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Valentine Awards 2001

The Heron's Nest
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Volume III, Number 3: March, 2001.
Copyright © 2001. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

Editors' Choices •  Haiku: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 •  Index of Poets


 
Heron's Nest Award

      winter sunrise
      slowly
      the cockerel finds his voice
                                            John Crook

Aren't adverbs to be shunned in haiku? Generally speaking I believe that they are. When I find I've used one in a poem I usually weed it out or replace it . . . usually. There are exceptions, as there are to most haiku parameters. Each of us brings to the writing table a set of guidelines that we feel to be important, our own personal haiku philosophy. We have each adopted particular aspects of the craft that we honor and with which we wish to comply. The tendency is to grip those concepts tightly. But if we wish to reach the deeper strata of an experience there is a point at which we must be willing to loosen our grasp. This willingness is what enables us to get to the crux of it. We begin to feel our way through words and usages, more often than not encountering a challenge to stray from at least one of our chosen tenets. Do we sacrifice here in order to emphasize there?

The main reason that adverbs aren't much used in haiku is that they tend to tell rather than show. Adverbs serve as expressions of a poet's opinion about the manner in which something takes place, not just the observable facts. With less modification, the facts allow us to determine the quality of action for ourselves.

John Crook's poem features an adverb. It's all by itself, the entire second line! How can this be acceptable? Even though the sunrise is a clear visual image and the cockerel's crowing is distinctly audible, the word “slowly” is the heart of this poem. It is pivotal, referring both to the sun and to the cockerel; it connects them. More than this, “slowly” connects these two images to winter itself, and to all else passing through that part of the seasonal cycle.

Winter: a time when nature has withdrawn into itself. The heart rates of hibernating animals decrease significantly. Leaves wither and fall as the sap no longer reaches stems and twigs. Air molecules slow in vibration, condense, and grow cold. There is less daylight, and the sun, now further away, provides less heat. It arcs closer to the horizon which gives the impression that it's rising more slowly.

The cockerel awakens with the first light. It opens its beak to crow but nothing much happens, except that icy air rushes in and reappears again, warm and white against the gray dawn. Again it tries, managing a short, feeble gaaak. The poet stirs in his bed and half-opens his eyes. The cockerel, compelled by instinct, let's out another hoarse croak, a little longer this time. The poet lies there, awake now, but still in the slow-moving twilit realm between dreams and a new day. He listens as the cockerel's voice gains strength with each fresh effort. He feels the bird's winter as his own.

My thanks to John Crook for his haiku invitation to share empathy.

  Christopher Herold
March, 2001
 


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