by Ferris Gilli
The following poem won an honorable mention in the 2021 Peggy Willis Lyles Haiku Awards, sponsored by The Heron’s Nest. The judge was Ferris Gilli, who wrote the following commentary. First published on The Heron’s Nest website, summer 2021, and also published in the printed anthology, The Heron’s Nest, #22, 2021. See also my postscript at the end.
my daughter tells me
her doll won't sleep
Michael Dylan Welch
This haiku reminds me of the time I overheard a little boy tell his mother quite firmly, “Benji (a stuffed bear) is so tired of drinking plain milk, and if he won’t drink it, I won’t either!” Most parents know that a great many small children have imaginary friends. We also know that children personify inanimate objects, especially dolls and stuffed animals. They ascribe internal states to objects in the context of pretense, but they can also make those assertions quite seriously. With children, sometimes anthropomorphism goes beyond mere pretense.
While “winter squall” is a compelling setting, its more subtle link to the rest of the haiku should be noted. The word “squall” can mean strong gusts of wind associated with thunderstorms or heavy snow, and “squall” can also mean the loud cries of a child. As I am always uneasy in harsh weather, the first line of the haiku takes me out of my comfort zone. The next two lines strongly imply that the child is also uncomfortable, and I empathize with both parent and daughter. Drawing from my own childhood and over half my life as a mother and grandmother, I am moved by the familiar moment in the poem. The poet’s daughter is frightened by the winter squall, or maybe the noise of the storm is keeping her awake. She may believe the doll is having the same experience, or she could be expressing her feelings through the doll. I think that, in the poem’s context, it would be well to comfort both child and doll.
An aspect of this haiku not mentioned here, but which is important to me, is the poem’s sounds. I hope the squall/doll rhyme is unobtrusive (as it seemed to be or the contest judge might have mentioned it). And yet I hope that rhyme tightens the poem sonically. But beyond that, other sounds are repeated: w, d, s, and t especially, but also “er” three times and “ll” twice, and “daugh” offers assonance and consonance with squall and doll. Even “me” and “sleep” have a near rhyme, as do “wint” and “won’t” and “daught.” The use of euphony in haiku seems too often overlooked.
—27 August 2021
On 7 May 2022, this poem also appeared as the featured “Per Diem” poem on the Haiku Foundation website. +