The Heron’s Nest
a haikai journal ...
Volume V, Valentine Awards:
Readers’ and Editors’ Choice — Favorite Poems
1st Runner-Up — Billie Wilsonwinter nears—
in the dog’s eyes
Employing just a few key words, Billie Wilson’s haiku is both immediately accessible and evocative of many layers of meaning. Foremost is the relationship of dog to wolf. All varieties of dogs and wolves are closely related and are interfertile. It is wolves, however, not dogs, that are historic icons of evil. Our canine companions are remarkably domesticated, adopt their humans as pack members, bark at strangers, and defend the leader’s territory. They are tamed. And yet . . .
Billie senses a duality in her dog — kinship both with humans and “the wild.” Jack London explored these relationships in his novel The Call of The Wild. “Buck,” a dog raised with humans, is attacked by wolves. He fights and kills the alpha male and becomes leader of the pack. London’s implication is that domestication is a very thin veneer. Communally, wolves hunt for food. They also kill coyotes and dogs as competitors. Any single wolf entering their range will likely be killed. Neighboring wolves are often in violent, tribal conflict.
The first line of the poem is expressive of deeper meaning. The dog-to-wolf relationship resonates within the context of “winter” and as that season “nears.” Shakespeare’s setting of murder and internecine conflict in the play The Life and Death of King Richard III begins with Richard’s soliloquy: “Now is the winter of our discontent...” To become king, Richard kills even his young nephews. Full-blown war results between English armies.
In homage to Shakespeare, John Steinbeck chose to title his Nobel Prize winning novel The Winter of Our Discontent. In it he writes: “The law of the fang is not repealed.” Steinbeck explored the paradox of man’s conflicted nature and stylized this philosophical dilemma within the thoughts of one character, Ethan. A same individual has the capacity for moral and immoral behavior, for selfless acts of good and base violence against others. London peopled his Call with characters either cruel or loving toward Buck. Sometimes a break occurs between idealism and brutish behavior of individuals or groups. This: the winter of civilization. Humans are animals only partially domesticated.
2nd Runner-Up — Anna Tambourpreoccupied—
my hand fills with
Anna Tambour reveals her affinity for non-human creatures with appealing ease and beautiful concision. Her no-frills account evokes a strong sensory response in this reader. The poem will be especially resonant for dog lovers, but just about anyone who has been in the presence of a friendly canine for any length of time can relate to the author’s experience.
In his fine commentary for the poem, which won the May 2002 Heron’s Nest Award, Christopher Herold describes its strengths: the successful use of a line-ending preposition to create momentary uncertainty; a specific rhythm that works for the poem; and the direction to an instant of time and a precise location. Those qualities combine to create another powerful element, a sharp sense of immediacy. Anna Tambour brings me right into the moment with her. Satisfyingly nudged from my preoccupation with the unusual and intriguing first line, I swap the poet’s hand for mine, as it “fills with/dog nose.”
Dogs read the state of the world through their noses. That amazing sense of smell finds lost children, earthquake victims, termites, and pipeline leaks, and is even being used to detect cancer in its earliest stages. But the family pet adds another element to its agenda: regularly updating all it knows about the people who provide it with food and shelter. And even the quietest, most polite creature must have a way to remind a person of its presence. These vital activities frequently involve a cold nose being thrust against human skin.
I happen to know that Anna Tambour and her husband belong to Rosie, a lovely Red Kelpie whose breed was developed for herding Australian livestock. Rosie is courteous at all times and very protective of her people. She is surely a pro at asking and getting answers to questions like, “What have you been eating? How are you feeling today? Did you actually touch that wombat?” Rosie uses her nose.
In seven words, this author has captured the soul and essence of a satisfying human/canine relationship. Anna, thank you for reminding me of that joy.
a small flower
bends our knees
At first glance, it could be said that this wonderful image "bends" a well-worn restriction against anthropomorphism in haiku, but it could also be argued that its clever use of words serves to bring this image into sharper focus, much like bending down to closely examine that which would otherwise be overlooked. That a small flower would be growing along a woodland path is hardly extraordinary. That the travelers would be compelled to stop and look at it prompts us to pause and ask the simple question, "why?" Our minds conjure an arresting beauty that sets the flower apart from its surroundings. The bending of the knee suggests not only the adjustment of one’s height but also the solemn respect and reverence commanded by such beauty. Connie Donleycott has happened upon a rare gem in the most common of places. It is this elusive moment of reflection and unexpected discovery that is at the very heart of haiku.
—Paul David Mena
a piece of driftwood
Hortensia Anderson takes us to the water’s edge and holds us there awhile. I’ll imagine the Atlantic and set myself a bit apart from others who might be on the sand looking out across it. Maybe I have found a secluded strand and am alone as well as lonely. More likely, other human beings are near by. Loneliness can surface even when one is surrounded by friends and family members. It is probably a universal human feeling, a constant for some, a matter of occasional tides or surges for others.
One person facing the water. That is an image that resonates with loneliness. The piece of driftwood is another. Put the two together, toss the wood, add the passage of time, and watch the wood return. Again. And again. The repetition augments the sense of loneliness and is true to its nature. The mood is autumnal, the wood cold and wet, worn smooth by its time in the water. Its appearance is bleak, stark-and full of character. It is representative of its kind and yet unique, suggesting the rawness of human pain and the strength and tenacity of the human spirit. Loneliness keeps coming back; the lonely person does too. Does the poet identify with the driftwood, tossed to the waves and relentlessly returned by them? Does she associate driftwood with the sadness that returns no matter how deliberately it is cast away? Is there a certain comfort and even company in the return of that piece of wood — an acceptance, perhaps, of things as they are? The ongoing movement leaves the haiku appropriately open-ended, with plenty of time and space for the empathetic reader to enter it and move around.
—Peggy Willis Lyles
the black and white
of my youth
The complexity of this haiku lies in its simplicity-with only nine words it unfolds a past, a present, and a future as rich as the album of memories it depicts. On the surface, we see what might be a sentimental journey through old photographs. The fact that the pictures are black and white elicits few surprises given the passage of time, but a moment’s reflection suggests that perhaps it’s not only the photos that are being described this way. Are we hearing a longing for the days when the choices set before us were so clear and concise? Are we to understand that the past is a colorless palate to which pigments and tones are added as we experience life? Or are we being confronted with America’s segregated past, easily forgotten except by the camera? The most literal interpretation of this haiku evokes a sense of innocence etched in monochrome, but it’s not too difficult to believe that the author is handing the reader a paintbrush with which he or she can apply the shades and colors that resonate most distinctly for him or her. With this wonderful haiku, Jim Kacian has opened a door through which each of us can enter, each with an infinite number of destinations.
—Paul David Mena
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