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Valentine Awards 2000

The Heron's Nest
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Volume II, Number 3: March, 2000.
Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

Editor's Choices • Haiku: 1, 2, 3, 4 • Index of Poets

Heron's Nest Award

      fireplace shadows
      the smell of melted snowflakes
      on loden cloth
                                Charles Trumbull

Here's a poem that provides some fine examples of the use of implication, one of the more essential defining characteristics of haiku. Another strength of this poem is that specific images are presented, yet plenty of room is allowed for various perspectives. The poet arranges these images in a manner that encourages us to interact with them. The harmonizing of sight and scent is also appealing, and the “l” sounds are wonderful!

Right away, “fireplace shadows” presents the first implication. Although fireplaces in disuse often harbor shadows, it is likely that these shadows are meant to imply an existing fire. This becomes more of a certainty as we read each succeeding line. Also at the beginning is a choice of perspectives: to evision the fireplace dark and empty or containing a fire. If there is a fire, is it a quiet flickering or a roaring blaze?

The second line, “the smell of melted snowflakes” is very interesting. I immediately ask myself what a melted snowflake smells like, and just as quickly realize that it must smell of the substance on which it has melted. Curiosity piqued, I'm eager to continue to the third line. But first I look more closely at the second line. The snowflakes have melted, raising the likelihood of an already kindled fire. At this point in the poem, however, it's still within the realm of possibility that there is no fire, that the snowflakes floated down the chimney and now intensify the odor of the soot into which they're melting. Perhaps the poet has just walked in with a bundle of wood and is knealing on the hearth twisting paper spills or placing slivers of kindling in the shadowy fireplace. Until we reach the end of the poem we are held in suspense. Is there a fire? And on what have the snowflakes melted?

The third line pulls everything together. We discover by implication where the snowflakes have melted. (The word “coat” is not used.) And now a live fire seems probable. Surely the poet hung his coat to dry and then sat down by the hearth to warm himself. He gazes into the flames and their shadows. The heat from the fire has melted the snowflakes and the smell of cloth wafts through the room. I too lean back, close my eyes, and heave a deep sigh. Ahhh . . . the smell of damp wool!

I must say that this poem is clear and simple, not nearly as cerebral as I've made it seem. The above thought processes were largely subliminal until the time came to write these comments. Wanting to determine why I like this haiku so much, I searched through what is inherent in the words. In truth, they appeal almost entirely to the senses and to our feelings. The images combine to evoke a mood: relief to be settling down at home, especially with snow falling outside. Charles Trumbull is a marvelous host, allowing us to fill in the details of his experience for ourselves.

  Christopher Herold
March, 2000