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Here are the Touchstone Award recipients for 2016. 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 2016

Panelists:

  • Gary Hotham
  • Ron C Moss
  • Renée Owen
  • Michele Root-Bernstein
  • Dietmar Tauchner
  • Diane Wakoski

Nearly 500 poems were nominated. Award recipients are listed below in alphabetical order by author, not by merit. Comments from the panelists give some flavor of the deliberations that have taken place.


Winners

 
 

     whale vertebrae 
     drifting from one god 
     to another

          — Nicholas Klacsanzky, A Hundred Gourds 5:3





Comments from the Panel
“This haiku brings the sense of a timelessness of all things in our own great human journey between birth and death. A lot to imply in eight carefully crafted words but what an impact they have. They evoke something greater in our understanding and the search for the true self. Every time I read this haiku I find more places to travel and discover the subtleties that tantalize me as a reader. Nothing is explained, only suggested, and the reader can find what it means to them by going deeper.” 

“The magnificence of the life force expressed in a whale, and the universal and critical message that from one god to another, no matter who we worship or where we’re from, there is only one Truth. And just as the dead whale has drifted across the sea, so too might we at times feel lost, drifting from one religious or spiritual path to another, hoping to find healing. With racism and refugees much on our minds today, this poem offers the hope of healing. And in the echo of the repetitive rs and os, the power of this spare haiku reverberates with sound.”

 
 

     November wind			
     the hollow places					
     that form a song

          — Peter Newton, The Heron’s Nest XVIII:1





Comments from the Panel
“This haiku starts with a sense of time and place with the November wind and we are told about the hollow places that forms a song. This is a many-layered poem like all good haiku and it shows hints of something else at play. Perhaps the hollow feeling is sadness caused by loss, or depression. But then, there is hope and light with a song to cheer and sustain us — for what song does not do that.”

“Atmospheric. Moody. Introspective. ‘November wind’ deftly combines literal or naturalistic meaning with emotional insight. Perhaps it is not until we reach the autumn of our years that we begin to realize how our imperfections, our limitations, our sorrows have shaped who we really are and have given us our unique voice. I am very much reminded of Wendell Berry’s observation that ‘the impeded stream is the one that sings.’ The poet of ‘November wind’ is in full control of the juxtaposition of images, the manipulation of expectation (hollow places followed by song is unanticipated, and yet, so right!), and the layering of meaning. This winning haiku is understated, and all the more masterful for it.”

“This haiku embodies the universal and seasonal theme of melancholy at the end of autumn, the beginning of the dark time, both within us and the earth. Our grief is indeed lightened when we can let life’s winds form a song within us, and when we slow down the hectic pace of our lives to hear that song. This haiku brings us that lightness and joy, along with a deep vertical axis, with references to classic literature and The Wind in the Willows. The consonance of the echoing o sounds deepens the haiku’s impact.”

 
 

     darkness . . .
     her name slips
     into it

          — Dave Read, Acorn 37







Comments from the Panel
“Many haiku conjure darkness; in a novel manner this one couples the loss of light to the loss of love. Spare and enigmatic the language may be, yet the emotional distress is palpable. In the darkness, when we are at our most vulnerable, a name slips out or breaks ‘involuntarily,’ from the lips. We are in Brontë territory here, channeling Rochester’s anguished cry ‘Jane! Jane! Jane!’ — though perhaps in a quieter, more reflective vein. Whether we choose to believe in the romantic ending or the heartache, this winning haiku has the same power as the novel to stir our souls. And that is saying a lot for a little poem.”

“So potently captures the universal theme of grief and the darkness we feel when we lose a loved one. And how our memories too can start to slip away into that darkness, even as we long not to forget them. Fresh & unique in its spare presentation, with the sibilant sounds of ss in the first and last lines, this haiku leaves us with a sense of mystery, adding resonance and depth which deepens on re-readings.”

 
 

     last day of summer
     the taste of the wooden stick				
     inside the ice cream

          — Katrina Shepherd, The Heron’s Nest XVIII:4





Comments from the Panel
“A striking image capturing and coloring a moment when a pleasure of life isn’t all ice cream.” 

"The strength of this haiku lies in its nostalgia. Not only is it in 5-7-5, the format par excellence of English-language haiku in its youth, it evokes a primary experience of the young in mid-century America. Those were the days when the ice-cream man made his daily rounds through the neighborhoods, announcing treats with a tell-tale jingle, drawing kids from their backyard games. Those were the days when summer was forever, just like the ice-cream, until it was gone too soon. The very apt juxtaposition of vacation’s “last day” with the somewhat acrid taste of the stick calls our attention to the ephemeral nature of all things sweet."

