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John Pappas — Touchstone Award for Individual Poems Winner 2023

John Pappas is the recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2023 for the poem:


laughing daughters somewhere sunflowers

     —John Pappas, FreshOut Magazine, July 2, 2023

Commentary from the Panel: 


‘Somewhere’ is the ache at the center of this poem. Somewhere suggests the ache of not knowing quite where our progeny is, after years of looking in on them each night. Somewhere is a location and a release, acceptance that wherever the daughters are, they are well, and in full flower. Four words tell the emotional story, the loss, and the acceptance in ways that make the peace greater than the distance. Maybe the daughters are in the next room or the next state, but they are having their day in the sun. This haiku is life-affirming, gentle, and with its light touch, it communicates enoughness.


Sometimes daughters aren’t carefree and happy and can be going through a really difficult time in life. (During the pandemic I know of at least two young daughters who went through severe mental health crises.) I read this as a parent contemplating a field of sunflowers and being struck by their bright round “happy” faces, then wistfully reflecting in a “grass is greener” kind of way about their own daughter’s troubles vs. the apparent ease with which other daughters seem to navigate the world. There are laughing daughters somewhere, but not in their house. The sunflowers juxtaposed against this wistful, wishful thinking become all the more imbued with a quiet hope, a fervent desire for their troubled daughter to rejoin the world of carefree sunflower girls. I love how the “gh” in the first two words finds equilibrium with the “s” and “w” consonance of the second two words. A beautifully balanced poem rich with meaning.


A winner which extends the haiku tradition, this delicate-sounding monoku challenges the reader to spend time savoring its words and images. The bond of sisters can be strong or tenuous, even appearing at times to be non-existent. And like most familial relationships, one which evolves over time. Still, a parent may be forgiven for focusing on ‘sunflowers’. When viewed through the prism of their own experiences, readers may have differing interpretations of these four linked words. This variety of impressions adds to the layered meanings which surround this poem. Ultimately, this multiple-image haiku presents a fresh and distinct aha moment, one which reveals a museum-worthy one-breath painting. 


Touchstone winners receive a crystal award to commemorate their selection. See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Congratulations John, I love how you twist simple images into such meaningful haiku

  2. I’m new to monoku. This strikes me with imagery and emotion. Simply beautiful .The commentaries furthered my understanding of the form.

  3. Really nice and well written commentaries of John Pappas haiku.
    This one has stuck with me for a long time. I dare to say that if there had to be only one winner, I would vote for this haiku.

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