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HAIKU DIALOGUE – All the World’s a Stage – intermission – commentary

All the World’s a Stage with Guest Editor Alex Fyffe

Welcome to this month’s performance of Haiku Dialogue! Tonight’s program will begin shortly. There will be a brief intermission between acts, and we ask that you stick around until the final curtain call to support the performers. We hope you enjoy the show!

That’s right: The inspiration for the next few weeks is going to come from theatrical terms. Although one might not associate haiku with theatricality, I think that terms like “intermission,” for example, can inspire a whole folio of ideas for haiku poets to explore.

Below is Alex’s commentary for intermission:

There were several clever takes on the theme in which poets used the names of shows or characters in fun and effective ways.

mamma mia
my blind date fails to return
for the second half

Tracy Davidson
Warwickshire, UK

Here, Davidson’s ‘mamma mia’ not only sets the scene – a performance of the famous musical – but also acts as an exclamatory realization that the date has bailed halfway through.

intermission
Juliet passes a coke
to her Romeo

Chen Xiaoou
Kunming, China

On the opposite end of experience, the couple in Xiaoou’s poem, referred to by the names of Shakespeare’s archetypal lovers, share an ordinary moment heightened by the dramatic romance they’ve been watching.

intermission
Hamlet’s indecision
can wait a while

Margie Gustafson
Lombard, Illinois

Gustafson’s observation pokes fun at Hamlet’s infamous indecision and how the very existence of an intermission only serves as a further example of his seemingly endless inability to do something, anything. It seems the audience needs a break from all those inconclusive soliloquies, as well.

A few poems explored somewhat uncomfortable or embarrassing moments.

intermittent chirps
explaining the gaps
in my employment

Jackie Chou
USA

Besides the “intermissions” between jobs, Chou captures that awkward “intermission” between question and answer during an interview. The ‘chirps’ could be the birds outside the window filling in the pauses, or they could be the breaks in the speaker’s voice while struggling to formulate an answer that will satisfy the employer.

letting the chord fade
in the middle of the song
premature applause

Damon Huss
California

I’ve witnessed this a few times during live performances, those moments when the audience starts to clap before the song suddenly starts back up again – it can really take the wind out of the rest of the performance, as now everyone feels a little off, and that shame makes them wish the song really were over, making the second half a bit excruciating. (Or maybe that’s just me?)

Some of the strongest poems I received tackled heavy subject matters, including war.

between wars Auld Lang Syne

Keith Evetts
Thames Ditton, UK

Evetts’s poem reminds me of a headline I read on New Year’s Eve that juxtaposed the global celebration with the unfortunate devastation happening in the ongoing major conflict. The poem itself is an excellent example of concise writing. ‘between wars’ is vague enough to apply to pretty much any time – after all, we’re always either in one war or between two. The follow-up allusion to the song sung by so many to ring in the new year reinforces the cycle implicit in those first two words – year after year, this song remembering days past, and always after one war, another. But the poem isn’t necessarily as pessimistic as that might sound; ‘between wars’ is a time of peace, however short-lived, and there’s an undying hope in the way we continue to take one another’s hand every year, sing, and drink to the good days while we can.

the lull
in peace lilies
deep snow

Daya Bhat
India

Here we have a more traditional nature-themed haiku on the surface, but the choice of ‘peace lilies’ being absent through the winter lends itself to another reading, a commentary on the bitterness of wartime when the flowers of peace are put away awhile.

Other submissions handled the theme of health and sickness.

my seat
on the oncology wing
winter willow

Gavin Austin
Sydney, Australia

Through the neutral tone of the language, we understand that the speaker in Austin’s poem has accepted ‘[his] seat / on the oncology wing’ – it is reserved for him, a place that is no longer new and unfamiliar but just an ordinary fact of life. At least, that’s what the phrase would have us believe. The concluding fragment, however, suggests an underlying sorrow to this acceptance, cold and lonely.

counting seconds
between lightning and thunder
the doctor pauses

Peggy Hale Bilbro
Alabama

Bilbro also uses the concluding fragment to effectively shift her poem’s tone. I remember as a child counting the seconds to tell how far away the storm was and to see if it was approaching or moving away. Taking this common experience that so many of us can relate to and juxtaposing that with the image of a doctor pausing is an unexpected and powerful choice. The lightning and the thunder have become internalized, and it seems the storm may be approaching.

