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
and now . . . passing through me into eaves — Robert D. Wilson, A Soldier’s Bones: Hokku and Haiku (2013)
Danny Blackwell is spaced out:
This week we had no comments submitted, so it falls upon me to say something about this haiku.
I have to confess that it wasn’t a poem that really spoke to me and, upon trying to say something about it, I’m not even sure what it is about. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as many haiku defy easy assimilation on the first reading and truly benefit from further philosophizing, so the question is whether the problem is the haiku or the reader—in this case, me. Maybe I’m not up to the challenge?
The first line “and now . . .” doesn’t really give much information, and I find myself asking whether it is redundant to state “now” in a haiku. What gives me pause for further consideration, however, is the use of the word “and.” One cannot help wonder what came before it. Beginning in medias res can be an incredibly effective technique. I’m reminded of the opening to Lorca’s La casada infiel, for example, which intentionally starts on the second line, leaving us with a sense of something unsaid, which could either be a reference to what the narrator is omitting, or it could be taken as a reference to the oral romance tradition that often left us with fragmentary texts. (The epic Song of My Cid, for example, is missing the opening.) In this case, I’m not sure I can unravel the reason behind this “and now,” other than to create an enigmatic ambiguity for its own sake. Again, I reiterate, I may not be living up to my expectation as a critical reader. The first line doesn’t give me anything to work with in order to (re)construct the poem, or the poet’s experience. But maybe that is the intention.
As regards “passing through me/into eaves”, we don’t know what is passing through the narrator. The word eaves might suggest rain but, if that were the case, how does the rain pass through the poet and then into the eaves?
One reader asked me to clarify if I had published the poem with a typo. (The email simply read: “leaves?!”) So maybe I am not alone in feeling at a loss.
I could conjecture a variety of readings but I feel like I would be potentially clutching at straws.
The poet has good credentials and the collection this haiku is taken from features introductory comments by David G. Lanoue and David Landis Barnhill.
“Open your mind and expect the unexpected,” says Lanoue of these “wonderful, jarring, delightful, and provocative discoveries.”
Maybe this week’s selected poem is intentionally jarring or provocative, I don’t know, but I’m left feeling like I didn’t quite get it.
“They are full of the pause of ma,” says Barnhill, and talking about the way in which Wilson “cleaves” his haiku to create juxtapositions (“three periods acting as his kireji or cutting word”) Barnhill says that the poet “creates a space for the reader, not to “fill in” that space but to be filled by it.”
For me personally this poem has too much space—and while I would be able to construct a poem from the materials I have been given, I doubt it would bear much resemblance to the experience that provoked the poet to write it. One has to be honest: one either feels something or they don’t, and this poem left me without any real emotional or literary reaction, although I will say that the words are beautiful enough . . . and maybe they are in the right order. Maybe the problem is also one of genre and I am not reading this, as I should, as an experimental haiku. My failure to be moved is no value judgment on the author’s work, only on one person’s (possibly faulty) reading of one poem.
There is no doubt that the poem is able to provoke something in others because it was selected by a reader last week for commentary, so I will leave the comments section open this week and hopefully others out there can give their belated reactions to Wilson’s haiku. (Those of you that wish to comment on the haiku I have selected this week please use the contact form as mentioned in the submission instructions below.)
Last minute addition:
I was fortunate enough to be able to contact Robert D. Wilson, the author of this week’s poem, and he was kind enough to elucidate with the following:
“The now, the moment, is passing through me into the eaves that represent the past. All is static, all is in a state of becoming, the now is a passersby.”
These comments included a caveat: “How I interpret my hokku (. . .) is unimportant. Each reader subjects it to his or her own interpretation. No two interpretations are alike.”
Wilson also clarified that this poem, taken from his collection of “hokku and haiku,” is not a haiku, as I had referred to it, but a hokku, and went on to define his hokku as “action biased,” as opposed to “object biased.” Wilson has some articles online for those that wish to read more on the subject—just click here.
As this week’s default winner, Danny 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!
雨雲にはらのふくるる蛙かな rain clouds inflating its belly the frog — Fukuda Chiyo-ni (1703-1775) (Translation by D. Blackwell)