Skip to content

HAIKU DIALOGUE – Foreground Focus – Obfuscation (2) & Introduction to Rooms

Foreground Focus & Introduction to Rooms

Thanks to Guest Editor Alex Fyffe for the last few weeks of changing our perspectives. Now we welcome back returning Guest Editor Marietta McGregor with more new ways of looking at things – enjoy! kj

Introduction to Rooms with Guest Editor Marietta McGregor

The month of July is about a room of one’s own, or someone else’s. Many of us spend more time within four walls than we do outside. We are born, die, sleep, eat, write, paint, sew, sing, converse, discourse, learn, worship and interact in enclosed spaces. Often we seek out or create these spaces because they provide creature comforts. Animals have rooms of their own. A bear seeks its den to hibernate. Wombats and rabbits dig to create burrows. Birds build nests. Virginia Woolf extolled the advantages of a private income and one’s own space. Rooms can be working sanctuaries, but if our enclosures become overly constricting or confining, we may feel the walls are ‛closing in’ on us, as many felt during pandemic lockdowns.

next week’s theme: Looking Out

Looking out of a room, with or without a view, watching passers-by, the sun on a sparkling sea, a lush garden you’ve made, or a blank wall; feeling tranquil or trapped, creative or blocked, happy or sad, enclosed or free. This window frames a view from the Troldhaugen home of beloved composer Edvard Grieg, in Bergen, Norway. One can picture Grieg glancing through this window as he composes “Morning Mood” or “Solveig’s Song” for Peer Gynt.

The deadline is midnight Eastern Daylight Time, Saturday July 08, 2023.

Please use the Haiku Dialogue submission form below to enter one or two original unpublished haiku inspired by the week’s theme, and then press Submit to send your entry. (The Submit button will not be available until the Name, Email, and Place of Residence fields are filled in.) With your poem, please include any special formatting requirements & your name & residence as you would like it to appear in the column. A few haiku will be selected for commentary each week. Please note that by submitting, you agree that your work may appear in the column – neither acknowledgment nor acceptance emails will be sent. All communication about the poems that are posted in the column will be added as blog comments.

Below is Alex’s commentary for Obfuscation too:

art shop print
the spider adds a dash
to my Mondrian

Tracy Davidson
Warwickshire, UK

 

“Last Supper”
reframing
another oil

Laurie Greer
Washington, DC

Davidson alludes to Mondrian’s famous lines and rectangles to amusingly observe a household spider’s addition to her print. Just as the spider is creating her own artwork on top of a classic, so is the poet. This is, after all, the effect of allusion, to take something that has come before and add on to it. Greer’s poem doubles down on this, alluding not only to the well-known da Vinci painting but also to last summer’s Just Stop Oil protest, in which several protesters glued themselves to “The Last Supper”. Greer plays on the word “oil” here in both its reference to the protesters’ cause and to the artwork itself, which is an oil painting. The double meaning of the language makes this a delightfully clever poem about our changing interpretations and understanding of art and our world.

haibun
missing the relevance
of the link and shift poem

Ingrid Baluchi
North Macedonia

Similarly, Baluchi’s poem is about art, but in this case the humor is self-deprecating, pointing out the speaker’s own inability to decipher meaning. It is a relatable experience, reading something and scratching your head in confusion – “But how…? What…? Why…?” Here, the speaker can’t understand the jump from prose to poem, how the two connect in any meaningful way. Even in haiku, there have been times the jump between the fragment and phrase has gone over my head. The speaker is obviously well-read, using the jargon of the form (“link and shift”), and so there is also a sense of frustration in the poem since the speaker is the type of person who feels like they should get it.

