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Here are the Touchstone Award winners for 2010. For more information about the Touchstone Awards Series, please see Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems and Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards. For other archives, see Touchstone Archive.

The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems 2010: Final Selections

Panelists: Fay Aoyagi, Janice Bostok, David Cobb, John Martone, Hiro Sato, John Stevenson.

Approximately 600 poems were nominated. Award recipients are listed below in alphabetical order by author; they are not ranked according to merit. Each poem is followed by panelist comments.

ragged clouds
how it feels
to hold a rake
     —Robert Epstein
        The Heron's Nest XII:4
Comments from
the Panel

The appeal of this haiku is its slight surreal quality. We [are given] access to that part of the human brain that makes uncanny but telling connections . . . There is the visual analogy between . . . clouds and tines of the rake; but more, the unstated sense of nature’s disorder moving in. How lonely that figure with his human feelings . . . reminiscent of Wordsworth’s solitary reaper and Wallace Stevens in his backyard . . .

the time it takes
to thaw the breast milk—
winter night
     —Duro Jaiye
        The Heron's Nest XII:1
Comments from
the Panel

Is a poet thawing her own milk? Or is a baby waiting for the milk that does not belong to his/her mother? . . . from this haiku, we can hear footsteps of approaching spring. This is all the more effective for not specifying, in a way that would be too obvious, how long a time this winter night actually is. Nor even telling us whether it is a man or a woman who is warming the feed – for the milk has obviously been pumped from the breast and stored in a fridge. The urgent need to return it to blood warmth is palpable – we can imagine the baby crying in the meantime. We might wonder also about the mother’s condition. Altogether a very tense haiku.

morning mist—
the church fills
with the smell of overcoats
     —Mark Lonergan
        paper wasp 16
Comments from
the Panel

That permeating mist and the smell of overcoats infuse the senses — where else could this be but a church! . . . In each round of selection we kept coming back to this one . . . It achieves a happy resolution of something potentially unpleasant (a tweed overcoat inherited from my father when I was an impecunious student smelled horrible) with the welcoming warmth of a large congregation. It is vaguely romantic . . . the sound – three m’s, two l’s – contributes to this sensation of soothing . . .

into the afterlife red leaves
     —Peggy Willis Lyles
        Modern Haiku 41.1
Comments from
the Panel

Buddhists believe the River Styx separates the world of the dead from the world of living. Red spider lilies bloom on the shore on the side of the living. In previous life cycles, we could be those red leaves falling to the ground. We may have no memory of previous lives and will not know who and what will be in our next lives, but somewhere in those repeating cycles, our paths will cross with the one who entered the other world before us . . . Though the judging of this contest has been done on a semi-blind basis, these poems have all been published and the best of them may have caught a judge’s attention when they first appeared in print—this is certainly the case with this poem.

a crow at dusk—
ink sinks deeper
into the page
     —Greg Piko
        The Heron’s Nest XII:1
Comments from
the Panel

In the mind’s eye, we can see a gray-haired calligrapher sitting at the desk. The last stroke for the day might be dipped deeper in sumi ink. Or he feels a crow is telling that his borrowed time will be ended soon . . . The two images occur in a juxtaposition that seems to come from the poet’s will rather than from the poet’s discovery. As such, it is more overtly metaphorical than usual in haiku—I think of a newly inked copy of Basho’s “crow on a bare branch” poem.

slicing papaya—
the swing
of her black pearls
     —Sandra Simpson
        The Heron's Nest XII:3
Comments from
the Panel

Having scooped many a papaya, we find ourselves tickled by the click between the image of the black pearls and the myriad glistening black seeds of the open fruit. The resemblance between an opened-up papaya and the yoni chimes with the vigorous swing of the woman’s hands and wrists as she gouges out the seeds, making this a moment of eager eroticism and fecundity—richly sensuous.

a spiral
of apple peel
autumn moon
     —Quendryth Young
        Haiku Chrysanthemum 8
Comments from
the Panel

Food at the moon viewing in Japan is taro and dango (steamed ball of rice flour), but in this adopted home, we might take the stairs of apple peel to reach the moon. This little poem is heavy with kigo. “Apple,” “moon,” and, of course, “autumn” are all autumn kigo. Despite the technical questions this raises, the poem is very effective in a haiku way, suggesting greater significance arising directly from a plausible moment of experience, and resisting reduction to statement, solution, or closed form.


The Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards 2010: Final Selections

Panelists: Lorin Ford, Philip Rowland, Barbara Louise Ungar, Charles Trumbull, Ruth Yarrow

83 book-length works were submitted. Award Recipients and Honorable Mentions are listed in alphabetical order by title. Titles and authors are followed by publisher information, and then panelist comments.

hal book
How to Paint the Finch's Song
by Carolyn Hall
Red Moon Press, Winchester, VA, USA
Comments from the Panel

Carolyn Hall’s How to Paint the Finch’s Song is an exemplary haiku book. Not only are all of the haiku of excellent standard, the book design and composition reveal an expert’s hand. Paul Klee’s quartet of Twittering Machines, on the cover, reappearing as soloists on the introductory pages of the four sections of the book, are in themselves a witty, humorous juxtaposition with the text. We are reminded, in a light and subtle way, that haiku is poetry and that “all art aspires to the condition of music,” as Walter Pater famously observed. From the title poem:

     rain-streaked windows
     how to paint
     the finch’s song

to the wonderfully startling:

     strawberry moon
     all night something huge
     romps in the attic

Carolyn Hall’s haiku take us through many moods, but always lead to contemplation of the unnamed, that part of each experience which is perhaps unnameable.

