Alexis Rotella is the recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2019 for her volume Scratches on the Moon (Arnold MD: Jade Mountain Press, 2019).
Commentary from the Panel:
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.
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.
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 first hand 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!
See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.