditions. Without these acres and acres of bent backs, how many of us would step up to take their place?”

“Upon reading this haiku I see within the shape of strawberries a mirror of the bent backs of human beings laboring in the fields, faces hidden from view. It allows me to appreciate the forgotten human element behind my everyday pleasures and abundance I so often take for granted. This is a subtle haiku with strong impact and social relevance.”

“The first line of this poem evokes a childhood joy that recurs throughout our lives: At last, fresh strawberries — in trays at the farmer’s market, in little baskets at the grocery store. In the second line the poet suggests a bucolic panorama of crops covering the rolling hillsides, only to, in the third line, draw our focus to the “bent backs” of those picking our fruit of their labor. The ‘aches and aches’ suggested by “acres and acres” ring as true a commentary on our need for migrant workers as any, and as compassionate.”

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

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Where form and content mesh. The triple alliterations in lines 1, 2 and 3 work seamlessly to convey a tedious repetition. Always a pleasure to read a poem where the subject is exemplified in the words themselves.

  2. Strawberries are labor intensive because they are so fragile. There is not a good way invented yet to use a machine to pick them. Plus the plants need to stay in the ground as they grow better year after year. Migrant works are glad for the chance to work. Maybe some day, one of them will invent a machine, but for now, they pick.

  3. A timely haiku, certainly. Well done!
    Here in Ireland, throughout Europe – and in the USA and other parts of our stricken world – we should remember that fruit pickers are probably speaking another language among themselves.
    In Ireland it could be Bulgarian or Latvian, for instance. That’s why I believe it is important that the haiku movement, as a world-wide phenomenon, encourages multilingualism. We can get closer to the reality of other people’s lives in this way. The predominance of Anglophone haiku can smudge this multifaceted reality.

  4. Congratulations, Greg, for writing a poem of such relevance and empathy. Your poem makes us bow our heads to the bent backs.

  5. Wonderful poem. An instant classic to my thinking. One I will quote many times surely. Brilliantly layed out as the first commentator beautifully observed.
    .
    Also, thanks Greg for participating in the ZOOM Lit Candles international Haiku Poetry Day yesterday led by Victor Ortiz.

  6. Congrats Gregory, I have read your powerful poem many times and thank you for this tribute to the hard working migrant workers that deserve more respect and gratitude.

  7. I really appreciate this haiku. It did call to mind images along the lines that the judges shared, which is a timely and relevant topic. Where I grew up in Florida, there were lots of you-pick-’em strawberry fields, so this also brought to mind a very different nostalgic feeling of family traditions.

    I particularly enjoy the cadence and alliteration/assonance here. I enjoy saying this haiku aloud. It is very pleasing to the ear and tongue.

    All-in-all a wonderful ku. Congrats, Gregory!

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