The Heron's Nest

Volume XIX, Number 2: June 2017

Editors' Choices

sweltering night
a hole in the backyard
bleeds scorpions

Anthony Itopa Obaro
Okene, Nigeria

she asks to ride
the winged horse home

Robert Epstein
El Cerrito, California

where an army
swept through a wheat field
hopping sparrows

Michael McClintock
Clovis, California

The Heron's Nest Award

sweltering night
a hole in the backyard
bleeds scorpions

Anthony Itopa Obaro

This haiku is astonishing. From its first line—"sweltering night"—which seems to encompass the entirety of the world's heat and darkness, to the shifting focus that brings the scorpions into sharp relief, to its word choice, the poem hits the reader with a visceral, almost physical impact.

With its local subject matter, the poem also provides a great example of Shiki's shasei technique. Poets, Shiki argued, should not constrict their art to topics which appeared in classical poetry, but should "take . . . materials from what is around,"1 whether that's dandelions, mist, coxcombs, or—in this case—scorpions.

It's always worth remembering that the 'sketch from life' of shasei is not just the repetition of an interesting scene from reality; an effective haiku selects an image from nature and presents it in a way that makes it remarkable.2 Like Shiki, Obara shows mastery in the act of selection and arrangement.

I've already mentioned the shift in focus, but it's worth returning to. The break between the second and third lines is particularly arresting: the juxtaposition between "a hole in the backyard" and "bleeds" brings you up short as a reader, and the poem's final word—"scorpions"—serves to re-engage you and, at the same time, re-focuses everything that's come before. "Sweltering night" takes on a new, more menacing dimension as the scorpions trickle from the open wound in the earth behind the poet's house.

In short, this is an excellent composition from a poet who's new to our pages but who will surely make repeat appearances.

Stewart C Baker
June 2017

1 - From Shiki's "Random Questions and Random Answers," quoted in Janine Beichman's Masaoka Shiki: His Life and Works, p.46

2 - From Charles Trumbull's "Masaoka Shiki and the Origins of Shasei," Juxtapositions 2.1


The Heron's Nest XIX.2 (6-17)

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