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re:Virals 172

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.

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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!
 
re:Virals 172:

 
     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) 

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. “We are to the gods, as flies to wanton boys.
    They kill us for their sport.”
    Apart from a new twist on the ‘pen mightier than the sword’ trope, I think this sententious generalization belongs in the mouth of a Mark Antony, a King Lear, or a MacBeth, rather than in haiku.

  2. I write this knowing that it will probably be archived by tomorrow. This is a drawback to Troutswirl entries— what seems to happen I’ve noticed on the occasions I’ve stopped by, is that once a post is out of sight (archived) it is pretty much out of mind, or further discussion. Nonetheless . . .

    .

    I don’t wish to comment on the verse presented here, but on a couple of things others have said. When Scott Mason writes: “ . . . 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”, I agree with the last sentence. Not so much with the preceding one.

    .

    Haiku, as is well known, veer away from making statements or pronouncements which a reader will accept or not as his/her only choice in the act of reading. Suggestion and creating an open “field” by way of juxtaposition of images (or sounds, rhythms, etc) which allow the reader to enter into the poem and live there a while, are factors which draw people to haiku.

    .

    I would not however say that this is what haiku do best. The implication here is “better than other forms of poetry”. This is a common sentiment. Many poets who do not write haiku have said they have the same intention—allowing the reader his/her own sense of participation without being dictated to) but use other means of achieving it. One may prefer haiku to longer poems, which is fine of course. But preference need not mean rejection. (And to be clear, I don’t hear Scott saying he rejects other forms of poetry, but judging by numerous comments I’ve read over the years from numerous writers, it is clear than some haiku poets do).

    .

    Haiku offer one way of exploring what juxtaposition and suggestion and an open field may achieve. “it’s what the best haiku do”, but there are other ways.

    .

    Paul Miller says: “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”. It could be that the poet here thinks form is all that matters, but I don’t know how one can be sure of that. There are other possibilities. Nor could I say for certain that the poet delights in his cleverness. I would say that the chief problem with the “poem” is that its author has something to say. In my view, poetry is about discovering something you didn’t know you could say. When this happens, the reader is likely to share in the discovery, or at least to delight in it.

    .

    I guess I am not as troubled by “cleverness” as Paul is. Obtrusive or obvious cleverness, yes. But the same can be said of any obtrusive or obvious quality in any form of poetry. (Haiku may be obtrusively plain). But at times, cleverness can be just plain fun, or even something to celebrate not as a display of ego but a discovery of varieties of intelligence. I know, probably what I am saying doesn’t quite pertain to haiku, and I am not advocating for more cleverness in that case, though neither do I reject the possibilities. I do think, though, that many haiku, even well-known and well-regarded ones, are pretty clever— but clever enough so as not to seem so. The art in artifice.

    .

    The point I wish to make is similar to what I said above. And here too, I would not say that Paul is among those who would reject other forms of poetry. (The cleverness he objects to is probably just plain bad writing.) However, how many times have I heard or read someone’s rejection of longer poetry as being all about the author and too clever by half? Too many times.

  3. what a relief to find someone (well, actually some-two, and not just any two) call a spade a spade.
    Thanks, Scott and Paul!

    1. “what a relief to find someone (well, actually some-two, and not just any two) call a spade a spade.”
      – Polona
      .
      Agreed. 🙂 But check out last week’s re-Virals comments thread and you’ll find another two,
      .
      We criticize the poem, not any aspect of the poet’s personality, his status or his public or private life. Honest criticism is invaluable. It helps keep us all honest.
      .
      – Lorin

      1. Yes, Lorin, I read your comment(s) in last week’s column, and deeply appreciate your questioning the quality of both submitted poems. Was thinking about mentioning you here as well but decided against as you did it in a slightly different context.
        .
        I completely agree that the critique should be about the poem alone. Honest criticism is a rare treat and all the more valuable for that. I think it is actually a good thing to have less than praiseworthy poems presented now and again as their honest assessments (provided there are any) can be a useful learning tool.

      1. Thanks Paul, I was referring to your comment “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.” I think this applies to a lot of contemporary poetry, and distinguishes it from haiku.

  4. Dear Scott- Mason,
    Greetings!
    Regarding the following take, I would like to mention my humble opinion:
    gods are the creators, they love their own creations, help to augment or allow to rescind,or
    reduce whatever they like; be it a map or mind or mini bus or motor;hence no question if gods love or not.

    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.)

  5. 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.)

    Delighted to comment upon the haiku writer John Paul Lederach whose soul searching poems have established wonderfully carved Unique place in the field of haiku domain. As a remarkable individual serving for the conflicting issue of peace,as an ardent peace maker,he is class apart.

    Going through this haiku is really a severe task for it demands an intense scrutiny and study of topographical background of its history,ethnic identity,its cultural diversity of the place called ‘Tajikistan’ described in the transcript in which he describes his purport of what he calls a geotag.

    “But I do geotag, which we could call a “haiku tag.” A haiku tag: Being awake enough that you can hear when your haiku compass needle has stopped, and you notice where you are, who you are with, and the meaning of the moment. This will have something to do with your journey. So let me geotag a few haikus.”

    “Tajikistan” — “Gods and men love maps. / They draw borders with pens that / split lives like an axe.”
    https://onbeing.org/programs/poetry-from-the-on-being-gathering-john-paul-lederach-oct2018/
    Further the following quotes testify some ample evidence to the theme augmented in the haiku here.
    “Since the early years of independence, Tajikistan has been wracked by conflict between the government and the Islamic opposition and its allies.”
    https://www.britannica.com/place/Tajikistan
    Possibly this is the theme figuring in the haiku.Gods and men love vast territory of maps, comprising greenery, fields and rivers and mountains of extensive ranges but man’s parochialism ever indulges in a demarcation line on grounds of territorial dispute, religion and petty politics, culminating in vendetta and infight and crude racism.
    gods and men love maps
    they draw borders with pens that
    split lives like an axe.

    Again this haiku efficiently works on the principle of antithesis,-love/split, maps with borders, erasable marks of pens / and cruel axe/.leaving a permanent scar

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