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The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems 2021

More than 1500 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:

Roberta Beary, Chuck Brickley, Anna Maris, Pravat Kumar Padhy, Christopher Patchel, Angela Terry

Winners

before
they were my daughters . . .
wildflowers
— Meredith Ackroyd (Frogpond 44.3)

“The social value of the adoption of the child has been poetically manifested in the present haiku. There is an emotional juxtaposition between ‘wildflowers’ and ‘adopted daughters’. It has an aesthetic message of rendering due diligence to wildflowers. The word ‘wildflowers’ has been subtly manifested in an allegorical sense for the readers to breathe in the placid rhythm of the haiku. The use of ellipses (kireji) in line 2 marks an internal division and offers a space for the readers to visualize the possible socio-political scenario. It could be that the children were missed in a war, migrants, or displaced due to various reasons.

With mere six words, the poet succinctly expresses the plight of orphans and how adoption could transfer them to a better way of living. The haiku has an immense depth (yūgen) with zen-feeling. She possesses a noble heart to embrace them as her real daughters. It reminds us of the golden lines by the American novelist, Tama Janowitz, on her adopted daughter:  “My kid knows I’m her real mother. Not biological, but real. It doesn’t get any realer than this.” Let us recall the couplet of the poem “The Gift of Life” by an unknown author on adoption, “No, I didn’t give you /  The gift of life, / Life gave me the gift of you.” The theme of the haiku is very sensitive and worth fathoming by the social scientists and the general public at large.

There is a sense of humane feeling in the haiku and it unveils dreams of love, affection, and compassion. A feeling of resonance echoes with ‘s’ sounds (alliteration) in the haiku. Assimilating the substance of the poem, I wish to conclude with the excerpt of the beautiful verse Adoption by Teri Harrison:

Longing for a child to love,
I’d wish upon the stars above.
In my heart I always knew,
A part of me was meant for you.

I think how happy we will be,
Once I adopt you, and you adopt me.”

late-night train
the mother’s lullaby
for everyone
— Hifsa Ashraf (kontinuum: kortárs haiku/contemporary haiku 1.1)

“Who hasn’t been there. You’re tired and stressed from a long day at work, and you just want to get back home as hassle-free as possible. On a deeper level the train, plane, or bus commute also makes you feel “alone in a crowd,” especially at night. More existential still, maybe you feel like “a motherless child a long way from home” in the words of that old spiritual. These and other implied circumstances set the scene for us in the opening line. And then we hear a song. Not someone’s cellphone music that we dread, but rather a mother’s lullaby for the baby she cradles in her arms. A homely act which changes nothing, and yet transforms everything, about the circumstances. We are comforted now, more at peace. Each and all of us, within the sound of her voice.”

middle age
I build the snowman
a son
— Peter Newton (The Heron’s Nest 23.2)

Playing in the snow can make us feel like kids again, no matter our age. So surely the mid-lifer in this poem felt a similar joy. Why then, such disparate emotions when he stands back to regard the finished snowman? What prompts him to include a companion snowboy? Perhaps he longs for a lost father, or a child he misses, or even his own lost childhood. Maybe he laments not being a dad, or yet hopes to become one. Whatever the case, the poem allows us to experience this touching act of empathy in our own way, given our own life story.


The image is unique in the sense of a psychological surge on the part of the woman who is without children. She realizes her physical limitations. The haiku portrays the aspiration of the mid-age woman to be blessed with motherhood. She longs for fulfilling her dream by building a snowman and embracing him as her son. She goes through a sense of emotional consciousness and finally culminates in an aesthetic attachment with the beauty of nature. The haiku draws a sense of becomingness (kokora). The word ‘snowman’ has an allegorical depiction of life in its purity. Interestingly snowman has been elucidated as an aesthetic living form by Kobayashi Issa in one of his haiku: growing old too / I trust in a Buddha / of snow (Tr. Roger Pulvers).

The haiku explicates both horizontal and vertical axes of the time span of life. It is a poem of emotion (sabi) truly reflecting the words of Harold G. Henderson: “. . . haiku is a very short poem . . . more concerned with human emotions than with human acts, and natural phenomena are used to reflect human emotion.”

