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
if trees could be landlords — Eve Luckring, Heron's Nest XVII:3 (2015)
Christina Pecoraro states her conditions:
Eve Luckring’s one-liner, it seems to me, perfectly fulfills the definition of haiku offered by Ogiwara Seisensui (1884 –1976), whom Alan Summers quoted last week: “a haiku is a circle, half of which is created by the poet, and the other half completed by the reader.”
To me “if trees could be landlords” sounds like a prompt a teacher of creative writing might use to elicit something imaginative, fanciful or humorous from his/her students. It calls out for completion—or as Seisensui might say—for another half, a mate.
The conditional “if” invites us to fantasy and conjecture. This is reinforced by the equally conditional “could be.” What “could be,” isn’t—or isn’t yet— though it harbors possibility and potential.
The trees aren’t landlords, or not yet, Luckring seems to say. Who knows? If they could be, perhaps they’d forbid anyone to cut them down or uproot them so that dwellings could be fashioned for other creatures. Why not stone, instead, or mud or brick or something else?
I like to think the opposite, however, that “if trees could be landlords” they’d actually urge us to make dwellings of wood, offering their very substance to that possibility. For when reading Luckring’s haiku, I thought immediately of the wisdom attributed to Native American, Chief Seattle. “The earth does not belong to us,” he says, “we belong to the earth.” Which is another way of saying “We are not earth’s landlords, earth is ours.” Though addressed to humans who too often ignore that, it could also be addressed to trees who don’t. Trees get it. They are, after all, in the business of sheltering…rent-free. If they could be landlords besides, my guess is that they’d also give themselves with abandon to such groups as Habitat for Humanity—and for payment accept nothing at all.
Radhamani Sarma ponders the comparison:
Very delighted to comment upon Eve Luckring’s haiku. Eva is a Delaware born poet and in this one-lined haiku, beginning with a conditional clause (‘If trees could be landlords’), the images of objects of nature and humans are interwoven. Viewed in proper perspectives, both trees and landlords symbolize strength. One common feature governing both the images is that both trees and landlords stem from the common feature of sharing the soil, tilling and similar purposes. Another possible hypothesis is that landlords are supposed to be very strict and stern in their dealings, in all related agricultural activities, whereas trees have no such stringent measures. Eve Luckring might be perceiving trees to be gifted with the same power of landlords.
For further reading, I suggest the following from Eve Luckring’s website:
“Eve Luckring makes art at the intersection of language, image, and sound.
For the past several years, she has been translating traditional Japanese poetic forms into the visual realm to negotiate the contested binaries of nature/culture, subject/object, and self/world. Her work questions the assumptions—and experiments with the boundaries—that define place, body, and habit.”
As this week’s winner, Christina 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!
Votive lamp's flicker distracts his eyes from the stars —Gerald (Jerry) Wild, from “THE HAIKU CHALLENGE AT TWILIGHT TO JAZZ” (2018)