Favourite Haiku by Ferris Gilli

The haiku that I most enjoy have open doors, often bringing me into another country or different culture from my own. They may give me an unexpected appreciation for some aspect of nature or human nature, or present a new way of looking at something long taken for granted. Often having the power to transport the expectant reader, they have the ability to evoke emotion, and are vivid, sensuous, and uncluttered. For many years I have gathered such treasures found on-line and in print, and of course in submissions to The Heron’s Nest. These few comprise only a tiny drop in a very large bucket of favourites. I couldn’t possibly pick a “top ten” from so many, so I chose, almost at random, ten that inspired me to write why they continue to resonate.

children’s laughter –
a weekend father
with sticks in his hair

Ron C. Moss, Tasmania, Australia (THN VIII:3)

This haiku fills me with such delight, in spite of the sense of poignancy. A father who can be with his children only on weekends, clearly showing his love and willingness to be whatever they need him to be. The first line leaves no doubt that the children are overjoyed to have their father for whatever time allotted them. The poet depicts a multi-layered situation with perfect concision – no word could be added or removed without lessening its effect.

low tide
gull and gannet shadows
pick shells

Patricia Prime, Auckland, New Zealand (THN XIII:4)

This is such a familiar and resonant image to a beach lover like me. I never tire of watching the shore birds, and it’s lovely to have such a scene evoked through a haiku. Patricia succinctly depicts it – “pick shells” is just right. Although the poet doesn’t say, I’m imagining the time when shadows are stretched and long. This poem evokes a sense of peacefulness and satisfaction with the day.

the softness
of lamb’s ears
garden for the blind

André Surridge, Hamilton, New Zealand (THN XIV:1)

The first two lines bring anyone familiar with the soft, fluffy foliage of the perennial lamb’s ears right into the haiku, into spring.  With expert concision, André Surridge puts the reader’s hands on the plant, lets the fingers feel and stroke the velvety leaves.  And then comes the unexpected jolt upon reading the third line. At this point, I consider how strongly focused, how vital the sense of touch is for a blind person stroking the plant, feeling the felt-like foliage.  I can mentally picture the soft, dusty-green leaves, imagine the shape and size, the tenderness of new growth – but a person who was born blind could “see” something quite different, through touch.  The poet has added an extraordinary layer to the poem.

new coolness
the old dog stays
closer to home

Barbara A. Taylor, NSW, Australia (THN XII:4)

Barbara shows the autumn season and the location and circumstance with admirable concision. I am reminded of my own dogs over the years, the poignancy of their ageing. At the same time, the simple statement of the last two lines inspires a question: Is it only the dog who stays closer to home? Those lines could be metaphor for the changes in human lives. The poem sets a mood, draws me in, and makes me think.

magpie season
the schoolgirl’s lunchbox
on her head

Cynthia Rowe, NSW, Australia (THN XI:2)

My initial delight with Cynthia Rowe’s poem occurred without a certain bit of information. I intuitively imagined a young girl in spring just goofing around as kids do, probably wishing the school day were over, or celebrating that it was. With a minute of research, however, the juxtaposition of images opened another door. I found that spring is magpie season in Australia, when the birds are nesting and sometimes swoop on to humans who are perceived as threats – and thus clinching the kigo and a reason for the lunchbox’s location (in one fell swoop, so to speak). With or without the added knowledge of magpie behaviour, I find the imagery immediately appealing.

temple steps –
a man with a snake
offers to tell my future

Sonam Chhoki, Thimbhu, Bhutan (THN XII:4)

A fortune teller with a snake at first struck me as an incongruous image in this religious setting. I’m sure, however, that Sonam didn’t write the poem for its perhaps potential shock value, but rather to share that in his experience in this kingdom in the Himalaya Mountains, such occurrences are commonplace. The matter-of-fact way he presents the imagery is part of its appeal. I’m also reminded that in some parts of my own country, handling of venomous snakes is not only allowed in certain churches but is in itself a religious activity. Poems such as this and countless others from around the world invite me to explore (with an open spirit) differences and similarities between peoples and inherited conditions of life.

early morning
the rain falls lightly
on water-jar lids

Patrick Gallagher, Bangkok, Thailand (THN II:12)

I love Patrick’s poem for the surprise of the third line and its overall sweet musicality. A joy to read aloud, this one makes me yearn to hear light rain on water-jar lids. (Through other of his haiku, I also know that Patrick sometimes finds wall-lizard eggs in his medicine cabinet and green vipers in his flower pots.)

shades of autumn
the gleaners come
in rat-grey coats

Lorin Ford, Victoria, Australia (THN XII:2)

With lean and limpid imagery, Lorin Ford offers a wealth of discovery between the lines of her poem. In “shades of autumn” I see an array of colours (including the welcome hue of harvested grain), although the only colour named is “rat-grey”. That unremarkable colour is enhanced by its juxtaposition with the first line. If the gleaners traditionally wear such coats, then rat-grey might itself be an autumn colour in this location. The adjective “rat-grey” is significant in another way, being a direct reminder of the rodents that come for any grain left in the fields. I couldn’t miss the not-so-subtle comparison between gleaners and rats.

sun-touched gully . . .
the wool and bones
of a passing winter

Thomas Powell, Armagh, Northern Ireland (THN XIV:3)

I can’t satisfactorily explain how this haiku affects me. I find it stark, incredibly beautiful, and pure. Here together are evidence of a harsh winter and the promise of spring and new beginnings. The sun touches everything, even the remains of death. Each reader will make of the poem what he or she will, perhaps seeing it as metaphor, or forming clear and stunning mental pictures taken completely at face value, as I do.

sprigs of mint
in a blue mason jar
twilight breeze

Patricia Tompkins, California, USA (THN XV:4)

Patricia uses only twelve syllables and seven words of wonderful imagery in this lovely poem to appeal to the visual, olfactory, and tactile senses. This spring or summer haiku is so light and airy, I feel that I can almost float within it, enjoying the fragrance of mint and the feel of the breeze. The colour of the jar juxtaposed with “twilight” enhances the sense of the time of day, and “mason jar” adds a touch of home. I feel at home here.

Editor’s note: Ferris Gilli is a long-time associate editor of The Heron’s Nest who lives on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia and is an avid birdwatcher. When she is not writing haiku and teaching, Ferris writes mystery novels. She has travelled widely and has previously lived in South Carolina, Florida, Paraguay and Germany. She has won numerous awards for her poetry, including haiku, renku, senryu, tanka, and sijo. Read an extensive interview with Ferris about her life and haiku here.