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Here are the Touchstone Award recipients for 2012. 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 2012:

Panelists: Fay Aoyagi, Dee Evetts, John Martone, Paul Miller, George Swede and Diane Wakoski. More than 560 poems were nominated. Award recipients are listed below in alphabetical order by author; they are not ranked according to merit. Comments from the panelists give some flavor of the deliberations that have taken place.


three or four fingers deep red rose
     —Melissa Allen, Madison, Wisconsin
        Frogpond 35.3
from the

Such a civilized erotic image combining Western civilization’s symbol of Romance, the rose, with human physiology, and a playful allusion to drinking whiskey!

I like the use of the phrase “three or four fingers” which adds a nice tactile sense to the poem, as well as brings into the moment the measurement of liquor—which emphasizes the idea of intoxication, perhaps from the rose.


mating dragonflies—
my overuse
of dashes
     —Aubrie Cox, Taylorville, Illinois
        Frogpond 35.1
Comments from the

This is a model of finely gauged self-appraisal, at the same time both humorous and astringent. The image is put to surprising use, yet without undue cleverness.

A striking (dare I say, “dashing”) juxtaposition about writerly self-doubt.


autumn days   drifting from text to marginalia
     —Mark Holloway, Bedford, United Kingdom
        Bones 1
Comments from the

A pithy response to reading as a part of the Dionysian cycle.

The season of loss gives rise to reflections on one’s own decline.

On the page the poem also tries to drift, slowly like an autumn day. Autumn . . . is a time to begin taking stock in the details. But as the drifting suggests, not quite fully in this case.


first date
the way she pronounces
van Gogh
     —Bill Kenney, Whitestone, New York
        Modern Haiku 43.2
Comments from the

Can this cultural divide be bridged? One of the charms (and strengths) of this poem is that we do not know how she pronounces Van Gogh—as an American would, or a Brit, or indeed as a Dutch person does—all three so very differently.


hesitating until I’m a hummingbird
     —Eve Luckring, Los Angeles, California
         The Heron’s Nest 14
from the

Transformation is usually something one goes through, but here it’s the result of staying put. That’s a startling little paradox. At the same time, hesitation implies a mind flitting back and forth—a hummingbird’s wings. The reader has no idea what the poet is hesitating over, a literal or figurative flower (or hummingbird), but the transformation is complete and takes place in a moment. The hummingbird appears and is gone, zip zip. It’s worthy of Rilke or Ovid!


she stops me
from picking a lemon
—it’s asleep, she says
     —Patricia J. Machmiller, San Jose, California
        The Heron’s Nest 14
from the

Acknowledging the female instinct to identify with a fruit and give it a beautiful reason for its sourness. This is actually a goddess poem, a very sly one.


my child’s grip
starts to loosen
     —John McManus, Carlisle, United Kingdom
        The Heron’s Nest 14
from the
A rich observation of how much more compelling a discovery of the celestial or cosmic world is than the anthro-centered world that children initially cling to, and how its immensity allows humans to let a bigger world enter and expand our smaller one.We can feel this, and from both perspectives: as the parent, and also as the child we once were. The poem has larger implications regarding independence and letting go, but this is very lightly conveyed.

winter night
reaching a page
someone has folded
     —Kieran O’Connor, Engadine, Australia
        The Heron's Nest 14
from the

A simple and elegant evocation of that sudden sense of connection one can feel with a stranger, experienced here by a reader who until this moment was alone.

