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Volume IX, Number 1: March, 2007.
Copyright © 2007. 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,  13


Heron’s Nest Award


    circle of lamplight —
    I complete the baby quilt
    begun for me
                                       Carolyn Hall


Haiku poets and critics, ancient and modern, agree that one of haiku’s essential features is a sense of seasonality. When nature and her seasons are effectively linked to human experience great emotional depth is possible in a brief poetic expression. In some haiku, seasonality may be explicitly conveyed by a season word. In other instances, such as this issue’s Editors’ Choice Award winner by Carolyn Hall, it may be implicit, a feeling or sensibility that dwells everywhere in the poem without specific mention anywhere.

The visual image in the first line creates a frame-within-a-frame, focusing our attention and drawing us intimately into the poem’s activity. The em-dash marking the end of line one functions like a kireji, the Japanese “cutting word,” giving emotional emphasis to the image that precedes it, as well as providing its own frame that separates the poem’s two juxtaposed images.

The circle and light and darkness are visual and spiritual images that resonate throughout the entire poem. In our species’ infancy light was fire, which also provided warmth and safety from dangers real and imagined. In our personal infancies such a sense of security and comfort was most likely afforded by a treasured family quilt or tattered old blanket. The passage from darkness to light marks the end of an old day and the start of a new one. The circular glow of the light suggests our planet’s path around its lamp, the sun, a journey responsible for the very seasons we celebrate in haiku. The circle is also a symbol of continuity, and the seasons that mark our ascendence, decline, and eventual demise flow seamlessly one into the next, year after year.

The theme of continuity is picked up in line two; the quilt begun for the poet before she was born is now being completed by her. Quilting, often a communal activity, is here carried out in solitude. The family and friends who first worked on it have possibly passed on, but they are present in the quilt that bears their love and craftsmanship and in the love and skill with which the poet, whom they probably taught to quilt, completes their work. Might the quilter be completing this now for a new relative, and might other babies she will never personally know one day be comforted by it as well?

For me, the season that resonates throughout the poem’s images and deepens its emotional significance is winter. Perhaps the most complex of haiku’s seasons, it seems the very edge between light and dark. The cold brevity of its days makes us take stock of the rapidity with which our time here is passing. It is the season of completion, of the cycle of the year, and of our lives. Though it is the time of the longest, coldest nights, it can also be a time of austere, even lush beauty. In the midst of this cold and darkness, the gradual lengthening of days hints that powerful forces of renewal are at work, for the point at which a circle is completed is the point at which it begins again.



Robert Gilliland
March 2007


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