A couple of the selections deal with the topic of change.

transitioning . . .
the time he needs
to let her go

Barrie Levine
Massachusetts, USA

This poem can be appreciated in so many different ways. In its most basic sense, it deals with the way people go through changes and need time to accept them. This general application allows most people to relate to the poem, as everyone has experienced some kind of change during which they have had to let a person go – seeing a child become an adult and head off to college, drifting apart from a loved one and learning to accept they are no longer a part of your life. But thanks to Levine’s use of the word ‘transitioning,’ my first reading of this was the image of a father learning to accept that his daughter has become a son, trying to let go of his conception of ‘her’ so he can embrace his transition. After rereading it a few times, I don’t know if this is what the poet intended, but I found it fascinating that the word choice allows for this reading that explores the complicated expression of parents learning to accept new realities.

cherry blossom
falling later each year…
perimenopause

Adele Evershed
Wilton, Connecticut

Evershed’s change is much more direct, despite the flowery metaphor (or because of it…). The word “transitioning” also applies here, as the speaker is gradually making her way towards menopause, that new phase in life.

Shankar and Straw sent in some unique takes on the theme.

black mirror signing out of the rabbit hole

Shloka Shankar
India

Mindlessly scrolling through the ‘rabbit hole’ of online discourse is a kind of “intermission” from reality – or perhaps reality is an “intermission” from mindlessly scrolling through the rabbit hole? Either way, the phone’s screen is a black mirror into a strange world of conspiracy, and it’s good to sign out sooner than later. The use of ‘black mirror’ is also interesting here, as I can no longer hear the term without thinking of the Netflix series – perhaps this is an intended second reading, in which the speaker is signing out of the endless ‘rabbit hole’ that is Netflix’s streaming service.

old recording
the breath the reader takes
between poems

Richard Straw
Cary, North Carolina

As a teacher, I enjoy playing recordings of Frost, Thomas, Cummings, Plath – I think it helps students connect to the poetry a little better, hearing the voice behind the thoughts. There is something otherworldly about those old recordings from people long gone, voices of the dead coming through in crackling audio, their distinctive, dramatic recitations bringing each and every syllable to life. The breath in this poem is the “intermission” between readings, a space to reflect on the ending of one and to prepare for the beginning of another.

The final two selections focus on the internal struggles that result from relationships.

your silence
what I want
your silence

Bittor Duce Zubillaga
Basque Country

In this haiku, what the speaker wants is sandwiched between the listener’s ‘silence.’ The speaker’s desire has become a long, uninterrupted “intermission” in the relationship, unanswered indefinitely. This could just as easily apply to a personal relationship as it could to a theological one.

coffee break
stirring her words
anticlockwise

Florin C. Ciobica
Romania

Ciobica starts with the “intermission” of the theme, but it is an anxious break for the speaker who spends it replaying something she said. There is a sense of regret in how she stirs her coffee ‘anticlockwise,’ a desire to turn back time, possibly change the conversation. But the words are left floating there in the coffee, going round and round again.

 

Join us next week for our next prompt…

 

Guest Editor Alex Fyffe teaches high school English in the Houston area. His haiku and senryu have been published in various journals, including Frogpond, Modern Haiku, Failed Haiku, Akitsu Quarterly, and the Asahi Haikuist Network. Some of his favorite short form poets include Issa, whose work he discovered in the intermediate Japanese textbook he used while studying in Hikone, Japan, and Santoka, whose writing introduced him to the liberating concept of “freeform haiku.” Currently, Alex uses haiku in the classroom to ease students into poetry and build their confidence as readers and writers. Alex also posts haiku, including translations of contemporary Japanese haiku, on Twitter @AsurasHaiku.

Lori Zajkowski is the Post Manager for Haiku Dialogue. A novice haiku poet, she lives in New York City.

Managing Editor Katherine Munro lives in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and publishes under the name kjmunro. She is Membership Secretary for Haiku Canada, and her debut poetry collection is contractions (Red Moon Press, 2019). Find her at: kjmunro1560.wordpress.com.

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Haiku Dialogue offers a triweekly prompt for practicing your haiku. Posts appear each Wednesday with a prompt or a selection of poems from a previous week.

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This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Thank you for the kind words, Alex and Keith! All the haiku are very high quality. I especially love this prompt as I am an actress as well.

  2. Dear Keith, such a lovely collection – so many of them to ruminate over! Some which are likely to stay with me for a long time:

    between wars Auld Lang Syne

    Keith Evetts
    Thames Ditton, UK

    transitioning . . .
    the time he needs
    to let her go

    Barrie Levine
    Massachusetts, USA

    coffee break
    stirring her words
    anticlockwise

    Florin C. Ciobica
    Romania

    Heartfelt congratulations to all poets and your entire team – for this feast!

