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Here are the Touchstone Award recipients for 2015. 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 2015

Panelists:

  • Carolyn Hall
  • Eve Luckring
  • Lenard D. Moore
  • Ron C. Moss
  • Barbara Ungar
  • Diane Wakoski

Nearly 500 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.


Winners

2015 ahearn4x3

     a flash of Pan
     in the goat’s eye
     barn shadows

          — Mary Frederick Ahearn, Frogpond 38:3





Comments from the Panel
“The contrast of brightness and darkness works well in this poem. Also, the pivot line is very effective. In addition, the assonance enhances the music in this poem. Most importantly, the originality summons the reader.”

“A magical/mythological moment, with somewhat creepy overtones, surges through a quiet pastoral scene and opens up several possible narratives.”

“English-language haiku often lack a vertical axis anchoring us to an historical or mythical past. But Pan, the goat-god who seduces the nymphs, seduces the poet (and the reader as well) in this fine poem. The middle line works perfectly as a pivot.”

2015 banwarth4x3

     the carving knife
     out of its sheath
     winter darkness

          — Francine Banwarth, The Heron’s Nest XVII:1





Comments from the Panel
“A carving knife evokes scenes of a family gathered around the table for a holiday feast. But we are immediately drawn to the dark side with the imagery of a knife drawn out of its sheath. And the scene becomes even more fraught with the specific reference to “winter darkness.” In a single line (mimicking the concrete image of the knife), the poet skillfully draws us deeper and deeper into what may be a revelation of family dysfunction.”

“This haiku spoke to me on so many levels and was as intriguing as those wonderful Film Noir classics which remind me of my childhood days of staying up late to watch TV. The feel of ‘winter darkness,’ alongside that shiny blade and the imagery of it cutting through, or into something, is spellbinding. So much fine haiku craft is at play here and everything works — a treat.”

“This one grows on me with each repeated rereading. I particularly admire the way the center line works both ways: the knife out of its sheath gleams coldly, like winter; but also the winter darkness seems to emerge out of its sheath.”

2015 epstein4x3

     the answer is yes no yes breaking waves

          — Robert Epstein, The Heron’s Nest XVII:4







Comments from the Panel
“This poem shows how we can be indecisive and still find solace in the natural world and its rhythm. Perhaps, this poem also highlights uncertainty in a relationship.”

“This poem embodies the shift in and out of decisiveness through the poem's rhythm, echoing the swell and crash of waves. A reminder that change is the nature of life itself.”

“Faced with a perplexing problem/decision, it is easy to imagine seeking solitude at the beach. But the repetitive breaking waves bring no answers — just options. Yes. No. Yes. No. Unlike plucking daisy petals (“he loves me; he loves me not”), there is no finite answer. The waves come on without letup (back and forth: the one-line format illustrates that perfectly) — and without definitive resolution.”

2015 machmiller4x3

     squash blossoms
     the ribbon on her dress
     unraveling

          — Patricia J. Machmiller, Frogpond 38:2





Comments from the Panel
“This poem unfolds with a sense of quietude and delicacy; it reveals how the natural world and human beings are at oneness with each other. For example, the squash blossoms unravel like the ribbon on the dress.”

“This is such a delicate poem that it is difficult to explicate a response, but so is the duty of a juror. For me, the visual parallel between the unraveling ribbon and seasonal reference of the papery blossoms color the entire scene in a luminous orange-yellow. The rhythm of the whole causes me to linger on the one word last line which ties the two images together in a third suggested image — the bulbous fruiting body attached to the end of the (unraveling) blossom. Because the word “ribbon” hints at a “girl’s” dress, this suggested third image softly charges the poem with a fragile eroticism, the transition of a girl into a young woman. This haiku is a wonderful example of the power of a light touch.”

2015 mcclintock4x3

     spring dream . . .
     slipping my wings
     into a work shirt

          — Michael McClintock, The Heron’s Nest XVII:3





Comments from the Panel
“A delightful expression of how we might grapple with the soaring spirit of our dreams and the grounding necessities of survival. I imagine a poet going to their day job. The connotations of the seasonal reference are made poignant through the confining of the potential/desire/power to fly (or the freedom felt in a flying dream itself). The sound-weave elegantly shifts from the first two lines to the altered state in the third, reinforcing the semantic shape of the whole.”

“A delightfully inventive poem. It is spring, and all things seem possible, even the spreading of one’s wings and taking flight. But in the light of day, reality pulls the poet back to earth. Dutifully he tucks his wings into the sleeves of a shirt and heads to work. Will he doff the shirt and spread his wings again tonight? One can only hope so.”

