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National Haiku Poetry Day Announcements: 2011 Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards

And Hi Once More:

Our final announcement for National Haiku Poetry Day is the recipients of the 2011 Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards. Once again, congratulations to all who have made this a memorable year in haiku publishing.

Touchstone Distinguished Books Awards 2011

Aoyagi, Fay Beyond the Reach of My Chopsticks: New and Selected Haiku (Blue Willow

Epstein, Robert (editor) Dreams Wander On: Contemporary Poems of Death Awareness
(Modern English Tanka Press)

m., paul Few Days North Days Few (Red Moon Press)

Vukelic-Rozic, Durda (editor) An unmown sky (Haiku Association Three Rivers)



Award recipients
An Unmown Sky: An Anthology of Croatian Haiku Poetry 1996-2007
(Neposkošeno Nebo: Antologiya hrvatskoga haiku pjesništva 1996-2007)
Edited and translated by Đurđa Vukelić-Rožić. Published by Haiku Association Three Rivers, Ivanić Grad, Croatia. 2011. Hard cover, 21×29 cm, 390pp.
One comes away from An Unmown Sky with a strong sense of “participation” in all senses of the word. Editor Đurđa Vukelić-Rožić’s vision and achievement has clearly been one of inclusion of all Croatian poets significantly active in the decade 1996 – 2007. Literally thousands of haiku from 166 poets, each poet’s work prefaced by a short biography, are given in both Croatian and English. Prior publication of each haiku is listed clearly at the close of each author’s section and meticulous lists of individual collections and anthologies appear at the end of the book.
The result is a treasure for English-language readers, providing the opportunity to steep ourselves in the sensibilities and culture that have made Croatian haiku. An Unmown Sky is also a superb resource for researchers, a book made to last that will remain a touchstone for future generations.

in the shop
a moth and I selecting
a wool jumper
– Đurđa Vukelić-Rožić
the army passes by
a dog barking from the first
to the last soldier
 – Tomislav Mareteć
Bread on the table.
Together before the meal
we smell the peace…
 – Marinko Kovacević
Aoyagi, Fay. Beyond the Reach of My Chopsticks: New and Selected Haiku. San Francisco: BlueWillow Press, 2011. 135 pages. 14 cm; 4.25˝ x 5.5˝. Glossy full-color card covers: perfectbound. No ISBN. Price: $15.00 from the publisher at 930 PineSt, Suite 105, San Francisco, CA 94108.
Fay Aoyagi is simply one of the most exciting haiku poets active today, and I would snap up anything she writes. She works at the interstices of Japanese and English-language haiku, writing inboth languages, and exemplifies the best of the gendai style in her very personal approach to her subjects (especially her frequent use of first-person pronouns), while hewing closely to the use of kigo. In fact I believe she is a world leader in exploring new kigo and reinvigorating old ones, notably on her Blue Willow blog from which many of the haiku for this book are selected.
I’m not sure why Fay chose to include here a selection of haiku from her 2003 book, In Borrowed Shoes, and her doing so drops my estimation of the book ever so slightly. I also wonder why in both cases she chose to self-publish (i.e., her own Blue Willow Press) rather than giving her MSS to an outside publisher, who would certainly snap them up.
Epstein, Robert, editor. Dreams Wander On: Contemporary Poems of Death Awareness. Baltimore: Modern English Tanka Press, 2011. 131 pages. 6˝ x 9˝. Glossy black and four-color card covers; perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-935398-24-0. Price: $18.95 from the publisher at .
Dreams Wander On comes on the heels of Editor Epstein’s 2009 Breath of Surrender: A Collection of Recovery-Oriented Haiku, a second anthology of haiku on a serious, spiritual-oriented topic. The current book is superior to the first because it is more focused (recovery from what? by what path?). The selection of verse—mostly haiku, but some other forms as well—is very good. One could wish for some sorting by subtheme or category; as it is, the haiku are presented in straight alphabetical order by poet. In his introduction, Epstein, a psychotherapist by profession, usefully identifies some of the major themes in the selection. I find this book the most interestinganthology of the year.
paul m., Few Days North Days Few. Cover and illustrations by the author. Winchester, Va.: Red Moon Press, 2011. 104 unnumbered pages. Series: A Soffietto Book. 16.5 cm; 4.25˝ x 6.5˝. Glossy gray and red card covers; flyleaves; perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-936848-06-5. Price: $12.00 from the publisher at
I can’t say much more than I did in my cover blurb for this book and the brief review I wrote for Modern Haiku, except that it is the top choice of mine for the Touchstone Awards:
“Working at the nexus of the traditional and the modern, paul m. creates haiku that have a classical feel yet never fail to evoke psychological resonance and deep emotions. Bashô supposedly taught that haiku is what is happening at this time in this place. Paul explores the dynamics of time and space, things going and things coming, evanescence. His special skill is to take common things—ticks, driftwood, hawks, dusty boots, a burning stick, pumpkin patches—and find in them startling and uncanny profundity. Few Days North Few Days will surely become a bellwether for 21st century haiku.”
“The third substantial book by one of the most authoritative voices on the haiku scene today. The book is full of instant classics, not imitative but pathbreaking, such as the first one in the book, a one-liner reminiscent of Marlene Mountain: with eyes closed spring grass”


