Congratulations to all recipients of The Touchstone Awards for 2017, and thanks to all our panelists. Here we reprise the complete collection of winners, honorable mentions, and commentary. 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.
Chair, Touchstone Awards
The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems 2017
- Gary Hotham
- Ron C. Moss
- Renée Owen
- Michele Root-Bernstein
- Dietmar Tauchner
- Diane Wakoski
730 poems were nominated. Award recipients are listed in alphabetical order by author.
frances angela is a recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2017 for her poem
the sound of someone
It first appeared in Acorn 38.
Commentary from the Panel:
“There is much to appreciate in this haiku, as it develops a brittle, metaphoric moment of heightened awareness. We move from a formal, latinate, lonely experience of mortality to human presence real and imagined, to a sound obliquely associated with commemoration. As the unwrapping of cut flowers releases their scent, we inhale their essence one last time. The w sound that echoes from line to line is also a suppressed wail.”
“The haiku puts together such an odd scene. The flowers become the fire.”
Cherie Hunter Day is a recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2017 for her poem
moths the color
of the dying pine
It first appeared in Modern Haiku 48.2, having placed 2nd in the Robert Spiess Memorial Haiku Contest 2017.
Commentary from the Panel:
“Fabulous haiku, that both captures the pulse of the haiku moment in nature that it describes, transporting us there, while simultaneously eliciting our deep grief. The pine, dying from disease, drought, or pollution, evokes our realization that earth may be experiencing its own ‘nightfall’, along with its human inhabitants. This universal theme resonates and deepens on each re-reading.”
“This is a very evocative haiku that resonates with a dark moodiness, which has been skillfully crafted in three short lines. The short life of a moth is focussed with the coming of nightfall and we are shown a stunning juxtaposition with colours of a dying pine. On one level this is a snapshot of nature but like all great haiku it can suggests a deeper meaning for us to discover for ourselves.”
Rajandeep Garg is a recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2017 for his poem
of a sigh
It first appeared in Modern Haiku 48.3.
Commentary from the Panel:
“The wide open space of the prairie and its never-ending sky, with our awe captured in a deep sigh. The alliterative repeating “i” sounds create a resounding echo that inspires the reader to experience the haiku moment along with the poet.”
“Only a haiku can capture the depth of such a moment. And this haiku does it very well as the ‘sigh.’”
“Such wide and expansive imagery is focused down to a deep sigh and we are left wondering whom, or what has created this emotion. Haiku such as these can be a journey to our own thoughts and impressions on the vastness of life.”
Michele L. Harvey is a recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2017 for her poem
their ancient hum
It first appeared in The Heron’s Nest XIX:3.
Commentary from the Panel:
“From the very beginning this was a favourite haiku for me. It has a deep sense of beauty but also a dark foreboding given the threatened nature of bees all over the world. Bees are indeed ancient and without them we would not survive as they help pollinate the very food we need to eat. The evocative use of humming suggests the song of life older than time itself. We are left with some hope through the mention of a sunrise and perhaps a rebirth of attitudes and processes that have driven these wonderful creatures to such decline.”
“Close observation of the bees has us in touch with our most elemental, atavistic selves. The very repetition that characterizes rituals and chants — the um that marks every line — reinforces the poetic insight.”
Sharon Pretti is a recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2017 for her poem
as if they know
they won’t last
It first appeared in Frogpond 40.2.
Commentary from the Panel:
“This haiku intimately brings to mind the brilliant orange of the poppy, blooming in either the desert, along a freeway, in a green meadow, or our own backyards. With or without rain, it shines brightly and waves like a flag, reminding us of the earth’s beauty and transience. Its short-lived nature, and the way it closes tightly in a bud each evening, is the perfect haiku moment to remind us of our own short time on this planet.”
“A haiku that pinches. A sad reminder that we know and they don’t.”
John Shiffer is a recipient of a Touchstone Award for Individual Poems for 2017 for his poem
its gentle push
on the curtains . . .
It first appeared in Acorn 38.
Commentary from the Panel:
“A quiet haiku, yet superb in its simplicity. Effectively evokes the balm of a mild summer evening, and how our body’s tempo slows to receive that balm.”
