The Heron's Nest

Volume XXII, Number 1: March 2020

Editors' Choices

pasture fence
where the paint ran out
a bluebird's song

Rick Tarquinio
Woodruff, New Jersey

Dixie cups
so many
words for grief

Francine Banwarth
Dubuque, Iowa

wanting an answer
but not the truth—

Tanya McDonald
Woodinville, Washington

The Heron's Nest Award

pasture fence
where the paint ran out
a bluebird's song

Rick Tarquinio
Woodruff, New Jersey

Robert Frost famously declared that a poem "begins in delight and ends in wisdom."1 America's favorite pastoral poet doubtless had in mind longer works than haiku, as this amplification suggests:

It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life—not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion.2

Short though it naturally is, our Heron's Nest Award winner wonderfully fulfills Frost's dictum—and with the level of reader engagement for which haiku is justly prized. We shall explore that presently, but first I'd like to go behind the scenes to our virtual conference room here (and here, here, ... and here) at The Heron's Nest. You come too.

* * *

It's late December, and from the roughly three thousand haiku submitted to our team of editors over the prior three months we've chosen 123 for publication in the upcoming March issue. Now we dive in once more to select, individually, our fifteen favorite poems ranked by order of preference. Our managing editor receives and tabulates these votes along with his own, then shares the results. Weighted for preference level, the top three cumulative vote-getters become our Editors' Choices (presented above). They're each exemplary, and I'm especially excited because it's my turn to write the commentary for our Heron's Nest Award poem, by Rick Tarquinio.

By mid-January I've drafted my essay and shared it with my fellow editors for comment. Some kind words arrive, all gratefully received. It becomes clear, though, that a few of my colleagues brought an alternative reading to the poem—one that never occurred to me, but one that I find intriguing and even compelling. While we were unanimous in our high regard for the poem, we obviously entered into it from different directions. I've learned to respect and even appreciate such differences, most especially from colleagues whose haiku judgment I hold in high esteem. (Perhaps this openness was primed by my own professional background in marketing and consumer research.) We each bring different life experiences and perspectives to bear on whatever we encounter, on or off the page.

So let me share with you our two main schools of "pasture fence" interpretation, represented in equal numbers among members of our team.

Some read this poem from the point of view of an unspecified observer/participant, most likely a projection of the reader. She (or he) happens upon a pasture fence in the country, then strolls beside it for some period of time. (One could do worse than be a stroller of fences.) As she ambles along she may be casually aware of her surroundings or just ruminating about this or that: where the fence will lead, how long it will last, why it was put up here in particular or is needed at all, and the like. Just as she notices the fence paint ending she hears a bluebird's call. Somehow, at that moment, her sense of place, time and even reality expands. She feels buoyant ... maybe even a little light-headed.

Others read this poem from the point of view of a person engaged in the process of painting the fence. He (or she) may have begun near a barn or farmhouse but is now farther afield, having been at the task for some time. He is entirely absorbed in the act of painting, focused on how the surface of the wooden fence takes in the paint, making certain that he is not leaving bare spots. For a couple of hours, perhaps, his world is the fence and the paint. (Good fence painters make good meditators.) When he gets to the end of his first can of paint he stops for a moment, maybe just to stretch his back and arms. In that moment he becomes aware of the bluebird's song and then the entire world beyond the fence—a complete shift in register! But, alas, he has more fence to paint before he sleeps.

* * *

Frost's delight/wisdom prescription might be reformulated here as "a tale of two e's."

ecstasy: a state of overwhelming emotion; especially: rapturous delight [Merriam-Webster, definition 2]

The bluebird's song comes as a surprise in line three, and a delightful surprise at that. I, for one, anticipated some sight, quite possibly unpleasant, but hardly a lilting serenade. A fellow editor informs me that bluebirds often nest in the hollowed-out spaces of old fence posts, so its aural presence is entirely plausible in this poem's setting. Yet it's also most auspicious: the bluebird is Mother Nature's poster species for happiness, celebrated as such across continents, cultures and centuries in literature, music and myth. Here its exuberance—and ours—is further amplified by contrast. The fence is a man-made confinement, but one with its own limits—like its current state of partial protection from the elements. The bird is untethered, needing no such protection, and its song unfettered; it completes the scene, beautifully, where the paint runs out.

So does this poem end in delight rather than wisdom?

epiphany: an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking [Merriam-Webster, definition 3a(2)]

Like most memorable haiku, Tarquinio's fine poem does not end with its last line. With our active engagement, it resonates apart from the page and within our minds and hearts. Each of us editors experienced a moment of insight, a small clarification, a bit of wisdom, a minor epiphany. Or, in Zen Buddhist terms, perhaps it was something of a mini-satori: for the fence strollers among us, it manifested in an accretive glow (think Soto school); and for the fence painters among us, it came as a sudden flash (think Rinzai school).

* * *

Upon first encountering this issue's Heron's Nest Award poem we editors took two divergent roads. But in the end we could each in our own way conclude (with apologies to Caesar and due props to an unseen bluebird): "I came. I heard. I awoke."

And that has made all the difference.

Scott Mason
March 2020

1 Frost, Robert. "The Figure a Poem Makes" from Collected Poems of Robert Frost. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1939

2 Ibid.


The Heron's Nest XXII.1 (3-2020)

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