Skip to content

The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems 2019

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.

Panelists:

Chuck Brickley, Susan Constable, Anna Maris, Christopher Patchel, Wally Swist, Michelle Tennison

Winners

strawberry season
acres and acres
of bent backs
— Gregory Longenecker, The Heron’s Nest XXI:2

  1. “This haiku begins with a seasonal fragment that teases our sense of sight, taste, and scent. The alliteration in lines one and three is balanced on the fulcrum of line two’s assonance. It’s a familiar scene to many of us, especially in the top-producing countries of China, America, and Mexico. Often, it’s migrants who toil for our enjoyment by doing this back-breaking work. It’s not only a tedious job, but one for which foreign workers generally receive low wages and often live in deplorable conditions. Without these acres and acres of bent backs, how many of us would step up to take their place?”
  2. “Upon reading this haiku I see within the shape of strawberries a mirror of the bent backs of human beings laboring in the fields, faces hidden from view. It allows me to appreciate the forgotten human element behind my everyday pleasures and abundance I so often take for granted. This is a subtle haiku with strong impact and social relevance.”
  3. “The first line of this poem evokes a childhood joy that recurs throughout our lives: At last, fresh strawberries—in trays at the farmer’s market, in little baskets at the grocery store. In the second line the poet suggests a bucolic panorama of crops covering the rolling hillsides, only to, in the third line, draw our focus to the “bent backs” of those picking our fruit of their labor. The ‘aches and aches’ suggested by “acres and acres” ring as true a commentary on our need for migrant workers as any, and as compassionate.”

wind song
between boulders —
ochre handprints
— Leanne Mumford, Echidna Tracks 2: Landscapes

  1. “Red and yellow ochre, vibrant and enduring pigments made from iron oxide, have been used for all manner of decorative purposes throughout human history and prehistory. Ochre handprints, painted on cave walls and other stone surfaces, have been found all over the world and date back forty thousand years or more. Whatever the purposes of these paintings, whether sociocultural or purely artistic, these handprints continue to affirm ‘I was here; we were here.’ Wind song, stone, ancient ochre handprints. What is transitory, what is eternal, what is our place in it all. This is an expansive haiku (time and space, heart and mind) which also anchors
    us, via multiple senses, in the here and now.”
  2. “This haiku takes me right out of space and time and then brings me back to focus on a single moment, a single life and its potential to create lasting effect. Conveys in three lines a sense that the universe goes as far in as out.”

dappled light
the voice a crow has
for its young
— Polona Oblak, The Heron’s Nest XXI:4

  1. “‘Dappled light,’ soft and filtered by the protective canopy of trees, feels harmonious with ‘the voice a crow has for its young’ in the nest or, perhaps, on the forest floor during their first excursions out in the world. These sounds seem, to the poet, more intimate than the abrasive caws associated with crows. Was this impression inspired by a naturalist’s familiarity with the family life of corvids? Or by the poet’s fancy? Charmed by the gentle synesthesia — a phenomenon at the heart of poetry — I choose in this instance to simply enjoy the haiku.”
  2. “Crows are a constant feature of haiku and it is hard to write something new on the subject. This haiku is true to the classic features of the form. Yugen has a strong presence. The poem
    tenderly and elegantly sets the scene on the first line, creating suspension in the second. The beauty of the pivot on the third line reveals a private moment, where we get to see the bird in a different light, and a chance to reflect on the different facets of others.”

be still wind
and know rain
that I am tree
— Renée Owen, Modern Haiku 50.2

  1. “A poem with a biblical vertical axis (literally!) and one that illustrates purposeful innovation of form in keeping with the theme. So many varied combinations and connections that all merge into oneness. How do I let go in times of turmoil? Amid chaos, how do I practice quiet faith? Perhaps one of the shortest routes to spiritual peace is to look within one’s own heart in communion with nature. This poem speaks (among many things) to the gifts of a haiku practice.”
  2. “This haiku is both novel and compelling. Do we read it from top to bottom or left to right? Does the pronoun refer to God or to the reader? For those of the Christian faith, perhaps the answer is clear. For those who don’t recognize the biblical connection, there are other possibilities — perhaps enough to make our heads spin. “Be still” can feel like advice to oneself and the phrase “and know that I am” prompts the questions ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is my purpose?’ These ten one-syllable words almost demand that we be still and listen. They suggest that I (the reader) am part of everything, just as everything is part of me. We can read each line on the left and follow it with any of the words on the right. In doing so, we see that everything is interconnected in one way or another. How we and nature act and interact influences everyone and everything else. The haiku is both thoughtful, provocative, and worthy of a Touchstone Haiku Award.”

