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Harriot West — Touchstone Distinguished Books Award Winner 2018

Harriot West is a recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2018 for her volume Shades of Absence (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press. 78 pages, 6″ x 9″. Four-color card covers, perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-947271-22-7. $15.00.).

Commentary from the Panel:

Conjuring the presence of absence is no mean poetic feat. Harriot West, in Shades of Absence, finely tunes all the senses, with time, intuition and the unknowable also playing essential roles. She bears down on her subjects with every formal tool in her formidable box: haiku, tanka, haibun, tanka prose and monostich. The result is that Shades of Absence is just that, and more: a breathtaking collection of loss and repression, death and denial, broken relationships, dysfunction and missed opportunities. What isn’t said is often more resonant than what is.

mother’s ashes
taking his word for it
that she was proud of me

In a six word senryu, devastation, loss and their effects map the dark side of a relationship gone bad:

negative space
he sharpens
my edges

Each poem confronts absence in a different way, sees its shadow in every situation, and sorrow and sadness weigh heavily on what isn’t, as well as what is:

three months
maybe four
she buys a ukulele

The cumulative power of this sadness and sorrow in Shades reminds us of an aspect of the human condition we ignore at our own risk: all-pervasive suffering.

The Changeling

Mother had a fondness for a certain TV cop who drank his
coffee black. Facts ma’am, just the facts he said as evening
dulled the amber of her scotch. On cold nights when she
refused to light the furnace, his image flickered on the screen,
blocking thoughts about a child who conjured castles out of
clouds and faeries out of starlight.

the crack
of ice cubes melting
in her glass
mother says
I’m just like father

Harriot West’s collection is a compelling compendium of emotion, anguish and inevitable loss. With her mastery of brief Eastern forms, she evokes this loss with a succinct power few poets working in any form achieve. Above all, Shades of Absence is an insightful chronicle of humanness in all its pain and wonder.

maybe he says I insert ellipses

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

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