“This haiku continued to grow on me through the judging process and its sense of wonder and hope is very appealing. A fine example of finding a little magic in the most mundane of chores. Haiku can lift us into a realm of inspiration that makes us fall in love with these little poems, over, and over again.”

2015 mcmanus4x3

     unplanned pregnancy
     the hum of a beehive        
     beneath the porch

          — John McManus, Acorn 35





Comments from the Panel
“This poem is very powerful; it reels with much vibrant energy and life. The poem relies upon good details and music for its effectiveness, depicting how living thrives in the human world as well as the natural world.”

“The beehive beneath the porch is as unplanned, and perhaps as unwanted/terrifying, as that pregnancy. On the other hand, the beehive, abuzz with activity, is full of life. Readers will take from this poem what they bring to it, i.e., their associations to the imagery presented.”

“Without bees we would not survive. These little guys are in danger all over the world and I can see many important messages in this haiku. Some messages that might have a bit of a sting and other things that speak of motherhood and nurturing. The musicality of the humming has a vibrative effect, which cannot help but be uplifting along with the mention of new life.”

Shortlist (in alphabetic order by author)

     twelve strokes
     in the Kanji for ‘rhinoceros’
     New Year begins
          — Fay Aoyagi, Mariposa 32

     winter galaxy
     the social network
     of lost mermaids
          — Fay Aoyagi, Mariposa 32

     nesting time —
     the magpie returns
     the branches to the tree
          — Paul Bregazzi, Shamrock 32

     daybreak
     blackdog
     pixelating
          — Helen Buckingham, NOON: journal of the short poem 10

     he casts his line into the first peal of thunder
          — Matthew Caretti, The Heron’s Nest XVII:3

          shorthand
         for a cloud
     inside a blue jacket
          — Markeith Chavous, NOON: journal of the short poem 9

     desert stones
     slowly their shadows
     change sides
          — Simon Hanson, Wild Plum — a haiku journal 1:2

     desert twilight
     white-winged doves deeper
     into the canyon
          — Devin Harrison, Shamrock 32

     daylight savings
     what was never
     ours to keep
          — Michael Henry Lee, tinywords 15.1

     distant sirens
     over the border bridge
     a blood moon
          — Chen-ou Liu, Shamrock 31

     rock paper scissors war
          — Elmedin Kadric, A Hundred Gourds 4:4

     graveyard shift
     the leftover radish
     tumbles in the lunchbox
          — Elmedin Kadric, The Heron’s Nest XVII:3

          evening lull
     a seaside cave exhaling
           butterflies
          — Anatoly Kudryavitsky, Vladimir Devide Haiku Award 2015

     loneliness
     opening the window
     to let in the rain
          — Jeannie Martin, tinywords 15.1 

     evening calm
     a spider webbing
     the breeze
          — Ben Moeller-Gaa, Shamrock 32

     first warm day
          a robin works
                  the infield
          — H Gene Murtha, The Heron’s Nest XVII:3

     into the owl
     a night train’s
     whistle fading
          — Sandi Pray, A Hundred Gourds 4.3

     after tsunami
     a surplus
     of emptiness
          — Dorota Pyra, 20th International "Kusamakura" Haiku Competition 2015

     in a rush to reach stillness whitewater
          — Chad Lee Robinson, The Heron’s Nest XVII:4

     his best lure
     passed to me
     this floating world
          — Dan Schwerin, Modern Haiku 46.2

     the depth of the lake
     still in question —
     autumn chill
          — Angela Terry, The Heron’s Nest XVII:1

     military base —
     even the eucalyptus trees
     stand in straight lines
          — Tom Tico, bottle rockets 16:2

     stillness . . .
     the sound of dusk
     washing ashore
          — Paresh Tiwari, The Heron’s Nest XVII:1

     ripened grapes
     the midday sun
     closed inside
          — Maria Tomczak Cattails September 2015

     spring field —
     each step an explosion
     of grasshoppers
          — Kent Travis, Shamrock 31

The Touchstone Distinguished Books Award 2015

Panelists:

  • Cherie Hunter Day
  • Rebecca Lilly
  • Stuart Quine
  • Chad Lee Robinson
  • Peter Yovu

Some 65 books were nominated. Award recipients are listed in alphabetical order by author, not according to merit. Selected comments from the panelists give some flavor of the deliberations that have taken place.


