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The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems 2020

More than 1300 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, Anna Maris, Pravat Kumar Padhy, Christopher Patchel, Michelle Tennison and Angela Terry

Winners

what remains
after the river is gone
this empty bed
— Kat Lehmann (Mayfly 68)

“A haiku that simply and effectively presents natural imagery with a strong, human undercurrent. The ambiguity implied in the third line creates two versions of the poem, a disjunction (of a kind) that inspires one to read the poem over and over, each time marveling at its power. We know this lover. Alone, now, contemplating the emptiness stretching out ahead.”


“This poem is set to be a haiku classic. A concrete nature poem that carries all of the sorrow of a broken down relationship, but it could also be the grief over a real river bed, in the throws of climate change. As with all excellent haiku, the possibilities for interpretation are endless.”


“This haiku so vividly illustrates the emptiness we feel when something strong, something powerful is removed from our field of vision, leaving us nothing to grasp onto for support.”

long before language the S of the river
— Annette Makino (Francine Porad Haiku Award, 2020)

“Water is inextricably linked to life, existing long before and continuing long after the obfuscating layers of abstraction of words and of mind reflecting back upon itself. Haiku uses words to express that which cannot be expressed in words, and long before language the S of the river reminds us that there are other ways of knowing that function outside language, outside of logic (perhaps more intuitive, more heart-centered), ways that can help us to reclaim and re-energize a felt sense of communion with the original source of language – pure Nature. A richly lyrical haiku, it possesses the liquid musicality of its subject. Like the water element, it is ever expansive, it eludes our grasp, but remains true. This exceptional haiku is illustrative of deep listening.”


“The monoku has an interesting characteristic of the vertical axis alluding to the time domain. It coagulates the evolution of language that humans had evolved with the depiction of the early existence of the landscape of the river system. A simple observation of a meandering river has been expanded to the history of the evolution of language and alphabet. The monoku in its simplicity shifts the visual observation to unexpectedness (atarashimi) in expression referring to ‘long before language’, thus rendering beauty and ecstasy to the haiku. Meanderings are generally ‘S’ shaped formed in the lower course over the plain area as the river adjusts with the slope and deposits the sands along its bank before merging with the sea. Right from the early evolution of human beings, our ancestors must have observed this scenic beauty of meandering and they might have expressed it in common language much at a later time.

Nature, by virtue of its vastness, embodies the essence of human learning. William Croft says “studying languages as the products of nature, it is interested in the biological origin and development of language.” Interestingly in English, the poetic expression “nature and nurture” has been in use and here the river symbolizes the energy. The timing of the evolution of language has been much debated by anthropologists, biologists, psychologists, and others based on the use of sign language, biological instincts, cognitive modelling etc.

Geologically river system evolved millions of years ago before the evolution of human beings. In this beautiful monoku, the long existence of ‘S’ shaped meanders of the river has been corroborated with the learning of language and alphabet by man. The modern form of language evolved barely 50,000–150,000 years ago. The modern English alphabet has been originated from Latin script around the 7th century. Interestingly there has been a reference to the letter ‘S’ in the Phoenician alphabet. The reference of nature’s manifestation of the trend of the river with the alphabet ‘S’ has been portrayed with elegance. This is unique in creative (zoko) excellence with sublime poetic allusion. The monoku has a sublime musicality that enhances its aesthetic milieu.”


“I see this haiku as an absolutely elegant history of time.  The flow of the river, the birth of sound, time was, time is, and time will be whether we are here to talk of it or not.  Words, both spoken and written may be part of what makes us human, but for the river, flowing is simply enough.”

rain-soaked earth
a robin tugs one end
of the universe
— Julie Schwerin (Frogpond 43:3)

“Existential volta. Do you empathize more with the redbreast than the earthworm? Look up! That shadow growing around it belongs to a taloned, red-tailed hawk, around which grows an even darker shadow larger than life.”


“Ah, spring!  Once the robins are out in the early morning we can stop holding our collective breath.  We know the light is on its way back to protect us, to nurture us, to give us warmth.”