Internally she wants to unburden herself from the shadow of socio-psychological tension by embracing the snowman as her son. Probably to climax the personal feeling, the poet prefers using the first-person pronoun ‘I’ in the haiku. At the same time, perhaps she might be comprehending within herself that it is an illusion interacting with the dimension of intense imagination as Wallace Stevens in his poem “The Snow Man” writes:

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”

beneath the blossoms
she counts her years
on one hand
— Sasha A. Palmer (Japan Fair Haiku Contest 2021)

This was one of my favorites from the very first reading.  I immediately thought of A. E. Housman’s “Loveliest of Trees” where he is counting his years left to see the cherries in bloom.  The little girl is counting how old she is, but the illusion is lovely.  There is something soft and light about this haiku that echoes those joyous days of spring when the world is young and everything is possible.


Blossom represents the symbol of energy, purity, youth, and beauty. At the same time, the wilted flower reflects the ultimate cycle of life and inherent truth at the end.

The middle line, acting like a pivot-line, can be associated with line 1 and also line 3 imparting layered meanings. Here she counts her age sitting under the flower-laden tree and perhaps holding the weathered flowers in another hand. She might be at her youth that juxtaposes the beauty of blossoms, or might be at her graceful old age. It could be she is partially physically challenged. The haiku is multilayered in a way as quoted by Wallace Stevens: ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’. The poet tries to keep the space open for the readers to think like an unfinished poem (seisensui) as Basho writes: Myriads of things past/ Are brought to my mind/ These cherry blossoms! (Tr. Ueda). There lies a poetic sincerity (fuga no makota) and whitespace (ma) in the visual demonstration of the poem with a meditative tone.

Possibly she is at her autumn age. She might be reconciling the cycle of life sitting under the tree and profoundly clasping the wilted flowers as poet Torin Charlotte in his poem Cherry Blossom writes:

I fell asleep
Beneath the cherry blossom
Because I had no place I should be
And it felt like home to me”


A child, four years old, maybe five. An old woman who’s been told how many years she has left. Each can appreciate the cherry blossoms in their own way.

not every color
has a name . . .
midnight jazz
— Tiffany Shaw-Diaz (Stardust Haiku 50)

This haiku imbues the reader with multiple sensations and transports them across barriers of time and space. How does the poet accomplish this? By linking the notes of a haiku, its musicality, to the genre of jazz. On one level, these three lines can be read as a definition of jazz. The use of the ellipsis in line two, a notation also used by composers, invokes images of musical memory. For this reader, they are of a jazz solo heard first on a record player and later in a basement jazz club. But what sets this haiku apart is that its myriad notes continue to play long after an initial reading. Whether read silently or aloud, this evocative haiku is its own musical form.

below the missing dog a missing woman
— Joan Torres (#FemkuMag 31)

This multilayered haiku evokes emotions surrounding womens place in todays society. These emotions are seen through the prism of humans’ attachment to their pets. There is the unstated contrast as to which is more valued by society, a missing woman or a missing dog. The emotional resonance is skillfully displayed in the seven words of the haiku and echoed in the white space that surrounds them. What is present in the white space? Perhaps the staples rusting on both posters. Perhaps both posters have torn parchment. Perhaps in a contrast between the two posters: lettering in a childs hand vs a formal police-type print. The answers depend on what each individual reader brings to the poem. A visceral, haunting monoku.


On a poster board or, perhaps, a telephone pole with images piled one upon the other as on a totem pole, emblems of systemic sexism in our culture. Either way, a disheartening image one hopes was fabricated to make a point rather than actually stumbled on in our surreal world.

The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems 2021 Shortlist

sanitized
for the children
my twenties
— Susan Antolin (Mariposa 44)

before
they were my daughters . . .
wildflowers
— Meredith Ackroyd (Frogpond 44:3)

capitol steps
a riot
of cherry blossoms
— Marilyn Ashbaugh (GEPPO XLVI:3)

late-night train
the mother’s lullaby
for everyone
— Hifsa Ashraf (kontinuum: kortárs haiku/contemporary haiku 1.1)

as the crow flies fentanyl
— Aaron Barry (Prune Juice 35)

the river in every room brown trout
— Bisshie (The Heron’s Nest 23.1)

gone to seed . . .
wind and light
sweep the field
— Tom Clausen (Upstate Dim Sum 2021/I)

incoming tide
sand unzips the
soles of my feet
— Robert Davey (Acorn 46)

ancient syllables
the forest alive
in birdsong
— Pat Davis (Cold Moon, October 7, 2021)