Honorable Mention

Burns, Allan distant virga (Red Moon Press)

Dragovic, Ljubomir A Narrow Road (Liber Press)

O’Connor, John S. Things Being What They Are (Deep North Press)



A Narrow Road, Ljubomir Dragovic, Belgrade, 2011, 105 pp.
In The Future of Haiku, one of the books short-listed for this prize, the eminent haiku poet and scholar Kaneko Tohta discusses Issa’s use of the Japanese word ara, defined as wildness, rawness, freedom: the term describes well the surprising work of Ljubomir Dragovic. Every page of this simply laid out, bilingual edition contains haiku that startle the reader into fresh vision and sympathy; for example:
while eating
from my hands—a gnat
in the horse’s eye
Dragovic’s earthiness, precision of observation, and depth of feeling also recall Issa: the haiku in this book evidence a life deeply rooted in communion with the things of this world
Allan Burns, Distant Virga.

It would be hard to find a more carefully structured, aesthetically satisfying collection of haiku than distant virga. The selection of poems is modest but unfolds to great effect, without any lapses in quality. With subject-matter ranging from the music of Miles Davis to “Shakespeare’s birthday” to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the poems are also imbued with profound ecological awareness. Over-used formulas are avoided (there are no “spring evenings” or “autumn rain” to be found here, despite the frequent seasonal associations); likewise, modernistic fads. The handling of form is subtle—one might easily fail to notice the occasional 5-7-5 syllables—and the collection is punctuated at regular intervals by variously startling one-liners, each set against artwork by Ron Moss. The shortest of these is strikingly minimalist, but also very much in the line of Nick Virgilio’s classic haiku, “fossilence”:


The collection as a whole is no less prismatic, the vivid images coalescing at times into moments of visionary depth and intensity:

        distant virga
        the ranch dog’s eyes
        different colors

        K-T boundary
        on the sandstone bluff. . .
        a rock wren calls

Conveniently pocket-sized but generously featuring a poem-per-page, distant virga deepens with each re-reading.  
John S. O’Connor, Things Being What They Are. Deep North Press, 2011. 39 pages.
As his title suggests, O’Connor attends to things in this collection: the daily, intimate, ordinary artifacts of a life being lived through which, he notes in his preface, we might glimpse “the enormity of the larger world.” Things being what they are and nothing else—the chalk on a Latin teacher, the gurgle of a fish tank, a rusty bird cage—come to suggest deeper truths and heart-felt connections. Things become words with heft and power, each image of each haiku like a stone in the garden of the title verse, O’Connor’s ars poetica:
rock garden . . .
things being
what they are
With insight, humor and sympathy, he leads the attentive reader on a perceptual journey to the present moment, here and now, replete with significance.
first day of school
the Latin teacher
coated in chalk
too drunk to stand
the constant gurgle
of the fish tank
at the grave marker
a rusty bird cage . . .
door open



Axle Contemporary (editor) Haiku Roadsign (Axle Contemporary)

Bjerg, Johannes Penguins / Pingviner

Haiku Dubuque (editor) the river knows the way

Kacian, Jim & Dee Evetts (editors) A New Resonance 7: Emerging Voices in English-
Language Haiku
(Red Moon Press)

Ketchek, Michael & Bob Lucky & Lucas Stensland My Favorite Thing (bottle rockets

Kon Nichi Translation Group The Future of Haiku: An Interview with Kaneko Tohta (Red
Moon Press)

Martone, John St. John’s Wort (tel-let)

Montreuil, Mike The Neighbours Are Talking

Don Wentworth Past All Traps (Lilliput Press)


This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Well, I most certainly have enjoyed Fay’s and Paul’s books a great deal. In fact Paul’s book got me to do a whole winter series because it’s the kind of book that invites your muse to creativity and to seeing pathways and connections. And Fay’s book causes you to throw away all that you’ve learned and to start again with your own authentic voice. She generously shows you just how to do it… makes it look so simple… yet the discipline she brings to her writing is the hidden part of her art.

    I also want to congradulate all those who have not won as this list is truly an incredible collection. Each book a treasure with a cup of tea in your easy chair after a hard day at work.

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