There is a sense of community here, as well as a marking of time; both emotionally apt for the season. I like how the poem leads the reader. Both the poet and the prior reader have reached this spot in the book (as we all will) with the same questions.


they search for my cervix
  orchids on the ceiling
     —Helen Buckingham, Modern Haiku 43.2
weeds gone to seed
I lie again
to my mother
     —Aubrie Cox, Mayfly 52
winding road
for the next eight miles
     —Cherie Hunter Day, Modern Haiku 43.1
egg white
slipping through my fingers
winter sunrise
     —Bill Deegan, Frogpond 35.3
clam dig
the quiet passing
of a sail
     —Garry Eaton, The Heron’s Nest 14
deeper and deeper into the foxglove dusk
     —Lorin Ford, The Heron’s Nest 14
on my mammogram
starless night
     —Carolyn Hall, The Heron’s Nest 14
autumn colors
the scent
of a match being lit
     —Michele L. Harvey, The Heron’s Nest 14
on his way
to the hospital
a dark spot on the moon
     —Gregory Hopkins, Mayfly 52
tree stump
my father tells me how
to raise a son
     —Gregory Hopkins, A Hundred Gourds 1.3
summer heat
the strands of hair not captured
by her braid
     —Michael Ketchek, Frogpond 35.2
discarded monuments     the afterlife of shadows
     —Anatoly Kudryavitsky, A Hundred Gourds 1.2
Sprinkling            salt            a rain
glistens                an ease    of light
particles               it is
     —Rebecca Lilly, Roadrunner 12.2
shelter in a lit match
     —Eve Luckring, Modern Haiku 43.3
the homeless gentleman
a little soft-shoe
in his stride
     —Peter Newton, A Hundred Gourds 1.4
winter night
reaching a page
someone has folded
     —Kieran O’Connor, The Heron’s Nest 14
all the changes
while we prayed
snow covers the lot
     —Dan Schwerin, Modern Haiku 43.1
     —John Stevenson, Acorn 29
family dinner
siblings feed the elephant
in the room
     —Julie Warther, Frogpond 35.1


The Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards 2012:

Panelists: Cherie Hunter Day, Lorin Ford, Philip Rowland, Charles Trumbull, Barbara Louise Ungar

92 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.






addiss book
The Art of Haiku: Its History Through Poems and Painting by Japanese Masters
by Stephen Addiss
Shambhala, Boston MA, USA
shambhala/stephen addiss
Comments from the Panel
The Art of the Haiku is a beautiful book. Hardcover, with 38 color plates, it is a book to peruse for years. Stephen Addiss succeeds admirably in his goal: to “trace the history of Japanese haiku . . . primarily through the work of leading masters,” providing the best and most up-to-date introduction to haiku available in English. Addiss’s prose is clear and graceful, as are his nearly 997 original translations. Open the book anywhere:

sanzen no                           after inspecting
haiku wo kemishi             three thousand haiku—
kaki futatsu                        two persimmons


His appendix on translation is concise but pithy. (One regret is that only Romanized transcriptions of the Japanese are included.) Addiss is a scholar-artist who has written more than thirty books on East Asian art; his vital addition to the English-language haiku community is his knowledge of and emphasis upon the centrality of haiku calligraphy and haiku-painting (haiga) to the tradition and art form. Simply organized, from haiku’s background in tanka and Zen, through the modern age, the book provides a masterly overview. Essential for any lover or student of haiku.

boldman book
everything i touch
by Robert Boldman
Red Moon Press, Winchester VA, USA
red moon press/boldman
Comments from the Panel
It is fitting that on the cover of everything i touch is a conceptual rendering of the Higgs Boson, also known as the ‘God Particle.’ In physics this is the subatomic building block that gives mass to matter.  Bob Boldman’s minimalist haiku inches us ever closer to the ineffable.  Many of these haiku were first published in the early 80s and they are as fresh today as they were thirty years ago.

lark song
down to
its bone


on the   web     lit


i end in shadow


At the back of this small volume of 42 poems the author gives us a glimpse into haiku: “haiku is using words to express wordlessness.  it’s using time to express the timeless.  there is no art like it, so each moment is as self-erasing as a dream—an open-ended, wild-eyed dream.“


leaves blowing into a sentence


Readers will instantly recognize Boldman’s voice—a singularity among a throng of voices.  English-language haiku is indebted to this dream catcher.

