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