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re:Virals 132

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

     how many
     become one
     sound of rain
          — Jacob Salzer, Frogpond 38:3 

Lynne Reese gets loopy:

I have a particular fondness for line-break—perhaps because I came to haiku from writing free-verse where line-break is the principal structuring tool. But it’s still something that matters to me in constructing haiku, although I approach it with a lighter touch to avoid any overly dramatic effect that a longer poem might be able to carry and dilute.
And it was the idea of line-break that immediately hit me when I first read Salzer’s haiku, on the page and out loud . . . the idea that the haiku would work as well without any:
how many become one sound of rain
The haiku’s theme of oneness, alongside the option for the reader to pause in multiple places to play with the sense of what Salzer is saying, make it perfect for the monostich form. BUT . . . that’s not what Salzer chose to do so instead of simply imposing myself on the poem I want to look deeper and appreciate the author’s intention.
The line-breaks definitely slow the poem down: the slight breath pauses at the end of lines 1 and 2 followed by the white space on the page, before we read over to the next line. It creates a more contemplative mood than the words ‘running’ across the page on a single line.
Line 1 poses both a question and a statement: how many? or [this is] how many. It reminds me of the powerful opening to a koan.
Words placed at the beginning or ends of lines tend to carry more weight and line 2 ends on ‘one’ which reinforces the theme of unity
And the 3rd line isolates ‘the sound of rain’ adding more power or presence to the image.
So yes, it works for me in three lines too. But in my head I can’t help it taking on the form of single line that loops me back through itself, enjoyably, again and again.

Edwin Lomere shares the experience:

Jacob captures both the sight of rain gathering into a possible torrent, and the sound of it arriving: or simply the sound of the merging drops striking the back wall of our imaginations. I envision a tin roof, and then take it from there.

This is a brilliantly expressed moment that we all have experienced.
The fact that the poet painted it with so few words, attests to his skill.

Ajaya Mahala merges:

This is a magnificent haiku on the theme of coalescence. Rain begins with condensation, merger of particles with particles and then a whole sequence follows. Drops join drops, puddles merge with puddles and an undulated landscape becomes hidden under the water. There is no precise mathematical calculation for all these and there is no one to keep record of the changes. This is the ‘aha’ element in the haiku and a quick demonstration of the truth of Nature that it is capable of change. There may be a slow event spreading over a millennia and an event squeezed to minutes of a short drama can be there as well. With rain, there is a magical turn of events all of a sudden and it makes the mind of the observer a bit philosophical too.

In oriental literature, first rain has been considered to be a trigger for the feelings of love. The hearts of lovers run to their beloved ones and in the process many hearts join together. Rain takes us to the past, to the childhood or young days. Here times join with each other in this moment of celebration, sadness or nostalgia.

As this week’s winner, Ajaya 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!
re:Virals 132:

     spring rain
     rereading my own book
     I fall asleep
          — William J. Higginson

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Thanks to everyone for your comments! Interesting to consider the monoku. Never considered that before. It definitely works well.

    This haiku was inspired by several experiences, but 2 in particular stand out:

    The first: In the U.S., we (far too often) live in a divided nation. So many things in life divide us. Yet, the Great Seal of the United States is a latin phrase, E Pluribus Unum, which translates to: “Out of Many, One.” This unifying principle (that is inherent in the very name of our nation) has—far too often—not lived up to its values within the hearts and minds of some people. Indeed, strong principles in writing mean nothing unless they are actually lived and put into action. Yet, despite witnessing the violence, separation, and dissonance, I also experience moments of peace, progress, and collaboration.

    One example of this unifying principle is writing letters to my Senators and House Representative, through the guidance of Jennifer Hofmann, who provides intelligent weekly action items for Americans of Conscience. ( This communication effort is driven by the principle of compassion, where basic kindness and respect takes precedence.

    The second: my experience managing an international haiku anthology, Yanty’s Butterfly, was an international, collaborative effort, where a group of poets in our Haiku Nook Google+ community came together to create an anthology after the passing of haiku poet Yanty Tjiam (1981–2015). Yanty’s kindness and gentleness touched the hearts and minds of many people, and inspired us to become one, to create one book, in her honor, and in her memory.

    Someone once said that our differences are not what divides us, but our lack of respect for our differences. If we see our differences as expressions of one totality, and if we actually live our lives based on basic kindness, then it seems there would be less dissonance, less violence, and more collaboration. So, the hope is this haiku may inspire us to create more friendships, and discover more bridges between us, in a world that far too often appears to be broken and fragmented. And this fragmentation—ultimately—seems to be an illusion, in a world where everything is connected with everything else. This principle of inter-connectedness simultaneously creates enormous opportunities and challenges.

    We know it takes many pieces to create a whole, just as it takes a village to accomplish greater goals that no one person could do alone. So may we work more collaboratively in teams, and keep our little ego at bay, openly admit our faults and weaknesses, and treat each other with more kindness and compassion, in order to build a better world for ourselves and our future generations.

  2. Thanks so much for these wonderfully enlightening commentaries! I always look forward to Virals because I know I’ll learn something new. I particularly appreciated Lynne Reese’s take on this haiku. Kudos to all!

    Peggy B

  3. .
    how many
    become one
    sound of rain
    — Jacob Salzer, Frogpond 38:3
    I write a lot of rain haiku, and I see how rain can be an oddly unifying phenomena just like heavy snowfall.
    The first line of “how many” makes me think “how many does it take to…” or “how many” as a number, where those Boolean or zeros and ones are both separate and an ultimate one, as in one image. It also brings me back to a number of famous Japanese woodcut prints, and I’m sure we have our favorites as well as some in common.
    Ah, become one, an urge for some of us to merge, for good or bad, from mob mind to spiritual dropping away from our endless brain chatter.
    The sound of rain, or as I think of it at times, the song of rain, where there is just that release from all other sound, and white noise, where it becomes a lullaby.
    Wonderful comments by everyone!
    warm regards,

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