Shobhana Kumar is a recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Honorable Mention for 2021 for her volume A Sky Full of Bucket Lists (Red River Press, 2021).
Commentary from the Panel:
In A Sky Full of Bucket Lists, Shobhana Kumar brings a distinctive voice to her collection of thoughtfully conceived and arranged haibun. Kumar is innovative and ambitious in how she explores her material, from the overall structure of the work to the individual stories.
Kumar divides her book as the scenes of a play. The first haibun in each chapter connects across the book with the others to create a mini-narrative. A chess board is set, pieces are moved, the game is set aside in favor of work, and ultimately the scene fades to black. The first five chapters are labeled Act 1, Scenes 1-5. The final chapter “Beyond” (about death) is Act 2, Scene 1, as if death is a lifting off point into something new.
The book is firmly set in India with references to Gulmohar petals and idlis, yet the book feels accessible even if one is not familiar with these specifics. Her haibun are a stipple of life stories that capture a deep honesty about the human experience. Themes include life’s purpose, identity, illness, grief, loneliness, and death — a sky of “hope and promise”, as Kumar says. The prose travels well, and many haiku stand alone without leaning on the prose:
the sky tiptoes
across the river
where have words
made their home?
half moon —
the unwritten pages
of a diary
The variety of haibun styles and formats Kumar employs range from the common to the inventive. There are haibun structured as free verse, as dialogue, and as a letter. Haibun are presented sideways, in a different font, and interwoven with song lyrics. The form for each piece effectively enhances its meaning. What connects them all is a strong voice that creates an emotionally-impactful offering. These are life stories, sometimes tragic, spoken plainly using haibun elements that resonate and shift in delightful ways.
As we witness in A Sky Full of Bucket Lists “what happens in the head, in one’s home, on the streets, and in abandoned spaces”, we might discover threads from this rich tapestry that bring color to our own.
See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.