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The Heron’s Nest

a haikai journal ...


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Volume VI, Number 3: April, 2004.
Copyright © 2004. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

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


Heron’s Nest Award


Exceptional haiku strike resounding chords within us. At the time of reading them, we may not be directly aware of the consequences; nevertheless, the way we respond to poems that touch us influences how we subsequently read and write haiku. Many of us have a collection of the works that continue to inspire and drive this organic, ongoing process. Of the haiku in my own trove, none beg explanation. Each one speaks clearly and emphatically for itself. This is such a poem:

    through a snail shell
    and the snail
                                      Katherine Cudney

As is primarily true of outstanding haiku, this month’s award winner glows brightly on its own. Each reader will respond according to his or her life experiences without direction from a commentator. Yet, even as I acknowledge that quality, I am grateful for the opportunity to write a tributary review. During the formal exploration of a significant haiku, my appreciation and understanding of it invariably expand.

A haiku is most likely to reverberate when the reader discovers an unexpected association between two different things within it. Ideally, the juxtaposition of independent images produces an effect beyond what the reader first sees or understands. Restricting a poem’s focus to a single object or topic frequently precludes discovery on the reader's part. However, I am not acquainted with any editor of English-language haiku who considers the combination of disparate images an absolute prerequisite for haiku. The fact is, poets often achieve success with uncut or lightly cut single-object poems. Discerning editors appreciate the value of such works.

Katherine Cudney’s “sunlight” is a notable example. Katherine evokes certain expectations, then gives readers the unexpected. She does this without juxtaposing dissimilar elements. After reading the first two lines, “sunlight / through a snail shell,” I imagined that the shell was empty, the mollusk long gone, fulfilling its destiny in the food chain. I might have muttered, “Ho hum,” hoping the juxtaposition of the unrelated image that was sure to make up the third line would stir my interest. But lo! The last line gave me the creature, the snail itself, translucent in sunshine. This worked beautifully against my expectations.

Katherine’s skillful presentation, focusing on a single topic, summons a balmy, gentle mood with almost mystical overtones. “Snail” is traditionally an all-summer kigo. I perceive the poem as a celebration of those early, warm days when green growing things still look new, when the mild sun is so inviting that even the delicate snail stretches out . . . and a poet can watch it fill with light.



Ferris Gilli
April 2004


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