“Very happy to honor a haiku that elevates a worm to the level of the leading edge of the universe! A poem of spring, of the deep mysteries of water, of life, and the unity of All-That-Is.”


“A perfect nature observation turns into a mind expanding poem with an unexpected third line. Playfulness, yugen, elegance and depth. What more can you ask from a haiku?”

pasture fence
where the paint ran out
a bluebird’s song
— Rick Tarquinio (The Heron’s Nest XX:1)

“Who cannot help but love this haiku? An inspiring vision of a poet’s nature, wherein one sense leads to another, and knowledge of an unseen bird’s song paints the void.”


“Could there possibly be two words that more conjure up the sheer joy of being alive on a summer’s day than ‘bluebird’s song’?”


“The poem is a classic one characterised by the basic aesthetic elements (teikei) of haiku. Line 2 acts as a syntactic pivot for Line 1 as well as Line 3. The art of haiku lies in the sublime meaning behind simple words. The poem is studded with images of colours, sensory of sound, and the idyllic nature. Interestingly the colour of the paint is not revealed. It could be green as that of the colour of the pasture, blue or even a contrast one. The bluebird is pivotal of the haiku with aesthetic bearing. It is associated with culture, spiritualism as depicted in many symbolic stories. There is a weather proverb, ‘Bluebirds are a sign of spring; warm weather and gentle south breezes they bring.’”


“Let us unveil the mystery (yūgen) of the haiku which perhaps the poet wishes to convey to his readers. There is an angle of spiritual or zen-feeling embedded in the haiku. The word ‘pasture’ denotes energy. The colour ‘green’ symbolizes nature and tranquility. The bluebird is a symbol of good luck, happiness, harmony, and prosperity. As the colour finishes or recedes, the lyrical utterance of the bluebird infuses ecstasy of freshness and faith by erasing the doubts and negativity. The colour on the fence could be blue and after it runs out, it reappears as if in the form of a bluebird. Poetically, the colour and the muse represent continuity.

Food is the prime thing for survival as portrayed in the form of pasture. There is an obvious end to everything. But you still continue to be remembered by virtue of your good deed which is metaphorically resonated by the song of the bird. The fence defines the boundary or limitation of the energy or the life span. It can as well be interpreted as if the paint metaphorically represents the mortal stage of life. Perhaps the bluebird represents an angel bestowing messages from heaven.

It is wonderful to search pearls from the ocean of haiku writing. The present haiku preserves the layers of multifaceted meanings. I wish to quote Ezra Pound: An “Image” is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time . . . It is the presentation of such a “complex” instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.”


“A bluebird’s song, after a long winter — something of inexpressible value, freely given. It arrives beyond striving, beyond any need to hold or contain, so unlike the building and maintaining of fences. The song of a bluebird might even liberate the mind of the one hearing it just in the act of hearing it, simply by being what it is. A poem of karumi, I receive this haiku with as much gratitude as I do the Serenity Prayer, especially after such a difficult year. Thank you to the author!”

The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems 2020 Shortlist

through the cracked window
a chirp
of sunlight
— Kelly Sauvage Angel (Wales Haiku Journal, Summer 2020)

 

within the song
of a winter wren
another begins
— Joanna Ashwell (Shamrock 43)

 

viewing the tree
three generations
of crossed arms
— Roberta Beary (Modern Haiku 51.1)

 

co-
v.
id
— Helen Buckingham (Bones 20)

 

midnight blue
a grandma-shaped crater
on the moon
— Hemapriya Chellappan (Blo͞o Outlier Journal 1)

 

returning time a poppy seed drops the sun
— Beate Conrad (Sonic Boom 18)

 

in the space
our light makes
moths
— Gary Hotham, (Gratitude in the Time of Covid-19: The Haiku Hecameron (Girasole Press, 2020))

 

washing our hands —
each soap bubble holds
all the colors
— Christine Horner (GEPPO XLV:3)

 

moving van . . .
everything but the growth marks
on the closet door
— Elinor Pihl Huggett (GEPPO XLV:3)

 

steady rain
might as well
keep walking
— Bill Kenney (The Heron’s Nest XXII:1)

