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Here are the Touchstone Awards for poems and books published in 2018. 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 2018

Panelists:

  • Terry Ann Carter
  • Gary Hotham
  • Renée Owen
  • Michele Root-Bernstein
  • Wally Swist
  • Dietmar Tauchner

More than 800 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.


Touchstone Award Winners

 

blood moon
he doesn’t take no
for an answer
   — Susan Burch (2018 Marlene Mountain Memorial Haiku Contest, Femkumag)

 
 
 
 
 
 

Comments from the Panel
“The imagery in this small poem is fierce. Violent. A product of the #MeToo movement. The aggression results in serious (perhaps bloody?) conflict. I find the poem deeply disturbing, but all the more resonant for “going there”. It is a poem that speaks to our contemporary lives.”

“This senyru is erotic in nature. There are few modern haiku that explore erotic themes. Some decades ago, Rod Wilmot, a Canadian haiku pioneer, published an anthology of erotic haiku and senryu. In “blood moon”, this poet’s lover “doesn’t take no / for an answer”. Their passion transcends physicality and even the nature of the menstrual cycle. The senryu is reminiscent of the tanka of the Japanese bluestocking feminist, Yasano Akiko, whose poems were made renown through the translations into English by Kenneth Rexroth. “blood moon” exhibits the raw passion of human nature — and love — in depicting a dark intimacy, which when brought out
into the light of its aesthetic accomplishment, deepens the human experience for the reader and expands that experience in its presentation of what is significant about how Eros affects our lives and stirs our hearts.”

“This senryu’s first line gives us clues to understanding the poet’s possible meaning. The blood moon occurs during a full moon and a total lunar eclipse, when light waves appearing red from the earth’s sunrises and sunsets, intensified by cloud cover and pollution, reflect off the moon’s surface. Ancient people feared the blood moon, not understanding it and considering it an omen of disaster. Even today, an association persists with both the full moon and the blood moon as times of increased danger. In the context of this senryu, the blood moon image conjures up violence, as the “he” in the poem refuses to “take no/for an answer”. The #MeToo movement has succeeded in making the unconscious conscious, and in bringing to light behavior that has inflicted silent suffering and trauma on so many. Whether on a date, or in a committed relationship or marriage, when a person says no they mean no, and not accepting that boundary is an act of aggression called rape. This tiny poem speaks volumes.”

 
 

crow . . .
the dark crackle
of river ice
   — Elinor Pihl Huggett (Geppo 43:3)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Comments from the Panel
“We vividly see the black of the crow, stark against the white winter landscape, and with foreboding, we hear the river ice cracking, can feel the freezing cold water under the ice. We sense the inherent danger of any human or animal trying to cross the river ice in the throes of its melting into a new season. The black crow reminds us of this danger, and of deaths to come.”

“This excellent haiku delivers on multiple levels. Reading the poem for the rollout of its imagery, we ‘see’ the crow (perhaps in flight), then we “hear” the dark crackle of river ice. The juxtaposition creates a synesthetic or cross-modal effect. Listening to the sound of the poem’s words, we notice the repetition of hard c’s and k’s in lines 1 and 2 — now we hear the crow as well as see it, even as we hear and feel the river ice give beneath our feet. The juxtaposition of crow, winter, river, and the danger inherent in falling into all three is indeed ominous. In a moment of sudden terror, we realize once again the inevitable shock of death.”

 
 

crown of thorns
things we make
with our hands
   — Jessica Malone Latham (Mariposa 39)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Comments from the Panel
“Deepens on each re-reading, expanding into multiple meanings. From the initial haiku moment (the micro), such as making a crown of rose stalks, perhaps replete with buds, in a spring celebration, a wedding or maypole ceremony or ritual. Deepening into a focus on the word “thorns” and the pain they can cause and how we sometimes create that pain ourselves (with our thoughts & beliefs, with our actions or words). A deeper layer, the Christian analogy, with its archetypes and meaning, and allusion to the opportunity for rebirth.”
 
 

the blade
after the whetstone —
summer rain
   — Tanya McDonald (Mariposa 38)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Comments from the Panel
“The work of spring & summer has prepared us to be ready for the fall harvest, just our our appetites have been sharpened. This stellar haiku takes us back to the land, to farming and a simpler time of life, and also provides allusions to what we reap and sow in our lives today. A simple, quiet poem, yet so effectively capturing the moment, and the season, that it retains its layers of meaning and its freshness on each rereading.”

