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Shloka Shankar — Touchstone Distinguished Books Award Honorable Mention 2021

Shloka Shankar is a recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Honorable Mention for 2021 for her volume where the roots are: Best of Paper Lanterns Volume  2 (Edited by Shloka Shankar. Bangalore, India: Yavanika Press, 2021).


Commentary from the Panel:

where the roots are, edited by Shloka Shankar, is a stunning collection of inventive work. This assemblage of English-language haiku is remarkable in form, content, and language, enhanced by the insightful sequencing by Shankar. It is thanks to editors like Shankar that we are fortunate to see work confident enough to challenge readers who are already familiar with the genre. These poems expand the concept of the haiku moment in new engaging ways, thus demonstrating that this innovative area of contemporary haiku still has a great deal to offer.

One noteworthy feature of where the roots are is the attention paid to language that goes beyond wordplay or wit for its own sake. Like a new dialect, the words can be heard and felt differently, such as a slip of the tongue, out of context phrase, or non-rationally. This is particularly true when the meaning might not be fully understood.

sacrificial iamb
— Nicholas Mathisen

shield of Achilles living in half a parenthesis
— Keith Polette

In these poems, our feelings about the words we thought we “knew” are challenged at the very “root.” Readers are opened to new ways of experiencing their humanity and the deep spaces within the words through which worlds are created. This collection reminds readers that haiku, and ideas, are built from words and moments of words.

so did all the blue apples fail
— Helen Buckingham

what killed us:
non-random cracks
— Kyle Hemmings

The sequencing of this collection feels as cohesive as a single-author collection, moving in an arc from genesis, incompleteness, religion, pain/healing, to being/here-ness. This kind of flow in a mixed-author anthology is impressive, and the free-natured quality of the work is something to return to. The following is an example of resonating poems (in order) that evoke different facets of seeking the known in the unknown:

They’re all dead
and we still can’t find
the good scissors
— Patrick Sweeney

. . . and not even through a glass darkly . . .
— Susan King

[insert what you see here] —
it remains to be seen
when it’s gone
— Hansha Teki

The mysteries of language, the depths of beauty, and the scope of human experience found in where the roots are will likely leave you wanting more.


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

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