“Often the most resonate haiku are those that are very simple but reveal so much more as we allow them the space to breathe and become alive in imagery and suggestion. We are left with a deep sense of peace and a feeling that everything is all right and beautifully contained in this moment.”
Touchstone 2016 Shortlist
crematorium the sound of someone unwrapping flowers — frances angela, Acorn 38 the last of mother’s things packed the snow globe settles — frances angela, Modern Haiku 48.2 empty notebooks the poems I keep unwritten — Debbi Antebi, Presence 58 cut flowers the short life of compliments — Debbi Antebi, tinywords 17.2 mellow sunset notes of the wide bore clarinet — Bill Cooper, The Heron’s Nest XIX:4 nightfall — moths the color of the dying pine — Cherie Hunter Day, Robert Spiess Contest 2017 (Modern Haiku 48.2) carousel she asks to ride the winged horse home — Robert Epstein, The Heron’s Nest XIX:2 black ice — a memory that isn’t mine — Seren Fargo, Frogpond 40.2 certain that nothing is mine clear skies — Lucia Fontana, Chrysanthemum 22 prairie sky the depth of a sigh — Rajandeep Garg, Modern Haiku 48.3 their ancient hum to sunrise honeybees — Michele L. Harvey, The Heron’s Nest XIX:3 dwarfed by the trees I planted summer night — Ruth Holzer, Frogpond 40.1 winter sunrise butter finds its own path across grandma’s skillet — Frank Hooven, The Heron’s Nest XIX:1 daybreak a black swan takes the night under its wing — Shrikaanth Krishnamurthy, Kokako 26 burning for all my sins incense stick — Shrikaanth Krishnamurthy, Modern Haiku 48.2 dementia I lose the lily petal by petal — Lori A Minor, H. Gene Murtha Senryu Contest (Prune Juice 22) music box somewhere inside yesterday — Gregory Longenecker, Sonic Boom 8 starving refugee a hand approaches her mouth with a microphone — Indra Neil Mekala, 22nd International Kusamakura Haiku Competition when a white bear roamed the unheard of — Peter Newton, Bones 12 sweltering night a hole in the backyard bleeds scorpions — Anthony Itopa Obaro, The Heron’s Nest XIX:2 poppies as if they know they won’t last — Sharon Pretti, Frogpond 40.2 eggs in a shirt to be here so lightly — Dan Schwerin, Frogpond 40.1 its gentle push on the curtains . . . summer night — John Shiffer, Acorn 38 endless closed doors along the hotel hallway winter solstice — Olivier Schopfer, Modern Haiku 48.1 the way we left our dining room chairs — John Stevenson, Modern Haiku 48.1 letting go of letting go . . . apple blossoms — Michael Stinson, Stardust Haiku 3 silence for some includes birdsong — Hilary Tann, The Heron’s Nest XIX:4 as if nothing an empty seashore had happened — Ernest Wit, Bones 12 depth of winter the ukulele just right in my arms — Karina M. Young, Mariposa 36 last breath . . . someone opens the window to the soul — Romano Zeraschi, Chrysanthemum 22 memorial day each name soaked in rain — David He Zhuanglang, Stardust Haiku 5
The Touchstone Distinguished Books Award 2017
- Randy Brooks
- Tom Clausen
- Rebecca Lilly
- Michael McClintock
- Julie Warther
- Don Wentworth
More than 80 books were nominated. Award recipients are listed in alphabetical order by author.