 
 

deep night sky
the dashboard lights too bright
for this loneliness
   — Chad Lee Robinson (Frogpond 41:3)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Comments from the Panel
“This ineffable haiku succeeds by conundrum. How can dashboard lights be “too bright” for
the “loneliness” of the poetic narrator — or, indeed, for anyone adrift in the “deep night sky”?
Perhaps we turn off our own lights to immerse ourselves ever more deeply in the deep of night
and space. Perhaps we revel in our mood of detachment from others, from our daily cares and
unmet desires, and feel ourselves dissolving into distant stars and what lies beyond. Perhaps.
Whatever our experience, we welcome this loneliness for the time, being.”

 
 

more automatic words about weapons
   — John Stevenson (Frogpond 41:2)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Comments from the Panel
“This minimal haiku/senryu is expertly constructed around one key word, “automatic.” It is also politically fraught, dealing as it does with the gun debate presently raging in the U.S. and elsewhere. On first reading, hyper-awareness of the transposition of “automatic” from weapon to words has us assuming that the ku states a point of view. And yet, the poem itself militates against this singular reading. Further consideration of the intentionality of word order and perhaps a bit of self-reflection suggests that automatic responses shoot from sides of the debate across the no-man’s land between “us” and “them”. Rather than favor one side or the other, this haiku/senryu insists on the absence of true dialogue. The poem’s rapid-fire sound values only serve to heighten the effect.”

“Weapons are made to harm. Words — as all of us know — are sometimes harmful too, especially during a discussion, or simply spoken out unconsciously. Most words spoken out without care and sensitivity are automatic, creating a distance between the real meaning and the imaginary world of words. Thus the power of fictional words about the world, about weapons, becomes a word of weapons.”

 
 
 

Touchstone 2018 Shortlist

          housewarming . . .
          a swarm of honey bees
          in the crawl space
                — Barnabas I. Adeleke (The Heron’s Nest XX:4)

          summer’s end
          the fence splinters
          into meadowlarks
               — Elizabeth Alford (Stardust Haiku 20)

          learning to eat
          around bruises
          winter apples
               — Debbi Antebi (The Heron’s Nest XX:1)

          lilac on her dress
          for a moment
          I’m in the fields
               — Faten Anwar (The Mamba 6)

          Russian nesting dolls —
          where’s the room
          to be oneself
               — Betty Arnold (Yuki Teikei Haiku Society 2018 Members’ Anthology)

          blood moon
          he doesn’t take no
          for an answer
               — Susan Burch (2018 Marlene Mountain Memorial Haiku Contest, Femkumag)

          pre-dawn stars
          plumes of breath
          from a cattle truck
               — Paul Chambers (Acorn 41)

          spring wind
          a young sheepdog
          skedaddles the lambs
               — Claire Everett (The Heron’s Nest XX:3)

          morning frost
          how brightly shines
          the barbed wire
               — Florin C. Florian (Johnny Baranski Memorial Haiku Contest)

          signs of spring
          at the bottom of one pot
          shards of another
               — Robert Gilliland (Mariposa 38)

          your absence
          in my hands
          snowdrop
               — Eufemia Griffo (Modern Haiku 49.2)

          the mountains
          Santōka never saw again —
          closed saké shop
               — Engin Gülez (IRIS Little Haiku Contest 2017 (published, February 1, 2018))

          silent
          as a mouse
          the trap
               — John Hawkhead (The Heron’s Nest XX:1)

          crow . . .
          the dark crackle
          of river ice
               — Elinor Pihl Huggett (Geppo 43:3)

          keepsache
               —± David J. Kelly (Frogpond 41:1)

          crown of thorns
          things we make
          with our hands
               — Jessica Malone Latham (Mariposa 39)

          petroglyphs
          the short drive
          to Los Alamos
               — paul m. (Acorn 40)

          the blade
          after the whetstone —
          summer rain
               — Tanya McDonald (Mariposa 38)

          family gathering
          sliced warm beetroot
          stains what it touches
               — Ron C. Moss (Acorn 40)

          stepping stones . . .
          someone else
          years ago
               — Guy Nesom (Mayfly 64)

          all soul’s day
          something startles
          a field of doves
               — Polona Oblak (Presence 60)

          another year
          the weight of my shadow
          on new snow
               — Joseph Robello (Mariposa 39)

          rain
          one steeple
          at a time
               — Bryan Rickert (Modern Haiku 49.1)