golden leaves hiding the hiking trail

Dan Campbell
Virginia, USA

 

buried behind
his charming smile
all of the bodies

Kimberly Kuchar
Austin, Texas

The theme of obfuscation brought out poems about things covering up other things, and these two in particular nailed that particular approach. On the surface, Campbell’s poem is a simple fall observation – leaves have fallen over a trail – but the language itself reveals some layers. The leaves are golden, as opposed to red or brown, and so noted for their beauty or sheen, and they are somewhat personified as choosing to hide the hiking trail from others. Perhaps Campbell is suggesting that Nature is just as happy or happier without Man blazing trails through it – Nature needs no trails to guide it along its seasonal journey. There is something more beautiful about the leaves than the trail hidden beneath. But in Kuchar’s take on this theme, the surface beauty is only there to mask the horror under it. We can imagine a Bundy type, someone who has learned to use honey instead of vinegar to lure people into his trap. However, the poem can also be read metaphorically, as even the most charming person has secrets they would rather not have others digging up.

that look
as he abruptly slid
his phone into his pocket

Holly Brennan
Massachusetts, USA

 

a lone sunflower
among the weeds
all his promises

Lori Kiefer
UK

These poems also deal with deception, this time in the form of betrayal. Brennan expects her readers to know “that look,” and everyone will have their own version of it – a sheepish grin, a wide-eyed forced smile, a side-eyed glance. The man is eager to hide whatever is on his phone, and texts to someone else are clearly implied. The use of the verb “slid” is particularly effective here, as he hopes to slide right past any inconvenient questions, perhaps feeling more suave than he really is. Kiefer’s poem effectively juxtaposes the natural imagery of a sunflower surrounded by weeds with the fragment “all his promises,” forcing us to look again at the imagery as a metaphor. To the speaker, the man appeared as a bright, tall, beaming sunflower, but over time all of his words have gone to seed. The speaker discovers that her sunflower is all talk, and now her garden is full of weeds that will take time and effort to pull out again.

marrying
the handsome prince —
ignoring the webbed feet

Lafcadio
USA

The obfuscation prompt brought out a few “red flag” haiku, and I appreciated Lafcadio’s take on that theme, which in this case deals with self-deceit. Using the imagery of fairy tales, she twists the happily ever after into an omen of marital strife. The frog prince may have changed enough to win over the bride, but not enough to be fully human. Interestingly, the bride knows this going in, but perhaps she believes she can love him forever, warts and all, or that she can change him even more fully – she convinces herself things will work out despite the warning signs. This wilful blindness foreshadows not the fairy tale ending she insists upon, but instead a doomed romance.

waiting room
an X on the seat
beside me

Sue Courtney
Orewa, New Zealand

 

candlelight …
how the room
reshapes itself

Annie Wilson
Shropshire, UK

Courtney’s poem took me back to the fall of 2021 when I reentered education after taking a year off and every other desk in the classroom had a big X in blue tape. There is something striking about the image, these distances we enforce for health and safety that also create these strange physical absences that may or may not have been there before, but which now we are forced to confront in the form of these signs that surround us. Wilson’s poem also visualizes the way physical spaces are transformed, how the flickering of a candle moves the shadows around and makes us aware of our constantly shifting sense of reality.

peace or war
your underwear choice
says a lot

Roberta Beach Jacobson
Indianola, Iowa

Like a talented comedian, Jacobson’s word choice and timing are spot on. Juxtaposing the serious, weighty topics of peace and war with the unexpected appearance of underwear is already amusing enough, but that final line cinches it. On reflection, this poem could possibly be read several ways: a satire on modern advertising using social issues to sell everything, including undies; a commentary on how the things people conceal from the majority reveal their true natures; or simply an observation on how people’s undergarments, in times of peace or war, always reveal something about their identities. But no matter how you read it, it’s funny.

the dry ice
plays a song I recognise
for the encore

Mark Gilbert
UK

We know there must be a classic rock band somewhere behind all of that dry ice, perhaps an ‘80s hair band, but for all the speaker can see, the music might as well be emanating from the vapor itself. Increasing the humor of this senryu is the fact that the speaker recognizes the encore song, meaning he has probably had to sit through a ton of new songs the band wanted to play before they finally gave in to playing one of their big hits of the past.