carving
the snow
ulu moon
— Robin Anna Smith, Seventh Annual Peggy Willis Lyles Haiku Awards, Third Place

  1. “An ulu is an all-purpose knife traditionally used by Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut women. It is utilized in applications as diverse as skinning and cleaning animals, cutting a child’s hair, cutting food, as a weapon and, if necessary, trimming blocks of snow and ice used to build an igloo.” — Wikipedia. We cherish haiku, often because they perfectly express an experience we’ve all shared, but sometimes because we had no preconceptions whatsoever and are transported to a new, and — in this case — ancient time and place. Original, spare yet expansive in scope, this haiku — once I understood the significance of “ulu moon” — transported me to the first time I saw “The Sleeping Gypsy” by Rousseau. Perhaps “carving” is more like a Cubist painting, with its endless planes of moonlit snow; still, its surreal, mystical qualities immediately channeled my childhood sense of mystery. Elusive mystery given shape, given shapes by the carving of the ulu moon.”
  2. “The more I sit with this remarkable haiku the more I fall in love with it. I can only imagine the connection to the natural world that indigenous people experience, expressed here in three lines, 5 words (!), especially with the unique phrase ulu moon. Of course the shape of the tool mirrors the moon, but beyond that I feel here an intimacy with the elements and with the moon itself that extends into deep communion. And the undercurrent feminine energy with this one (with the ulu being a woman’s tool) I find empowering.”

day moon
the only witness
remains silent
— Julie Warther, Acorn 42

  1. “Few people ever notice the quiet presence of a daymoon. (Someone once questioned me whether there was such a thing.) The daymoon here is indeed observed, and what is more, becomes the observer. And not just a casual observer, but a witness. The only witness. Clearly the poet feels self-conscious about something. Perhaps a moral crossroads. Or a choice already made. Or a heavy heart. Or as I fancy it, a humorous moment of lunacy in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day.”
  2. “If the moon is traditionally associated with enlightenment and/or revelation, this day moon seems quite muted and deferential, offering only a glimpse of what could be. The word “witness” is key. Witness to what? Wrongdoing perhaps, or perhaps it represents another form of witness, that of an insightful truth of some kind. When I read this haiku I feel a sense of loss connected to the act of suppression, as though there is so much more waiting to be said, and something we might urgently need to hear. The understated feminine element in this haiku adds to the power of its message.”
  3. “As one of our two winning ‘moon’ haiku, this one captured our attention right from the beginning of the judging process. There’s a lot said in this more traditional construction of phrase and fragment, and a pleasing musicality is achieved through rhythm and sibilance. The opening image of a faint moon fading into a clear sky is easy to imagine — easier, perhaps, than noticing it in real life where nothing draws it to our attention — no sound, no bright light, and no shadows cast upon the ground. Lines 2 & 3 take us indoors and suggest we’re at a legal trial. We are asked to make a connection between a day moon and a witness who observes an event, but never comes forward with any information — useful or otherwise. The implied metaphor makes for a seemingly perfect juxtaposition with the opening image, where both the moon and the witness will fade from sight.”

The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems 2019 Shortlist

country road
the long ride through the scent
of cattle gone ahead
— Adjei Agyei-Baah, Wales Haiku Journal, Spring

living alone . . .
both ends
of the wishbone
— Francine Banwarth, The Heron’s Nest XXI:3

light rain the karst of everyday mind
— Sondra J. Byrnes, Sonic Boom 15

lichen
in a stone angel’s palm
advancing rain
— Paul Chambers, Presence 67

hardening the tractor ruts blackthorn wind
— Simon Chard, Presence 64

rain —
earwigs spill
from fennel stalks
— Sarah-Jane Crowson, Wales Haiku Journal, Autumn