“When reading this haiku who can not be immediately drawn back to our childhood days or an adult indulgences of eating ice cream. The taste of this haiku is in every word and we are left to ponder what the last day of summer means for us. Summer and ice cream just go together so well, and the author has set the scene to evoke for me some very fond memories and yes, I always bit down on that wooden stick.”

 
 

     house clearance
     room by room by room
     my mother disappears

          — Alan Summers, Blithe Spirit 26.1





Comments from the Panel
“When I read haiku, I'm looking for an unexpected view on the well-known. I’m curious to learn about an open secret (after Robert Spiess). I’m looking for a simple (but not banal) and lucid language that expresses something extraordinary within the ordinary, something which I never read before in that way as well as something that is of beauty beyond time. ‘house clearance’ represents the pure power of haiku. Layers of meaning ascending from deeper layers of the mind (‘room by room by room’) in relation to existential truth (‘my mother disappears’). Perhaps one finds a human contradiction:  memories can only get preserved vividly after “clearance.”

“An emotional and vivid image that brings sadness at first reading while effectively pointing out that taking away the physical doesn’t remove the memory.”

 
 
 
 

Shortlist 2016 (in alphabetic order by author)
     new home
     we unpack
     our old habits
          — Debbi Antebi, Failed Haiku 1.6

     off to on I disappear into the visible
          —Francine Banwarth, Frogpond 39:3

     winter sun
     a crow gives in
     to the wind
          — Brad Bennett, Presence 55

     silence

     where the river ran 
     this bed of stones
          — Susan Constable, Acorn 36

     heartland
     the world winnowed 
     down
 to wheat
          — Alan S. Bridges, The Heron’s Nest XVIII:2

     midnight call
     his car
     a pumpkin
          — Helen Buckingham, Mayfly 60

     night sky
     I release the minnows
     all at once
          Glenn G. Coats, Acorn 36

     late winter
     I hit the bottom
     of my fantasy world
          — Robert Epstein, Mariposa 34

     slip one knit one the pattern of winter bones
          — Lorin Ford, The Living Haiku Anthology Annual Haiku Competition 2016

     the length of the night when it matters why
          — Samar Ghose, Sonic Boom 5 

     galaxy
          — LeRoy Gorman, is/let, 1 October 2016

     drunk on snow melt
     from your clavicles
     wolf moon
          — Anita Guenin, The Living Haiku Anthology Annual Haiku Contest 2016

     death what kind of plan is that 
          — Carolyn Hall, Mariposa 35

     the squeak
     of tulips into a vase . . .
     hospice reception
          — Michele Harvey, Frameless Sky 4

     campfire light
      the color returns
       to dead leaves
          —Alexander B. Joy, The Heron’s Nest XVIII:1

     all day rain
     the weight of trees
     in my bones
          — Ben Moeller-Gaa, Modern Haiku 47.3

     the groundhog’s shadow
     white where there shouldn’t be
     on her mammogram
          — Elliot Nicely, Modern Haiku 47.2

     slow thunder

     a lizard’s ribs pressed
 
     against concrete
          — Polona Oblak, The Heron’s Nest, XVIII:2

     death anniversary . . .
     his fading odor
     in treasured shirt 
          — Aparna Pathak, Wild Plum 2:2

     wheeling her chair
     through leaf fall . . .
     we sure knew how to dance 
          — Bill Pauly, The Heron’s Nest XVIII:4

     restringing fence wire —
     meadowlark’s song one post 									
     ahead of the wind
          — Chad Lee Robinson, Mariposa 35

     thin harvest —
     I salt the bitterness
     out of the gourd
          Carl Seguiban, The Peggy Willis Lyles Haiku Award 2016

     winter night —
     the last tram carrying
     only the light
          — Eduard Tara, Concorso Internazionale Haiku in Lingua Italiana 2016

     insomnia 

     length of the night
     
on her knitting needles
          — Maria Tomczak, The Heron’s Nest XVIII::3

 
 
 
 

The Touchstone Distinguished Books Award 2016

Panelists:

  • Rebecca Lilly
  • Randy M. Brooks
  • Michael McClintock
  • Julie Warther
  • Tom Clausen

Some 83 books were nominated. Award recipients are listed in alphabetical order by author, not by merit. Selected comments from the panelists give some flavor of the deliberations that have taken place.

