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re:Virals 171

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

 
     Votive lamp's flicker
     distracts his eyes from the stars

          —Gerald (Jerry) Wild, from “THE HAIKU CHALLENGE AT TWILIGHT TO JAZZ” (2018)

Christina Pecoraro:

Am not sure it’s kosher to write a commentary on a haiku I myself submitted. But I’ve never before pondered the reason why Jerry Wild’s two-liner is a favorite of mine.

Doing that now, I muse that a “votive lamp’s flicker,” though it has something inherently spiritual about it, is tied to the earth. Stars, on the other hand, are tied to the heavens.

It’s noteworthy that what “distracts his eyes” (windows of the soul) is close at hand, even ordinary. And just that, I think, offers an important clue. For though the votive lamp admittedly lacks the stature of a star, it’s attraction bears out Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s lines:
“Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire…”

It’s the same message William Blake gives when he urges us to allow ourselves to be attracted (“distracted”) by what’s down-to-earth and
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of (our) hand
And Eternity in an hour.”

Radhamani Sarma—as above, so below:

Delighted to view and comment upon the haiku by Jerry Wild, whose haiku speaks from the point of view of a devotee’s prayer. We can imagine the ritual and the speaker, looking above, wondering at the resplendent stars, pervasive in the Sky; trying to count the innumerable galaxies, or wondering how distant the sky is from this muddy earth; or if it’s possible to reach those souls dead and gone, away from us now, residing in the cool safe haven of heaven’s portal. The devotee’s eyes catch the glimpse of a sudden flicker close by, the glow growing bigger. The common thread is the shine emanating from the stars and the lamp.

Again this haiku admirably works on a contrast: the ephemeral nature of the flickering lamp/the twinkling glow of stars; and the distinct contrast in place: near/far away.
The devotee might be drawn by a philosophy or awareness that he or she is also going to be one among the stars soon, to merge with the already merged.

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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!
re:Virals 171:

 
     gods and men love maps
     they draw borders with pens that 
     split lives like an axe.

          —John Paul Lederach. (From a transcript of the 'On Being' Gathering 2018.) 

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Christina, Lorin, et al,

    Thanks for this dialogue. I just finished Lederach’s book on Moral Imagination and I appreciate his thinking about ways we summon moral imagination for the work of peace-making. In that book, he has a chapter that features Basho and the pepper pod story in the discussion that shows up in the On Being link below. In short, he tells the dragonfly and pepper pod story suggesting we add–as Basho did–from imagination, rather than reducing or taking away or battling for solutions. Agreed, Lorin, the haiku is all you suggest–but it was not published in 2018 as haiku. It seems Lederach goes to the 5-7-5 form to clarify and move forward. Thanks again for the suggested poet, poem, and dialogue.
    https://onbeing.org/programs/poetry-from-the-on-being-gathering-john-paul-lederach-oct2018/

    1. Dan,
      .
      So appreciate your part in the dialogue. Googled your name too and was rewarded with these words of yours which appeared in re:Virals before I ever heard of Troutswirl:
      .
      clover in flower
      the Holsteins come
      with four stomachs
      .
      — Dan Schwerin (Modern Haiku 49:2, Summer 2018)
      .
      Reading the commentaries about it is pure delight. For
      others who might like, as I do, to stretch their repertoire
      of haiku and its facets, here’s a link for it:
      .
      https://stellapierides.com/tag/the-haiku-foundation/
      .
      Cheers, Dan.
      And thanks again for joining the conversation.

  2. Votive lamp’s flicker
    distracts his eyes from the stars
    .

    —Gerald (Jerry) Wild, from “THE HAIKU CHALLENGE AT TWILIGHT TO JAZZ” (2018)
    .
    I’m distracted by the missing article (‘the’ or ‘a’) at the beginning of this sentence (it is a sentence, despite the ‘understood’ article) then further distracted by my wondering why the author seems to have been studying the subject (an unnamed male. . . possibly a human, perhaps a cat) so closely.
    .
    Could it be that Gerald (Jerry) Wild has a point to make? A teaching, along the lines of the popular Zen example of the finger pointing to the moon (the “jeweled finger” in some versions) ?
    .
    Next week’s verse by John Paul Lederach goes even further along the teaching line . . . to the downright didactic!
    (Never mind the exceedingly cringe-causing use of simile (“pens that split lives like an axe”) which wouldn’t pass in any form of poetry. Never mind the 5-7-5 syllables and the end rhyming
    .
    I’m astonished that these 2 verses seem to have been published as haiku this very year, 2018.
    .
    That said (whew!) 🙂

    To all my haiku friends and fellows: a very happy Christmas or holidays and a Happy New Year.

    – Lorin

    1. Sorry, “unnamed”, above, isn’t what I mean . . . perhaps “undefined” or “unspecified” would be better.
      .
      ” . . . further distracted by my wondering why the author seems to have been studying the subject (an unspecified male. . . possibly a human, perhaps a cat) so closely.”
      .
      I used to think I was the only person to feel let down and frustrated by vague, unspecified people (or animals) as subjects in haiku, until I read Susumu Takiguchi’s editorial for the Summer 2017 issue of WHR.
      .
      https://sites.google.com/site/worldhaikureview2/august-2017
      .
      under the sub-header, ‘Use of Pronoun’:
      .
      “I must point out that I am not objecting the use of pronouns themselves. What I object is the use of them without first presenting whom or what specifically they are referring to in the same haiku. Perhaps people dislike non-use of pronouns because it would make their haiku too long. But I suspect they dislike it because by using actual people or specific things it would make their haiku too clear-cut, leaving nothing to the reader’s imagination, thus losing what they mistakenly regard as yugen.” – Susumu Takiguchi
      .

      – Lorin

      1. Lorin,

        Thanks for speaking up for haiku. For critiquing so candidly from your poetic experience the last two pieces submitted to re:Virals.
        .
        They came from one new to the world of haiku — me. Am still in the process of learning. In that mode, I should not, I realize now, have begun to submit commentaries to re:Virals, which also requires one to send in a haiku s/he likes.
        .
        Fortunately, though, all is not lost.
        .
        After reading your comments, I googled Lorin Ford and found tinywords. I read through each of your haiku, pausing often. At times found myself lost in contemplation. In a word, they took my breath away.
        .
        Apart from haiku, I confess to liking “pens that /split lives like an axe.”
        .
        Except for Alan Summers, whom I’ve newly met through Troutswirl, I’ve learned more from you and your exquisite haiku than anyone about this intriguing genre. Again, my thanks

    2. Agree with Lorin. It’s interesting what a missing article (“a” or “the”) does, at least to me. It makes the whole poem a blur, a ghost of a poem.
      .
      I sometimes wonder if haiku poets or readers feel that a haiku does not need to be well written.
      What an incredible thing to wonder! But I do. It’s as if gentle hearted and well meaning readers
      do not wish to discourage, but feel that as long as some reverie inducing meaning can be found in
      the co-creation of the poem, all is well. (“I know what she/he meant and that’s good enough for me”).
      .
      I’m all for co-creation, but my job as reader is not to fix it
      . That said, good writing can include bad grammar, if it’s intentional.

  3. Many thanks for your two commentaries!
    .
    I used to write Bhakti poetry, perhaps I should incorporate that somehow more directly into some haiku, and certainly into tanka. A tall order to prevent it getting sentimental and saccharine, but I can always try to read Kabir raw in Sanskrit, if I have the courage!
    .
    Thanks again.

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