Joan Torres — Touchstone Award for Individual Poems Winner 2021
Joan Torres is the recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2021 for her poem
below the missing dog a missing woman
— (#FemkuMag 31)
Commentary from the Panel:
This multilayered haiku evokes emotions surrounding women’s place in today’s society. These emotions are seen through the prism of humans’ attachment to their pets. There is the unstated contrast as to which is more valued by society, a missing woman or a missing dog. The emotional resonance is skillfully displayed in the seven words of the haiku and echoed in the white space that surrounds them. What is present in the white space? Perhaps the staples rusting on both posters. Perhaps both posters have torn parchment. Perhaps in a contrast between the two posters: lettering in a child’s hand vs a formal police-type print. The answers depend on what each individual reader brings to the poem. A visceral, haunting monoku.
On a poster board or, perhaps, a telephone pole with images piled one upon the other as on a totem pole, emblems of systemic sexism in our culture. Either way, a disheartening image one hopes was fabricated to make a point rather than actually stumbled on in our surreal world.
See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.
This Post Has 3 Comments
The power of this poem lies in the way it subverts the Great Chain of Being Metaphor (Lakoff & Johnson, Lakoff & Turner), which says that we structure our lives through a metaphoric system that proposes humans as the highest form of life. In this poem, that order is flipped, to devastating effect. Although both are missing, the woman is below the dog in importance. We understand this because of how we visualize in context and see the familiar signs stapled to a bulletin board or telephone pole, see that the woman is listed below the dog, understand that this contradicts our understanding of the GCBM, and finally read this situation as a metaphor that extends far beyond the haiku moment toward social critique of patriarchal culture. This critique is emphasized in the way the word “sign” is missing from the poem but clearly implied. By leaving out “sign,” we are asked to focus on the relational concepts rather than the simply the image. Brilliant social critique in seven words.
Congratulations! I interpreted this poem differently, more tragic…whatever the interpretation, it’s a great poem!
Me too. The interpretation in the commentary was new to me. Fascinating how one line can be understood in many different ways..
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