John Brandi and Noriko Kawasaki Martinez are recipients of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2017 for their volume A House By Itself: Selected Haiku of Masaoka Shiki (Buffalo, NY: White Pine Press, 2017). Commentary from the Panel: “There are several books of scholarship on Masaoka Shiki’s life and his important re-examination of Japanese haikai traditions. These scholarly books and collections of Japanese haiku include translations of Shiki’s haiku. However, many of these previous translations are the work of literary scholars — accurate in the context of literary history and biography but less evocative as haiku poetry in English. Therefore, we were pleasantly surprised by this new small collection of translations by contemporary haiku poet John Brandi and his excellent Japanese collaborator, Noriko Kawasaki Martinez. This is a collection that provides an enjoyable reading experience of Shiki’s haiku. “The collection also has an excellent introduction by Charlie Trumbull. He argues against stereotypes about shasei haiku and Shiki’s call for a more realistic haiku that goes beyond poetic tropes and seeks an emotional significance. Trumbull points out that in addition to calling for more original “sketches from life” Shiki championed two additional aesthetic goals: (1) “selective realism” for poetic significance and (2) makoto for heartfelt “poetic truthfulness” in haiku. The selections of Shiki’s haiku translated in A House By Itself demonstrate these three aesthetic goals. These translations demonstrate that Shiki was not “merely” an objectivist writer describing scenes. His haiku and these translations convey attitudes, human emotions, as well as the poetic significance of selective realism. Here are some favorite sample translations”:Spring rain I close my umbrella and take a walk Lost my oars looking up from the boat at the Milky Way Under the summer moon twenty thousand people homeless Autumn departs for me, no gods no buddhas Snow on the garden enjoyed to and from the outhouse New Year’s Day not good, not bad — simply human* Chuck Brickley is a recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2017 for his volume earthshine (Omskirk UK: Snapshot Press). Commentary from the Panel: “The images in Chuck Brickley’s first collection, earthshine, spring as if from a deep well, although in counterargument to one of his poems, one sip isn’t nearly enough of this deeply resonant sequence of poems. Although the haiku in the collection are sequenced as a single year, they were composed over long periods of the author’s life, the earliest during the 1970s, and in large part document observations and experiences he had while living in remote parts of British Columbia. For a time, he resided in a log house on an ecological reserve and in a two-room shack near the Coquihalla river, which divides two portions of the Cascade Mountains in British Columbia. The remoteness of some of the landscapes in which he lived comes through in such poems as these:carrying my hen back home the day’s warmth lovers down the beach turn out to be driftwoodThe section breaks between sequences of poems are set off with a single word or phrase from a poem in the forthcoming section, such as first caw or driftwood. These simple lead-ins are effective in offering a hint of the next section, without feeling intrusive or overdone. People who do make an appearance are family members, by and large, and the poems on his family are very moving:she grows quiet the drops of milk on my wrist moonlit smacked upside the head by her snowball . . . still in loveBrickley’s poems on flora and fauna are likewise carefully observed and remarkable for their fresh simplicity:waterfall spray a hummingbird draws up to a rainbow a snowshoe hare hops through its breath morning starOne feels the immense silence and vastness around the hare. It has the quiet depth characteristic of so many of Brickley’s images. Remarkable, too, is the sense of passing through the seasons of years: the reader feels the movement to different localities, through varying landscapes, and as family members grow or move or pass away. Despite that the poems sequence a single year, the reader has a strong sense, by the book’s end, that a much longer time period has passed. The nostalgic poignancy of passing time, the transience highlighted by changing circumstances and locales throughout the author’s life, is effectively carried by the book. The title, earthshine, refers to the glow on the unlit portion of the moon, due to sunlight reflected off the earth’s surface and back onto the moon. In this elegant and deeply resonant collection, a reader will find poems that reference earth, sun, and moonlight, as well as the hidden or unsaid things suggested by the moon’s visible dark portion:earthshine her voice breaks into a whisperA wonderful collection to return to over the years, as Brickley has to his own past with observations he so deftly brings forth in these finely-wrought poems.” * Terry Ann Carter is a recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2017 for her volume Tokaido (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2017). Commentary from the Panel: “Terry Ann Carter’s Tokaido is a remarkable book of haibun, written and strategically organized as an artist’s journal on a quest or pilgrimage to see and feel what matters most in our lives . . . desire, loss, creativity, love, joy, pain, fear, hope, and especially, art itself. The book is titled Tokaido based on a book by Ichiryusai Hiroshige, a famous woodblock artist who created a series of 53 prints of famous stopping points along the way of the Tokaido road. These Japanese prints are popular because they not only capture the beauty of these stations along the ocean but also the ambitions, work, and life of the people traveling or living in 19th century