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Volume VIII, Number 1: March, 2006.
Copyright © 2006. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

Editors’ Choices • Commentary • Index of Poets • 
Haiku Pages:  1,  2,  3,  4,  5,  6,  7,  8,  9,  10,  11,  12


Heron’s Nest Award


    summer morning
    of the bicycle seat
                                       Steven Thunell

So often it is a commonplace, unaesthetic sound that sparks a haiku moment of revelation and discovery. The plop of a frog, the cry of a cicada, the squeak of a bicycle seat — unassuming sounds that rivet our attention to the present yet expand our awareness in all directions.

This issue’ Editors’ Choice Award poem by Steven Thunell embarks as someone mounts a bicycle. Readers are invited on a journey through the sights, sounds, and scents of summer. Sensations suggested, but not specified by the poet, are conjured in the imagination of each reader by the alchemy of haiku poetics.

The first line kigo is inviting and vast. Morning is a time of freshness and unlimited potential, when the day is still what you make of it. Summer, for children, is a time of freedom from school and homework, when they entertain and educate themselves by their own resources. For adults it may be a time of vacation from later forms of school and homework, when they can be like children again.

“Squeak,” that wonderfully onomatopoetic second line, suggests age and wear, but also speaks of continuing utility, enjoyment. and exuberance. It is also the sound of a rent in the fabric of time as poet and reader pedal down this morning’s sidewalk and back into childhood as well. The sound’s source (a bicycle) represents for many of us an early taste of freedom and discovery. In later life it remains a vehicle of escape from the drudgery of 9 to 5.

After a brief pause at the end of line two, the long third line gives the feel of the bike getting underway. Its destination is up to each reader, for Thunell’s exercise of craft extends not only to his use of technique but to his knowing when to stop. He skillfully condenses an experience into a seed that can later bloom in our imagination, affirming the reader’s essential role in the poetic process and the poem’s central experience: imaginative freedom and discovery.

The poem is a fine example of karumi, often translated as lightness, and described by Haruo Shirane as “... a minimalist aesthetic stressing simplicity and leanness. For Basho, it meant a return to everyday subject matter and diction, a deliberate avoidance of abstraction and poetic posturing, and relaxed, rhythmical, seemingly artless expression.”1

The lesson taught by haiku’s first great master more than three centuries ago is still true today: “The haiku that reveals seventy to eighty percent of its subject is good. Those that reveal fifty to sixty percent we never tire of.”2



Robert Gilliland
March 2006
1 Shirane, Haruo, Traces of Dreams- Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho, Stanford University Press, 1998, page 269.

2 Yasuda, Kenneth, The Japanese Haiku - Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1957, page 6.


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