the minor notes
in a half scale
slow rising moon
— Terri L. French (tsuri-dōrō: a small journal of haiku and senryū 5)

not just blowing smoke climate change
— Terri French (tinywords 21.2)

refuse
refuge
refugee
refuse
— Lee Gurga (Modern Haiku 52.1)

not as long
as it used to be
summer day
— Jennifer Hambrick (Wales Haiku Journal, Autumn 2021)

years of being who we are
my shirt letting the rain
soak in
— Gary Hotham (tsuri-dōrō: a small journal of haiku and senryū 4)

tearing the filter
off his cigarette —
war stories
— PMF Johnson (bottle rockets 44)

reawakening
to what is not mine
the passing clouds
— Lakshmi Iyer (The Haiku Foundation Monthly Kukai, April 2021)

spring sun
still some winter
in the turtle
— Laurie D. Morrissey (First Frost 1.1)

middle age
I build the snowman
a son
— Peter Newton (The Heron’s Nest 23.2)

ancient wisdom —
naming negative space
in the night sky
— Helen Ogden (Cold Moon, October 22, 2021)

beneath the blossoms
she counts her years
on one hand
— Sasha A. Palmer (Japan Fair Haiku Contest 2021)

bottled water
does the river know
its many names?
— Minal Sarosh (Akitsu Quarterly, Fall 2021)

scenting the night
with somewhere else
train whistle
— Ann K. Schwader (The Heron’s Nest 23.1)

not every color
has a name . . .
midnight jazz
— Tiffany Shaw-Diaz (Stardust Haiku 50)

childhood memories . . .
I open and close
the wrought iron gate
— Neena Singh (The Haiku Foundation Haiku Dialogue, October 6, 2021)

the blue swallows the blue swallows
— our thomas (Whiptail 1)

below the missing dog a missing woman
— Joan Torres (#FemkuMag 31)

conger eel thrashing in the creel this hunger
— Lew Watts (Wales Haiku Journal, Winter 2021)

starry night
– a lighthouse
– a lighthouse
— James Young (The Poetry Pea Journal of haiku and senryu: Spring 2021)

acres of cotton
his son asks if they’ll
be slaves again
— J. Zimmerman (Presence 71)

bobolink in flight
his song for her the length
of a hay field
— J. Zimmerman (Modern Haiku 52.3)

global warming
the delicate oars
of this lifeboat
— J. Zimmerman, (tinywords, October 14, 2021)

The Touchstone Distinguished Book Awards 2021

81 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:

Kat Lehmann, Beverly Acuff Momoi, Scott Mason, Victor Ortiz and Michael Rehling

Winners

Paul Chambers

The Dry Bones (New Mills, UK: Red Ceilings Press, 2021)

Paul Chambers’ third book of haiku is a beautifully written, deeply reflective collection that rewards re-reading. A quiet book of closely observed moments and small movements, it reads as an orchestrated piece.

The spare, abstract cover, with its suggestion of landscape, sets the tone for the poems within. Blank pages separate 86 haiku into four unnamed sections — an unusual strategy that suits this collection. The blank section breaks offer the most minimal guidance, inviting the reader to pause before moving to the next group of poems. The haiku that appear immediately before each blank page linger in the mind and reinforce the power of the moment.

quieter now
than before it came
first snow

Throughout the book, care has been given to the sequencing and placement of haiku. The resonance across poems on a page creates larger moments and images, as in these haiku . .

goshawk’s cry
deep under snow
the road turns

freeing itself
of itself
the thawing stream

These are haiku that heighten the senses and invite contemplation. One is simultaneously surprised and struck by the realization, “yes . . . it is like that.”

after rain
the river unreeling
warbler song

just enough rain
to darken the scent
of the pine woods

There are moments of bleak beauty in nature.

gathering dusk
a broken antler
in the leaf litter

Chambers understands the power of understatement, and some haiku provide just a suggestion of story.

night bus . . .
a handprint fills
with moonlight

Only haiku can frame a parent’s love — and the attentiveness it commands — in this kind of way . . .

magnolia scent . . .
sunlight in the hairs
along my son’s ears

or conjure something magical out of a common childhood experience.

with each throw
the boy’s stone lands
in the centre of the universe

In The Dry Bones, Paul Chambers has given us a stunning collection of haiku that honor the truth of things as they exist and our greater connectedness.