dust of a moth
all that i’ve been
belongs to the moon
— Lucia Fontana, Failed Haiku 46

moonlight what’s left of the river
— Lorin Ford, The Heron’s Nest XXI:4

mom’s grave —
the breeze parts my hair
just so
— Warren Gossett, Acorn 42

oak leaf frozen to the sidewalk a celibate life
— Lee Gurga, Mariposa 40

strawberry season
acres and acres
of bent backs
— Gregory Longenecker, The Heron’s Nest XXI:2

field of poppies the war somewhere
— Elmedin Kadric, Presence 64

three tiny bones
in my inner ear
meadow lark
— Marietta McGregor, The Heron’s Nest XXI:4

power cut
we reach Mordor
by candlelight
— John McManus, hedgerow 129

summer the heat of his punch
— Lori A Minor, The Haiku Foundation’s Troutswirl Blog, Haiku Dialogue: Poet’s Choice

backyard weeds everyone has a name
— Ben Moeller-Gaa, hedgerow 129

wind song
between boulders —
ochre handprints
— Leanne Mumford, Echidna Tracks 2: Landscapes

dappled light
the voice a crow has
for its young
— Polona Oblak, The Heron’s Nest XXI:4

be still wind
and know rain
that I am tree
— Renée Owen, Modern Haiku 50.2

night bus
the emptiness
well lit
— Bryan Rickert, The Heron’s Nest XXI:3

both tent flaps
tied open
morning solitude
— Chad Lee Robinson, Acorn 43

maple keys tomorrow a sermon on doors
— Dan Schwerin, Modern Haiku 50:3

Woodstock forever stamps summer’s end
— Charlie Shiotani, The Heron’s Nest XXI:4

carving
the snow
ulu moon
— Robin Anna Smith, Seventh Annual Peggy Willis Lyles Haiku Awards, Third Place

bioluminescence
I skip a pebble across
the universe
— Debbie Strange, Seashores 2

ghost apple
this emptiness
inside
— Debbie Strange, Shamrock Haiku Journal 42

weathered oars
we fold our worries
into the river
— Debbie Strange, Acorn 42

day moon
the only witness
remains silent
— Julie Warther, Acorn 42

immigrant
seeds sewn
into her dress
— Mary Weiler, Frogpond 42:2

late-life affair
the weathered stone wall
wild with foxgloves
— Lucy Whitehead, Modern Haiku 50.3

The Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards 2019

69 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.

Panelists:

Patricia Machmiller, Scott Mason, Beverly Acuff Momoi, Michael Rehling, Don Wentworth

Winners

Sunflower Field. Ludmila Balabanova. (Plovdiv Bulgaria: Zhanet, 2019).

Ludmila Balabanova has broad bandwidth. The Bulgarian haiku poet and haibun writer extraordinaire holds a Ph.D. in literature but also lectures on computer engineering. Her bilingual collection of haibun, Sunflower Field, demonstrates what stunning effects and cumulative power someone with a wide-view lens, diverse skill set, and ease with contrasts can conjure with this hybrid form.

The book’s introduction, simply titled “Haibun”, serves admirably as a pithy primer on the subject. It’s the product both of an incisive mind and an open heart, ever oriented to the reader. “The aim [of the prose-haiku juxtaposition] is to stimulate the imagination and sensibility of the reader to find deeper relationships and complex connections.” When Balabanova states that “[h]aibun is a subtle and sophisticated literature” we intuitively sense that she knows exactly what she’s talking about. Her ensuing work confirms this.

The opening piece in the collection, “Distances”, begins with a haiku that displays a fascination (seen throughout this volume) with the celestial realm.

between the stars invisible stars

Subsequently we experience the first of many synapse-triggering register shifts with the haibun’s capping poem.

sunflower field
the sun rooted
in the sky

A number of the haibun in this collection are highly personal and deeply moving. One begins with a single-sentence paragraph that’s at once impossible to stop at and dislodge: “Yesterday we found my son’s and his friend’s white bunny dead.” In contrast, the collection’s shortest haibun—presented here in its entirety—leaves a more lyrical but no less indelible impression.

