On a haiku by Jane McBeth

school bell . . .
her anorak wings
wheel with the rooks

Jane McBeth

This is a March haiku from The Haiku Calendar, and a charming one, I think. It’s full of life and gorgeous observation, and just the right side of being too sentimental.

The sound combinations are instantly attractive – bell/wheel, -rak/rooks and wings/wheel/with – and help to bind the poem together. The Greenland-Inuit-derived word ‘anorak’, when used in its original meaning of an outdoor jacket rather than as a metonym for an obsessive, is happily anachronistic, as it instantly reminds me of the Seventies, when every kid wore an anorak.

It’s as though there’s a gust of wind which is making the back of the girl’s anorak ride up like wings when she hurries back into school at the ringing of the bell, but McBeth has the sense to let the reader intuit the presence of the wind.

The word ‘wheel’ is often used in combination with rooks, as in David Cobb’s haiku published in Blithe Spirit in 1992 and anthologised in Wing Beats in 2008:

after the fall
seeing the rooks wheel round
behind the poplars

I’m not convinced Cobb’s haiku needed ‘seeing’, and I vaguely remember him saying as much. The half-rhyme of fall/wheel does the same job as McBeth’s bell/wheel, but in a more forced way, since Cobb, as an Englishman, would much more naturally use the word ‘autumn’ than ‘fall’. For that reason, and because of its subtle application of ‘wheel’ to the ‘anorak wings’ rather than the rooks, McBeth’s haiku is much more interesting.

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