Bill Kenney

keep walking (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2021)

In this fine collection Bill Kenney demonstrates a clear eye, a kindly temperament, and a cunning haiku voice.

Much of that cunning results from this poet’s masterful sense of when he has said just enough. Few who practice this already-compressed poetry can suggest so much with so few words.

heron
the time
it takes

butterfly
circling me twice
then moving on

His eye discerns not just what others might overlook, but also — with keen if bemused insight — revealing aspects of who those others are.

observation tower
the tour guide tells us
what to observe

driving north
our grandchildren
explain autumn

Kenney began his haiku journey seventeen years ago, a month shy of his 72nd birthday. A frequent subject is his life stage or state of health, though often seasoned with gentle irony . . .

snow softly falling
the way the oncologist
says “we”

the nurse asks
if there’s anything I want —
chemo suite

. . . or leavened with self-depreciating humor . . .

too quick
for my hand
winter fly

87
going on 88
I tell the child

Time and again, this collection proves to be life-affirming in its grace notes . . .

tiny sips
to make it last
autumn twilight

. . . and inspiring in its author’s fortitude . . .

steady rain
might as well
keep walking

We feel welcome and privileged to tag along.

John Stevenson

My Red: The Selected Haiku of John Stevenson (Edited by Randy and Shirley Brooks. Taylorville IL: Brooks Books, 2021)

The Italian expression sprezzatura has been translated as “graceful conduct or performance without apparent effort” . . . or simply as “effortless genius.” Moments of sprezzatura abound in this landmark collection of the finest work from the last quarter century by John Stevenson, widely hailed as an American haiku master.

Stevenson’s easy yet incisive humor is on ample display in these pages.

applauding
the mime
in our mittens

a big diamond . . .
just imagine
the pressure

So too is his openness to experiment with syntax, wordplay and form, often to stunning effect.

expecting
no one
arrives

more automatic words about weapons

the procession
  follows the hearse
around the pothole

jampackedelevatoreverybuttonpushed

Stevenson’s perspective on everyday phenomena frequently surprises, even amazes — not least because of its curious yet unassailable logic.

dandelion wishes
the wind
makes most of them

for the office plants
it rains
on Fridays

The simplest observations can casually impart the deepest wisdom.

a child’s art
the tulips
tower over everything

we’re here
we might as well build
a sand castle

Such work has justly earned Stevenson the fervent admiration of poets across the haiku world. This in itself would secure any literary reputation. But Stevenson’s oeuvre offers something more—and something even greater. At the heart of his poetry is a profound sense of humanity. This can be seen in his attention to, and compassion for, the plight of “all creatures great and small.”

luxury car
a sparrow’s
quiet thump

barks at me every day
but just lately
he sounds lonely

train station
someone who
someone stopped loving

But it’s also evident in the poet’s willingness to be authentically human and make himself vulnerable: sharing self-censure; expressing self-depreciation; confessing self-doubts.

cold moon —
a moment of hesitation
years ago

class reunion
everybody loved
my wife

putting them away
I hope my clothes
were good enough

Perhaps this helps explain why John Stevenson is not only admired in haiku circles but beloved.

embarrassed
by the lavish praise
I imagine getting

Memo to poet: You’re not imagining . . . now deal with it!

Sugita Hisajo & Alice Wanderer

Lips Licked Clean (Haiku of Sugita Hisajo. Translated by Alice Wanderer. Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2021)

Sugita Hisajo (1890-1946) was a preeminent haiku poet of the early 20th century, but her work is hardly known beyond Japan. In Lips Licked Clean, scholar and poet Alice Wanderer corrects that with her translations of more than 100 haiku. Introductory notes provide historical context, biographical information, and a brief, but informative, overview of kigo. Haiku are presented seasonally, one to a page, in Japanese, romaji and English. Following each translation are notes identifying the kigo used.

The development of English-language haiku has been informed by our knowledge of Japanese haiku. Key to that understanding is the availability of high quality translations. Although Japanese haiku developed over four centuries, translations of modern works are in short supply, and most have focused on male poets. So a collection of haiku by a leading female poet is noteworthy. It enriches our understanding of the development of modern haiku and the aesthetics that inspire English-language haiku.

Hisajo was recognized early for the excellence of her haiku. Three years after she began writing, she received first place in a prestigious competition. Hototogisu, the most influential Japanese haiku journal of the time, devoted 17 pages for commentary on her winning poem. Over the next 16 years, she gained prominence for her award-winning haiku. She published essays on haiku, founded a haiku journal for women, and played a leadership role in the Hototogisu group.