Stevenson book
Live Again 
by John Stevenson
Red Moon  Press, Winchester, VA, USA
Comments from the Panel

John Stevenson is a top-tier haiku poet. This is a sterling collection of sterling poems, mainly haiku—but it also demonstrates Stevenson’s versatility by including senryu, tanka, haibun and renku. There is not a weak poem in the lot. Stevenson writes about everyday experiences in a fresh, deep way, and his natural, unassuming voice gives his poems a unique quality of pathos (or sabi), as in:

one of your  sighs
has  stayed with me
forty  years, so far


These poems stay with the reader.

created and edited by Allan Burns
The Haiku Foundation, Winchester, VA, USA
Comments from
the Panel

Montage: The Book is a blockbuster haiku anthology, designed to be read, relished and studied at leisure over a full year, and returned to over a lifetime. Allan Burns’s is an innovative and delightfully educational approach to an anthology. Each of the fifty-three galleries features twenty-one haiku, the work of three authors. The brief introductions to each gallery are informative but not directive: their function is to provide a frame for the poems, to suggest the pleasure of reading poems in relation to each other and to encourage readers to make their own connections. The haiku are by well-known and emerging poets from Japan, the U.K., Europe, The Antipodes and North America.

Peggy Willis Lyles writes in her foreword: “Without question, Montage is one of the finest projects ever to focus on English-language haiku. The format immediately establishes Burns’s recognition of the genre as mature literature, worthy of close consideration in the context of a vibrantly ongoing tradition.”

Scrittura Povera 
by John Martone
published  privately, no place [Charleston, Ill.]
Comments from the Panel

This is an excellent, evocatively titled sample of John Martone’s poetry in the format that suits it best: a handmade book—this one larger than most of his previous—in which the poems are laid out with plenty of space to breathe. Martone’s overt Buddhism is matched by his attentiveness to the words on the page as poetry, each one weighed and nuanced with utmost care, the whole sequenced beautifully. Martone’s work is also distinguished by its opening up possibilities for haiku where it intersects with other short poetry, including that of Lorine Niedecker, to whom he pays playful tribute:

     been picked

It is fitting for this award, however, that most of the poems in Scrittura Povera unfold in the 1- and 3-line forms intrinsic to haiku:

     chimney swifts stitch a day’s end
     chimney swifts
     the moon still

Honorable Mentions

Herold book
Inside Out 
by Christopher Herold
Red Moon Press, Winchester, VA,  USA
Comments from
the Panel

Christopher Herold’s collection is exemplary for its contribution to traditional-style English-language haiku. It is the very answer to the gendai haiku challenge of recent years and shows how much life remains in “old fashioned” haiku, which from the pen of a master like Herold seems endlessly inventive and refreshing. The “inside/outside” concept of the book is interesting and sensible, and the book exhibits a coherence of a sort that is rare in haiku collections. One “inside” and one “out” haiku:

     open  window                                                 walking  the dirt road
     a  mockingbird song
     the  length of twilight                                       she  in her rut, I in mine
Swede book
Joy in Me Still
by George Swede
Inkling  Press, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Comments from the Panel

This is a solid collection from a mature poet. Although Swede has grouped his poems so the reader can discern themes including aging, relationships, religion, death, and water, he doesn’t put them in rigid sections but allows them to flow naturally from one to the next. In many, he effectively links the present with the past.

     recalling our youth . . .
     she  pokes the fire log
     into blazing embers

Swede writes from experience with an immediacy that enables the reader to step easily into his shoes.

     the coffin lowers . . .
     I forgot to put out
     the recycling bin

The cover is not attractive but the title is very appropriate since Swede captures even somber subjects with a light touch.

Martone book
by John Martone
Red Moon  Press, Winchester, VA, USA
Comments from
the Panel

Martone is the one of the most imaginative writers active today, and this volume fills a long-time need for a major collection of his work. Ksana is a compendium of poems from some twenty chapbooks, mini-chapbooks, and ephemera that the poet wrote, published, and distributed himself over the past five years. Martone’s work, in the mold of Santôka, Cid Corman, Frank Samperi, and the like, stretches the definition of haiku but comprises little gems individually and gains even more when read in sequences. Two sample poems cannot do justice to the breadth and depth of Ksana, but here is a typical pair from “all saints”:

     november cricket youve not enough time
     november cricket youve time beyond measure

The large format and glossy production (cf. Martone’s Scrittura Povera, q.v.) of Ksana seem appropriate for a major collection like this.

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