Japan. Carter has organized and titled each of the 53 haibun in this collection based on the prints in Hiroshige’s book. In the same spirit as Hiroshige her haibun capture a multiplicity of things and feelings happening at once. Within a single haibun she may begin with references to woodblock printing but shift attention to beeping medical technology. Her bittersweet journey is both a creative response to Hiroshige’s art and a more immediate, intuitive response to the life around her. She imaginatively dialogues with Hiroshige as a fellow artist but doesn’t stay stuck in the culture of old Japan. Her haibun provide connections that can leap time, space, art and technology, but end up with a haiku that snaps us back to a moment of “for now” in this instant. Throughout this book, Carter conveys an underlying sense of loss and the artist’s desire to perfect a work of art. This desire is also evident in a wish for our lives as a work of art we seek to perfect. Carter’s insight through this book is that on the artist’s pilgrimage, we have to make do with what we can accomplish and how much love we can nourish into fruitful blessings in our lives. Here are two of her evocative haibun:STATION TWENTY-TWO: FUJIEDA Living Close to the Pacific; Or, Music as a Low Grey Rain Eyes find nothing to see but sea and clouds and a colour without colour. Bashô spoke of this one colour world while birds scissor the water soundlessly. Garry oaks in my neighouring forest and arbutus, bark split like a wasteland. Only the sickle moon, nestled in black branches. Buddhists believe in several selves. Reinvention I think they call it. How many waves carry the taste of salt into sunlit spaces? Shiki once wrote: remember that large things are large. Small things are large, too, when seen up close. his doctor reassures the sky is not falling*STATION FIFTY: MINAKUCHI Have I Endured Enough? My brother is dead. I fold him into a book I have made called Requiem. His mathematical mind split open. He loved music, angles, Chinese ideograms. Walked in parks to discover theorems. His notebooks, undecipherable. There were voices in his head. Hiro, I walk with you and my brother in the forest behind my small home. Where ravens croak their love songs. A paradisal jazz. deserted road gilt of sunset on Queen Anne’s lace* Kristen Deming is a recipient of an Honorable Mention in the Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2017 for her volume plum afternoon (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2017). Commentary from the Panel: “As a past president of the Haiku Society of America and active member in the haiku community in Japan for many years, Kristen Deming has written numerous high quality haiku. It is evident great care and restraint was exercised in selecting each poem for her first full-length collection. “A simple volume of exquisite haiku by a thirty year practitioner of the form, plum afternoon carries readers through the possibilities of the everyday. Beginning with a sense of wonder at daybreak:dawn swim — making a butterfly of water of light“An apt introduction to this fine collection. From this first exhilarating dip into the water at break of day, we are enchanted by the delicacy of Deming’s voice. “Then with a specificity and uniqueness of images that could only come from genuine experience, we are invited into the poet’s world.dawn moon — grandfather quietly candling our morning eggs moss-hung heat the worm seller wets down his box of crawlers“From years spent as the wife of a diplomat, Deming finds ways to gently direct the gaze of her readers and invite them to see what she sees.casualty lists smaller and smaller print soundless rain — the names of the fallen come out of the stones“Drawn from a depth of experience and handled by a skilled poet, the poems in plum afternoon explore the timeless themes of love, loss and new life in refreshing ways.”as if his hand remained in my hand — sun-warmed stone alone now no ruby slippers to take me home my body out of a million mothers — budding leaves* Scott Mason is a recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2017 for his volume The Wonder Code (Chappaqua, NY: Girasole Press, 2017). Commentary from the Panel: “In The Wonder Code, author Scott Mason reflects upon the basic elements of haiku and with diligence and intelligence extends ‘[t]he unwavering gaze of haiku poetry’ into contemporary life. The book is not only a substantial introduction to haiku as literature but a jolt (delivered with exuberance and élan) toward life-changing discovery and ‘seeing the world with new eyes.’ “There is not only a lover of poetry at work here but an accomplished and informed life-coach who has discovered in haiku something necessary to encourage and promote purely in the interests of self-realization and personal development. “While Mason is careful not to cut contemporary haiku free from its historical moorings in Japanese culture, the book does successfully map its affinities and course through dozens of other influences, mostly Western, demonstrating the why and wherefore of its universal (and ever-growing) appeal. The unfolding of the book's five chapters, each focused on a single theme and accompanied by a gallery of poems from the haiku journal The Heron's Nest, is refreshing, powerful, and illuminating. “Here is a random sampling of the kind of poem selected, interspersed in the prose and featured in the galleries:night of stars all along the precipice goat bells ring — an’ya so suddenly winter baby teeth at the bottom of the button jar — Carolyn Hall evening light a loaf of bread on the cutting board — John Stevenson honeymoon we wade into the current of a great river — Kirsty Karkow
“Additionally, in ‘Solo Exhibition’ at the end of the book, the author has tucked 102 of his own haiku, matching them to the chapter headings.