haiku21 book
Haiku 21: an anthology of contemporary English-language haiku
edited by Lee Gurga and Scott Metz
Modern Haiku Press, Lincoln IL, USA
modern haiku press/Haiku21.html
Comments from the Panel
Haiku 21 is a unique and startling anthology of twenty-first-century English-language haiku. Editors Lee Gurga and Scott Metz took upon themselves the daunting task of reading every single haiku published in journals from 2000-2010. They selected what they considered the most excellent work, attempting also to showcase the full range of contemporary English-language haiku, from traditional to experimental, exploring the question, “What can haiku be?” The poets answer, in alphabetical order, sans bio or notes, most represented by a single poem. Although the collection may trend more towards the experimental than the taste of some, the anthology renders a fascinating image of where English-language haiku is in this new millennium, and points the way toward its future:

that we could flower where the earth is so

–Peter Yovu

tohta2 book
Selected Haiku: Parts 1 & 2
by Kaneko Tohta, translated by the Kon Nichi Translation Group
Red Moon Press, Winchester VA, USA
red moon press/tohta
Comments from the Panel
Compressed into these two pocket-sized volumes, the life and haiku of the remarkable, energetic and extremely popular Kaneko Tohta are inextricably combined. Born in 1919 in the mountain village of Chichibu, Kaneko’s first haiku were published when he was 18. Each of these two volumes presents four sequential sections of haiku, each with a short introduction outlining the relevant personal and historical context, beginning with ‘Student Days: 1937 – January 1941’ and closing with ‘A Poet of Ikimonofuei: 1994 – 2012. As well, in the second half of each volume there are notes to each poem, an annotated chronology, a glossary of terms and an index. Volume 1 also contains two essays, ‘Translation in the Country of Modern Haiku’ by Richard Gilbert and ‘Kaneko Tohta and the Chichibu Incident’ by Ito Yuki. The original Japanese and romanji versions of the haiku appear along with the English translations, which are not always rendered in the EL-normative 3 or 1-line forms.A survivor of the Pacific War who was stationed on Truk Atoll (Melanesia), a ‘country boy’ who never has forgotten his roots or succumbed to urban ennui or effete intellectualism, Kaneko’s haiku career is that of a vital, socially engaged and independent mind.Some of the poems well-known to El readers which might have seemed surreal in isolation take on a new light when seen in context of the whole life. Kaneko’s famous ‘blue sharks’ may well be reef sharks patrolling the reputedly haunted Japanese fleet in Truk lagoon, where it sank in February 1944, and the poem might be showing a very real co-existence, in mind, of past and present: that place fusing with this place, this ti
me infused with that time, or the apparition of a scene from the past superimposed on a present scene.

beneath a torch of breadfruit
a letter turns blue
(composed at Truk Atoll,1944 -1945)


ume bloom
blue sharks show up
everywhere in the garden
(composed in 1979)


This ‘Ground Zero’ haiku seems to show a filmic superimposition of images; the bodies of the dead after the Atomic bombing in August, 1945 and a marathon taking place in the same location in the late 1950s:


among the twisted and charred
marathon at
Ground Zero
(composed at Nagasaki, 1958)


Kaneko Tohta has written a long lifetime’s worth of haiku. At least some of the translated haiku could be thought of as Modern in the sense we call James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’ and ‘Ulysses’ Modern texts. These two volumes make for very interesting and rewarding reading indeed.