She achieved this level of recognition with haiku that reflected her life as a woman, wife and mother. She wrote about experiences she found personally meaningful — a father-in-law’s displeasure, forgoing haiku to do the laundry, the sensuality in loosening the cords of her kimono, exhaustion from reading and re-reading favorite stories to her children.

Although Hisajo explored subjects that were novel in haiku at the time, her poems were grounded in haiku tradition, and a keen awareness of nature is characteristic of her work.

妻若く前掛けに冬菜抱きけり
tsuma wakaku maekake ni fuyuna idakikeri

young wife
winter leaf greens
swept up in her apron

若草や五官めざめし病後妻
wakakusa ya gokan mezameshi byōgo tsuma

young grass shoots —
every sense awakens
in this no-longer-sickly wife

黄薔薇しなびて香高くちりし机上かな
kisōbi shinabite kō takaku chirishi kijyō kana

yellow roses
smell stronger as they wither —
petals scattered on my desk

Hisajo married for love, choosing a like-minded aspiring artist. But after the children were born, her husband abandoned his dreams. It was a loss keenly felt by both of them and caused strife in the marriage.

冬服や辞令を祀る良教師
fuyufuku ya jirei o matsuru ryō kyōshi

winter suit —
reappointment notice on the family shrine
the dutiful teacher

足袋つぐやノラともならず教師妻
tabi tsugu ya Nora to mo narazu kyōshizuma

mending tabi —
not like Ibsen’s Nora
this teacher’s wife

In The Doll’s House, Nora leaves, choosing her freedom over family and children. Hisajo stayed. But she did not give up on her dreams. She continued to write and nurture her own creativity.

The use of kigo is a significant aspect of Hisajo’s haiku. More than an indication of seasonality, kigo convey levels of meaning that deepen understanding of the work. Wanderer’s notes help us understand the significance of some choices. In this haiku, for example, “hazy spring weather” echoes the baby’s itchy discomfort, but in Japanese the kigo, hanagumori, also conveys the transience of cherry blossom season.

齒莖かゆく乳首かむ子や花曇
haguki kayuku chikubi kamu ko ya hanagumori

itchy gums
the baby bites the nipple —
hazy spring weather

Kigo: 花曇 hanagumori, literally ‘flower cloudiness,’ or the spring weather characteristic of the cherry blossom season.

Too few Japanese women poets are known and read outside of Japan. In Lips Licked Clean: Selected Haiku of Sugita Hisajo, Alice Wanderer helps address that imbalance with a resonant selection of work by one of the pioneers of modern Japanese haiku.

Honorable Mentions

Tia Haynes & Jonathan Roman

After Amen: A Memoir in Two Voices (self-published, 2021)

After Amen: A Memoir in Two Voices by Tia Haynes and Jonathan Roman is a noteworthy contribution to English-language haiku. Haynes and Roman are innovative for the way they widen the scope of haiku through the sustained scrutiny of their fundamentalist religious experiences, their “similar pain, rejection, and abuse,” and for the fresh way they present their poems in a narrative arc. Indeed, it is a collaborative work that is remarkable for its unflinching and emotional honesty as well as its search for identity.

Haynes and Roman present a deeply personal journey of religious trauma in a blend of one voice. This collaborative aspect is particularly intriguing, in part because they have not explicitly indicated who wrote which poems. One could argue that not knowing adds to the impact — much like listening to a song performed by two powerful voices, sometimes it is clear who is singing, sometimes not. It is very effective and reflects the universality of their questioning and pursuit of faith.

Divided into four parts, After Amen begins with “No Buyers,” followed by “After Amen,” “Starless,” and ends with “One Day,” each section a movement forward on a spiritual journey rooted in moments of belief, many in emotionally charged moments of trauma. The narrative arc, recurrent motifs, and pacing in terms of number of poems per page, their length and placement on the page as well as the thematic connections all create a varied yet cohesive experience for the reader across the four sections.

One of many effective sequences for its pacing, emotional qualities, tragic humor, and imagery is the sequence that extends from pages 32-35 on the theme of marriage, suggesting in part how one’s fundamentalist beliefs can shape the actions of a believer.