“For its contribution to appreciating and understanding haiku, we think The Wonder Code is a good bet to stand the test of time and take a special place beside titles by Blyth, Henderson, and Higginson.”
Paresh Tiwari is a recipient of an Honorable Mention in the Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2017 for his volume Raindrops Chasing Raindrops (Delhi, India: Red River Imprints, 2017).
Commentary from the Panel:
“Raindrops Chasing Raindrops: haibun & hybrid poems by Paresh Tiwari is at once electric, incisive, surreal, powerful, unique, and, for lack of a better term, modern. It is innovative in vision, language, and approach, yet, as it pushes at the boundaries of tradition, it does so with measured care, revealing an intent knowledge and respect for the haibun form.
“A hybrid poetic form, haibun is generally composed of prose poetry and haiku. As with any hybrid, most often the whole, in its finest manifestations, is greater than the sum of its parts. Raindrops Chasing Raindrops is a deeply moving example of this adage.
“The prose, or more precisely in this case, the prose poetry, is something of a hybrid in and of itself. Though most often written in the first person, Tiwari’s eye for detail is precise to a point that it seems hyper-objective, thus simultaneously giving it a third person, unexpectedly traditional feel. More often than not, both these points-of-view dovetail seamlessly in the same poem.
“Rather than diminish the power of several pieces via excerpts, what follows is a whole poem which exemplifies some of the many fine qualities of this stellar collection:This year, autumn A cold wave of loneliness has moved into the room upstairs. Having made itself comfortable on the single bed, it gazes through the French window at the bare black branches and ochre leaves carpeting the backyard. The world has begun to turn a melancholic brown. The crow’s caw, the mongrel’s whimper, the saxophone record and even the faces around are a deep shade of bleak. Today, memories look so much like the landscape surrounding me, that I could walk for miles in the labyrinths of my own mind and not know the difference. The occasional scrunch could be falling leaves or sepia photographs rotting away at the edges. turn of season . . . peeling away the stick-on butterflies
Touchstone Distinguished Books Award Shortlist 2017Brandi, John & Martinez, Noriko Kawasaki. A House By Itself: Selected Haiku of Masaoka Shiki (Buffalo, NY: White Pine Press, 2017). Brickley, Chuck. earthshine (Ormskirk, UK: Snapshot Press, 2017). Buckingham, Helen. sanguinella (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2017). Busch, Simone K. von Schatten trinken / sipping from shadows (Norderstedt, Germany: Books on Demand, 2017). Carter, Terry Ann. Tokaido (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2017). Coman, Sonia. Passages (Tokyo: Hoshin Media Group, 2017). Day, Cherie Hunter. for Want (Princeton, NJ:Ornithopter Press, 2017). Deming, Kristen. plum afternoon (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2017). Epstein, Robert (editor). They Gave Us Life: Celebrating Mothers, Fathers & Others in Haiku (Union, WV: Middle Island Press, 2017). Latham, Jessica Malone. cricket song: Haiku and Short Poems form a Mother’s Heart (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2017). Mason, Scott. The Wonder Code (Chappaqua, NY: Girasole Press). Montreuil, Michael (Editor). At the Edge: Raw NerVZ Haibun (Montreal, QC: Éditions des petits nuages, 2017). Polette, Keith. the new world (Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2017). Tiwari, Paresh. Raindrops Chasing Raindrops (Delhi, India: Red River Imprints, 2017). Vakar, Anna. McCullough, Vicki (editor). Sisyphus: Haiku Work of Anna Vakar (Carleton Place, ON: catkin press, 2017).