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re:Virals 135

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

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

Michael O’Brien relates:

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.

As this week’s winner, Michael 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 135:

     ‘will this be one of the days i remember?’ and grass
          — Chris Gordon, A NEW RESONANCE: Emerging Voices in English-Language Haiku (1999) 
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