Wind

After the autumn fires which burned down the green cathedral of the summer, before the white flag of the winter . . .

leaf fall
my love let’s see Venice
before it sinks

Placed at intervals throughout the collection are hand-drawn illustrations, some of isolated and featureless figures in contemporary apparel, others (as on the cover) of one or two individuals occupying precisely-rendered interior elevations. These images do not relate to particular haibun but instead act in concert with the entire volume to create something of a meta-haiga imbued with complexity and intrigue. Not only an array of haibun spanning the full spectrum of expressive and emotional colorations, Sunflower Field also stands as a coherent work with a fully satisfying experiential arc. Balabanova’s last haibun, High Lake, ends thus: equinox . . . at sunset shadows lay down to rest It’s a rest richly deserved.

One Leaf Detaches. Margaret Chula. (Uxbridge UK: Alba Publishing, 2019).

As soft, as petal-tender as the touch of a fleeting blossom, the work of Margaret Chula explores, and illuminates, moments which pass quickly in life and are gone. She is a master of her craft, molding her work from the stuff of existence, rather than its opposite.

chill wind
the leaf and its shadow
tremble and fall

pale sun
flickers across the Buddha’s face
pulse of cicadas

There is truth beyond truth in these wondrous poems: first seeing what is — now — then revealing, subtly, something shimmering, something beyond. The interplay of poignancy and humor glimmer, late afternoon light on a brilliant autumn day:

after the typhoon
starlings peck his shiny eyes
scarecrow in a heap

at the graveyard
I rearrange chrysanthemums
and plastic flowers

Immersed in a Buddhist tonality, these poems wear their sensibility lightly, truly the source of belief and not its effect:

the priest offers me
an orange and apple
left for the Buddha

holding the water
held by it
lotus

In addition, there is, at once, sorrow and compassion, there is life, and its final bloom:

connecting the Kannon’s
one thousand and one arms
spider webs

Jizō statues
for dead children
faceless, nameless

And, of course, there is mystery, and there is awe:

winter evening
a stray dog barks
to his echo

One Leaf Detaches is not only one of the finest volumes of poetry of this past year, it is the accomplishment, the culmination, of a lifetime of awareness, a lifetime of active engaging, for poet and, hopefully, reader alike.

Haiku as Life: A Kaneko Tohta Omnibus. Richard Gilbert, Itō Yūki, David Ostman, Masahiro, Koun Franz, Tracy Franz, and Kanamitsu Takeyoshi. (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2019).

Kaneko Tohta (1919 – 2018) is a major figure in the haiku world in the twentieth century. The “Introduction” by Richard Gilbert calls him “a literary and cultural pioneer of postwar Japanese haiku poetry.” The authors of this book, known as the Kon Nichi Translation Group, have compiled an English language compendium of his life, his works, and his philosophy. This book is a republication with some revisions and updates of the four volumes originally published by Red Moon Press:

Ikimonofūei: Poetic Composition on Living Things (2011) The Future of Haiku: An Interview with Kaneko Tohta (2011) Selected Haiku with Essays and Commentary (1937-1960) (2011) Selected Haiku with Essays and Commentary (1961-2012) (2012).

The book includes a detailed chronology of Kaneko’s life, a major lecture by Kaneko given in 2010, an in-depth interview with the poet in that same year, as well as a broad selection of Kaneko’s haiku written over his long life. The haiku are given in Japanese, English, and romaji. They are well researched and carefully and thoroughly annotated; in addition, they are placed in the context of Kaneko’s life experiences: his early childhood in Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture, his deployment during WWII as a Naval Officer on Truk Islands, his search for his personal stance in the post-war shake out of Japanese society, and his return in his later years to his roots in Chichibu. An example of the informative footnoting:

towards recovery a ruined ship a human shadow the winter pine Kigo: [Japanese, p 419] fuyu no matsu, winter pine (a symbol of longevity); Winter Meter: 5-7-5. Composed 2012. With reference to the Fukushima disaster: In this context fuyu no matsu refers to the pine tree in Rikuzen, Takada City, Iwate Prefecture. Due to the tsunami, about 70,000 pine trees were destroyed, and only this lone tree survived. It has thus become a symbol of restoration from the disaster; its photographic image continues to be prevalent in Japanese media.

