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The Heron's Nest

a haikai journal ...


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Volume IV, Number 10: October, 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

      spring snow
      the compost pile

                                            Hilary Tann

      Spring snow has a specific character. It is often unwelcome, this late arriver. Especially as part of a storm, spring snow evokes human feelings of impatience for winter to end. This kind of snow can be a very wet, sticky substance, and the flakes are sometimes huge. As it falls, it can be difficult to see through and is hard to clean off things like glasses or car windshields. Such snow is fleeting, however, and usually gone with the next sun.

      Hilary Tann has made a brief haiku that is neither terse nor insufficient. Arranged carefully, each of the five key words gives the reader a complex image. The writer has shaped the delivery of the poem's music with skill. An auditory effect, the lengthy “O” sound of “snow,” creates a pause. A moderate tempo is achieved with the second line that leads smoothly to the one-word third. The same effect, open-mouthed without finality, comes with the sound of the last word, “steams.” Not many single words can carry the weight of a line of haiku. As a verb, and in this context, this one is successful.

      Two modified nouns are presented before the verb, yet there is action inherent in “snow,” “pile,” and even “compost.” Apposition of snow with steaming compost reveals the poet's affect and her skill in expressing it effortlessly, unadorned with ego.

      The snow may have been falling as this haiku was experienced. My own reaction is that it snowed overnight, and that snow and steam were seen the next morning. In either case, this mention of snow calls to mind the swirling pattern of descending flakes. The motion of the steam is obvious. What comes to me with a bit of reflection is the reason for the steam. Active composting occurs when plant material is being eaten by many kinds of worms, insects, and small things. When a pile is hot, when it can steam in cold conditions, it is the work of bacteria. Farmers have learned not to pile new-mown hay, but to leave it spread on the field until it decomposes some. Given the right air and moisture, a large stack or barnful of such hay could burst into flames. Hilary's compost was mounded deliberately to increase heat and encourage rotting. The labor has been done to collect and pile weeds, leaves, and plant trimmings to ready a spring garden and to enrich its soil later on. The microorganisms are also hard at work on the provident feast. Perhaps the gardener, holding to artificial calendar notions, has tried to hurry spring. I can envision colorful seed catalogues spread on a desk. The order envelopes may have already been addressed and licked.

      The moment of this haiku, so keenly felt by the poet, is that precise part of seasonal change when both spring and winter hold sway.



Paul MacNeil
October, 2002

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