Winners

2015 schwerin4x3

ORS
by Dan Schwerin
Red Moon Press, Winchester, VA, USA
available here






Comments from the Panel
“ORS may be Dan Schwerin’s first full-length haiku collection, but this book has been underway for many years. The poems celebrate not only the physical place of Waukesha, Wisconsin, but also the emotional/relational locus of his vocation as a Methodist minister. Faith is a starting point, not an end point. ORS chronicles the liveliness of the intersection of rought and smooth, sacred and profane.

     communion
     they let the fly
     go first

     baptism pond
     not letting thistle
     make it small

Schwerin’s wry sense of humor comes through as well.

     All Saint’s Day
     he’s back in church
     with six strong men

     sitting down to pray the river a stone can hold

The quote by John McGahern in the Preface sums up the book’s thesis nicely: “The writer’s business is to pull the image that moves us out of darkness.” This authentic search without a preformed agenda allows epiphanies of the moment to shine. 

     the woman pledged to me as a girl in a labyrinth

     the oars at rest
     where I am
     becomes clear

2015 stevenson4x3

Nest Feathers: Selected Haiku from the first 15 years of The Heron’s Nest
by John Stevenson (editor)
The Heron’s Nest Press, Nassau, NY, USA
available here





Comments from the Panel
The Heron’s Nest has long been a much-loved journal among haiku poets, so it should come as no surprise that a retrospective anthology such as Nest Feathers: Selected Haiku from the First 15 Years of The Heron’s Nest has received such a welcoming response. The current editorial panel for The Heron’s Nest chose the best of the best — 248 haiku from more than 8,000 published in its pages during its first fifteen years (1999–2013). The resulting retrospective, then, contains haiku of deep resonance, many of them classics of the genre.

     Indian summer
     a turtle on a turtle
     on a rock
          — Peggy Willis Lyles

     snowy night
     sometimes you can’t be
     quiet enough
          — John Stevenson

The collection also includes an introduction by founder Christopher Herold, which details the journal’s birth story, and current managing editor John Stevenson provides insight into the selection process.

Nest Feathers: Selected Haiku from the First 15 Years of The Heron’s Nest is a wonderful collection of haiku that beginning and veteran haiku poets alike will want to keep close at hand for appreciation and study.

     hesitating until I’m a hummingbird
          — Eve Luckring

Honorable Mentions

beary

Deflection
by Roberta Beary
Accents Publishing, Lexington, KY, USA
available here



Comments from the Panel
“Roberta Beary has guts. Within the first few pages of Deflection, the reader is presented with haibun and haiku sequences about loss of attraction, adultery, the deterioration of the author’s mother, and the author’s son coming out as gay. That’s a lot to take in, but Roberta Beary is a skilled poet, and she pulls it off.
 
These haibun and sequences are very personal, but the details in the poems resonate with a larger meaning, and we suspect that readers will be able to relate to these poems on many levels. Take for instance the sequence “Caretaker—II” about the death of the author’s mother and the days just after:

     rain all day
     a place i cannot reach
     in mother’s eyes
 
     hospice day
     a flutter of movement
     in mother’s hand
 
     resurrection sky
     mother somewhere between
     here and there
 
     bone dry
     mother’s hand
     in mine
 
     brief sunset
     a world beyond this one
     in mother’s eyes
 
     day of blossoms
     a nurse erases
     mother’s name
 
     forsythia
     the funeral
     unfolds
 
     on the church steps
     a mourning dove
     with mother’s eyes

Roberta Beary has guts. She has assembled a collection of painful but necessary poems. While the poems are hard-hitting and well-crafted, it’s the author’s honesty that’ll grab you. It’s hard not to relate.”

chambers

This Single Thread
by Paul Chambers
Alba Publishing, Uxbridge, UK
available here



Comments from the Panel
“Paul Chambers’s This Single Thread delights with its simple, pure imagery and the light brushings with nature that he shares with us — as if we, too, were being gently swept along through the flow of his observations as he sets his sights on the small (spider threads), amorphous (clouds and breeze) and trace leavings (handprints) that quiver, drift and shimmer. While some poems hold darker moments, there is a poignant gentleness and ease to this collection that reminds us of the delicacy and evanescence of things in a way that uplifts:

     dust trembling
     in the cobweb
     spring night

     magnolia scent
     a night in September
     no matter which

Throughout the collection the reader senses the fleeting presence of things, the soft and fragile leavings, the traces present after a force or movement has either passed through or settled (such as rain or wind). One of my favorites:

     clouds torn
     the wind breaks
     on the water

The tension between movement and stillness serves likewise to highlight the ever-changing nature of the world and the evanescence of all its particulars:

     each leaf
     the sparrow brushes
     falling

Poetry that reminds us continually of life’s ceaseless change often has a depressing spin, but Chambers’s thread of observations carries the reader with such deft lightness that we feel the flow of the immediate movements and transformations of those things he observes, and thereby feel elevated, as “the wing and the wave/ almost touching.”

