Peter Newton is the recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2021 for his poem
I build the snowman
— (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.