 

fall starts measuring time in butterflies
— Craig Kittner (Bones 21)

 

what remains
after the river is gone
this empty bed
— Kat Lehmann (Mayfly 68)

 

long before language the S of the river
— Annette Makino (Francine Porad Haiku Award 2020)

 

switching to
a lower case i
autumn stars
— Matthew Markworth (Modern Haiku 51.3)

 

pre-dawn stars
the rattle of glass bottles
from a passing milk truck
— John McManus (hedgerow 13)

 

dusk between the fragments of a prehistoric bird I recognize my mother’s beak
— Reka Nyitrai (NOON: journal of the short poem 16)

 

her eulogy —
the sound of the ocean
in a small shell
— Carol Ann Palomba (Mayfly 68)

 

an orchid

trapped in a paperweight
child bride
— Vandana Parasha (The Heron’s Nest XX11:4)

 

horse pasture
the prairie wind moves
with muscle
— Chad Lee Robinson (The Heron’s Nest, XXII:4)

 

adult coloring book
I still can’t stay
within the lines
— Adelaide B. Shaw (Failed Haiku 51)

 

in the space
left by twilight
crickets
— Ann Schwader (tiny words 13august2020)

 

rain-soaked earth
a robin tugs one end
of the universe
— Julie Schwerin (Frogpond 43:3)

 

before we were human the sparrow’s call
— Tiffany Shaw-Diaz (Heliosparrow Poetry Journal 10january2020)

 

pasture fence
where the paint ran out
a bluebird’s song
— Rick Tarquinio (The Heron’s Nest XXII:1)

 

our car never nearer the shimmer of black water on the desert road
— Richard Tice (The haiku pea podcast Series 3 Episode 24)

 

blackbird singing light into the womb
— Stephen Toft (is/let 2020)

 

what pines!
what lady’s slippers!
when i take tomorrow’s walk
— Vincent Tripi (Modern Haiku 51.3)

 

moss-grown stone
a daughter’s age
in days
— Mike White (Frogpond 43.3)

The Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards 2020

72 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:

Beverly Acuff Momoi, Patricia J. Machmiller, Scott Mason, Victor Ortiz and Michael Rehling

Winners

Antolin, Susan. The Years That Went Missing (Durham NC: Backbone Press, 2020).

One thing we all have in common is a family tree. And just as the stratification of rocks on a mountainside reveals to a geologist details about the times they represent so do the members of our extended family in their own times reveal things about ourselves. That is especially true when you live in a multigenerational home. Susan Antolin lets us view slices of an ever-changing time capsule that is her family.

We humans often like to think about our time as separate from the others in our lives. But that is simply not true. As the poems in this collection show us in minute detail is that we are inextricably connected with everyone else, but most clearly and genetically with our family.

curriculum vitae
the years
that went missing

That time we can’t fully explain to others because it does not fit on 8 ½ by 11 paper is what the poet wants us to experience with her in this volume. This time is the most precious, uncluttered as it is, with work, hopes, or even dreams. It is the pure experiences that paint stratifications on our lives. Caring for others and caring for ourselves is what this time is about and it offers more than any amount of money or degree that can be conferred on us by others.

scaffolded dahlias —
I fold Mom’s walker
into the backseat

The dahlias reach the maximum display of their beauty when supported on a scaffold. It a phrase that leads the reader to imagine nothing but the blooms themselves in that opening line. But the poet has skillfully contrasted those blooms on a scaffold with her mother’s walker. Something about this poem reminds readers of a certain age and their own mother who needs the support of a walker to remain on display. Age takes many things from us, but it is all of our hope that the love of those close to us remains, and that reciprocated love is the bloom in our own lives.

on and off rain —
leaving the vet
with only a collar

Emotions are like the weather. One minute up and the next minute down. The awareness of the brevity of our time on this earth is made very clear when there is a loss in our lives. Our pets often provide that sense of transience to our children when they are young, but it impacts the adults just as dramatically. A pet’s loss sensitizes us to the future loss of family and friends that we will all unquestionably face. It also allows our minds to imagine the impact of our own departure on the others in our lives. It is just these moments that develop in us the resolve to be better while we are still here and to nurture and make amends while we still can.

