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Peter Newton — Touchstone Award for Individual Poems Winner 2021

Peter Newton is the recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2021 for his poem

middle age
I build the snowman
a son
— (The Heron’s Nest 23.2)

Commentary from the Panel:

Playing in the snow can make us feel like kids again, no matter our age. So surely the mid-lifer in this poem felt a similar joy. Why then, such disparate emotions when he stands back to regard the finished snowman? What prompts him to include a companion snowboy? Perhaps he longs for a lost father, or a child he misses, or even his own lost childhood. Maybe he laments not being a dad, or yet hopes to become one. Whatever the case, the poem allows us to experience this touching act of empathy in our own way, given our own life story.


The image is unique in the sense of a psychological surge on the part of the woman who is without children. She realizes her physical limitations. The haiku portrays the aspiration of the mid-age woman to be blessed with motherhood. She longs for fulfilling her dream by building a snowman and embracing him as her son. She goes through a sense of emotional consciousness and finally culminates in an aesthetic attachment with the beauty of nature. The haiku draws a sense of becomingness (kokora). The word ‘snowman’ has an allegorical depiction of life in its purity. Interestingly snowman has been elucidated as an aesthetic living form by Kobayashi Issa in one of his haiku: growing old too / I trust in a Buddha / of snow (Tr. Roger Pulvers).

The haiku explicates both horizontal and vertical axes of the time span of life. It is a poem of emotion (sabi) truly reflecting the words of Harold G. Henderson: “. . . haiku is a very short poem . . . more concerned with human emotions than with human acts, and natural phenomena are used to reflect human emotion.”

Internally she wants to unburden herself from the shadow of socio-psychological tension by embracing the snowman as her son. Probably to climax the personal feeling, the poet prefers using the first-person pronoun ‘I’ in the haiku. At the same time, perhaps she might be comprehending within herself that it is an illusion interacting with the dimension of intense imagination as Wallace Stevens in his poem “The Snow Man” writes:

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”

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. Ahem (blush) my apologies for misspelling Peter’s surname. I did know it was Peter Newton. Don’t know what happened.

  2. This haiku by Peter Newman was my immediate favourite from the shortlist (though there were others I liked, too ).
    Congratulations, Peter. Well-deserved, imo. 🙂
    I agree with the commentary from the panel that begins with “Playing in the snow…” and ends with “… our own life story”.
    I have no idea who would’ve written the second, larger comment. Despite that the ‘4th line’ of Peter’s haiku clearly says ‘Peter Newman’, and Peter’s haiku have been frequently published for over a decade (at least!) , and despite that Peter is a male ( to my knowledge, and a Taurus male at that!) and not a trans woman, the judges (or, to be fair, a judge but with the panel’s approval) seems to have taken the liberty of bestowing Peter with female gender throughout the commentary !
    In my view this 2nd part of the judges’ commentary is a glaring example of a reader taking advantage of the (unfortunately) still-current, crazy misinterpretation of Dennis Garrison’s “dreaming room” idea of the cut in haiku as meaning that haiku interpretation may be anything the reader dreams up (as in a ‘Rorschach test’ image) . I’m sure D.G. didn’t intend that.
    This judge/ critic is so fond of ‘high talk’ . (“Internally she wants to unburden herself from the shadow of socio-psychological tension by embracing the snowman as her son… etc.” ) that his/ her commentary becomes comical in the sense that the English comedian John Cleese was funny.
    Wallace Stevens’ poem ‘The Snow Man’ has long been a favourite of mine. This judge and commentator, before leaping into grand ideas and making alterations to the author’s gender, might do well to reflect on the first part of the last line of ‘The Snow Man’ : “Nothing that is not there. . .”
    ps – There’s no snowman in Steven’s poem. There’s a snow man, a human, a “listener, who beholds. . . .”

    pps. Yes, one is allowed to criticize what the critic has written.

  3. There’s a silent place at the edge of that poem that pulls the reader in deep. Lovely!

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