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Matthew Markworth — Touchstone Award for Individual Poems Winner 2023

Matthew Markworth is the recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2023 for the poem:


until it’s a noun garden

     —Matthew Markworth, Modern Haiku, 54.2

Commentary from the Panel: 


The poem plays with the idea of the garden as an imperative in order to become a garden. Long-time dirt wranglers will find this to be lightly clever and relatable. One can appreciate its clarity and immediacy. This is a grammar lesson said with a wink, a smile, and a punctual wave in the air with a spade.


This winning monoku boldly begins with a lesser-used preposition in haiku. In a handful of carefully chosen words, it paints the entire gamut of what it means to be the proud owner of a manicured garden. This includes taking care of every nuanced detail from enough sunlight and water to de-weeding, pruning, and enriching the soil with the right fertilizers. The act of gardening—the verb—isn’t done until it becomes its own thing of beauty, a noun. The image of the plentiful and vibrant garden can also be taken as a metaphor for life, where we’re constantly growing and being renewed by our experiences. When do we stop coming into our own?   


This five-word aesthetically satisfying haiku initially appears to make use of wordplay. But that interpretation is a deceptively simple one. Further readings awaken the need for a deeper examination of the concept of ‘until it’s a noun’. In doing so, the reader is drawn to and entwined with the strength of this haiku’s spirituality. Not unlike what occurs during peak visits to a garden in bloom. After closer reads over several weeks, the universality of the garden image remains. Additionally, the ‘garden’ image, when juxtaposed against current conflicts of political unrest, war, and famine, adds to this one-liner’s myriad layers. Finally, this innovative winning haiku evokes and expands upon this beloved classic by Ruth Yarrow: after the garden party    the garden and in doing so carries the haiku tradition forward. 


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 4 Comments

  1. Symbolism of the “garden” through time, and literary tòpos

    “The men where you live,” said the little prince, “raise five thousand roses in the same garden–and they do not find in it what they are looking for.”

    “They do not find it,” I replied. “And yet what they are looking for could be found in one single rose, or in a little water.”

    “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

    Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

    And of course time spent in a garden is never wasted; we can rake time, such as the very old Japanese karesansui (dry-mountain-water) gardens.

    They go back to Japan’s native religion of Shinto (perhaps 300 BC to AD 300): The Yayoi period (弥生時代, Yayoi jidai) started in the late Neolithic period in Japan, continued through the Bronze Age, and towards its end crossed into the Iron Age.

    Locus amoenus (Latin: ”pleasant place”) is a literary topos involving an idealized place of safety or comfort. A locus amoenus is usually a beautiful, shady lawn or open woodland, or a group of idyllic islands, sometimes with connotations of Eden or Elysium.–Wikipedia

    Time spent in a garden is never wasted, and we can rake time such as the very old Japanese karesansui (dry-mountain-water) gardens that go back into Japan’s native religion of Shinto (perhaps 300 BC to AD 300): The Yayoi period (弥生時代, Yayoi jidai) started in the late Neolithic period in Japan, continued through the Bronze Age, and towards its end crossed into the Iron Age.


    It is an archetypal image of the soul, of innocence, of happiness; it is a place for growth of the inner Self. It is a symbol of consciousness because of its order and enclosed characteristics, as opposed to the unconscious FOREST. Yet it also represents fertility and is usually considered feminine.

    Paraphrased from:
    Dictionary of Symbolism
    Originally Constructed by Allison Protas Augmented and refined by Geoff Brown and Jamie Smith in 1997, and by Eric Jaffe in 2001

    1. Alan, thanks for the Saint-Exupéry quote ““It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” I must have read it as a young man, but brushed it aside then, intent on finding my own roses.

      Yet another line stayed with me, from Hughes’ “Thrushes:”
      “With a man it is otherwise”……
      “Carving at a tiny ivory ornament
      For years: his act worships itself”

      Do I hear a background whisper, “how like haiku…”?

  2. Congratulations to the panel for picking another memorable line that skittles some of the dour conventions of the genre in English. Didactic, aphoristic, intellectual, and not of a single present moment (for each of which aspects there are magisterial precedents), the line nevertheless radiates haiku spirit, a contemplative classic in plain words. As a gardener, I love it. In the mind, too. We garden while we can, but ‘a’ garden, ‘the’ garden, is never finished, never static: the constant change (think Dao, Zhuangzhi). Echoes also of Voltaire. Not to mention Eden —’the’ garden — and a state of being without knowing.

    A cultivated haiku.

  3. until it’s a noun garden

    —Matthew Markworth, Modern Haiku, 54.2

    A wonderful re-readable haiku that I have loved from first reading to any other opportunity.

    “Until” is a preposition or a conjunction that denotes a time frame extending up to a specified point. It implies a situation or an action that continues up to a particular event, deadline, or moment in time. It signifies the duration before a specific endpoint is reached.
    Until or Untill: The Right Word to Use by Arushi Gupta (June 2023)

    These little heroes of grammar, be it preposition, conjunction, article-adjective etc… can unexpectedly elevate a haiku we might think otherwise should be dominated by nouns, and a verb, but they are the support troops or in this case the advance guard, the vanguard! 🙂

    Did I say “article-adjectives’? 😉

    “Basically, an article is an adjective. Like adjectives, articles modify nouns.”
    Purdue OWL: How to Use Articles (a/an/the) by Paul Lynch, Allen Brizee, and Elizabeth Angeli

    So although we sometimes avoid adjectives in general, the humble article can make or break a haiku. Let us begin again…

    Paul Lynch, Allen Brizee, and Elizabeth Angeli continue to say that “English has two articles: the and a/an. The is used to refer to specific or particular nouns; a/an is used to modify non-specific or non-particular nouns. We call the the definite article and a/an the indefinite article.”

    the = definite article
    a/an = indefinite article

    “The definite and indefinite article – how a house passes along the train of haiku”
    ( March 2018) by Alan Summers

    until [preposition] a [indefinite-article/adjective] followed by the literal word for noun, and this noun, garden

    And as it’s been pointed out, a wonderful companion/allusion from:


    until it’s a noun garden

    —Matthew Markworth, Modern Haiku, 54.2




    after the garden party the garden

    —Ruth Yarrow, Wind Chimes #7, Winter 1983

    Where Ruth Yarrow decided on the definite article-adjective to great effect, Matthew Markworth gently uses the other article-adjective which complements so neatly. Whether an allusion was intentional, or just a brief respectful nod, if it had been either of these versions:

    until it’s a noun garden


    until it’s the noun garden

    until it’s the noun the garden

    OR EVEN:

    until it’s a noun the garden

    until it’s the noun a garden

    I cannot see that light dusting of magic in those versions. Sometimes there is so much to see, as in

    So much depends “a” red wheelbarrow beside “the” white chickens to paraphrase the famous William Carlos Williams poem! 🙂

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