This volume also contains scholarly commentaries and relevant histories written by individual members of the Kon Nichi Translation Group; they help place the work of Kaneko and its influence in the haiku world of the twentieth century. As a socially conscious poet, Kaneko says this about social consciousness: “Social consciousness is a question of stance, taido. Speaking of social consciousness in terms of ideology is dangerous—I despise it.” Kaneko’s stance was to advocate for “gendai (progressive, contemporary) haiku, and . . . to flourish as a human being and artist . . . .” His stance embraced “the raw perception of living beings,” “intellectual wildness,” and “settled wandering.” He discusses these values extensively in his 2010 lecture. Examples of each of these values might be:

(the raw perception of living beings)
my long-lived mother delivered me as a shit

(intellectual wildness)
never, atomic bomb never — a crab crawls click, click over rubble

(settled wandering)
a wild boar
comes eats air
spring mountain path

This self-described “omnibus” is at once of great historical importance, advancing our understanding of the development of Japanese haiku, and an important collection of some of the finest 20th century Japanese haiku in English and modern critical theory.

Scratches on the Moon. Alexis Rotella. (Arnold MD: Jade Mountain Press, 2019).

Whenever any poet truly masters a form they need not brag about their work anymore. Others will do it for them assuredly. In the case of Alexis Rotella her readers will do all of that work for her. She has been a leader, a teacher, an editor, and her published work is read all over the world. That should well be the case with this book as well.

Haibun offers the haiku poet the added tools of prose to complete their image for the reader. That sounds like it is a benefit to the poet but more frequently than not it has frustrated many an otherwise accomplished haiku poet. Not so with Alexis in this volume! In fact, it could without a doubt be an instruction manual for anyone who seeks to delve into the form. But readers no matter their motive for reading will be in for a sometimes jaw-dropping, sometimes belly laughing, and an often sobering tour through the events of her own life. The viewpoint of the poet is what makes haibun special and Alexis in this collection stands in some unusual places that the reader might never be themselves.

The prose does not reveal the nature of the poem, she instead prepares the reader for a final piercing observation with the poem. Here is one of the shorter ones to whet your appetite.

Why Tiptoe?

Oh Dear. Car keys not in my purse. I must have left them in my lab coat. Thought I was done breathing in formaldehyde for the day. What choice do I have? I cover my nose and mouth with a scarf, switch on the overhead fluorescent lights that give the morgue an eerie glow.

Blank canvas
the power
of white

The first thing you notice is that ‘title’. It seems a bit out of order at first but as you read the prose and learn ‘where’ the poet is tiptoeing you get your first hint. The poet is asking herself that question after the fact. She has placed the ending into the title so to speak. After she has those keys that are her immediate quest there is something else on her mind. She wonders to herself about herself. Why, in a room full of cadavers is she tiptoeing? Is she afraid she will waken the souls who already are in their final rest? But the lights, when they ‘snap’ on as fluorescent lights do, reveal a room full of cadavers covered in white sheets. And now for the poem! Those bodies she is studying are indeed a ‘canvas’ of sorts. Anatomy is the study of the dead for the benefit of the living. That is the purpose of seeing firsthand the design of the human body. They are the ‘blank canvas’ indeed for any student learning the human form. By the way, there are other alternative readings to the one presented here. That is the genius of Alexis Rotella at work. This is a collection of haibun that will inspire you to keep reading it over and over, and also to explore the study of the blank canvas of the haibun form that she has exposed you to in these pages. A simple BRAVO is in order!

A History of Modern Haiku. Charles Trumbull. (Lincoln IL: Modern Haiku Press, 2019).

The longest running haiku journal outside of Japan, Modern Haiku observed its 50th year in existence in 2019. For most of us, it has been the haiku journal of note throughout our writing lives. We are most familiar with the contributions of editors Charles Trumbull and Paul Miller, and how they have shaped Modern Haiku. But like Miller in his introduction, many of us are unaware of its early history. So it is all the more important to have Trumbull’s A History of Modern Haiku mark the journal’s golden jubilee.

