How to Read Haiku: Part 2

With The Heron’s Nest Editor Fay Aoyagi and Haijin Chad Lee Robinson

free images, unnamed source

| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 |

Part 2: Commentary by Fay Aoyagi, Editor, The Heron’s Nest

tornado siren
the wind lifts a sneaker print
from home plate

~ Chad Lee Robinson

Fay Aoyagi wrote:

Something that I would call a “photogenic short story” might be a category that Robinson has created through his haiku. Though nothing dramatic has actually taken place, it excites a reader. A person like me, who has never heard a tornado siren, can immediately see that home plate in a dusty field. I wonder who left a sneaker print. Was it his son? Did he play baseball at the same place when he was young? Did a tornado come close to “home”? As an editor, I frequently tell poets “the most important element of haiku is SHOW, not TELL.” This haiku is a classic example of that principle.

There was an internment camp at Fort Lincoln, South Dakota, during World War II. I don’t know if playing baseball was allowed at the camp. But I visualize young Japanese American men trying to act “normal” by throwing and hitting a ball. They might have discussed volunteering to fight in Europe. Some might have suggested the possibility of being sent to the islands where Japanese soldiers refused to come out of caves. Unlike their parents who were born in kamikaze land, their only home was – let’s say – a small rural town dotted with strawberry fields in California. Their first names were John or Michael, not Ichiro or Shohei. They might have grown up sipping miso soup that their mothers made for breakfast, but they could have preferred the pancakes they ate with their schoolmates after an overnight. When they received a notice to pack their belongings in one suitcase, did they expect they would end up in a place surrounded by barbed wire? It was just a siren, a warning – not a real tornado that uprooted them from home. Wasn’t it?

A great haiku, like this one by Robinson, may bring a reader to a deeper, sometimes painful place in her consciousness.

Note: Chad Lee Robinson’s haiku and Fay Aoyagi’s Comments appeared in The Heron’s Nest and were reprinted in Haibun Today 13:3 September 2019. They are used with their permission.

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