a squashed
church kneeler –
now an agnostic cube

Ann Rawson
UK

Another comic poem, this one manages to say a lot about classification and identification. What once was an object made exclusively to be used for ritualistic purposes in a church setting has been tossed and transformed into an object of indiscernible use. Of course, this also mirrors the journey of many people who are raised in a religious household but whose beliefs change over time until they no longer believe that they were made for a purpose, like the church kneeler, but who identify now with the unknown, the geometry of agnosticism. All the elements that made the church kneeler are still there, but it can no longer function as a church kneeler, and all the things that make the person human are still there, but they can no longer perform what once held meaning for them.

school rush
pausing to gawp at
a rainbow

Louise Hopewell
Australia

Sometimes the hustle and bustle of daily life can obscure the wonders of the world around us. The speaker is in a hurry to be where she is supposed to be, but even so, she takes a moment to look at a rainbow with childlike wonder. Hopewell’s poem reminds us not to let the gray mundanities of the world paint over our sense of awe.

 

Join us next week for Marietta’s selection of poems on the theme of Looking Out…

 

 

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.

The Haiku Foundation reminds you that participation in our offerings assumes respectful and appropriate behavior from all parties. Please see our Code of Conduct policy.

Please note that all poems & images appearing in Haiku Dialogue may not be used elsewhere without express permission – copyright is retained by the creators. Please see our Copyright Policies.

This Post Has 28 Comments

    1. Thank you, Alan, for the comment. From my understanding, the painting of The Last Supper at the Royal Academy of Arts is a copy made by Giampietrino, one of Da Vinci’s pupils, and is listed as “oil on canvas” on their Web site. It is true that the original by Da Vinci himself was a fresco painted in tempera, which quickly deteriorated and has had to be restored many times, but the famous copy on display, painted some twenty years after the original–the one to which the protesters glued themselves–is an oil painting.

    2. Alan–
      Thanks for “clearing that up.” I appreciate your careful reading and wish I had caught the error myself. In fact, I did know this wasn’t an oil painting, but somehow I lost track of that detail amid all the drafts and revisions and reports on Just Stop Oil Actions.
      I’d like to note that this is a perfect example of what can happen when something is rushed out before it’s ready. If I’d let the poem sit for even a few days, I’m sure I would have seen my mistake. But with the time constraints of a weekly prompt….
      Well, if I can revise:
      Peach Trees in Blossom…
      reframing
      another oil
      Not as famous as The Last Supper, but, still, a van Gogh! At the Courtauld.
      ps://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/22/protesters-who-glued-themselves-to-van-gogh-frame-found-guilty-of-criminal-damage

      Thanks again for the correction.

      1. Thanks all for this fascinating discussion, which opens up new perspectives on the original five word poem!

      2. Laurie, I don’t think the poem needs to be changed. You can read up on the painting on the Royal Academy of Arts official Web site, and you’ll find that the painting the protesters glued themselves to is the “Copy of Leonardo’s The Last Supper,” which has been attributed to various assistants of Da Vinci, probably painted in 1515 or 1520.

        https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/work-of-art/the-last-supper

        This version is an oil painting, and so there is no need to change the poem, as the event it is referencing is actually accurate to your original intention. Alan is correct that Da Vinci’s initial painting is not an oil, but the version that your poem alludes to is. Although this could be confusing to someone familiar with Da Vinci’s original process, the poem fits the facts with a little research, and the choice of Last Supper in the poem is a much stronger choice poetically.

  1. Thanks, Alex, for making me look at a different focus throughout your tenure. Your commentary was enlightening and illuminating. I am certainly less bewildered.

    Welcome Marietta, and thanks to Kathy and Lori for the incredible job you do each week to keep this column going.

  2. Good-bye Alex. Welcome Marietta. Thank-you to all whose efforts
    make this column possible.

  3. Many thanks, Alex, for helping us to see things in yet another way. The angles you have had us explore only added to the depth of the haiku. I am in awe of the submissions received and of the time you took to comment. You helped us interpret in new ways, which is also helpful.

    Thanks, too to the editors for their skilled behind-the-scenes work.

    Have a great summer!

  4. Thank you to Alex, both for selecting my haiku for commentary this week, and also for an enjoyable few weeks of prompts.

  5. Thank you so much Alex for selecting my haiku and for your commentary. It was exactly what I was hoping to communicate.