On page 32, there is a single poem that cuts into the white space, a five-liner that lengthens the moment of a hidden, deep pain, creating room for the reader in which to contemplate what scars these might be and how they might relate to the one’s faith:

scars
only my husband
can see
the hour I first
believed

On the next page, there are 4 three-liners, which quicken the pace, and seem to expand upon the trauma that has been suffered and what is allowed to the faithful in a romantic relationship, presenting ideas of what was sacrificed, salvation, propriety, deception, and identity:

choosing salvation
the things I did
for marriage

engagement photos
only our feet
touch

wedding night
I pretend
he’s my first

pastor’s wife
my first name
forgotten

On page 34, the layout again enhances the pace, providing space to absorb the tragic humor and irony we are experiencing as readers, as imagined mothers, and partners:

childbirth
my supposed
redemption

missionary position
what’s left
of our beliefs

Finally, on the following page the sequence ends with the perceived judgment of others, a final irony:

afterlife
they all look at me
as if I’m dead

By the end of the book, readers discover the life in this life, the here and now, rather than in a believed afterlife.

There are many such extended moments of religious experience in tension with the significance of these two lives, forming an arc from suffering and personal questioning to reconciliation with a self that will engage the reader for years to come.

Shobhana Kumar

A Sky Full of Bucket Lists (Red River Press, 2021).

In A Sky Full of Bucket Lists, Shobhana Kumar brings a distinctive voice to her collection of thoughtfully conceived and arranged haibun. Kumar is innovative and ambitious in how she explores her material, from the overall structure of the work to the individual stories.

Kumar divides her book as the scenes of a play. The first haibun in each chapter connects across the book with the others to create a mini-narrative. A chess board is set, pieces are moved, the game is set aside in favor of work, and ultimately the scene fades to black. The first five chapters are labeled Act 1, Scenes 1-5. The final chapter “Beyond” (about death) is Act 2, Scene 1, as if death is a lifting off point into something new.

The book is firmly set in India with references to Gulmohar petals and idlis, yet the book feels accessible even if one is not familiar with these specifics. Her haibun are a stipple of life stories that capture a deep honesty about the human experience. Themes include life’s purpose, identity, illness, grief, loneliness, and death — a sky of “hope and promise”, as Kumar says. The prose travels well, and many haiku stand alone without leaning on the prose:

cerulean
the sky tiptoes
across the river

tree stumps
where have words
made their home?

half moon —
the unwritten pages
of a diary

ouroboros
same endings
every day

The variety of haibun styles and formats Kumar employs range from the common to the inventive. There are haibun structured as free verse, as dialogue, and as a letter. Haibun are presented sideways, in a different font, and interwoven with song lyrics. The form for each piece effectively enhances its meaning. What connects them all is a strong voice that creates an emotionally-impactful offering. These are life stories, sometimes tragic, spoken plainly using haibun elements that resonate and shift in delightful ways.

As we witness in A Sky Full of Bucket Lists “what happens in the head, in one’s home, on the streets, and in abandoned spaces”, we might discover threads from this rich tapestry that bring color to our own.

Bill Pauly

Walking Uneven Ground: Selected Haiku by Bill Pauly (Edited by Randy and Shirley Brooks. Taylorville IL: Brooks Books, 2021).

In 2021 we lost one of our best champions for haiku and senryu. Those who have not read Bill’s poetry will enjoy learning from a dedicated teacher and poet of haiku and senryu. He won almost every award you can garner in his five decades as a haiku poet, but always seemed to be moving forward looking for a new way to express himself in this short form. You can see this progression in this wonderful presentation of his work that encompasses his entire time in haiku.

Here in this early haiku of his from 1977, you can see his mastery of the economy of the moment:

unapproachably
beautiful
thistle

His poetry found senryu and he made it a form all his own, as this thoughtfully touching poem from 1980 shows us:

the deaf man
at his windowpane
touching thunder

The ability of Bill to turn tenderness into an art form is exemplified in this one that was discovered after his passing:

snow storm . . .
unbuttoning
her in the dark

Bill’s humor and sharp wit are on full display in his senryu from the 2005 Brady competition:

grinding sausage meat
she recounts the times
her husband cheated

Always unafraid to tackle any subject, this poem written at the time of the Iraq War resonates in the current day just as strongly:

her son gone to war
thin hand translucent
in windowlight

And the title for this collection is taken from one of his last published poems that is a monument to his tenderheartedness:

walking uneven ground
to tend her grave . . .
Remembrance Day

There is much to glean from this collection of Bill’s work, and a lot to learn about the progression of haiku and senryu over the decades. But what stands out is the way Bill Pauly always seemed to lead the way rather than follow. One of his students quoted this advice he gave: “Find an editor worthy of your work!” Advice that any experienced or aspiring haiku poet can take to heart to this day.

