Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was
spring foghorn . . . cormorants spilling from an over-crowded ledge — Paul Miller, Called Home (2006)
Lynne Rees is haunted by the spaces between the lines:
Sound, sight and movement, and texture. These are the explicit physical senses through which the haiku speaks to me. But there must be more haunting the images and the spaces between the lines to produce an element of unease in me.
There’s warning in the sound of the foghorn. Spring tides (despite the natural response of ‘joy’ that we have to the idea of Spring) can be dangerous and have stronger than usual rip currents. The company of black birds spills into the air like a ragged cloak of wing and cry. There’s a sense of danger, or risk, implicit in an overcrowded ledge.
The ellipsis at the end of line 1 indicates hesitation and uncertainty. spilling/ at the end of line 2 also allows the reader to experience that sense of falling into the white space on the page. Line 3 ends gruffly with the definite thump of a single syllable: ledge.
Twice in the last two days I have read the closing line from e.e. cummings’ poem, ‘maggie and milly and molly and may’: it’s always ourselves we find in the sea. And the sea envelops this haiku. But while cormorants are creatures of the sea, mostly able to withstand its capricious character, the fate of human beings is less certain.
If I am honest I do not want to face what this haiku has engendered in me: people spilling into a dangerous sea from an overcrowded raft, their (Spring?) hopes drowned. But at the same time I am unable to turn away from it. it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
Of course my interpretation may not be remotely close to what Paul Miller had in mind when he wrote this poem. But all the proof is on the page to assure me that my response is valid.
Clayton Beach is taken back to his childhood:
Cormorants, gawky, long-necked and oily, with a hazy blue sheen over their eyes like cataracts, are ill-equipped for existence outside of the water, but as soon as they enter, they become aquabatic torpedos — disappearing into the murky depths only to come back to the surface minutes later, glutted on fish. There’s a spot along Jimmy Durante Blvd. in Del Mar, California, heading past the fairgrounds to the beach, where one nearly always finds the telephone wires sagging with cormorants, back to back, sunning themselves dry, this ku brings me back to my childhood in San Diego.
Evoking this personal memory for me, the awkward, humorous birds crammed shoulder to shoulder, vying for the warmest spot on a ledge, I find the kigo interesting — is there a deeper meaning to “spring foghorn,” beyond it merely being a foghorn heard in spring? Is it a trumpet call of renewal, ushering in the new season? The foghorn for me usually is a melancholy sound, the deep mists of fall and winter mornings, heard distant and muted from an open window in the wee hours of a sleepless morning, and yet the cormorants evoke feelings of the hot sun glittering on the surface of the bay, their eyes sea-blue and alien, thus there is a conflict and tension between the two images for me.
I imagine a red foghorn buoy, rocking slightly in the bay, the cormorants jockeying for a place on the ledge, perhaps a sea lion is sunning lazily on the other side when suddenly the horn sounds and the birds startle, one after another losing balance and diving into the water, a black cascade of lithe birds, kniving their way into the splashless water.
As this week’s winner, Clayton gets to choose next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.
Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!
人に生死苅田鳥の争うよ Life and death for man; a battle fought by chickens on the paddy stubble — Shin'ichi Takeda, Haiku Universe for the 21st Century (2008)