          deep night sky
          the dashboard lights too bright
          for this loneliness
               — Chad Lee Robinson (Frogpond 41:3)

          the heartbeat
          of a painted pony
          winter prairie
               — Chad Lee Robinson (Mariposa 38)

          skinny-dipping
          in the outback river
          paperbark trees
               — Maureen Sexton (Creatrix 43)

          summer visit
          mother fits into
          a smaller hug
               — Sushma A. Singh (The Heron’s Nest XX:4)

          more automatic words about weapons
               — John Stevenson (Frogpond 41:2)

          fallow fields a light dusting of snow geese
               — Debbie Strange (Mariposa 39)

          peat bog
          the spreading fire
          of cloudberries
               — Debbie Strange (Shamrock 40)

          the thin whistling
          of the wind in the bottle
          has faded away
               — Max Verhart (Chrysanthemum 24)

*****************************************************

 

The Touchstone Distinguished Books Award 2018

Panelists:

  • Randy M. Brooks
  • Patricia Machmiller
  • Michael McClintock
  • Julie Warther
  • Don Wentworth

More than 80 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.

Touchstone Award Winners

 

Wishbones: Haiku & Senyru. Ben Moeller-Gaa (Meredith NH: Folded Word Press. 144 pages, 5" by 7". Two-color card covers, saddle-stitched. ISBN 978-1610191166. $12.00).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Comments from the Panel
Wishbones by Ben Moeller-Gaa is a beautifully produced collection of evocative haiku. Folded Word Press is to be commended for the calligraphy by JS Graustein presenting each haiku on a cream-colored page. Her calligraphy provides a human touch to the haiku, as if we are reading them from someone’s journal. The book starts with the title poem:

wishbones the way we split in two
I especially like how this haiku moves from the physical connection of splitting a wishbone to the more symbolic expression. It invokes this childish ritual with the deeper realizations about serious wishes and differences. The haiku in Moeller-Gaa’s book continually play with ordinary events and their mystical underlying significance, for instance:
clip on tie the unseen order of things
Sometimes the tension between the immediate and the unseen is the passage of time:
an old argument — untangling the christmas lights
The author writes from a variety of circumstances and emotions. I appreciate the togetherness in this one:
morning calm the pacing of pages between us
Consider this more ominous one:
talk of war sugar cubes dissolve into darkness
This is an outstanding collection of haiku because the author engages in deep thinking, close wondering, and heartfelt caring. Like most of our best writers, Ben Moeller-Gaa takes the time to notice significance in life and captures that significance in the literary art of haiku.”

 
 

Unsealing Our Secrets: A Short Poem Anthology About Sexual Abuse. Alexis Rotella, Curator/Editor (Arnold MD: Jade Mountain Press. 131 pages, 6”x9”. $12.99).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Comments from the Panel
“The best way of keeping a secret is to pretend there isn’t one.” — Margaret Atwood
In Unsealing Our Secrets, poets share their stories of sexual abuse through short form poetry. Recent developments in the area of sexual abuse and the #MeToo movement make Unsealing Our Secrets both timely and socially relevant. As men and women around the world open up about their experiences, bringing their secrets out into the light, others are being encouraged and comforted.
“Don’t be ashamed of your story. It will inspire others.” — Alexis Rotella
This anthology was difficult to read, but as we can only imagine, even more difficult for the authors to write and for an editor to solicit submissions and make selections. Rotella shared in her introduction that many “needed to be coaxed into contributing” and some chose to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the stories they shared. Of the names included, many will be familiar to those in the haiku community. In all, more than fifty poets, both women and men, shared their stories here — each in their own voice and own way. Unsealing Our Secrets stands out as an example of one of the most pervasive reasons writers write. These poets demonstrate how writing builds relationships linking writer to reader, reader to writer and reader to reader. By writing, these poets will be able to share a bond with far more people than would be possible face to face. We recognize there is risk with any form of writing. In this collection, that vulnerability for the writers is even greater. But this shared experience between reader and writer would not be possible if it were not for the writer taking that first step. We applaud their courage and the profound impact it has had and will continue to have. There are some secrets we think we’re keeping, but those secrets are actually keeping us.” — Frank Warren We hope this act of sharing their stories has been a liberating force for these poets. And we are grateful for the opportunities their efforts have created for conversations and healing to begin. While the social and historical importance of Unsealing Our Secrets is undisputed, the merit of the poetry itself elevates this volume even further. As M.Kei, editor of Atlas Poetica states in the Afterword, “It is excellent poetry because it must be. Nothing less could hold the burden of such secrets.” The poems are varied in style, including haiku, senryu, tanka, cherita and haibun. Each sets the stage for and supports those on either side of it. Such is the strength of the collection that not one poem can be offered here, alone, to represent the book. The collection is most compelling when taken as a whole. For all these reasons, not only will Unsealing Our Secrets: A Short Poem Anthology About Sexual Abuse be known as one of the top haikai books published in 2018, but it will likely remain an influential work for many years to come.”

