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Valentine Awards 2001

The Heron's Nest
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Volume III, Number 6: June, 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

      crowd of umbrellas
      a child opens his
      face to the rain
                                            Connie Donleycott

“Life is suffering” the Buddha said. From the moment we are born we look for ways to protect ourselves from things that threaten our existence or in any way make us uncomfortable. All manner of contrivances have been created in order to control the environment. We add layer upon layer of physical, mental, and emotional “armor.” What is odd about this is that the world which we wish to shield ourselves from is the very one in which we desire to live. For this reason the armor we've been putting on since birth eventually becomes stifling and can no longer be ignored. The constant quest for comfort and security must be transmuted into an attitude that is more accepting of things as they are, or, as one of my teachers liked to put it, “things as it is.” In so doing we regain perspective and return to a vulnerable, more vital condition.

The circuitous piece of prose above is beautifully and simply built into Connie Donleycott's poem. She begins, not just with “umbrellas” but a “crowd of umbrellas,” illustrating conditioned response–all those adults armoring themselves against the rain, probably without a second thought. But the child, not yet tamed, revels in life, in the feel of rain drops. He is unconcerned if he gets wet. It's fun and exciting. For this same reason children everywhere will stamp their feet in puddles. Connie's poem indicates the condition of mind necessary for us to write or to appreciate haiku. When the press of convention is telling us “Hurry, cover yourself,” we must be willing to slow down and open our senses.

More often than not it is ineffective to end a line of haiku with an adjective. In this poem, however, it is a welcome if not necessary feature. The syntax of the second line sets up a surprise finalé and brings lightness to the poem. We are prepared to learn what the boy does with his umbrella, but instead we are startled into sharing with him the feel of rain. The images in this poem are visually striking as well. The faceless “faces” of umbrellas contrast with the exultant visage of the boy. Although it is likely that the poet saw umbrellas of several colors, I prefer to imagine a multitude of black ones and then, suddenly among them, the up-turned face of a boy. The key word is “opens.” It's what a person does with an umbrella, and also a turning to face something. This use of ambiguity is both creative and effective.

The opening of an umbrella is a rejection of what is. Lifting one's face to the rain is a joyous acceptance. Through this poem I'm reminded that, when overly-protective of my life, I diminish my ability to appreciate the life I'm living. If we open ourselves to this haiku, then we have accepted Connie Donleycott's invitation to take off our armor and be children again. Thank you Connie for a special experience.

  Christopher Herold
June, 2001