winter night
reaching a page
someone has folded

Kieran O’Connor

blue-sky

Of all nights, winter nights lend themselves to the cosy indulgence of a good book, of settling into that favourite chair by the fire or comfortably sitting in bed with a cup of something warm . . .  This haiku suggest narratives where the reader sets the scene, reminding me that the few words of great haiku often step back, almost disappear once they have created a space where the reader might wander in their own way and conjure what they will.

Oh yes, narratives where we supply the details; was there a particular book that came to mind with this haiku? For me it was Great Sea Stories of All Nations and last night’s story from this volume, A Memory by John Masefield certainly came to life in the imagination, full blown in billowed sail. The poet has us imagining a second-hand book to be sure, possibly giving us a glimpse of their own character as we detect they belong to that ‘community of readers’.  Perhaps he is one who fossicks through second-hand book stores or is a regular at the local library. Was this book lent by a friend? Was it left by someone on the train? I know of people doing such things deliberately, trusting to fate their gift to become an unexpected windfall for some unknown person. Who, we might wonder, has previously read this book, who is that someone whose hands it has passed through and folded that page?

We might be led to wonder what inclines people to fold the corners of pages. Is it simply to mark where they are up to, and in this case did they finish the book? are they still living or have they passed away? Might this folded page record a moment of someone beloved? Perhaps it is to mark a paragraph or sentence of particular interest (and what counts as particular interest is of course a varied thing), a clue perhaps to an unfolding mystery, something comical, a spicy scene. Is it something that rings true to be shared with another or is it a piece of gorgeously written prose to be enjoyed over and over? What glimpses of this other reader’s character might Sherlock glean from this fold?

Exchanging thoughts with the poet, he tells me that the use of the word winter here is to suggest “solitude, a sense of separation and loneliness. And coming to a page in a book where someone had marked their spot I felt a connection to this other person. It was like someone else had been reading the same page, words and phrases as me, and it was a feeling of connection. I guess for me haiku is about connection, and someone in the past being on the same page as me was like a reminder that you are not alone with your thoughts and feelings and that others have been there too.”

There is a lovely understated sense of time and history in this haiku, of the present and of the past, of the days, months or years that have elapsed since this book’s last reading. My mind wanders also to speculations of the future, to books that have passed through my hands and the thoughts of some future reader who might pause to wonder on reaching a page I had folded – some of them, many years ago.

First published: The Heron’s Nest XIV:4 (December 2012)
The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems 2012

Selection and comments by Simon Hanson