of the bicycle seat
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.
but not specified by the poet, are conjured in the imagination of each reader by the alchemy of haiku
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.
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
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
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