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
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
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.