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Here are the Touchstone Award recipients for 2011. 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 2011:

Panelists: Fay Aoyagi, David Cobb, Dee Evetts, John Martone, Paul Miller, and Diane Wakoski. Approximately 585 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.

clouded moon
the sound of her slip
hitting the floor
     —Ernest J. Berry, Picton, New Zealand
        Runner up, British Haiku Awards, published 2011
from the

That rarity, a truly erotic haiku. The word “hitting” does double duty, for the dropped garment as well as the impact the sound has on the listener-writer. Choice of words in the first line is also refreshingly unusual.

calla lily
the sound of a ladder
     —Cherie Hunter Day, Cupertino, California
        Third Place, 2011 Harold G. Henderson Award for Haiku
Comments from the

The apotheosis of time-for-a-moment-standing-still. Early summer is doubly evoked, by the flower and by the sound of preparations for house painting or perhaps roof work. The visual assonance of the long-stemmed plant and extending ladder is understated and effective. A ladder in this haiku may be lengthening upward, but at the same time, I feel the dark spot inside the calla lily and feel the invisible hands push me downward.

he brings flowers
the same shade—
     —Terri L. French
         Frogpond 34:3
from the

If this is in fact a poem about domestic violence, it manages to convey with subtlety much of the inherent complexity/ambiguity of that situation. Remorse (or denial?), irony, possibly forgiveness––there are many potential layers of feeling.

every pine needle
pointing at something
     —Gregory Hopkins
        The Heron’s Nest, Volume 13:2, June 2011
from the

Where is the shooter? What is being shot at? And why? The image of the pine needles vividly expresses this startling assault upon the poet’s senses.

back from the war
all his doors
swollen shut
     —Bill Pauly
        Modern Haiku 42.1
from the

Implied: that the subject of the poem lives alone, or has been deserted (or bereaved) during his absence. Conveyed: the frustration of inanimate objects that thwart or obstruct––and all the more so in this context of homecoming.

Each time I met a group of young soldiers at the airport, my stomach hurts. I sincerely hope someday there will be no war on our planet.

migrating geese—
the things we thought we needed
darken the garage
     —Chad Lee Robinson
        The Heron's Nest, Volume 13:1, March 2011
from the

I migrated to the U.S. with two suitcases. I did not imagine someday I would give up a passport with a chrysanthemum emblem. But I established a new nest and slowly forgot the things I left behind.


bruised apples
he wonders what else
I haven’t told him
     —Melissa Allen
shanty town—
the jagged edges
of moonlight
     —Sanjukta Asopa
pan-fried trout
I learn something new
about my father
     —Dave Baldwin
deep summer
on the battlefield
cars for sale
     —Roberta Beary
clouded moon
the sound of her slip
hitting the floor
     —Ernest J. Berry
on the wings
of black-necked cranes
first snow
     —Sonam Chhoki
the newborn’s hand
brushes my breast –
white camellias
     —Kathy Lippard Cobb
spring equinox
a worm on both sides
of my shovel
     —Susan Constable
the stench of
baby questions
     —Amelia Cotter
Spring rain
I’ve upset
the little stack of coins
     —Stephen Gould
calla lily
the sound of a ladder
     —Cherie Hunter Day
the curve
of her hips –
     —Bruce H. Feingold
he brings flowers
the same shade –
     —Terri L. French
what we breathe
in human skin
and insect parts
     —Chris Gordon
northern lights...
the scratchy play
of seventy-eights
     —Michele L. Harvey
blowing out
the marshmallow
     —John Hawk
every pine needle
pointing at something
     —Gregory Hopkins
his latest indiscretion
I toss out
the curdled milk
     —Mary Kipp
Father's Day--
a potato
without a face
—Susan Marie La Valle
breathless quiet
of a summer evening...
ship in a bottle
     —Jo McInerney
  winter    when
the invisible horse
     —Scott Metz
bare trees
the little room
where you’re told
     —Roland Packer
Indian summer
mother dyes her graying hair
the color of straw
     —Tom Painting
back from the war
all his doors
swollen shut
     —Bill Pauly
migrating geese—
the things we thought we needed
darken the garage
     —Chad Lee Robinson
banging about
inside my ribs
cherry blossom
     —Sandra Simpson
the crack
of my biscuit
     —Barbara Strang
koi pond
how we imagine
     —Paul Watsky
sun through the ears
of a marmalade cat —
raked leaves
     —Quendryth Young

The Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards 2011:

Panelists: Lorin Ford, David G. Lanoue, Philip Rowland, Charles Trumbull, Barbara Louise Ungar

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.

aoyagi book
Beyond the Reach of My Chopsticks: New and Selected Haiku
by Fay Aoyagi
Blue Willow Press, San Francisco, CA, USA
Comments from the Panel

Fay Aoyagi is simply one of the most exciting haiku poets active today. She works at the interstices of Japanese and English-language haiku, writing in both languages, and exemplifies the best of the gendai style in her very personal approach to her subjects (especially her frequent use of first-person pronouns), while hewing closely to the use of kigo. She is surely a world leader in exploring new kigo and reinvigorating old ones, notably on her Blue Willow blog from which many of the haiku for this book are selected.

Fay Aoyagi chose to include here a selection of haiku from her 2003 book, In Borrowed Shoes, and her doing so drops our estimation of the book ever so slightly. We also wonder why in both cases she chose to self-publish (i.e., her own Blue Willow Press) rather than giving her MSS to an outside publisher, who would certainly snap them up.

epstein book
Dreams Wander On: Contemporary Poems of Death Awareness
edited by Robert Epstein
Modern English Tanka Press, Baltimore, MD, USA
Comments from the Panel

Dreams Wander On comes on the heels of editor Epstein’s 2009 Breath of Surrender: A Collection of Recovery-Oriented Haiku, a second anthology of haiku on a serious, spiritual-oriented topic. The current book is superior to the first because it is more focused (recovery from what? by what path?). The selection of verse—mostly haiku, but some other forms as well—is very good. One could wish for some sorting by subtheme or category; as it is, the haiku are presented in straight alphabetical order by poet. In his introduction, Epstein, a psychotherapist by profession, usefully identifies some of the major themes in the selection.

paul book
Few Days North Days Few
by paul m.
Red Moon Press, Winchester, VA, USA
Comments from the Panel

An excellent book. We concur with the review that appeared in Modern Haiku:

“Working at the nexus of the traditional and the modern, paul m. creates haiku that have a classical feel yet never fail to evoke psychological resonance and deep emotions. Bashō supposedly taught that haiku is what is happening at this time in this place. Paul explores the dynamics of time and space, things going and things coming, evanescence. His special skill is to take common things—ticks, driftwood, hawks, dusty boots, a burning stick, pumpkin patches—and find in them startling and uncanny profundity. Few Days North Few Days will surely become a bellwether for 21st century haiku.”

“The third substantial book by one of the most authoritative voices on the haiku scene today. The book is full of instant classics, not imitative but pathbreaking, such as the first one in the book, a one-liner reminiscent of Marlene Mountain: with eyes closed spring grass”

durda book
An Unmown Sky 
edited by Đurđa Vukelić-Rožić 
Haiku Association Three Rivers, Ivanić Grad, Croatia
Comments from the Panel

One comes away from An Unmown Sky with a strong sense of “participation” in all senses of the word. Editor Đurđa Vukelić-Rožić’s vision and achievement has clearly been one of inclusion of all Croatian poets significantly active in the decade 1996 – 2007. Literally thousands of haiku from 166 poets, each poet’s work prefaced by a short biography, are given in both Croatian and English. Prior publication of each haiku is listed clearly at the close of each author’s section, and meticulous lists of individual collections and anthologies appear at the end of the book.

The result is a treasure for English-language readers, providing the opportunity to steep ourselves in the sensibilities and culture that have made Croatian haiku. An Unmown Sky is also a superb resource for researchers, a book made to last that will remain a touchstone for future generations.

in the shop
 a moth and I selecting
 a wool jumper
—Đurđa Vukelić-Rožić
the army passes by
  a dog barking from the first
  to the last soldier
—Tomislav Maretić
  Bread on the table.
  Together before the meal
  we smell the peace…
   —Marinko Kovačević

Honorable Mentions

burns book
Distant Virga
by Allan Burns
Red Moon Press, Winchester, VA,  USA
Comments from the Panel
It would be hard to find a more carefully structured, aesthetically satisfying collection of haiku than distant virga. The selection of poems is modest but unfolds to great effect, without any lapses in quality. With subject-matter ranging from the music of Miles Davis to “Shakespeare’s birthday” to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the poems are also imbued with profound ecological awareness. Over-used formulas are avoided (there are no “spring evenings” or “autumn rain” to be found here, despite the frequent seasonal associations); likewise, modernistic fads. The handling of form is subtle—one might easily fail to notice the occasional 5-7-5 syllables—and the collection is punctuated at regular intervals by variously startling one-liners, each set against artwork by Ron Moss. The shortest of these is strikingly minimalist, but also very much in the line of Nick Virgilio’s classic haiku, “fossilence”:


The collection as a whole is no less prismatic, the vivid images coalescing at times into moments of visionary depth and intensity:

distant virga
the ranch dog’s eyes
different colors
K-T boundary
on the sandstone bluff. . .
a rock wren calls

Conveniently pocket-sized but generously featuring a poem-per-page, distant virga deepens with each re-reading.

dragovic book
A Narrow Road
by Ljubomir Dragović
Liber Press, Belgrade, Serbia
Comments from the Panel

In The Future of Haiku, one of the books short-listed for this prize, the eminent haiku poet and scholar Kaneko Tohta discusses Issa’s use of the Japanese word ara, defined as wildness, rawness, freedom: the term describes well the surprising work of Ljubomir Dragović. Every page of this simply laid out, bilingual edition contains haiku that startle the reader into fresh vision and sympathy; for example:

  while eating
  from my hands—a gnat
  in the horse’s eye

Dragović’s earthiness, precision of observation, and depth of feeling also recall Issa: the haiku in this book evidence a life deeply rooted in communion with the things of this world

o'connor book
Things Being What They Are
by John S. O’Connor
Deep North Press, Santa Fe, NM, USA
Comments from the

As his title suggests, O’Connor attends to things in this collection: the daily, intimate, ordinary artifacts of a life being lived through which, he notes in his preface, we might glimpse “the enormity of the larger world.” Things being what they are and nothing else—the chalk on a Latin teacher, the gurgle of a fish tank, a rusty bird cage—come to suggest deeper truths and heart-felt connections. Things become words with heft and power, each image of each haiku like a stone in the garden of the title verse, O’Connor’s ars poetica:

  rock garden . . .
  things being
  what they are

With insight, humor and sympathy, he leads the attentive reader on a perceptual journey to the present moment, here and now, replete with significance.

    first day of school
    the Latin teacher
    coated in chalk
    too drunk to stand
    the constant gurgle
    of the fish tank
    at the grave marker
    a rusty bird cage . . .
    door open


  • Aoyagi, Fay Beyond the Reach of My Chopsticks: New and Selected Haiku (Blue Willow Press, 2011)
  • Bjerg, Johannes Penguins / Pingviner (Cyberwit, 2011)
  • Burns, Allan Distant Virga (Red Moon Press, 2011)
  • Cechota, Cynthia & Francine Banwarth & Jayne Miller & David McKee & Bill Pauly The River Knows the Way (Haiku Dubuque, 2010)
  • Chase-Daniel, Matthew & Jerry Wellman (eds.) Haiku Roadsign (Axle Contemporary, 2011)
  • Dragović, Ljubomir A Narrow Road (Liber, 2011)
  • Epstein, Robert (ed.) Dreams Wander On: Contemporary Poems of Death Awareness (Modern English Tanka Press, 2011)
  • Kacian, Jim & Dee Evetts (eds.) A New Resonance 7: Emerging Voices in English-Language Haiku (Red Moon Press, 2011)
  • Ketchek, Michael & Bob Lucky & Lucas Stensland My Favorite Thing (bottle rockets press, 2011)
  • Kon Nichi Translation Group The Future of Haiku: An Interview with Kaneko Tohta (Red Moon Press, 2011)
  • Kudryavitsky, Anatoly Capering Moons (Doghouse Books, 2011)
  • m., paul Few Days North Days Few (Red Moon Press, 2011)
  • Martone, John St. John’s Wort (lulu, 2011)
  • Montreuil, Mike The Neighbours Are Talking (Bondi Studios, 2011)
  • Nazansky, Boris (et al., eds.) An Unmown Sky (Haiku Association Three Rivers, 2011)
  • O’Connor, John S. Things Being What They Are (Deep North Press, 2011)
  • Wentworth, Don Past All Traps (Six Gallery Press, 2011)
  • Wirth, Klaus-Dieter Zugvögel / Migratory birds / Oiseau migrateurs / Aves migratorias—150 Haiku (Hamburger Haiku Verlag, 2011)
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