Winners

a drop of pond
by Brad Bennett (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2016). 86 pages, 4.25" by 6.5". Four-color card cover, perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-936848-73-7. $15.00. Available from the author.






Comments from the Panel
“Brad Bennett in a drop of pond shares with his readers the discovery that haiku are to be found in our day to day experiences whether it be on the subway or on switchbacks on a mountain path.

     field trip
     on the subway
     six small hands to a pole

     switchbacks
     up the mountain
     we swap regrets

“His ability to take the ordinary and reveal the extraordinary is unmistakable and rewarding throughout this marvelous first collection. There is a beautiful awareness and openness throughout this collection which showcases the near endless range of subjects available to poets writing haiku.

     idling
     at an intersection . . .
     an island of cosmos

     rusty lawn chair
     the full moon reveals
     its silver

“Among many brilliant qualities to be found in a drop of pond is a subtle and warming sense of humor. The intimacy of the familiar at once welcomes us to the heart of ourselves.

     talking politics —
     or at least
     my dentist is

     swapping work stories
     his pint of beer
     has more foam

“a drop of pond offers fresh, pure pairings of both the ‘ah’ and ‘aha’ variety. The images in this collection are seen through the eyes of one who feels a keen kinship with nature. Brad Bennett has an innovative and wonderfully personal voice that invites us to celebrate what is possible in haiku.”

     a drop of pond
     at the end of a beak
     setting sun

 
 

highway of sleeping towns
by Deborah P Kolodji (Pasadena CA: Shabda Press, 2016). 108 pages, 6" by 9". Four-color card covers, perfectbound. ISBN 978-0-9915772-3-1. $16.00.






Comments from the Panel
“Deborah Kolodji’s highway of sleeping towns is an outstanding collection of haiku and senryu from over 15 years of writing. The collection is especially refreshing because of the wide range of topics written from a variety of approaches. You will not find worn out themes or the usual suspects of haiku topics in this book. Some of her haiku reflect her technology and science fiction perspective, but all strike me as a fresh voice from contemporary life. Her haiku continually surprise us with gifts of insight, humor and emotion.

     talk radio
     a swirl of gnats
     in my headlights

     short circuit
     she activates
     the flirting module

     Euler’s number
     your litany
     of unrepeatable excuses

     spent lilacs
     the time warp
     in her garden

 
 

The Windbreak Pine: New and Uncollected Haiku 1985 – 2015 by Wally Swist (Omskirk, UK: Snapshot Press, 2016).







Comments from the Panel
“This book collects some of Swist’s best haiku written over several decades. Over the years, his work has been recognized, and deservedly so, for exhibiting a deep and abiding affinity with the natural world. His perceptive and carefully-crafted haiku remain true to the haiku tradition, so it is fitting that he cites Robert Spiess as his “spiritual haiku mentor” and dedicates the book in his memory. Swist’s haiku have the feel of objective observations which are “selfless” in the best sense: close observations of natural scenes and images and the rich evocations arising from the juxtapositions of natural elements. The impact of these haiku often originates in descriptive richness: in Swist’s best poems, the natural image he so richly depicts rises above its description into a transcendent dimension:

     the dry wind simmers —
     high-pitched songs of cicadas
     rattle in the trees

     the frosted spirals
     of its sepia translucence —
     wild cucumber vine

“Sometimes the transcendent effect is achieved when one natural image “mirrors” another in the same poem, as in these two pieces:

     sun-dappled cliffs . . .
     streaked with spindly globes
     of golden alexander

     bobbing in the wind —
     umbels of Queen Anne’s lace
     cupped with snow

“With their keenly-observed and evocative images from the natural world, Swist’s haiku frequently remind us of the beauty of processes and images in nature that we so often overlook. His haiku are testament to ways in which seemingly simple and ordinary natural scenes, when observed closely and with the right kind of “selfless” attention, offer the reader a moment of transcendent vision”:

     a spider curls into a ball —
     its legs sparkling
     with snow crystals

 
 

Lit from Within: Haiku and Paintings by Ruth Yarrow (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2016). 150 pages, 6″ by 9″. Four-color card cover, perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-936848-68-3. $15.00.