A significant work of scholarship, Trumbull’s History documents the journal’s development under each of its five editors and its path — through “151 issues, 14,000 pages and 50,000 haiku” — to becoming a premier publication for haiku poets around the world. In the process, it also chronicles the course of English-language haiku. Trumbull devotes a section to each editor, providing detailed information in the form of statistics and specifics on features they favored or introduced, as well as a rich sampling of work published in each editorial era. Of particular interest are the many contributions from some of the form’s greats that provide insights about the different editors.

In the Foreword to the journal’s inaugural issue, Harold G. Henderson applauded Kay Mormino, the founder and editor, for favoring no particular school of haiku. Her openness to innovation, along with her collaborative model for editorial selection, laid the foundation for the journal’s excellence. Mormino’s profound influence on the haiku community was best expressed after her passing in this haiku by Geraldine Clinton Little:

the way
a single wave moves
the whole sea

Mormino’s successor and Modern Haiku’s longest serving editor, Robert Spiess could be intimidating, but he was just as well known for encouraging and mentoring writers. In addition to his own Speculations, Spiess provided a platform for influential pieces on haiku theory and practice by Haruo Shirane, Lee Gurga, Paul O. Williams and Cor van den Heuvel. Lee Gurga brought the journal into the 21st century, incorporating it as a nonprofit with by-laws and a board of directors. He had Lidia Rozmus design a sleek new look for the cover, Charles Trumbull moved subscription records to a computerized database, and Randy Brooks established an award-winning website for the journal. When Gurga stepped down in its 37th year, Trumbull — who became the journal’s fourth editor — noted that “Modern Haiku has never been healthier, whether measured in terms of literary excellence, influence… or financial wellbeing.” Under Trumbull’s leadership, email submissions were accepted (albeit reluctantly!), haiga was featured regularly and haibun and haiku sequences were submitted for the Pushcart Prize. After 20 issues, he handed over the reins to Paul Miller, who has increased the journal’s visibility and welcomed more new poets. He also expanded on Trumbull’s practice of submitting work to outside contests, with the result that Joyce Clement’s sequence “Birds Punctuate the Days” was included in Best American Poetry 2018. The fact that Modern Haiku has survived and thrived for five decades is a tribute to the dedication and vision of its editors, who have encouraged so many of us. The list of names among its most published and award-winning poets reads like a Who’s Who in English language haiku. A History of Modern Haiku is, in many ways, a history of contemporary English language haiku, but few of us have the skill, scholarship or commitment required to document an epoch. The haiku community owes Charles Trumbull a tremendous debt of gratitude for this outstanding achievement.

Honorable Mentions

Rightsizing the Universe: Haiku Theory Gary Hotham. (Scaggsville MD: Yiqralo Press, 2019).

The first thing that strikes the reader about this collection is its extraordinary title. Like many of the haiku within, the title offers more than one meaning: It sets the bar very high with its promise of haiku that will optimize our perspective on the universe, even as it suggests the key is in a smaller, downsized view. Gary Hotham’s Rightsizing the Universe is deeply reassuring, particularly at times when what we think we know about the world has been upended. It affirms that haiku can, indeed, rightsize the world.

It is a small collection of 32 haiku, each presented one to a page. Certain images and words — stars, clouds, fog, footprints, rocks — repeat in ku that deepen our understanding and underscore the vastness of vision.

fog
letting us back
in

making us hear our feet
———
coastal fog

Humans appear in ways that help us realize our place in the universe:

long after Wordsworth
clouds wandering
over daffodils

after Bach
space for snow
to fall deeper

It is hard to write strong haiku using universal imagery that engages on such a deep level. It is also hard to write haiku about cherry blossoms that are new, that give the reader pause. Hotham succeeds at both. Haiku that feature the iconic blooms — and the only time they appear — bookend the collection, establishing the thesis and giving us that amazing title.

squeezing
into our universe
cherry blossoms

rightsizing
the universe
drifting cherry blossoms

While this review is focused on the haiku, it should be mentioned that Hotham also photographed the images that appear in the book. Of particular note are the photographs on the front and back. The front cover features a close-up of rusty spikes and bolts used to fix a railroad; the back cover is a wide-angle view of the ocean. It’s an intriguing juxtaposition of imagery and serves as a visual echo of Hotham’s theory. After the final “drifting cherry blossoms,” Hotham includes two quotes that serve as a postscript. One is from Hebrews 11:3; the other is by Vern S. Poythress, who wrote: “Language has its own productivity and fecundity. We can produce new utterances using old words.” Hotham has done so. This is a remarkable collection that rewards rereading.

