Heat Wave

First published in Notes from the Gean 3:4, March 2012, page 22. Originally written in September of 2007.

heat wave—

the horse blinks away

a gnat’s life

—Carole MacRury

One supposed rule of haiku is to use concrete objective imagery, yet here is a poem that successfully employs abstraction—referring to the concept of the gnat’s “life.” Yet it works because everything else in the poem is concrete. We can accept the fact that there’s a heat wave, and enter into what that means—lethargy, sweat, and a longing for cool shadows. We can easily see a horse blinking, too, and can marvel in the poet’s close observation in seeing a gnat at a horse’s eye. But imagine if the poem’s last line were just “a gnat.” That could work, too, and perhaps we could leap to the same realization of the contrast in size between these large and small animals. Yet saying simply “a gnat” would lack not just the realization that the gnat’s short life has ended, but the larger interplay between the objects of the poem and the subjective realization of the poet. This is best done as lightly as possible, however, for too much subjectivity or abstraction drowns a haiku. By inserting just this touch of abstraction, the poet reveals her engagement with the objects described, and we as readers see that as well as seeing the objectively described images. Whether this was achieved consciously or accidentally is of little consequence. What matters is that haiku can be larger than a purely objective description, if carefully handled. The key detail is to find the necessary balance, as this poem does, between the primarily objective depictions and that touch of subjectivity or abstraction.

Carole MacRury’s “heat wave” is from Haiku Friends Vol. 2., Masaharu Hirata, ed., Osaka, Japan: Umeda Printing Factory, 2007, page 68.