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Martin Walls
Poet

 


Storm over Solvay—
Bright gulls skirl about a thick
Cloud of umbrellas

I live in Solvay. So that’s where the image originates. I see Solvay in the distance when I’m driving home from the city. So I’ve seen storms brewing. Because that’s there the weather in Syracuse starts, I guess—Solvay being the first of the smaller villages on the outskirts of Syracuse to get the weather coming from the west.

And then, one of the first things you notice driving at Solvay, say along Route 690, by the lake, are the seagulls. When a storm comes—I know this from my childhood home in England, where there are lots of seagulls—they start to get very antsy.

The cloud of umbrellas, I’m imagining. A sort of metaphorical pun. The storm clouds become a cloud of umbrellas, which are also thick and black.


Fizz of cicadas
Slows as evening cools—lights hum
On in Armory

One thing that haikus do, especially those written by Basho, the most famous of the haiku writers, is they create equivalencies. So here there’s an equivalency between the sound of the cicadas and the sound of the lights humming on.

It’s a sound image that I’ve used before in poems. When the temperature rises or falls, the speed of the cicadas’ song speeds up or slows down. It’s kind of fascinating. They’re like living thermometers.

So I’m thinking of a summer evening, and talking about cicadas, and the fizz of cicadas slowing as evening cools. Then, just as the cicadas wind down, the human element comes in—the lights. I like the way they always come on in a kind of hum.




The same pub warmth that
Melted the slush I stepped in
Will help me forget!

I came to the States from England. There’s really no pub in Syracuse like the pubs we have in England. The pubs there are very different.

Traditionally they were meant to be more like someone’s living room. They would have tables, rather than a bar. I like a place that has wooden tables. If I was to choose my favorite, I would have to say there would be a fire burning. And good beer—what Americans would think of as lukewarm English beer. And friends. Those are the elements, I think, that make up a good pub.


Blue heron stretches
City wide wings—summer haze
Settles on the lake

I was driving along Onondaga Lake Parkway, and I saw a blue heron land. It’s a spectacular sight, because they are such large birds and so uniquely constructed. I had written about them before; in my collection of poems I use an image in which I compare the heron—seen this time in Indiana—to an umbrella, because they have the delicate, angular and clumsy structure of that object. They seem no more than bones and feathers.

This time the heron stretched its huge wings and immediately the phrase “city-wide” came to mind—and there was the sudden “panning out”—close observation to expansive—that my haiku needed.

Jazz in Clinton Square:
Here, the lap steel guitar—there
Summer lightning strikes

I teach at the downtown YMCA. I was returning from a summer class there on writing haiku, and there was a summer jazz concert in Clinton Square. A summer storm also was approaching, and so I could see the distant lightning and at the same time hear a lap guitar.

It was as if the steel guitar was the sound of lightning. That was a moment of synesthesia, as when the sight or sound of something produces a reaction in another sense.

This is fitting for haiku—in fact one of Basho’s best haiku is very synesthetic, in which he describes the sounds crickets soaking into rocks in summer.

Fishermen gone home
Lights cast their lines in the lake—
Catch a quarter moon

I live in Solvay, and when I’m driving home from town, especially in the summer, I often notice the lights from Liverpool casting reflections in Onondaga Lake. When the lake is still the reflections can be very long.

This haiku came out of that observation. The quarter moon is there, as a reflection, and the long reflections are fishing lines, going after it.

Come to think of it, this haiku “re-tells” a tired old cliché: we often say a shadow or reflection is “cast” without examining the metaphorical world of fishing where that verb comes from.

Hips swing in the breeze
Trumpets snaring the late sun
Jazz in the City!

This poem celebrates the long-running jazz program produced every summer by CNY Jazz in neighborhoods across Syracuse. It’s a time of community celebration, dancing and joy, and I wanted to capture that in this art form.

Because it’s haiku, I’m also trying to connect the local to the cosmic, to amplify one and give praise to the other (for instance, in the image that compares the glistening brass trumpets to the setting summer sun).

Capturing the rhythm of jazz in a “Western 5/7/5 haiku” is a bit of a trick, so I went with a kind of syncopation, with three beats in the first short line and four in the second longer line. That’s my version of the three-quarter time you might find in a jazz!

 

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