Looking at your life through the prism of poems presented by the poet in this collection you will find all the shades of your own life in them. It is stark and warmly welcomed at the same time, and each poem has the quality and individual value that is completely their own to the poet and now to the reader. Read this one, and keep reading it. And if you ever believe something is missing in your life just pick up Susan’s book and find moments from your own life on the pages to console and inspire you.

The reason Susan Antolin is so loved as a poet, and editor, and cheerleader for the work of others is that she is the child, the spouse, the parent, the poet, and the caregiver we all want to know in our own lives. And lucky we are to know her in this volume.

m., paul. witness tree (Omskirk UK: Snapshot Press, 2020).

For those who may have wondered whether the traditional, realistic, nature-based orientation to haiku has become a spent commodity, they need only spend a little time with witness tree to know otherwise … and to find gold.

In its introduction, the poet paul m. (haigo for Modern Haiku editor Paul Miller) states, “I intend my poetry to be a bridge – a way to reconcile myself to a larger creative nature.” The bridges this poet constructs (or discovers) are marvels.

With a few select words, some are capable of spanning light-years, eons or just the Anthropocene.

returning comet
movement within
a vernal pool

last of the snow
chatter marks up
a granite slab

petroglyphs
the short drive
to Los Alamos

Even closer to home, others connect in ways that may startle, yet accord perfectly with their seasons.

daffodil tips
the tension in her leash
autumn colors

the snap
as the jib takes
the wind

This is a collection with considerable emotional “bandwidth” as well, from the humorous or self-depreciating . . .

field of yarrow
a butterfly’s path could be
more efficient

spring clouds
a mannequin shaped
nothing like me

. . . to the somber or poignant:

a paperclip
holding the file together
winter hospice

his final effects . . .
I share the elevator
with a stranger

Here we find the reflections of a poet who comes to understand the limitations as well as the capabilities of language.

the night sky
away from the campfire
our small words bubbles

in river ice
our decision
to be quiet

That very understanding translates to a work whose words reach beyond words to connect us all with the larger (if ineffable) creative nature we share.

Its fine introduction explicates the volume’s title. Suffice it to say that anyone who cracks the cover of this beautifully-produced, gem-laden collection will bear witness to an instant classic from one of the haiku community’s most sensitive and insightful observers.

Nyitrai, Réka. While Dreaming Your Dreams (Valencia Spain: Mono Ya Mono Books, 2020).

Réka Nyitrai’s while dreaming your dreams/mientras sueño tus sueños is the debut collection by a poet with a powerful and distinctive voice. These are haiku of an inner world that have deep intuitive appeal.

Nyitrai prefaces her collection with the title haiku, which appears in English and Japanese and sets the tone:

while dreaming your dreams
sometimes I can hear
the blue beasts grinding their teeth

Her poems are then presented in three sections, taking the Japanese of each line of this haiku to mark each section and provide context for the poems that follow.

There is a surreal quality to many of Nyitrai’s haiku. They can surprise you with an unexpected turn:

spring wind —
what a feather may know about
the pit

They can be magical:

lullaby in her open mouth swarming fireflies

Some reveal an edgy humor:

my ex-boyfriend a mothball in my pocket

Or foreboding, as this opening to the final section:

high noon the black dahlia leans toward the scissors

Followed by:

an octopus
in her father’s lungs . . .
first autumn rain

This is a haunting image, both deeply moving and terrifying, as anyone who has watched a loved one struggle to breathe can attest.

The blue beasts are never far, and the book closes with:

memories of her father’s fist
a dragon at the bottom of the lake

With the exception of the title poem, each haiku is in English and Spanish, and the way the poems are presented is unusual. We learn in the opening pages that while Nyitrai dreams and writes in English, her intent in these poems is to transcend a specific language. In “Note on the Translations,” readers are asked not to read these works as English poems translated into Spanish. They are “to be read as a book with poems, and reflections of those poems. Reflections one of the other, as in a dream.” For Nyitrai, language represents the reality that lies beyond it.

an ex-lover’s voice
snow patches
in my right amygdala

la voz de un ex-amante
trozos de nieve
en mi amigdala derecha

The English and Spanish poems are not shown one after the other, as they are presented here. In the book, they appear on each page as reflections of one another, whichever way the book is held. If the English haiku is at the top, the Spanish haiku mirrors it, upside down, much as one’s reflection would appear at the edge of a lake. It’s a provocative point of view and provides another way to convey the idea that they are “something only glimpsed” as if in a dream, similar but not identical.