martone

so long
by John Martone
Ornithopter Press, Princeton, NJ, USA
available here



Comments from the Panel
“so long is one step in the ever-flowing river which is John Martone’s lifework. Or perhaps, following Cid Corman, we could say living/dying work. And as we know, you can’t step in the same river twice. 

He has, through this project, created a context that itself would be impossible to describe or ascribe meaning to, but in and by means of which the individual pieces of so long emerge, in the way mushrooms emerge as the fruit of the networked earth, or stars of darkness. 

     Or hunger of hollow. Ice of shadow.

     in a blowing white-out nowhere arrives

     interstellar
     hubble-form
     jade plant

     this frozen world
     a shortwave antenna
     catches the big bang”

paul

The Lammas Lands
by Matthew Paul
Snapshot Press, Ormskirk, UK
available here



Comments from the Panel
“A powerful sense of solitude pervades Matthew Paul’s collection of haiku, The Lammas Lands, with imagery drawn from his native England. Often it is a bleak landscape he describes, one of frost on brambles and permutations of a cold weather sun, with various species of birds offering points of life or flashes of color. Paul’s deep sensitivity to his natural surrounds is readily apparent in these deft haiku that frequently describe the flora and fauna of his homeland. “Lammas” references the time of the first wheat harvest in August, with the end of summer ushering in the colder seasons. It is an apt title since the authorial presence in these poems is a keen observer who feels the necessity of survival in the natural world, as living creatures hunker down for the approaching winter, a time of hibernation or migration for many animals, and perhaps one of retreat for humans. The author himself communicates a profound sense of isolation, which feels both personal and metaphysical, in references to “slipping unnoticed,” or to a one-man band that “strums to no one,” or to a pavement-sweeper that “waits for me to pass.” Other poems that juxtapose the human-made with natural processes of erosion or decay reinforce that vulnerability and aloneness and foreshadow the inevitable fall of even the grandest structure:

     the holes that insects
     have bored in the megalith
     winter wind

     cobweb morning
     the merest outline
     of ship funnels

In other moments, light counterbalances the prevailing darkness when Paul calls us back to the possibility of future harvests and the cyclical nature of death and rebirth with the seasons:

     the last sun
     across the lammas lands
     perennial asters

This collection’s potency lies in the evocative pairings of natural species in scenes that capture their familiar resonance for the author — and n the sense of isolation evoked by these native landscapes which is deeply realized in the reader.”

Complete Shortlist
  • Beary, Roberta Deflection (Lexington, KY: Accents Publishing)
  • Carter, Steven American Gothic (Uxbridge, UK: Alba Publishing)
  • Chambers, Paul This Single Thread (Uxbridge, UK: Alba Publishing)
  • Compton, Ellen Gathering Dusk (Ormskirk, UK: Snapshot Press)
  • Gourlay, Caroline Across the Silence (Hereford, UK: Five Seasons Press with Haiduk Press)
  • Kacian, Jim and Dee Evetts (editors) A New Resonance: Emerging Voices in English-Language Haiku 9 (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press)
  • Kacian, Jim (editor-in-chief) big data: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2014 (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press)
  • Martone, John so long (Princeton, NJ: Ornithopter Press)
  • Paul, Matthew The Lammas Lands (Ormskirk, UK: Snapshot Press)
  • Ross, Bruce and Koko Kato, Dietmar Tauchner and Patricia Prime (editors) A Vast Sky: An Anthology of Contemporary World Haiku (Bangor, ME: Tancho Press)
  • Rotella, Alexis between waves (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press)
  • Schwerin, Dan ⊕RS (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press)
  • Stevenson, John (editor) Nest Feathers: Selected Haiku from the first 15 years of The Heron’s Nest (Nassau, NY: The Heron’s Nest Press)
  • Welch, Michael Dylan (editor) Fire in the Treetops: Celebrating Twenty-Five Years of Haiku North America (Sammamish, WA: Press Here)
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