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Susan Antolin — Touchstone Award for Individual Poems Winner 2023

Susan Antolin is the recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2023 for the poem:


the mother my summer died

     Susan Antolin, Mariposa 49

Commentary from the Panel: 


A direct object and an unexpected ending irrupt the reader’s expectations, just as loss unplanets the living. Losses are grounded in seasons. Many of our death anniversaries carry the remembrance of the length of light at that time of year, the weather, and the emotional weather of the day when everything changed. This poem masterfully captures not only loss, but a universal loss in a fresh and crystalline way. The poem seems to want to go on and say something more, but its abrupt ending mimics the moment when nothing more could be said.


On first reading, we immediately notice that the word order of the poem is unnatural. When inverted or reversed, the ‘aha’ moment arrives and it instantly charges this minimalist monoku with emotional resonance. Without using the word ‘grief,’ the poet skilfully captures how language and syntax as we know it no longer serve any function in the face of such an eventuality. Our attempts at facile consolations remain just as ineffective. Every summer, the poet is now forced to relive the incident or make peace with the bereavement all over again. A season that was perhaps once a custodian of happy times transforms into a black hole of loss and longing. In re-reading, it is also curious to note how matter-of-factly the correct word order reads: ‘the summer my mother died,’ as if stripped of all emotion. A numbness, as it were, until the grieving process runs its natural course.


Grief has a way of unmooring you.  There is no ‘normal’, no coherency,  no logic. The chosen word order for this haiku reflects this. The poet’s world is off-kilter, and so is the syntax of the poem. With grief, the linear constructs we build to give our existence order and structure no longer apply.  Even the season becomes unhinged—“my summer died.” It is this very disjointedness that is the haiku’s effectiveness, and its brilliance. I found myself rearranging the words (as surely the poet knew I would and had intended) to create a logical meaning, but the real meaning of the poem lies in its brokenness. This monoku is unusual and unsettling, in the very best of ways.


Touchstone winners receive a crystal award to commemorate their selection. See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. “Grief has a way of unmooring you.” The brokenness of this structure, the brokenness of losing a mother, Susan’s monoku is one I will not forget. Thank you for writing it. A wonderful first choice.

  2. Susan Antolin’s poem is incredible, moving, and memorable. Robin Smith’s commentary is insightful and it’s wonderful that Antolin’s superb poem is not explained away by the commentary but, rather, reflected beautifully. I especially like the phrase, “loss unplanets the living.” This is the perfect pairing of a great poem with marvelous commentary.

    1. Hi John,

      I’m glad you appreciate Susan’s poem and the commentary. I just wanted to point out that three of our panelists wrote the commentary, not me.


  3. A surpassing monoku that conveys shockwaves of grief, and the undoing of the conscious mind. I am struck by the vulnerability it exposes—and with that, the courage. Congratulations, Susan, and thank you.

  4. Excellent commentary on an extraordinary poem. I am amazed how quickly this poem felt iconic to me and how it settled, restlessly, in my bones.

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