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Tom Clausen — Touchstone Distinguished Books Award 2023

Tom Clausen is the recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2023 for the volume One Day (Ithaca, NY: Stark Mountain Press Book 2023)


Commentary from the Panel:

 

Of the many ways to organize poems in a manuscript (by season, theme, narrative arc, to name a few) Tom Clausen’s One Day tries something new. As Clausen writes in his foreword, the collection “begins in pre-dawn dark and moves through daybreak and morning and continues on through the afternoon and into the evening and night.” Initially, this seemed like an overly tight structure. Where would be the surprise if we knew at the outset we would move through only one day start to finish? But as we read, we realized this was not a literal day-in-the-life, but an entire life in a day, and moving through it with one of the most genuine and tender of haiku poets was a poignant experience. 

The fleetingness of life is never far from mind in this collection. As time passes from morning to night, all the seasons of the year appear as they might in memory as one reflects on a full life spent close to nature and family. Children are born and grown, a marriage needs tending, pets come and go, and throughout the poet is attuned to nature, drawing our attention to small details as in the following:

 

late day sun

deep on the forest floor

a seedling

 

between windows

the space the spider

lived and died

 

Clausen’s wry humor is evident in the opening poem:

 

waking me

to let me know

she can’t sleep

 

And that humor resurfaces throughout the book, particularly in the family-focused poems, such as:

 

home from work

the little one brings me

an empty wine bottle

 

Yet the overall tone of the book is quiet and meditative. All the seasons of a life pass in this metaphorical day, including the last stage of a loved one’s life.

 

hospice window

in and out of view

a cardinal

 

Clausen has been writing haiku for more decades than most of us, which gave him a wealth of material from which to cull this journey through a day. He is a poet who shuns artifice in favor of writing that feels as though it arose organically from sustained attention. In this way, Clausen fits Raymond Carver’s definition of a writer as “someone who is willing to stare at something longer than anyone else.” Clausen also has a knack for gently hinting at the larger questions of existence and his place in the world with the simplest of poems.

 

in the dark

through the window light

my wife and child

 

And again, with a touch of humor:

 

drifting off

NPR on

the size of the universe

 

Clausen ends his foreword with this apt articulation of his purpose and belief: “I have always believed that each day we are here is a great gift and chance to make peace with ourselves and our world and it is a full-fledged opportunity to fall in love over and over with what we encounter.” This book offers us all an opportunity to fall in love over and over with what we encounter in it. 

 


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

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Grateful thank you to everyone on the Book Panel! It was a great happiness to find One Day had made the short list and then a huge surprise and honor to have it receive an award. The Commentary from the Panel is a genuine affirmation that the past thirty years of my writing has been well received. I can not imagine or ask for a more meaningful recognition of these years of attempting to record my life in writing little poems! Many thanks also to Jessica, John, Marietta, Jo, and Richard for your appreciative comments.

  2. “One Day — Thirty Years of Little Poems” is a great book worth reading and rereading. It’s full of gems, such as this pairing on page 39:

    down the beach
    too far to yell
    my children

    our turn
    to stand here
    falls overlook

  3. Congratulations, Tom.

    “One Day” with its tender and quiet style seems the perfect book for this time. It’s feeling of joy in the everyday which is not ordinary at all as the reader sees it through your appreciative eyes. I also enjoyed the humor scattered throughout.

    Jo

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