Shloka Shankar

where the roots are: Best of Paper Lanterns Volume  2 (Edited by Shloka Shankar. Bangalore, India: Yavanika Press, 2021)

where the roots are, edited by Shloka Shankar, is a stunning collection of inventive work. This assemblage of English-language haiku is remarkable in form, content, and language, enhanced by the insightful sequencing by Shankar. It is thanks to editors like Shankar that we are fortunate to see work confident enough to challenge readers who are already familiar with the genre. These poems expand the concept of the haiku moment in new engaging ways, thus demonstrating that this innovative area of contemporary haiku still has a great deal to offer.

One noteworthy feature of where the roots are is the attention paid to language that goes beyond wordplay or wit for its own sake. Like a new dialect, the words can be heard and felt differently, such as a slip of the tongue, out of context phrase, or non-rationally. This is particularly true when the meaning might not be fully understood.

sacrificial iamb
— Nicholas Mathisen

shield of Achilles living in half a parenthesis
— Keith Polette

In these poems, our feelings about the words we thought we “knew” are challenged at the very “root.” Readers are opened to new ways of experiencing their humanity and the deep spaces within the words through which worlds are created. This collection reminds readers that haiku, and ideas, are built from words and moments of words.

so did all the blue apples fail
— Helen Buckingham

what killed us:
non-random cracks
— Kyle Hemmings

The sequencing of this collection feels as cohesive as a single-author collection, moving in an arc from genesis, incompleteness, religion, pain/healing, to being/here-ness. This kind of flow in a mixed-author anthology is impressive, and the free-natured quality of the work is something to return to. The following is an example of resonating poems (in order) that evoke different facets of seeking the known in the unknown:

They’re all dead
and we still can’t find
the good scissors
— Patrick Sweeney

. . . and not even through a glass darkly . . .
— Susan King

[insert what you see here] —
it remains to be seen
when it’s gone
— Hansha Teki

The mysteries of language, the depths of beauty, and the scope of human experience found in where the roots are will likely leave you wanting more.

The Touchstone Distinguished Books Award 2021 Shortlist

Beary, Roberta, Maitiu Quinn, and Willie Walsh. One Breath (Clan Beo, artwork. Galway, Ireland: Doire Press, 2021).

Chambers, Paul. The Dry Bones (New Mills, UK: Red Ceilings Press, 2021).

Chhoki, Sonam, and Geethanjali Rajan. Unexpected Gift (Montreal, QC: éditions petits nuages, 2021).

Chula, Margaret. Firefly Lanterns (Brunswick, ME: Shanti Arts, 2021).

Hambrick, Jennifer. joyride (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2021).

Haynes, Tia and Jonathan Roman. After Amen: A Memoir in Two Voices (No Place: self-published, 2021).

Kacian, Jim, Terry Ann Carter, and Claudia Brefeld. the endangered C (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2021).

Kacian, Jim, and Julie Schwerin (editors). A New Resonance 12: Emerging Voices in English-Language Haiku (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2021).

Kenney, Bill. keep walking (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2021).

Kumar, Shobhana. A Sky Full of Bucket Lists (New Delhi, India: Red River Press, 2021).

Pauly, Bill. Walking Uneven Ground: Selected Haiku by Bill Pauly (Editors Randy and Shirley Brooks. Taylorville, IN: Brooks Books, 2021).

Read, Dave. Fifty at Fifty: My Haiku (No Place: self-published, 2021).

Rotella, Alexis, and Friends. Grandmother’s Pearls: Dream Anthology (Greensboro, NC: Jade Mountain Press, 2021).

Shankar, Shloka (Editor). where the roots are: Best of Paper Lanterns Volume 2 (Bangalore, India: Yavanika Press, 2021).

Stevenson, John. My Red: The Selected Haiku of John Stevenson (Editors Randy and Shirley Brooks. Taylorville, IN: Brooks Books, 2021).

Sugita, Hisajo. Lips Licked Clean (Translated by Alice Wanderer. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2021).

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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