Broken Starfish. Ron C. Moss. (Lesley Vale Australia: Walleah Press, 2019).

One of the hallmarks of our best haiku poets is that the experience they share in their poems is immediately recognizable by the reader. Not necessarily is the moment the reader remembers identical to that of the poet but the words are so empathetically written that we can make out something of ourselves from the poem.

In “Broken Starfish,” by Ron Moss, we have just such a volume of poems that we can make our own. Ron lives in a rural area of Tasmania off the coast of Australia. He often takes the reader with him on his walks through this beautiful landscape. This is just one example.

close to the waterfall the sound I become lost in

Almost everyone has experienced this moment when nature overwhelms us so totally. Here the poet and the reader share that moment, standing together at the waterfall, but on a printed page. This deeply personal moment resonates differently with every reading. There are also moments that are emblematic of an instant in time, and yet they are expertly and pleasantly presented to us. Here are two fine expressions of observational events.

a sliver of moon
the old bluesman
breaks a string

muffled voices
mother’s pin cushion
sparkles in the light

Both of these poems provide us with a picture that is deeply personal to the poet, he knows the characters contained in them, but as readers, we find our way into a similar scene from our own lives with ease. These elegant presentations in just a few syllables create a kinship with the poet and this kinship with the reader represents the ‘standard’ of excellence that shines throughout this book. Oh, and not to overlook them, although examples of them cannot be included in this short review, this book is filled with wonderful ink paintings by Ron himself. The cover of this book alone is worthy of a frame, but the Sumi-e and Zenga paintings the reader receives as a sweet ‘bonus’ are worth the price of the book by themselves. You will find yourself caught unable to turn the page well after you have read the poems. Each brushstroke is so clearly rendered in this printing that you almost feel they are the original. Ron C. Moss has given us a part of himself and expertly invited us into his world for our own enjoyment.

The Touchstone Distinguished Books Award 2019 Shortlist

  • Balabanova, Ludmila. Sunflower Field. (Plovdiv Bulgaria: Zhanet, 2019)
  • Bartow, Stuart. one branch. (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2019)
  • Bennett, Brad. a turn in the river. (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2019)
  • Chula, Margaret. One Leaf Detaches. (Uxbridge UK: Alba Publishing, 2019)
  • Cooper, Bill. moon music. (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2019)
  • Crocket, Elizabeth. Happy Haiku. (Pilot Knob MO: Crimson Cloak Publishing, 2019)
  • Elliot, Kirsten Cliff. Patient Property: a journey through leukaemia. (North Highlands CA: velvet dusk publishing, 2019)
  • Fontana, Lucia. Sunflower Moon. (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2019)
  • Frampton, Alice. from here. (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2019)
  • Gilbert, Richard, Yuki Ito, David Ostman, Masahiro Hori, Koun Franz, Tracy Franz, Takeyoshi Kanamitsu. Haiku as Life: A Kaneko Tohta Omnibus (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2019)
  • Haynes, Tia. leftover ribbon. (North Highlands CA: velvet dusk publishing, 2019)
  • Hotham, Gary. Rightsizing the Universe: Haiku Theory. (Scaggsville MD: Yiqralo Press, 2019)
  • Machmiller, Patricia J. (editor). Ferry Crossing. (San Francisco CA: Two Autumns Press, 2019)
  • Martin, Jeannie, with 31 haiku by vincent tripi. touch of light. (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2019)
  • McKeon, Joe. Oars Up. (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2019)
  • Moss, Ron C. Broken Starfish. (Lesley Vale Australia: Walleah Press, 2019)
  • Rotella, Alexis. Scratches on the Moon. (Arnold MD: Jade Mountain Press, 2019)
  • Trumbull, Charles. A History of Modern Haiku. (Lincoln IL: Modern Haiku Press, 2019)
  • Wilkinson, Geoffrey. Going to the Pine: Four Essays on Basho. (Powys Wales: Geoffrey Wilkinson, 2019)

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.

Back To Top