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re:Virals 173

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

 
     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) 

Garry Eaton finds language ‘mid the leaves:

This haiku recalls a moment early in the poet’s school career, perhaps in the first grade, when neither the leaves blowing past the window nor his own penmanship would likely yet be of consuming interest to the fledgling poet, but when the resemblance between the cursive form of ‘a’, with its little tail, and an oval leaf, with its stem, might well have been very interesting. The poet finds a simple way to highlight this odd observation, placing the two items side by side without comment, relying on the reader to discover the similarity, and thereby create a haiku. Could this haiku represent the young poet’s first glimmer of understanding of the relationships between nature’s often tragic beauty and his lifelong engagement with the creative uses of language? I think so. 
Note also, that the letter Cor chose is the alphabet’s first, ‘a’, which is also the first letter a student would likely attempt to create for himself. I don’t think it is fanciful to observe that this familiar fact helps create a feeling of inevitability about the creative experience. Did Cor experience his first ‘a’s as tiny drawings of leaves? Certainly conceivable. 
There is also for contemplation in this haiku a broad and striking contrast, one that school children in countries with temperate climates have been forced for many generations to contemplate, that between an eager beginner at the start of his learning year and the evidence of the end of the naturally maturing year which looms. If ‘ripeness is all’, the poet has already, somehow, started on this quest.

Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă hears the leaves rustle:

A euphonic poem, especially due to the liquid consonant “l” that in combination with fricatives and sonorant consonants makes the reader hear the leaves’ rustle that symbolizes in a way nature’s freedom of expression, its song, while the student, must sit at the writing table and practice the cursive a’s. This monotonous homework can be seen as a burden (“row”) in comparison with the spectacular variety/show that nature offers him.
Maybe the final line of this ku represents the start of something very important: an inclination to notice the invisible threads of nature that weave beautiful images and govern our everyday language/senses.
Therefore until it’s not too late wake up, feel and try to pen at least a line.

Radhamani Sarma perceives the interpenetration:

I’m delighted to comment upon this haiku by Cor van den Heuvel, an American haiku poet and archivist. This is a simple haiku of observation of Nature, its close-knit movements affecting the surroundings and humans.

virus2
As this week’s winner, Gary 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 173:

 
     the wood’s edge,
     that dark life of the trees,
     touches the hospital                          

          — Marcel Smets, From A Wide Window (1997) 

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Gary Eaton’s commentary plucked a certain chord in my memories. My life has been dictated by engineering technology instead of literature, poetry and creative writing. Yet nature’s beauty and simplicity has always been my escape to peace, quiet and contemplation and my camera helped preserve those experiences. Now, at 78 years of age and after years of looking out my office window at nature’s endless kaleidoscope, I have found haiku to fill in a missing link in my desire for creative expression. I can relate to this poem so easily, but from a different life stage. Regards.

  2. re:Virals
    At first, I wasn’t particularly MOVED by this haiku: woods, trees, neighboring hospital, the trees’ “dark life” a bit of a cliché, maybe? But in the spirit of the exercise—poem and response—I let the image settle and rile. And was flooded by memories… My wife in the last year of her life, in the cancer center during chemo. My mid-day walks around the hospital grounds, for breathing and relief, in the wooded hills of Napa. And, lately, with my new wife—I remarried three years later—watching and re-watching the movie “Into The Woods,” and its evocation of that space/place as everything wild, disorderly and strangely fateful in self and life—including the unexpected patterns of hope and redemption, after the baker loses his wife. So the “dark life” of the poem did, in fact, “touch” me, after all—those dark and branching words (print is typically dark; and letters look like twisty twigs) reaching out and finding what was, uh, hospitable, in me. Thanks, Gary, for the encounter…

  3. The contrast between last week’s offering and this one: bad writing and good writing, each prompting a lot of comment.

    .

