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The Heron's Nest

a haikai journal ...


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Volume IV, Number 9: September, 2002.
Copyright © 2002. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

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

Heron's Nest Award

      family album–
      the black and white
      of my youth

                                            Jim Kacian

      Nature has its seasons, and so do our human lives. Focusing on a family album, Jim Kacian experiences a moment of heightened awareness and insight that links his personal life to a particular time and place in cultural and social history.

      Technology has changed. Color photography is the norm now and has been for some time. The black and white family pictures from his youth are dated in more ways than one. What was once commonplace and expected seems odd, catching the author's attention and adding to the sense of transience the pictures must already have stirred. I think of my own family photographs, black and white, sometimes glossy, sometimes matte, right through the fifties, with color snapshots becoming more prevalent from the mid-sixties onward.

      A far more profound change was taking place in the United States during those same years. Race was a major issue as society slowly and painfully moved toward integration. Jim Kacian was born in 1953. In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that compulsory segregation in public schools denied equal protection under the law. In 1955 Rosa Parks was jailed for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. The successful bus boycott soon followed, as did the Civil Rights Act of 1957. By the time Kacian was old enough to be aware of such things, the Civil Rights Movement was well underway. Growing up in the Sixties, he witnessed a decade of struggle and reform that revolutionized society. Whatever his family album may or may not show of the upheaval, the mature poet is surely conscious of it as he looks back and thinks of “black and white.”

      Chances are he also thinks of the black and white of oversimplification. Often the young are passionate, seeing right and wrong as clear opposites. The elders of any generation may become “set in their ways,” adhering to fixed codes, regardless of how well those codes stand up to tests of logic. While practically all established standards of behavior came into question during the Sixties, the moral judgments of that era seem simple and innocent compared to those of later decades.

      Kacian's poem is compressed, seemingly artless, and infused with expansive energy. It appeals to the senses, the emotions, and the intellect. Ordinary language and readily available associations open large spaces for the reader to enter and explore. Just nine words link to a whole era and speak clearly of transience and awesome change. The last line brings us back to the personal, and the poem circles to its beginning. The family album is a concrete and meaningful presence. The poet's tone is somewhat detached and slightly humorous as he focuses on the black and white photographs, intuitively recognizing all those shades of gray.



Peggy Willis Lyles
September, 2002

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