 
 

Shades of Absence. Harriot West (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press. 78 pages, 6″ x 9″. Four-color card covers, perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-947271-22-7. $15.00).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Comments from the Panel
Conjuring the presence of absence is no mean poetic feat. Harriot West, in Shades of Absence, finely tunes all the senses, with time, intuition and the unknowable also playing essential roles. She bears down on her subjects with every formal tool in her formidable box: haiku, tanka, haibun, tanka prose and monostich. The result is that Shades of Absence is just that, and more: a breathtaking collection of loss and repression, death and denial, broken relationships, dysfunction and missed opportunities. What isn’t said is often more resonant than what is.

spindrift mother’s ashes somewhere taking his word for it that she was proud of me
In a six word senryu, devastation, loss and their effects map the dark side of a relationship gone bad:
negative space he sharpens my edges
Each poem confronts absence in a different way, sees its shadow in every situation, and sorrow and sadness weigh heavily on what isn’t, as well as what is:
three months maybe four she buys a ukulele
The cumulative power of this sadness and sorrow in Shades reminds us of an aspect of the human condition we ignore at our own risk: all-pervasive suffering.
The Changeling Mother had a fondness for a certain TV cop who drank his coffee black. Facts ma’am, just the facts he said as evening dulled the amber of her scotch. On cold nights when she refused to light the furnace, his image flickered on the screen, blocking thoughts about a child who conjured castles out of clouds and faeries out of starlight.
the crack of ice cubes melting in her glass mother says I’m just like father
Harriot West’s collection is a compelling compendium of emotion, anguish and inevitable loss. With her mastery of brief Eastern forms, she evokes this loss with a succinct power few poets working in any form achieve. Above all, Shades of Absence is an insightful chronicle of humanness in all its pain and wonder.
maybe he says I insert ellipses

 
 

Honorable Mentions

 

Marco Fraticelli.. A Thousand Years (Carlton Place ON: Catkin Press, 2018. 90 pages, 5″ x 7″. Four-color card covers, perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-928163-27-5).
 
Comments from the Panel
Out of the creative mind of Marco Fraticelli came the idea to write letters that Chiyo-ni might have written in her later life after she entered a Buddhist monastery and became a nun, letters he imagines to be from a woman whose last years are lonely and who, as a writer, fills her evenings pouring her feelings into unsent letters to a past love. According to the short biography of Chiyo-ni written by Terry Ann Carter and included in the collection, there is no evidence that she had a past love, only speculation, and that she was lonely can only be surmised from her poems, one of which is included at the end of each letter, plus a collection of twenty-two of her haiku in a section at the end of the book. Fraticelli constructs his translations of Chiyo-ni’s haiku, not from the Japanese which he does not read, but from English and French translations. Here is a sample of one of his letters written is the voice of Chiyo-ni: 

People are constantly disappearing: some suddenly like lightning, others less dramatically like thunder. But, in this world, all is not thunder and lightning. Most disappearances are more like the morning mist lifting. People are there for a while, and then they are not. In the end, it matters little how they left. What remains is that we are still alone.
even airing kimonos my woman’s heart never turned off

 
 

Kai Hasegawa. Okinawa. Translated into English by David Burleigh and Tanaka Kimiyo. (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press. 104 pages, 5″ x 7½″. Four-color card covers, perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-947271-22-7. $15.00).

