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Volume XIV, Number 2: June, 2012.
Copyright © 2012. 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



    morning tide
    the seaside town
    smells of breakfast

               Jon Baldwin


The March regional meeting of the Haiku Society of America in New York featured a workshop, led by Jeff Hoagland and Geoff Van Kirk, focusing on scent images in haiku. It included an exercise in which samples were passed around so that participants could attempt to identify a scent without any visual or contextual clues. Of the nine samples that I was able to test, I identified only four correctly, a score of less than fifty percent and therefore, I presumed, a failing score. To my surprise, this proved to be a tie for the best score of the day. Since three of the four scents that I identified were foods, I was immediately reminded of this experience when reading Jon Baldwin’s “smells of breakfast” and I’m delighted to be presented with the opportunity to contemplate and celebrate a haiku that appeals to the olfactory so directly.

If they had been able to bottle the ocean smell and present it to me without visual cues or context I believe I would have recognized that, too. It’s one of the primary “colors” of scent and, from my very first encounter, seemed unaccountably familiar. So, for me, this poem has both the smells of breakfast and the ocean in it.

Readers who have themselves spent some time by the ocean will probably imagine a very particular “seaside town.” Mine is Ogunquit, Maine. I can remember driving there from Albany, NY with the windows closed the entire way and, upon exiting the car in the parking lot of a shore side restaurant, being instantly enthralled by the combined sensations of the ocean scent and my own hunger. The particular nature of the town one imagines will have significant consequences for the reading of this poem. Many seaside towns, large and small, have some sort of balance between a tourist quality and a local quality, each of which prevails in certain seasons.

It has often been observed that haiku are poems featuring a heightened awareness of time, the seasons, and the ephemeral quality of every aspect of our world. This sense is addressed directly in this poem through the invocation of tides, a time of day, and the morning meal. It’s an easy step from there to imagining the flow of people into and out of diners and restaurants and the longer waves of tourists in and out of town as the seasons turn. All of it very much a part of one great organic entity.

I find the choice of the word “smells” interesting. There are so many synonyms for the olfactory: scent, aroma, fragrance, odor, bouquet, etc. It seems to me that the poet has picked one of the more “neutral” words. Perhaps this is the best means of giving the haiku room to be inclusive for readers with somewhat different experiences. I do note that almost none of these words seem entirely neutral: I feel that “smell” leaves room for the inclusion of something not entirely pleasant, while “aroma” seems especially redolent of foods, and “fragrance” of flowers or things that smell like flowers. The word “smell” does have the virtue of being potentially taken as either a verb or a noun, though the latter sense requires that we presume a second caesura. This is probably not intended.

Back to that H.S.A. workshop for a moment; the point was made there that we are better at identifying scents when we have a context for them — a juxtaposition, if you will. Jon Baldwin’s poem has a lovely interplay between the presented image — breakfast smells — and the overwhelming undertones of the sea scent.

For me, the strongest resonance relates to a comparison of the nature of the “tides” of local and tourist season diners. Whether tourists or locals, by the sea we encounter a mixture of the strange and the strangely familiar.



John Stevenson
June 2012




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