A Hundred Gourds 5:2 March 2016

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One breath – a commentary on a haiku by Laryalee Fraser

by Jo McInerney

Laryalee (Lee) Fraser died in 2013, having written haiku for the comparatively short period of ten years. As many will be aware, over that time she exerted significant influence, in part through her generosity as a mentor and a moderator on the haiku workshopping forums Haiku Hut and AHA.

Fraser’s work can be readily found on her website and blog. This website, a leaf rustles, features a selection of her own haiku, haiga and haibun and an anthology, titled a procession of ripples, of other haiku she admired.

The following is a discussion of one of Fraser’s haiku

tug of her hand –
a heron one breath away
from the sky

first published in The Heron Nest 7:3, 2007 and also accessible on Fraser’s website.

Fraser deftly creates both distance and wonder. The fragment implies the presence of someone other than the speaker. As with a number of Fraser’s haiku, a child is significant, suggested here through the urgent, innocent pressure of ‘tug’. The adult observer has been alerted to a nearby heron, though it seems likely she has already seen it. What she now knows is that her young companion has also. Line two creates a hushed, wondering expectancy. The bird is so close, ‘one breath away’ - the distance covered by a sigh - and ready to be frightened off by one rash exhalation. The reader can sense adult and child united in rapt silence and share their appreciation of what is almost within their reach. Fraser’s use of pauses is important. There is the usual cut at the end of line one, but there is also a caesura after ‘heron’, enough for a rapid intake of breath, exactly what the two observers can be imagined to do in response to what is before them. Line three completes the moment. What is anticipated is the bird’s flight; it is not only ‘one breath’ from those watching, it is the same distance from lifting into the air. This is part of the source of the heron’s wonder - its capacity to rise effortlessly into another dimension. At this point it has yet to do so; bird, adult, child and reader are all poised in temporary stasis. In this haiku, wonder grows out of a sense of distance, not only the narrow physical span between the human observers and the bird, but the vast existential distance between us and this wild, winged creature. Yet the drama is played out against a backdrop of human intimacy. Initially the child’s insistence appears a threat, as it may startle the heron. But neither adult nor child speaks; a mutual recognition keeps them silent. Then the reader realises that even at the outset the child signalled wordlessly. Thus, it seems, there is an achieved prior understanding between adult and child, a reverence held in common which the reader is invited to share.


A large sampling of Fraser’s work was included in the in memoriam written by Susan Constable and featured in A Hundred Gourds in December 2013. This includes a number of haiku not previously published.

There are also some lovely examples of Fraser’s work in:

Ambrosia,Issue 1, Autumn 2008

Ambrosia Issue 4, Summer, 2009

A selection of Fraser’s work is also available at The Living Haiku Anthology

A Leaf Rustles ​is the gateway to Fraser’s haiku, haibun and haiga with a link to her Picasso album, Poetry and Art.   Other unpublished poems can be found on her blog.


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