Presenting haiku in two languages both expands the reading audience and invites us to reflect further on Nyitrai’s many-layered dreams. The book’s innovative design is by Danny Blackwell, who is also the editor.

while dreaming your dreams/mientras sueño tus sueños is a deeply engaging collection by a poet with a distinctive and original voice. Read it, and read it again. This is a book that rewards time spent with it.

Honorable Mentions

Ashraf, Hifsa. Her Fading Henna Tattoo (Wilmington DE: Human/Kind Press, 2020).

In Pakistan where Hisfaf Ashraf lives as well as other cultures in the world, a wedding ceremony involves the bride’s hands and feet being covered in temporary tattoos of henna. They are beautiful, individualistic, but unlike ink and needle tattoos henna fades over days and weeks. But the beauty of henna is not what this book is about. Instead, it focuses on the short life of the tattoos of henna and the all too often corresponding fade in the relationship between husband and wife.

Dealing with spousal abuse is both necessary and often tricky for a poet. The acts associated with abuse are sometimes brutally overt but often accompanied by equally painful mental and emotional torture. Those events speak all too loudly in themselves. But Ashraf has taken the voice of the victims to tell the story, not just emotionally but with a clinical view of both the subtle and overt pain that has been inflicted over time.

cocooned
in family rituals
her free will

It would be tempting by some to note Ashraf’s location and culture and place the blame for domestic abuse she speaks of on the environment of birth alone. Nothing could be further from the truth. In many western countries the laws may say one thing, but families who wish to protect abuser reputations, and the intimidation that victims all too often find greets them if they complain, is just as insidious. The inability of many victims to afford the legal, psychological and financial support systems they require is something every society needs to focus on clearly and with a highly awakened conscience.

from one protector to another inherited property

Women do not need protection in the sense of a life whose only faint security is in the hands of others. Certainly, they deserve the same opportunities to exercise their talents and abilities as any other member of society regardless of gender or status of birth. Only in the last hundred years have women begun to see these changes start to occur. Just as insidious as overt discrimination is the quiet acceptance of some in power who are in a position to affect the changes needed, and do little or nothing. That is a sin that is equal to that of the abuser themselves.

broken window —
the jigsaw puzzle
of her marital life

Obvious signs of violence in a house are the telltale signs of deeper issues. The window in this poem is a metaphor for a marriage that has forever changed for the victim. Can it ever be put back together again? Will anyone help reconstruct the victim and help them find purpose and fulfillment in their life? If you have ever tried to put hundreds of pieces of glass back together again you know that it will never be the same. More importantly, will the victim herself survive physically or mentally? The unseen pieces of abuse lie deep within the victim themselves.

Speaking up for victims of abuse has its own unsavory reward also. It allows the very people who perpetrate and cover it up to blame all of those that attempt to shine a light on this behavior. Poets take note, we can’t allow just one of us to speak, we all need to make war on domestic abuse if we are ever to see it stamped out. Hifsa Ashraf has put herself on the line and done so with a poetic sense and a collection of images that let the reader fill in the true portrait of domestic abuse. It is both sensitive to the victim but done with the quiet and effectively channeled the anger of a true poet. After reading this collection we shouldn’t feel as sorry for the victims as we do for any society that allows it even a small corner to fester in.

Indeed, the beauty of the marriage henna fades. But so too should the harm that is done to any victim of domestic abuse. This book will prompt you to think, act, and take actions to support victims of abuse, and we owe Ashraf a debt of gratitude for all her work to bring this issue into the daylight. Buy this book, not just for the wonderfully crafted poetry, but like all of Ashraf’s books every single dime of profit goes to assist in the eradication of domestic abuse, and the care of its victims. Thank you Hifsa Ashraf for being brave and a poet at the same time!