  3. All of these haiku are noteworthy, and congratulations to you all. I particularly liked and resonated with Gavin Austin’s haiku about waiting in the oncology wing. A very dear friend of my husband and me recently underwent chemo and one or the other of us would accompany him to his treatments. He had a particular seat that he felt was his, and he would be visibly crushed if it was occupied by another patient. To the end, he was ever hopeful.

    White willow bark is, if I recall correctly, was a natural pain killer, chemically similar to aspirin.

    1. Thank you for sharing. That’s fascinating about the white willow bark — I certainly never would have made that connection.

  4. Thanks, Alex, for your wonderful prompts and perceptive commentaries. You make participating in Haiku Dialogue not only fun, but also educational.

    1. Thank you for the kind words! When I was in high school, I was a little obsessed with Sylvia Plath, so for my birthday — 16th? 17th? — a friend of mine bought me a cassette tape of her reciting some of her popular poems. I listened to “Daddy” quite a lot. Her pronunciation became like a song I could sing along to. Later, when I heard Cummings recite “anyone lived in a pretty how town,” I could never read the poem again without hearing his Winnie-the-Pooh voice. Even now, I hear it in my head, as clear as a Beatles song.

      1. Thanks to the Internet, a short recording made at Harvard University on October 30, 1962, of Sylvia Plath introducing and reading “Lady Lazarus,” “Daddy,” and “Fever 103” is available here:

        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zi67x5roP1E

        And an undated recording of e. e. cummings reading “anyone lived in a pretty how town” is available at the Poetry Foundation.

        https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/22653/anyone-lived-in-a-pretty-how-town

  5. Congratulations to EVERYONE!
    And please someone tell me (write) what the topic is this week… Thank you!

    1. Hi, Zdenka. Haiku Dialogue prompts now appear once every three weeks. After the prompt is provided, the long list appears the following week, and the short list appears a week after that. In the past, a new prompt would appear alongside the short list, but now the short list will stand alone for a week, after which a new prompt will be introduced. Please check back on the morning of Wednesday, January 24th for the second theater-related prompt. Looking forward to everyone’s responses!

  6. Thank you Alex for your excellent choices and commentaries, a testament to the many fine poets in our midst. I appreciate your thoughtful attention and perspective on my “transitioning” poem. Enjoying the current intermission …. after which I shall be eager to resume.

    1. Thank you for the submission — one that struck me right away. It’s exciting when a poem can feel so specific and yet be so broadly applicable.

  7. Thank you so much Alex Fyffe for choosing and placing mine among these fine haiku. Your commentary on each one of them is truly inspiring.
    Thanks again to the Haiku Foundation and Haiku Dialogue team!
    Congratulations to all featured poets last week and this week.

  8. Thank you Mr. Alex Fyffe, and the whole team at the Haiku Dialouge, for a lovely selection of haiku on the theme of “intermission”. I enjoyed them all, learning more on the insights of how a poet interprets a haiku of another. I enjoyed them all with your rich and generous commentries. Congratulations to all the selected poets. Looking foward to the future prompts, selections and the valuable commentaries

    1. That is very kind of you. I appreciate your taking the time to respond. Looking forward to the next round!

  9. Excellent selections and commentary, Alex. I am so impressed by just how many great poems (here and in the long list) came from this prompt. I eagerly await the rest of this series.

    1. Thank you, Eavonka. The new wait time between commentary selections and new prompts might feel long at first, but it also feels very haiku-like — allowing time for things to settle so we can digest these final selections before moving on to the next thing. The theme was very fitting, it turns out, now that we all get to experience this brief intermission together! Hopefully you will find the next prompt to be worth the wait.

  10. Thank you, Alex. The commentary was spot on (gratifying when such a short poem conveys all that was intended). We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet,…

    All the commentaries were admirable.

    I enjoyed the other poems, particularly:

    black mirror signing out of the rabbit hole
    Shloka Shankar
    …all the mad and bad distractions of social media. Off with their heads!.. A heart.

    intermission
    Hamlet’s indecision
    can wait a while
    Margie Gustafson
    …extending out to life itself: to be or not to be. The big question postponed while we get on with things. Or go and have a drink in the bar. Life as the intermission between….

    mamma mia
    my blind date fails to return
    for the second half
    Tracy Davidson
    Awww and LOL and Good Lord! Was it the theme about the prospect of marriage, the music of Abba or the poet herself that scared him off? I had a merry time reaching a chivalrous conclusion. Fine self-deprecating haikai humor.

    1. Keith, thank you for the reply, especially your commentary on “mamma mia” — your remarks make me realize that I may not have given it the full attention it deserves.

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