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
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.)
Scott Mason bah-humbugs:
Sorry to play Scrooge here, but if I’m seeking an aphorism or opinion I’ll go to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations or the editorial section; and if it’s a sermon I want, I’ll seek out a house of worship. To my mind, haiku do not try to make a point (as this verse seems to attempt), but they ARE the point: the point at which a reader/listener is allowed sufficient opportunity to share in some (sensory) observation or to make a discovery on his or her own. That’s what haiku do best. It’s what the best haiku do.
(On a side note, and taking this verse as a piece of folk wisdom rather than a haiku, I would still have to question what possible evidence there is that “gods…love maps.” My only certainty is that this versifier loves the 5-7-5 syllabic pattern…which just might be an answer, of sorts.)
Dan Schwerin perceives the split:
Thank you for this dialogue. What I appreciate about Christina’s choice of this 5-7-5 from Lederach is the action inherent in the short phrase, ‘split lives.’ While the poem may not be standard haiku fare, there is a moment keenly perceived for me. Lederach is a peace-maker and theorist whose practice has taken him everywhere from the Congo to Belfast. While the poem needs to stand on its own without having the benefit of the narrative of the poet’s life, I very much appreciate that a leader is speaking in the ways he can, both speaking up for poetry and speaking out about the ways we split lives. Having worked with Bosnian Muslims in my own ministry, I was stopped by the phrase, ‘split lives,’ because it aptly names the experience of war and refugee life. These lives are split by ethnicity and fear, split by before and after the war, split by before the tragedy that happened in their family, and after. Jim Kacian and Dimitar Anakiev put out a fine collection of refugee haiku from the Balkan experience entitled Knots, and Anakiev edited another in 2013 entitled Kamesan’s World Haiku Anthology on War, Violence and Human Rights Violation. Thank you for bringing the image and the conversation forward.
Paul Miller gets grinchy:
The grinch in me says, I couldn’t be more distant from the idea presented here. Generic gods, generic men, and a clumsy turn of phrase. The poet seems to think form is all that matters; the reader is irrelevant. Nothing is “shared” between equals. The poet delights in his cleverness at the expense of the rest of us.
As this week’s winner, Scott 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!
leaves blowing past the school windows my row of cursive a's Cor van den Heuvel, at the top of the ferris wheel: Selected Haiku of Cor van den Heuvel (2017)