Gurga, Lee. without syntax (White Heath IL: Modern Haiku Press, 2020).

Lee Gurga’s without syntax, though a slight volume, is a very fine example of “less is more” — a complete and engaging book from beginning to end. Gurga is a master poet, and one of the things we particularly valued in this work is his innovation. We found these sixteen ku to be both thought-provoking and moving.

The artwork on the cover by Kelly Sauvage Angel is an enigmatic scribble which sets the stage for what is to come. The book is minimal in size, minimal in number of poems, minimal in introductory material. The title suggests this book is going to be different and the short quote of Charles Bernstein at the beginning gives the reader a further clue that we are going somewhere new; through this quote Gurga tells us what he values and how to read these poems. Each of the carefully selected ku is a gem; here is the title ku:

without
syntax

 

the
bare
skin

 

of
dawn

And the penultimate ku:

looking up from my thesaurus dusk

The arrangement is carefully done so that together the ku play off one another in interesting ways. Two examples of poems on facing pages:

floating in the sonogram summer moon

and on the opposite page

      the
world
      within

the 
      world
without

      this
bird
   fluttering

Another pairing:

hard to say the soldier’s eyes

This is next to:

flag

day

 

totem

 

sniper

The book design is by Lidia Rozmus; Kelly Sauvage Angel’s “Uncertain Times” from the cover is echoed throughout the book tying it together beautifully.

Kadric, Elmedin. light packing (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2020).

Elmedin Kadric’s collection light packing reveals realities embodied in words of an expansive orientation and in ways that make use of fragment/phrase, shifting one-liners, disjunctive language, understatement, and original juxtapositions, with an innovative voice that seeks to direct our attention to imaginative metaphoric relationships. Like the bright, warm interlocking colors of John Grillo’s abstract ‘slab’ painting found on the cover of light packing, Kadric has crafted a mosaic of individual ku that often relate to one another, with sequences of feeling at interplay with bright textures of connection and contrast within a structure of apparent randomness. Kadric’s is a collection of haiku/minimalist poetry that widens our view of ELH.

In light packing the reader will find four untitled, numbered sections that roughly reflect the seasons (spring, all seasons, autumn/winter, and spring again), with eighty-six ku, one per page, in a range of formats, one-liners, two-lines, three-liners, four-lines, skipping lines, and vertical lines, adding variety to the reader’s experience and providing the necessary space to savor each word. At the outset, the reader is greeted with a visual ku “to/get/her” at the book’s beginning and another one “I am/am I” as a bookend to the entire experience of light packing. These visual ku set out two recurrent themes of the work, namely, the separation and isolation of departure and the arrival of coherence, with rain often as the vehicle for such feelings.

so us
you say . . .
white blossom rain

her fairy tale
in first person
spring rain

coolness of rain before she takes it back

alone at the door holding open the rain

your absence
the only sound
faraway rain

opening the balcony door
to my neighbor
the rain

Kadric also pays close attention to sound patterns as we see in the first ku of the book and the penultimate poem, as he opens and nearly closes his work with springtime birdsong in deceptively simple language, with the near and internal rhymes, repeating consonants, and word repetition. This is a work with cohesive textures.

at the touch
of birdsong

the first blush
of spring

on and on
in birdsong
spring dawn

Many of these ku are open poems that engage the reader on multiple levels.

together again the endless spaces between stars

autumn evening light packing

forget yourself and other hummingbirds

snail shells we leave behind language

quoting life moth night

And then there’s this moving interlocking sequence of a lost relationship.

all the seasons
sitting
by her deathbed

circling the drain . . .
the discolored water
of a cut flower

driving home—
nobody to hold
the ashes

from living
to living
alone

waning moon
space
a thief left

Kadric draws attention to language itself as the material for creating worlds, often playfully yet with serious purpose, placing great emphasis on the imagination, reminding us of the importance of the reader’s role in the co-creation of meaning. These ku are highly engaging, slowing the reader down, and inviting one to look more deeply inward with each rereading. light packing is a noteworthy achievement.

