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haiku commentary ~ Paul Miller

spring foghorn . . . 
cormorants spilling 
from an over-crowded ledge  

Paul Miller, Called Home (2006)


Sound, sight and movement, and texture. These are the explicit physical senses through which the haiku speaks to me. But there must be more haunting the images and the spaces between the lines to produce an element of unease in me.

There’s warning in the sound of the foghorn. Spring tides (despite the natural response of ‘joy’ that we have to the idea of Spring) can be dangerous and have stronger than usual rip currents. The company of black birds spills into the air like a ragged cloak of wing and cry. There’s a sense of danger, or risk, implicit in an overcrowded ledge. 

The ellipsis at the end of line 1 indicates hesitation and uncertainty. spilling/ at the end of line 2 also allows the reader to experience that sense of falling into the white space on the page. Line 3 ends gruffly with the definite thump of a single syllable: ledge,

Twice in the last two days I have read the closing line from e.e. cummings’ poem, ‘maggie and milly and molly and may’: it’s always ourselves we find in the sea. And the sea envelops this haiku. But while cormorants are creatures of the sea, mostly able to withstand its capricious character, the fate of human beings is less certain.

If I am honest I do not want to face what this haiku has engendered in me: people spilling into a dangerous sea from an overcrowded raft, their (Spring?) hopes drowned. But at the same time I am unable to turn away from it. It’s always ourselves we find in the sea

Of course my interpretation may not be remotely close to what Paul Miller had in mind when he wrote this poem. But all the proof is on the page to assure me that my response is valid. 




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