 

Comments from the Panel
In this edition, directed primarily to English readers, translators David Burleigh and Tanaka Kimiyo present Hasegawa Kai’s Okinawa in language fully tuned to convey emotional landscapes and large ideas in concrete imagery. The fifty paired poems of the main sequence, appearing on facing pages, are a format that compels the kind of slow, thoughtful reading that induces immersion in the elegiac vision the poetry conveys.
Without intruding, Burleigh’s notes and afterword supply additional information and background that contribute substantially to the whole, including material descriptive of Kai’s debt to Basho. He writes with grace and intelligence, revealing a poet’s soul. The meticulous scholarship of Burleigh and Kimiyo, working in unison, is capable of focusing on what matters to Hasegawa Kai, and what should matter to the English reader. The Japanese originals and transliterations in romaji are provided.
Poems that exemplify and reflect how the sequence unfolds —

the early summer rains falling on the island falling on the sea (page 18) from far-off memory the cicada faintly calls (25) they may have supped upon the flesh of corpses: great summer trees (32) human remains — right inside the mouth green pampas grass (33) the water-soaked corpse turning into water — the coolness (35)
These are representative, key components of what Hasegawa and his translators inscribe so indelibly about Okinawa, as physical place and waypoint in the shared history of WWII in the Pacific: Given the context, the beauty of these verses may at first seem strange, even faintly surreal, until one realizes this is beauty of another order, without artifice, distortion, or hyperbole, grounded in the ceaseless natural processes of change. The world is a graveyard out of which the grass blade, human being, and all living things emerge anew. The healing implicit in such processes would seem to be a reason for hope and a positive, even realistic, bulwark against existential despair. Our panel thinks this book has historical importance to the haiku community, the Japanese people generally, and the people of Okinawa in particular. Hasegawa’s use of intertextual allusion, coupled with the translators’ handling of this technique, make the work worthy of further analysis within the fine arts of translation, linguistic studies, and comparative literature. Incorporating elements of threnody and requiem, the book stands as an important contemporary contribution to the world’s elegiac literature.”

 
 

Eve Luckring. The Tender Between (Princeton, N.J.: Ornithopter Press. 96 pages, 5½″ x 8½″. Four-color card covers, perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-942723-05-9. $16.00).

 

Comments from the Panel
“Eve Luckring’s book, The Tender Between, is tough reading, but those who want to put in the work will find it greatly rewarding. The book opens with the word, becoming. As the only word on the first page followed by a comma, we are introduced to Luckring’s process of:

Becoming, matching this black to that black crow’s caw “Call me Ishmael,” mother reads to me in utero
Subsequent sections of the book are introduced by an ever expanding text that expresses doubt, that questions the need for a name,
dark sea surging to the brink of words sore to the touch his name in my mouth
the process (“Is it a story, or a strategy, . . .”),
bleeding under my skin the American dream a complaint or a prayer crow,
and whose story is it (is it “they me or we”).
an irreducible fraction of a woman dividing by zero new moon — a clean place to lay a discarded name
As the text proceeds, she invokes Lao-Tzu in the Tao Te Ching: “the same source but different names . . . .”
a forest forgotten a river owed a smiling cow on the label until trees can be landlords
Throughout, Luckring uses the crow as avatar; follow the crow to navigate Luckring’s way that is not the Way and Luckring’s realm that is full of desire, yet empty of desire to see how Luckring’s fragments become a whole.”

 
 

2018 Shortlist
Broken. Steven Carter (Uxbridge UK: Alba Publishing).
     • A Thousand Years. by Marco Fraticelli (Carlton Place ON: Catkin Press).
     • Okinawa. Kai Hasegawa, translated into English by David Burleigh and Tanaka Kimiyo. (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press).
     • old song: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2017. Jim Kacian et al., editors. (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press).
     • senior admission. Bill Kenney (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press).
     • A Piece of the Berlin Wall. Marcus Larsson (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press).
     • The Tender Between. Eve Luckring (Princeton NJ: Ornithopter Press).
     • My Afterlife. John Martone (Charleston IL: Tufo).
     • Wishbones: Haiku & Senyru. Ben Moeller-Gaa (Meredith NH: Folded Word Press).
     • Simple Gifts. Natalia L. Rudychev (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press).
     • Night Ferry. Kim Richardson (Uxbridge UK: Alba Publishing).
     • Unsealing Our Secrets: A Short Poem Anthology About Sexual Abuse. Alexis Rotella, Curator/Editor (Arnold MD: Jade Mountain Press).
     • An Unmown Sky 2: An Anthology of Croatian Haiku Poetry 2008-2018. Durda Vukelic Rozic, editor. (Croatia: Haiku Association “Three Rivers).
     • Shades of Absence. Harriot West (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press).
     • Tsugigami: gathering the pieces. Valorie Broadhurst Woerdehoof and Connie R. Meester (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press).
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