Susan Antolin is the recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2020 for her volume The Years That Went Missing (Durham NC: Backbone Press, 2020).
Commentary from the Panel:
One thing we all have in common is a family tree. And just as the stratification of rocks on a mountainside reveals to a geologist details about the times they represent so do the members of our extended family in their own times reveal things about ourselves. That is especially true when you live in a multigenerational home. Susan Antolin lets us view slices of an ever-changing time capsule that is her family.
We humans often like to think about our time as separate from the others in our lives. But that is simply not true. As the poems in this collection show us in minute detail is that we are inextricably connected with everyone else, but most clearly and genetically with our family.
that went missing
That time we can’t fully explain to others because it does not fit on 8 ½ by 11 paper is what the poet wants us to experience with her in this volume. This time is the most precious, uncluttered as it is with work, hopes, or even dreams. It is the pure experiences that paint stratifications on our lives. Caring for others and caring for ourselves is what this time is about and it offers more than any amount of money or degree that can be conferred on us by others.
scaffolded dahlias —
I fold Mom’s walker
into the backseat
The dahlias reach the maximum display of their beauty when supported on a scaffold. It is a phrase that leads the reader to imagine nothing but the blooms themselves in that opening line. But the poet has skillfully contrasted those blooms on a scaffold with her mother’s walker. Something about this poem reminds readers of a certain age of their own mother who needs the support of a walker to remain on display. Age takes many things from us, but it is our hope that the love of those close to us remains, and that reciprocated love is the bloom in our own lives.
on and off rain —
leaving the vet
with only a collar
Emotions are like the weather. One minute up and the next minute down. The awareness of the brevity of our time on this earth is made very clear when there is a loss in our lives. Our pets often provide that sense of transience to our children when they are young, but it impacts the adults just as dramatically. A pet’s loss sensitizes us to the future loss of family and friends that we will all unquestionably face. It also allows our minds to imagine the impact of our own departure on the others in our lives. It is just these moments that develop in us the resolve to be better while we are still here and to nurture and make amends while we still can.
Looking at your life through the prism of poems presented by the poet in this collection you will find all the shades of your own life in them. It is stark and warmly welcomed at the same time, and each poem has the quality and individual value that is completely its own to the poet and now to the reader. Read this one, and keep reading it. And if you ever believe something is missing in your life just pick up Susan’s book and find moments from your own life on the pages to console and inspire you.
The reason Susan Antolin is so loved as a poet, and editor, and cheerleader for the work of others is that she is the child, the spouse, the parent, the poet, and the caregiver we all want to know in our own lives. And lucky we are to know her in this volume.
See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.