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re:Virals 134

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

 
     plum blossoms 
     I make plans 
     for my ashes 

          —Carolyn Hall, The 2006 Spiess Memorial Contest, First Prize

Peter Newton finds equality:

Spring is a time of renewal. So it makes sense that one’s thoughts might turn to planning for the future. But the hard truth in Hall’s poem is a future in seeming contrast to the light-hearted theme set out in the first line. Sometimes, those of us who will be cremated speak of what will happen to our ashes. When I think of those conversations they are somewhat light-hearted. Carefree in a way. Some people want their ashes scattered in the sea, in a lake or over a meadow but usually the action is the same–that of scattering. Letting go. Surrender.

The plum blossoms in Hall’s poem are also scattered it seems, though the action is implied. That’s where the ashes come in. These short-lived plum blossoms are the poem’s triggering image. There’s a whimsical, familiar and fanciful tone to the usually somber act of planning for one’s ashes. Perhaps this speaks to the specific character of a poet, or a haiku poet—one familiar with the characteristics of plum blossoms. Maybe the ashes will be scattered among them. Hall’s poem is intensely personal and tender as if to say plum blossoms, people . . . we are all equal in the end. The reader can’t help but pay respects for the living.

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As this week’s winner, Peter 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 134:

 
     rolling a cigarette
     the canoe drifts
     just where I want to go

          —Michael Ketchek

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. c’est la vie

    The first line of the poem is an experience smokers of rolling tobacco are quite familiar with, or ex-smokers in my case. I smoked rolling tobacco for many years and the quick effortless and calming practice of rolling the cigarette, that comes with years of experience, would be somewhat lost on a non smoker. That being said the last two lines generously make up for this as everyone is welcomed into the poem.

    The visual scene, if one takes the poem literally, is quite generous. I can feel the sun coming through my shirt onto my shoulders. The current moves me away from the tall grass on the bank. I lick the gum on the rolling paper and close the deal. I feel for a lighter in my jean pocket only to remember I put it my breast pocket. The flame kisses the tip and I inhale. The water’s current sets me on course and I feel good as I exhale into a rich July sky.

    This poem can also easily be read metaphorically – letting things go, or what will be will be, floats on the surface, in the small first line only to be ripped open in the second – that jab hook combo found in many good haiku. The general public are presumably not privy to the intricacies of canoes and water vehicles but we are all aware of currents and the rivers innate want to roll. It’s poetic in itself to the point of cliche so it’s worth noting how Ketchek not only avoids the word river but all direct reference to water is completely avoided. There are many ways to skin a cat as there are as many ways to avoid a babbling brook under a cooled jeweled moon for the skilled poet. It is somewhat obvious to say then it’s not a poem about smoking or even riding a canoe – it seems to be a narrative of somewhat affectionate or passive nihilism – a secular God’s will. Maybe the author might even refer to this as c’est la vie – we’ve all got a term unique to our local and culture.

    An interesting side note is the somewhat visual similarity between the canoe and a hand rolled cigarette. The poet could have easily picked boat over canoe – rowing boat would even have added some alliteration to the r in rolling and cigarette.

    Personally I do enjoy the poem as it reminds me of wasted summers smoking and riding canoes on the canals where I worked and lived in North Holland. A hard week spent grafting and just lolling the weekend away – because, why not? We’ll all end up where we want to eventually.

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