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Lew Watts — Touchstone Distinguished Books Award 2023

Lew Watts is the recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2023 for the volume Eira (Ormskirk, UK: Snapshot Press, 2023)


Commentary from the Panel:

 

Lew Watt’s Eira, his memoir in haibun form, is a fully developed and compelling story that reads like a novel. In addition, the haiku function in a fresh way within the haibun. Or, should we say, between the haibun. The haiku heighten the emotional tenor of the prose while introducing the next “chapter” or episode in the author’s life. This structure allows the reader to flow through the various experiences and feel as if we have a front row seat to one man’s interior life. Not an easy life, at first. But one that evolves into a tale of redemption and forgiveness. Watts writes with a fluid clarity that is exhilarating for all the bombshells he sidesteps and survives.  

The organization of Eira is remarkable because it is not chronologically sequenced but flits around like memories. Each haibun is flanked by two individual haiku that transition in and out of that haibun. One exception to the book structure is two haibun in a row (pages 38 and 39, this also happens on pages 55-57), which document the search for his mother, her death, and funeral. It’s a well-thought-out stumble for the reader. The break in rhythm feels metaphorical with the break in rhythm of life when a parent dies. None of this needs to be stated; it’s within the way the book is ordered and presented.

Here, the reader can engage with the author’s emotional distance in his process of coming to terms with a painful past.

 

They say I have my mother’s eyes

The Severn Estuary has an extreme tidal range — up to fifty feet — though the speed of its flows is less impressive. It can take several days for an object to drift the ten miles from the Rhymney River Bridge in Cardiff to the rocks at Sully Island.

 

a slight catch

in the vicar’s voice

closed casket

 

Watts also employs a welcome variety of writing styles and points of view in Eira. This choice demonstrates the author’s confidence as a writer, his facility with language and a willingness to take risks. A trifecta of accomplishments.

In the haibun, “David,” Watts addresses Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of “the perfect man” if only to confess and seek forgiveness for his own personal failings. The final paragraph:

 

Forgive me, but I’m not like you. For, though your sculptured lips have never been kissed nor smiled beyond that puckered pout, you’ve always kept your dignity, your stature. Let me come closer. Don’t turn away. Look down on me through the hearts in your eyes as I touch your feet.

 

clay maquette

unable to attach

a tear

 

Watts has raised the bar on what constitutes excellence in a book of haibun. Just as Roberta Beary had done with her ground-breaking and award-winning haiku collection, The Unworn Necklace in 2007 (a Finalist in The Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award) in which she created a compelling narrative arc that propelled the reader through her life’s journey. Watts continues this tradition of excellence with Eira and has given the community of poets, and all admirers of solid literature, a book that is sure to endure the test of time. Right to the closing haibun, Watts continues to surprise his readers with one last heart-breaking revelation. You’ll want to read it for yourself. But we suggest you read Eira from the beginning. You won’t want to miss a moment of this fine contribution to the genre.


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

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I have only toyed with haibun before but done nothing seriously. This piece of Lew Watt’s work has me totally inspired. Extraordinary writing. What a beautiful way to write a memoir…or anything really. I am in awe. Thanks for sharing it.

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