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Meredith Ackroyd — Touchstone Award for Individual Poems Winner 2021

Meredith Ackroyd is the recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2021 for her poem

before
they were my daughters . . .
wildflowers
— (Frogpond 44:3)


Commentary from the Panel:

“The social value of the adoption of the child has been poetically manifested in the present haiku. There is an emotional juxtaposition between ‘wildflowers’ and ‘adopted daughters’. It has an aesthetic message of rendering due diligence to wildflowers. The word ‘wildflowers’ has been subtly manifested in an allegorical sense for the readers to breathe in the placid rhythm of the haiku. The use of ellipses (kireji) in line 2 marks an internal division and offers a space for the readers to visualize the possible socio-political scenario. It could be that the children were missed in a war, migrants, or displaced due to various reasons.

With mere six words, the poet succinctly expresses the plight of orphans and how adoption could transfer them to a better way of living. The haiku has an immense depth (yūgen) with zen-feeling. She possesses a noble heart to embrace them as her real daughters. It reminds us of the golden lines by the American novelist, Tama Janowitz, on her adopted daughter:  “My kid knows I’m her real mother. Not biological, but real. It doesn’t get any realer than this.” Let us recall the couplet of the poem “The Gift of Life” by an unknown author on adoption, “No, I didn’t give you /  The gift of life, / Life gave me the gift of you.” The theme of the haiku is very sensitive and worth fathoming by the social scientists and the general public at large.

There is a sense of humane feeling in the haiku and it unveils dreams of love, affection, and compassion. A feeling of resonance echoes with ‘s’ sounds (alliteration) in the haiku. Assimilating the substance of the poem, I wish to conclude with the excerpt of the beautiful verse Adoption by Teri Harrison:

Longing for a child to love,
I’d wish upon the stars above.
In my heart I always knew,
A part of me was meant for you.

I think how happy we will be,
Once I adopt you, and you adopt me.”

 


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

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. This is a wonderfully subtle poem. I always call my plants my green babies, so it does resonate with me. We can have an intimate, nurturing relationship with plants as well as children.

  2. Congratulations on this well deserved award. The selected haiku is beautiful both for its impact as well for its succinctness.
    I must acknowledge that I had misread the haiku in my first reading. I had thought: before they were my daughters… and interpreted wildflowers…as the transformation on the loss of children ( particularly war, since Ukraine was playing on my mind) a completely different take on the haiku. But having read the note above, I realise how far away I was from the true message. I definitely like the happier and more hopeful interpretation.

    Warmest
    Shalini

    1. Well, that’s the syntactic ambiguity of the preposition “before,” isn’t it?

      “Before, they were my daughters. Now, they’re wildflowers”

      or

      “Before they were my daughters they were wildflowers.”

      I think it works either way. I actually prefer your interpretation. When we adopted our daughters they weren’t wildflowers at all, but had been cultivated in a place they couldn’t live (to precariously extend the metaphor). Now that they’re grown, they enter the world on their own terms, while we are left to admire wildflowers.

    2. You are not incorrect in your reading, Shalini, and I am so glad that you shared your interpretation of the poem here. I wrote this as a multi-layered poem, with the intention of expressing the yugen or mystery of the multiple experiences of what it means to become a mother in relationship with children, whether that be through biological mothering, fertility or pregnancy loss, or adoption. And alternatively, I think this can also be read as a poem about gardening, with the flowers that are grown in one’s garden being the cultivated daughters of wildflowers. It’s interesting and surprising to me to see that the Touchstone panel has focused on just one reading of this poem in its commentary, but your reading is also correct, as is the panel’s, and as are other readings that I hope are out there in the world too.

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