1. Modern Haiku ,vol. 44.1


Honorable Mentions


hall book
the doors all unlocked
by Carolyn Hall
Red Moon Press, Winchester VA, USA
red moon press/hall
Comments from the Panel
the doors all unlocked is the third full-length haiku collection by Carolyn Hall. This attractively designed volume includes 84 of her distinctive haiku and senryu many of which are award winners.  The cover features an oil painting, The Red Earth, by Selden Gile—the perfect invitation into Carolyn’s colorful world.  Her strengths lie in her ability to be available to the moment and to be vulnerable.  It is through this lens of intimacy that we experience everyday things with clarity and freshness as if for the first time.

making love on again off again rain


dogwood blossoms
Mom’s ashes
lighter than expected


There are shades of melancholy too, but these moments are balanced by her delightful sense of humor.


year’s end—
what made me think I needed
a harmonica


This year’s panel agrees with Paul Miller, editor of Modern Haiku, who calls Carolyn Hall “One of the best poets writing today.”

martone book
Skeleton Key
by John Martone
Samuddo/Ocean, Charleston IL, USA
Comments from the Panel
Three books by John Martone were submitted this year for the Touchstone Awards, and all of them were shortlisted, which is an index of the high quality of Martone’s work generally. Skeleton Key won out in the end, but to some degree the judges awarded this honorable mention on the strength of all three works.More than individual haiku, Martone writes sequences around a single subject. These sequences can be quite short—a scant handful of verses—or a book-length examination and ruminations on something, as, in this case, a deer skeleton that he has come upon in the woods. For Martone, this skeleton becomes a metaphor for life and death and the relationship of human beings to Nature, often in quite startling ways: 

skeleton deer’s
rib-cage of course
yr suit size


mentally unfit—
crouching at
a deer skull

metz book
Lakes & Now Wolves
by Scott Metz
Modern Haiku Press, Lincoln IL, USA
modern haiku press/metz
Comments from the Panel
lakes and now wolves is the long-awaited, first full collection by a poet justly described as “one of the most innovative and challenging younger poets at work in haiku” (Montage). Few collections of haiku by a single author are as exploratory and wide-ranging. The book progresses from excellent, relatively normative examples of the genre:

end of summer
pressing her body against
the sea wall


to more boldly imaginative one-liners such as:


meadow speaking the language she dreams in


Indeed, many of the poems exemplify the 21st Century trend towards writing haiku in one line, coincident with a linguistically playful turn, at its best. The following, which may be seen as a vertical one-liner, touches tenderly on romantic relationship through a subtle, unexpected line-break:






lakes & now wolves also offers some of the most striking haiku on the topic of war in English, alongside distinctive takes on classical and modern Japanese haiku. While some of the “ku” may disconcert traditionalists, this is a collection that inspires and provokes more than most.

virgilio book
Nick Virgilio: A Life in Haiku
by Nick Virgilio, edited by Raffael de Gruttola
Turtle Light Press, Arlington VA, USA
turtle light press/virgilio
Comments from the Panel
The poems of Nick Virgilio, one of America’s pioneering haiku poets of the 20th century, have remained out of print and mostly unavailable to 21st century readers. This well-produced book addresses such an oversight. Though many of Virgilio’s iconic haiku from his two earlier collections are included, the majority of the haiku here are previously unpublished. Along with the poems, an introduction by editor Raffael de Gruttola, an afterword by Kathleen O’Toole, a memorial tribute by Fr. Michael Doyle and an array of photos there is Virgilio’s ‘Note to Young Writers’, two of his short essays and a transcript of a radio interview. We see Virgilio as a plain-spoken poet with a workman-like commitment to his craft, deeply involved with his community, with social issues and with promoting haiku to the public.

where cattle graze
near the grassy battleground:
the grave mounds of slaves


the sack of kittens
sinking in the icy creek
increases the cold




His demonstration of how a haiku may be revised over time will be an encouragement to all aspiring poets.




  • Hotham, Gary Nothing More Happens in the 20th Century (Pecan Grove Press)
  • Jones, Ken Bog Cotton (Alba Publishing)
  • Kudryavitsky, Anatoly (ed.) Bamboo Dreams (Doghouse Books)
  • Lanoue, David G. Frog Poet (Red Moon Press)
  • Machmiller, Patricia J. (ed.) Bending Reeds (Patsons Press)
  • Martone, John A Life in Fall (Samuddo/Ocean)
  • Martone, John Microscope Field (Samuddo/Ocean)
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