Comments on Frogpond, Winter 2011

I wrote the following comments in December 2011 about selected poems from Frogpond 34:1, Winter 2011. I first posted these comments on the Learn Haiku page on Facebook.

Comments on selected poems from the winter 2011 issue of Frogpond:

        ebb tide


        to stay longer

                Katrina Shepherd

If we read the first line as the subject of the sentence and the gerund (verb) as applying to ebb tide as the subject, this poem can be read as personification. But that’s not what it means at all, and it’s a mature or experienced poet who hasn’t forced an em dash onto the end of the first line to prevent that misreading. The poem trusts us to realize that there’s a cut after the first line. The ebb tide is a context or setting, and it stands separately from the rest of the poem. Then we have someone (an implied person, not the ebb tide) wanting to stay longer. It is easy to infer, of course, that the person is the poet him- or herself. Now we have to ask ourselves why the person wants to stay longer. Well, because of the ebbing tide! We can then imagine all the joyful wonders of tidepools or whatever is left on the sand when the tide is ebbing, and I wish I were there too. This poem is masterfully done, and requires us as readers to deliberately reject a misreading (that the ebb tide is personified) in order to achieve its leap of understanding.

        in the features of the wind


        a paper dragon

                Adrian Briedis Macovei

This is a one-phrase haiku. Without looking it up, I suspect that a paper dragon (surely a kite) is associated with a particular season, at least in Japan and maybe China. I like the fact that the wind could both hide and reveal itself in a paper dragon, as it blows the paper. The wind is blowing, and the dragon is moving with it, always naturally finding the way in which the wind affects it the least, the way water cannot help but flow downhill in response to gravity. That behavior or action to create the least resistance (the way a weathervane turns to point out the wind’s direction) is essentially a Taoist notion—something we might think of because of the Chinese or Japanese reference in “paper dragon.” The paper dragon resists the wind as little as it possibly can, and that is how it becomes “hidden” in the features of the wind. This is a very sensitive poem. Putting “hides” on a line by itself emphasizes how important that word is to the meaning of the poem, or at least the meaning I extract.

        vees of geese

        who’ll tend your grave

        when I’m gone

                Robert B. McNeill

What line 1 has to do with lines 2 and 3 is excruciatingly important, and lies at the heart of the art of juxtaposition. And this one is done extremely well. The structure requires you to make a real leap to understand the poem, yet I think it gives you enough information so you can actually make that leap. First, “vees of geese” is an autumn seasonal reference. It’s a melancholy time of year, an ending time. That fits appropriately with the fact that someone has died. The poet asks a poignant question of themselves, spoken to the person who has died (at whose grave he is standing). The person is thinking not only of the person who has died, but off into the future, contemplating even his own death. This is very fitting in the context of migration and autumn. An engaging haiku.

        downgraded hurricane

        combers hiss

        back to the sea

                Robert Seretny

Combers means, of course, beachcombers. Hiss is an unusual choice of words. But the point is that now that the hurricane is downgraded, the beach won’t be as ripe for beachcombing, so no wonder the beachcombers are hissing! The clue to understanding the word “hiss” lies in the word “downgraded.” Perhaps the beachcombers were initially disgruntled that a hurricane was going to keep them from their habit. So maybe they should be happy that the hurricane was downgraded. But perhaps they are now upset that there wasn’t a hurricane because now the beach won’t be nearly as interesting to go beachcombing at if there’s not such a powerful storm. That, to me, explains “hiss.” The poem strikes me as very carefully crafted.

        An addendum (16 December 2019): Combers also means waves that have reached their peak and have broken into foam, thus sounding like hissing. I don’t know how I missed or did not discover this meaning, but the word combers is not common where I live. So much for my initial thought that “of course” combers means beachcombers. Still, I appreciated this poem for my misreading of it. I now feel certain that beachcombers were not intended at all, but the poem still portrays the waves after the hurricane in a sympathetic and arresting way. [See also In the “Eye of the Beholder: Haiku Interpretation, which discusses my misunderstanding.]

        autumn wind

        blowing the shadows

        out of a tree

                Gregory Hopkins

What is happening here lies in what is left out. The wind is not really blowing the shadows off the tree; rather, it is blowing the leaves off the tree, and they are taking their shadows with them. Here you can see how vital the seasonal reference is—we know the leaves are being blown off because it is an autumn wind.