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re:Virals 17

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

     story hour
     we fall further down
     the rabbit hole
          — John McManus, bottle rockets 28 (2013)

John’s rabbit hole of a poem drew many down. Rebecca Drouilhet felt it to be a continuation of the same magic as its source:

The magic of storytelling comes alive in John McManus’s haiku. I find myself lost in the story of Alice in Wonderland or any number of other stories that draw me in and whet my appetite for more.

Kathe L. Palka takes this concept a bit further:

“story hour” by John McManus is a poem of rich and multiple possible meanings. Is there some intrigue afoot full of lies and deceit in the form of a story told which furthers the deception and confusion of those involved? Or is the meaning more pleasurably engaging. The pleasure of getting completely lost in a good story. A father reading to his children when all are both immersed in the perfect intimacy of the family moment and in the world of the story. McManus’s poem recalls the pleasure of total immersion for both the storyteller and those listening to a captivating story — how all become one with the tale and with the telling. In this case all tumbling down the rabbit hole with Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland. Down the rabbit hole and into the adventure.

Shrikaanth Krishnamurthy placed it within his own childhood and adult experiences:

This haiku nicely captures the innocent fun of childhood. Line 1, as the fragment, introduces story time. The phrase that follows expands on it and alludes to the mysterious and imaginative world of stories and a child’s imagination. It encapsulates the wonderment and pleasure that most of us have experienced in the past.

We can all recall a time when we went off on imaginary adventures spawned by the stories we heard from an elder, maybe a parent or grandparent. This connection gives rise to nostalgic memories of times spent on a loved elder’s lap and other related memories. On reading this haiku, I fondly remembered sitting at night with my sister on the steps in front of our house, hearing the stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharata from my parents. And this brings further memories.

Of course, there is also the possibility of the fear of the unknown that we have all experienced as kids. Listening to some gory details of fairy tales often incites the imagination of kids to make up even scarier details which may result in dreams and nightmares. So, nearly everyone can connect to it. “Falling into the rabbit hole,” as an expression, came into being after Alice in Wonderland. This connection reinforces the essence of the haiku.

All in all, this deceptively simple haiku says a lot more than its words through the associations it evokes.

As an aside, I note that “story time” is also the name of programs on certain religious websites and radio stations, often with a proselytizing agenda. This also could lead people down a rabbit hole . . .

And Peter Newton brings it from the child’s perspective home to us as adults:

John’s got a strong series of poems that feature childhood variations in his body of work. Some great poems. And this is another.

This is the story of childhood writ small and also as large as one’s imagination allows — told from the adult’s perspective. He hints at the engrossing power of a well-told tale. He references our willingness when we are young to run away as far and fast as we can into the unknown. But the act of falling down suggests harm. What a toll time can take on a person. While an hour of storytelling can transport a person to miraculous realms of rabbitry. A lifetime can also bring a person to “fall further down.” To become disoriented a la Alice in Wonderland. So this child-centric poem suddenly turns into a poem about aging. The distance fallen from that first “story hour.” Time is the central point I take away from John’s poem. How precious it is. Psychedelic because that’s what time is. Mind-altering. And sacred as a tale to a child.

Our winner this week is Jo McInerney, who identified some of the metaphor’s reach for us today:

John McManus’s haiku suggests the power of the imagination when taken by a captivating narrative. Through ‘story hour’ it presents story-telling as a spoor we follow to strange new worlds.
John’s allusion to Lewis Carroll’s ‘rabbit hole’ metaphor places the storyteller as gatekeeper, spirit-guide, midwife drawing the reader or listener through the passage between one realm of existence and another.

One particularly interesting aspect of this haiku is the use of ‘further’. This suggests we actually live by way of imaginative re-creation, constantly moving further down the ‘rabbit hole’ as we birth and rebirth our own existence. We may be our own myth makers, the creators of our own stories. ‘Fall’ seems to imply the inevitability of this process. It may not be something over which we have conscious control.


As this week’s winner, Jo 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 17:

     their wings like cellophane remember cellophane
          — Lorin Ford, Roadrunner IX:2 (2009)
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