Kelly, David J. small hadron divider (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2020).

As David J Kelly tell us in the introduction to his outstanding book, small hadron divider: haiku and related work, he divides this collection into six ‘flavours’ of quarks (up, down, strange, charm, top, bottom), serving as the main headings for each section, with a final section he calls gluons that, like glue, bind quarks together. Kelly derives his intriguing title from the particle accelerator Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Cern, Switzerland, substituting ‘collider’ for ‘divider’ to highlight, as he says, the individual nature of each quark, and perhaps changing ‘large’ to ‘small’ to underscore that his poems work as small vessels filled with potential life like seeds on the head of a dandelion dispersed in the wind, as beautifully illustrated on the cover by artist Kate Ramasawmy. In fact, each section is introduced with a drawing by Ramasawmy, along with the section title that suggests what is to come.

The variety of forms Kelly employs, haibun, haiku, senryu, and visual haiku add shifting dimensions to the reading experience, similar to the forming and vanishing of quarks and antiquarks inside a hadron yet leaving a familiar feeling that we have been here before. What a brilliant move and a fun way to structure a book of poems with science. Each section begins with a haibun, followed by a concrete haiku, and then a particular hadron ‘flavour’ is mapped out on an emotional landscape, expanding the possibilities of English-language haiku, sometimes uncomfortably.

up

arriving late
through the arch
of your eyebrow

waterboarding
. . . my teabag reappears
at the surface

down

keepsache

inside
trying to escape the rain
inside

strange

uneasy

Too lazy to make an omelette, I tossed the egg into
smouldering fat and watched in grim fascination, as the
while blistered, then discoloured round its broken yolk.
Now, surveying that blind, unblinking eye, squealing
like an injured mouse, I can’t help wondering if anyone
deserves to die alone and in pain.

doctor’s advice
making plans to stop
making plans

hall of mirrors
the multiverse
looking back

charm

country lane
losing myself in the darkness
between stars

baptism of fire
the gingerbread men
meet their baker

top

red velvet carelessly unwrapping new antlers

head space
swinging Schrödinger’s cat
between my ears

bottom

dead chameleon
disappearing
into tarmac

beneath a pine tree
fallen needles
point everywhere

gluons

walking between stops bus bus bus

bullet hole
through a metal door
darkness staring back

This work is a lot of fun, filled with wit and humor, beginning with the title, and inventive word play, but there is also plenty of complex human emotion to be found as well, refreshening and deepening our lives through language. Rich experiences reward the reader each time they return to Kelly’s particles of life, poems fully deserving of special recognition for their perceptions of our quarky lives.

The Touchstone Distinguished Books Award 2020 Shortlist

Antolin, Susan. The Years That Went Missing (Durham NC: Backbone Press, 2020).

Ashraf, Hifsa. Her Fading Henna Tattoo (Wilmington DE: Human/Kind Press, 2020).

Bridges Alan S. in the curves (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2020).

Codrescu, Ion. The Wanderer Brush (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2020).

Fabre, Gilles. Along the Way: A Search for the Spirit of the World (Uxbridge UK: Alba Publishing, 2020).

French, Terri L. Fully Human (Kindle Direct Publishing, 2020).

Gurga, Lee. Without Syntax (White Heath IL: Modern Haiku Press, 2020).

Gurga, Lee and Metz, Scott. Haiku 2020 (White Heath IL: Modern Haiku Press, 2020).

Hall, Carolyn. cricket dusk (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2020).

Kadric, Elmedin. light packing (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2020).

Kelly, David J. small hadron divider (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2020).

m., paul. witness tree (Omskirk UK: Snapshot Press, 2020).

Nyitrai, Réka. While Dreaming Your Dreams (Valencia Spain: Mono Ya Mono Books, 2020).

Owen, Renée. This One Life (Durham NC: Backbone Press, 2020).

Polette, Keith. pilgrimage (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2020).

Purington, Carol. Farm Song (Colrain MA: Winfred Press, 2020).

Strange, Debbie. Prairie Interlude (Omskirk UK: Snapshot Press, 2020).

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.

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