    All best wishes and thanks for your prompts!

    Lori

  6. Alex, I already said something on Twitter, but thank you for including and commenting on my poem.

    I loved reading the selections and the insightful commentary. You noticed some things in other people’s poems that had completely escaped my notice.

    Haiku Dialogue is such a great educational resource for haiku and senryu.

  7. Sorry. I just came inside from some sunbathing. Evidently, my brain was affected by the heat and I posted here rather than in the submission form for next week’s subject – Looking Out! My future as a participant may be ruined and I am despondent.

  8. Thanks Alex, this has been an interesting topic, and I feel it has encouraged people to think in different ways than the usual (when it is the foreground that is generally out of focus or absent). Certainly Roberta Beach Jacobson’s focus on the foreground in front of an epic canvas is reminiscent of a novel (I wonder if it might summarise the whole of ‘War and Peace’ in nine words – I haven’t read it so I wouldn’t know). I feel Kimberly Kuchar’s deals with obfuscation in a skilful, unsettling and complex way.

    1. Thank you for commenting on mine, Mark.

      Roberta’s made me laugh and then think. It’s fantastic.

      I love your poem, Mark. It instantly transported me, and I could see and smell the fog and hear the music.

    2. I haven’t read War and Peace, either, but if Jacobson’s poem is a Cliff’s Notes version, I’d rather read that any day. And I agree that Kuchar’s poem effectively illustrates the unknown depths that a smile can hide and how we can rarely distinguish the smile from the mask, the sincere from the devious.

  9. Wow, what a fantastic selection of poems which truly come into much better focus through your insightful commentary, Alex. I can often miss meanings because I get lost in where a poem makes my mind go. It was refreshing to have you uncover what I had lost.

    Super congrats to Kimberly, Mark, Lafcadio, and Roberta!

    1. It’s up to the reader to interpret it how they wish, whether singular or multiple interpretations.

    2. Thank you, Eavonka. I’m happy to hear that my commentary was able to add something to your reading experience. But as Mark reminds us, my takes are all filtered through my own perceptions and there are other valid ways of processing these poems, too. However you find meaning in them, though, I’m glad to have had the chance to share these excellent submissions with everyone.

    3. I agree with you about Alex’s commentary. It was eye-opening, and I went back and reread some of the poems.

      Also, thank you!

  10. I sure did enjoy reading these and thank you Alex for your review and comments. Louise’s “pausing to gawp at a rainbow” phrase inspired me to use “gawp” in future poems, I love that word!

    1. Yes–“gawp” really made it stand out for me. It just shows the importance of word choice, especially in short-form poetry. A single word can take a haiku from ‘fine’ to ‘wow!’

  11. Thanks for choosing my haiku, Alex. Your introduction to Obfuscation handed that haiku to me on a platter when you said take inspiration from Mosier’s commentary. The “Sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room”, and the image of the X, took me back to the height and long tail of the pandemic here in NZ, and I love how you say above: “these distances we enforce for health and safety that also create these strange physical absences that may or may not have been there before, but which now we are forced to confront in the form of these signs that surround us.”
    I did toy with writing ‘an ex on the seat / beside me’ . . .

    1. I didn’t even think of the homophone connection between X and ex! That carries so many other implications–thank you for pointing it out.

  12. Thank you, Alex, for including my poem in this selection. Honoured indeed.
    You are right in suggesting that sometimes it’s difficult to see the connecting thread between prose and poem (and occasionally the title, too) in reading haibun, but on this occasion, I was thinking about the real conundrum I had finishing one of my own pieces, which prospective editors were happy to accept, but would I change the poem, please? I just hit a very frustrating mental blockage, and discovered, with a lot more reading (especially Ray Rasmussen’s advice), that often the haiku proves the most daunting part. I wonder if others agree?

    1. Thank you, Ingrid, for this insight into the work. I have only tried my hand at haibun a few times, and I know it can be hard to find the right balance between a poem that is too redundant and one that is too obscure, getting it just right so that the poem and the prose resonate clearly.

Comments are closed.

Back To Top