Comments from the Panel
“In Lit from Within, Ruth Yarrow selects 208 poems from five previous collections and places them in a simple framework of regions and localities where she has lived, spanning forty years of her life. The haiku exhibit a mastery of language that penetrates the undersea of emotions for which the English language offers few adequate names or terms, though they may dominate our interior consciousness and sense of things. Yarrow’s use of imagery and haiku aesthetics opens the portal to this realm, where the poet triangulates the origin and presence of these emotions in the human psyche.

“Her sensuous language ranges from spare and vivid to full-bodied and lyrical:

     the child’s nose
     melts a hole in a frost fern —
     the windblown dark

     picking the last pears
     yellow windows hang
     in the dusk

     waking beside you
     the room glows
     with snowlight

“On page after page, Yarrow’s haiku achieve an introspective depth that is drawn from the careful contemplation and observation of outward things. Much of her poetry records indelible, intimate impressions tethered to memory, time and place. The human dimension is almost always present, at times even at the forefront, em-bedded in expressions of the natural world.

     thick snow —
     entrance to the vole tunnel
     softly closes

     dusk
     smell of our sweat
     and peaches

“Yarrow’s perceptiveness is fine, her realism authentic, her knowledge of the hu-man response rich, deep, and convincing in nuance and delicacy —

     ferry horn —
     steep plunge of the island
     into the sound

     totem pole:
     in the hawk’s eye
     a dark knot

“In Yarrow’s poems, meaning is a product of the give and take between inward and outward realities; she is a poet of integration and affirmation, yet does not stumble into the naive or romantic.

“This collection is a broad sampler of a poet who has achieved the vision of an in-timate natural philosophy and the language skills needed to convey its substance and subtleties. In its pages we find a substantial, enduring contribution to the foundations of English language haiku.”

 
 
 
 

Honorable Mentions

Dewdrops on the Weeds by Ludmila Balabanova (Sofia Bulgaria: Small Stations Press, 2016). Bilingual (Bulgarian/English). 64 pages, 140cm by 210cm. Four-color card cover, perfectbound. ISBN 978-954-384-047-2. $15.00.



Comments from the Panel
“Ludmila Balabanova adapts haiku aesthetics to Western-flavored metaphor and broad symbolism to create poems in simple, direct language on poetry’s traditional themes: love, loss, separation, transience, loneliness, memories. A significant num-ber of her poems clearly leave a footprint in the literature of aphorism and proverb —

     forgiveness:
     the tree in the window
     again in bloom

     are we as different
     as we think —
     sunflower field

“However much such poems may tweak the nose of the purist, they have been given a niche in haiku history — Basho, Buson and Issa wrote many that are still much loved and admired. Balabanova cheerfully adds a small crop of her own.

“Other poems reel us in with guileless word choices and angles on experience. The simple is profound: a direct appeal is made to the reader’s imagination to fully comprehend what the poem is showing us and what direction it is inviting us to go:

     my star
     light years away . . .
     fireflies

     family album . . .
     lights of a passing train
     in the night

     peaceful afternoon
     my grandson kills and revives
     ten clay soldiers

     January afternoon
     the melody from
     a black-and-white film

“Simple they may be, but the results are sophisticated and seductive, and appear drawn from a worldview or mystical Weltanschauung that smiles on human behavior.”

 
 

What Light There Is: Haiku, Senryu and Tanka by Sylvia Forges-Ryan (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2016). Illustrations by Ion Codrescu. 108 pages, 4.25″ by 6.5″. Four-color card cover, perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-936848-58-4. $17.


Comments from the Panel
“Sylvia Forges-Ryan’s evocative collection, What Light There is: Haiku, Senryu and Tanka, offers the reader a series of observations and experiences in poems that sensitively draw on the juxtapositions between light and dark, both literal and figurative. Each chapter (or section) focuses on a different subject or area of life experience and has an accompanying light or dark title theme: e.g., “Natural Light” focuses on scenes from the natural world, and “While Darkness Falls” takes illness as a theme.) One of the strengths of this collection is that Forges-Ryan speaks in a very personal and quietly observant voice that makes you feel as though she’s speaking directly to you. There is a strong personal voice here:

     Breaking off an icicle
     the taste of metal
     and my childhood

     Deep into winter
     writing poems I can share
     with no one

“The title of the collection is apt, as Forges-Ryan makes reference to both the complementary and the opposing aspects of light and dark in many poems. Traditional images of winter (cold and snow, as well as death) all suggest the dark and interplay with “light” images in a variety of aspects. In some instances, light emerges from darkness (as in 2nd poem below), while in other cases, darkness shrouds the light. In still other cases, they seem to coexist harmoniously side-by-side, as in the lovely:

     Here it holds a blossom,
     there a snowflake
     plum branch

“In this poem, light grows out of darkness:

     Softly falling rain
     a vole’s body decomposes
     back into life

“In addition to the strong sense of cohesion provided by the light-dark theme, and Forges-Ryan’s direct and personal voice, the way the poems are arranged adds power to the collection as a whole. Notably, particular images recur in various sections of the book (stars, dandelion puffs, icicles) and so take on different shades of meaning depending on the dark-light ratios expressed in those poems. It is clear that much thought was given not simply to the poems themselves, but to their arrangement, resulting in a collection with a strong sense of unity of voice and subject matter.

“The last and lovely ending poem is about “letting go,” the subject of the final section:

     After I’m gone
     where will you find me
     if not in my poems

“A fitting conclusion to a deft and poignant collection.”

 
 

the earth pushes back by Bill Kenney (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2016). 76 pages, 4.25″ by 6.5″. Four-color card cover, perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-936848-63-8. $15.


Comments from the Panel
the earth pushes back chronicles Bill Kenney’s journey through the seasons of his life and, essentially, the reader’s as well. Kenney’s plain language and simple diction create imagery of luminous precision with a beautifully realized sub-strata of personal thought and reflection. His use of universal images conveys the fallibility of our humanness within the context of the earth beneath our feet providing both support and resistance, reminding us we are alive and part of something bigger than ourselves.

“The evocative title and front cover image capture the attention, but the single haiku introduction draws the reader in —

     butterfly
     where do I
     begin

“The poet seems to be gathering his thoughts to order this tale while simultaneous-ly pondering the unsaid, “where do you end, butterfly, and I begin?” Immediately, there is tension, this back and forth tugging, of who is telling the story — the poet or 
Nature?

     barefoot
     the earth
     pushes back

“It is a credit to the poet, who so clearly appreciates resistance in the form of gravity and friction, to see the very things we often fight against as potentially our greatest gifts. Without those forces that slow us down, our journeys would be swift, easy and generally without consciousness. With them, we can join the earth’s methodical pace, intentionally seeing and appreciating.

“This common thread of connection and interaction leads the reader gently through the earth’s seasons and the poet’s inner-life.

     daffodil shoots
     under a bandage
     the cut begins to itch

     butterfly
     the thought of myself
     not thinking

     late autumn
     my fear
     of falling

     bringing the shovels
     down from the attic
     my winter bones

“Kenny’s poems, poignant and expertly ordered, carry a consistent theme throughout. And his pure pairings of images illustrate the ‘deceptively simple’ at its best.

“A single haiku epilogue leaves the reader on a trajectory of hope that, indeed, the earth will continue to push back”:

     February wind
     I want to believe
     the crocus

 
 
 
 

2016 Shortlist
  • Balabanova, Ludmila. Dewdrops on the Weeds. Small Stations Press, 2016.
  • Bell, Amanda. Undercurrents. Alba Publishing, 2106.
  • Bennett, Brad. a drop of pond. Red Moon Press, 2016.
  • Berry, Ernest. Haiku Green Tea & Sushi. Prisma Print, 2016.
  • Epsteing, Robert and Miriam Wald (editors). Every Chicken, Cow, Fish and Frog: Animal Rights Haiku. Middle Island Press, 2016.
  • Forges-Ryan, Sylvia. What Light There Is. With haiga by Ion Codrescu, Red Moon Press, 2016.
  • Friedenberg, Jay. elemental. Red Moon Press, 2016.
  • Kolodji, Deborah P. highways of sleeping towns. Shabda Press, 2016.
  • Kenney, Bill. the earth pushes back. Red Moon Press, 2016.
  • Martin, Jeannie ands Peter Newton (editors). Photographs by Joyce Clement, Evening Stillness, Haiku Circle 10th Year Anthology. Haiku Circle Press, 2016.
  • Martone, John. retreat. samuddo / ocean 2016.
  • O’Connor, Sean. Let Silence Speak. Alba Publishing, 2016.
  • Swist, Wally. The Windbreak Pine: New and Uncollected Haiku, 1985 – 2015. Edited by John Barlow, Snapshot Press, 2016.
  • Windsor, Sheila. Totem. Yet To Be Named Free Press, 2016.
  • Yarrow, Ruth. Lit from Within: Haiku and Paintings. Red Moon Press, 2016.
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