Scott Metz — Touchstone Distinguished Books Award Honorable Mention 2022
Commentary from the Panel:
the ear. Th
eat ng h les as th y cro s the sky ast r sks
“Is it a long poem if you look at it long enough?” This question by language and minimalist poet Robert Grenier appears as an epigraph to Scott Metz’s new collection ea’s e and presents one way to enter this exciting new work. As readers of English-language haiku (ELH) understand, we are the ones who must provide our own interpretations of the haiku we encounter no matter how long we look at it, including whether we think it might extend the possible range of ELH. Metz provides us with an opportunity for widening our appreciation of ELH as we experience the language of his innovative collection of nearly 300 haiku. What does it mean to perceive something as a haiku? And how is our own creativity involved in the process? These are some questions posed by ea’s e, which not only represents a high standard of excellence in ELH but its playfully serious consideration of what ELH can be ensures it’s a noteworthy contribution to the genre.
easier to write
about birds and flowers than
hands and knees on necks
If the title of the book ea’s e playfully calls our attention to the visual nature of the letters of the word ease with the insertion of an apostrophe and extra space, thereby suggesting also the word easy, and so questions whether Metz’s haiku and the perception of its language should be approached easily and with ease, the book’s cover and back photographs seem to suggest the complementary role that the concept “outgrowth” plays in the creation of Metz’s own transformation of a branch of ELH. The cover is a photograph titled “Growth,” created by Masako Metz, as are all the photographs that introduce each of the nine sections plus the one at the end of the collection. The image “Growth” shows several branching patterns extending outward from some source that we cannot see, with two of the arms ending in a period, a momentary sense of completion. The image found on the back of the book is both a visual and verbal poem by Scott Metz called “sustenantce.” We see “over 200 translations of Bashō’s famous ‘old pond’ poem condensed into a piece of language-food being slowly devoured by a colony of language-ants.” These bookended images suggest that similarly Metz and we are the language-ants feeding on the language-food of Bashō’s poem as the “source” of ELH, ingesting and growing the ELH genre into various branches as the “Growth” image we find on the book’s cover. Indeed, ELH is an outgrowth of what has gone before and contains the seeds of what is to come as it branches outward, including, as Metz is demonstrating, the process of perceiving words as letters and marks of punctuation, indeed, focusing on language as material.
passes toward an established branch eating into
. After g
One of Metz’s consistent innovations in this collection is to highlight the materiality of language and to appreciate the various ways language can be suggestive. Rather than using clay, light, or pigment, poets employ words to shape experiences and meaning. Language may appear at times transparent like a clean window, but windows are also dirty, have pits and cracks, so we sometimes notice the window itself. When we notice that words are not so clear as they seem, we see that they have deep histories, within political, literary, existential, and cultural contexts, and that they are suggestive, equivocal, and precarious. Words are also made of letters and sounds, arranged into certain patterns, which are also subject to appreciation. Metz reminds us, again and again, that language can be taken apart and put back together in many ways and by doing so he slows us down as readers and permits language to suggest new perspectives. By using words, parts of words, punctuation, and use of space on a page in novel ways, Metz implies that we do not just see through haiku to a “real” world. Indeed, the poem itself is an object, a haiku to be perceived, assembled, and experienced in a number of possible ways. There is much in ea’s e to engage the creativity of readers for years to come, if you look at it long enough.
sometimes the sea laughs in its sleeping child
awkward. Laughter in
the green. Room
of the Anthropocene
See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.
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A perceptive look at Scott’s work, and an appreciation that makes one question the “honorable mention” status. Though one may question his approach, one cannot deny the influence he has had on haiku over the last 15 years or more, doors he has opened,
possibilities brought into light. He has written poems which have brought out feelings I would be hard pressed to name, and presented images which go beyond mere pictures.
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