    Last time I championed, sort of, “cleverness”. It came mostly from my perception, based on statements I have read over many years, that cleverness is to be avoided when it comes to writing haiku. It calls attention to the writer. (And is, some have dismissively, derisively said, an all too frequent quality of longer poems).

    .

    To me, Cor van den Heuvel’s haiku is very clever indeed! It shows the intelligence and poetic sensibility of the writer. In one sense you could say that it juxtaposes subject and object. I feel that I am aware of the pleasure
    the writer experienced in writing this, which in no way detracts from what is being written about. Neither subject nor object dominates, but are in a sort of dialog.

    .

    Some will recall the old days when haiku written at one’s desk (“desku”)
    were somehow not real haiku. Real haiku, I suppose, were not meant to be written at all, but to be arrived at in a flood of perception/inspiration/enlightenment. Van den Heuvel’s haiku comes from, apparently, a memory,
    and as seems likely to me, the stitching together of two memories. It’s possible that he was quite precocious and at 7 or 8 years of age intuited that the letters he was writing were “like” the leaves blowing past the window. But some intuitions take a lifetime to achieve, and do not fully arrive until the man (in this case) writes down what the child saw, and didn’t know he saw. It’s what a poet does.

    .

    Present in the haiku: the inchoate intuition of the child brought to form by the mature adult. The choices the writer makes to give full visibility to the insight, hearability to the whisper. How clever to choose (regardless of what the child may have seen) the letter “a”. Present in the poem:
    the end of summer, the beginning of writing. One is aware of the intelligence, of man and nature both.

  4. Blow-dow-row: the world rhymes—end rhymes, rich rhymes, eye rhymes, my rhymes; time rhymes, every second seconding the next; space rhymes, here, there; the dual—the two, the opposites, the mirror of being and its reflections—is the day’s endless dole. And haiku play in the land of the dual, no? The land of the cut, the connection that enchants the feeling-heart, which sits singly in the midst, like a single stone in the lows and highs of tide. This poem is an exquisite mystery of mirroring meanings, which words can only dance around. Other commentators have christened many of the likenesses and connections. To take a leaf from that book: The poem’s owner, the “my”, the seeming “inner” self—the sensing student at his solid desk, looks (maybe) dreamily out window frames (like fall’s gallery) as his hand learns the patterns of art—learns how to letter the seeming “outside” with the cursive, the discursive, the sleek and leaning lines. He’s in the flow—the blow and row of words, lovely as leaves. And so, by dint of his tender intelligence, is the grateful reader.

  5. 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)
    .
    My take on the poem is hinged on the word ‘cursive’ and its inference to ‘swearing profanely’. Imagine if you can, the scream that a long row of cursive a’s would produce if vocalized, an “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaugh”, sounding a young boy’s frustration with being chained to a desk practicing his penmanship, when he would much rather be outside doing /anything/. This frustration is juxtaposed with the freedom of the leaves blowing past the school window.
    .
    Also, I might add, although I know absolutely nothing about rowing, that I can imagine the motion of oars when rowing a boat/scull, with the blade path forming somewhat of a row of cursive a’s, which further reinforces the image of a young student as a ‘galley slave’.

  6. 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)
    .

    “There is also for contemplation in this haiku a broad and striking contrast, one that school children in countries with temperate climates have been forced for many generations to contemplate, that between an eager beginner at the start of his learning year and the evidence of the end of the naturally maturing year which looms. ” – Garry Eaton
    .

    Nicely caught, Garry. 🙂 This haiku takes me back . . . to 3rd grade at Seaford State School, to the smell of the freshly filled inkwell, to the nibs I seemed to always overfill, to the blotting paper, to the desks where someone from a previous year had always left their engraved mark. To the rap of Miss Buckleteeth’s ruler on my desk, calling my attention back from dream-gazing out the window to my smudgy, uneven rows of cursive a’s.
    .
    Until I read van den Heuvel’s haiku I had not realised the similarity in movement of a twirling, dancing flow of blown leaves going somewhere and a row of cursive a’s flowing across the page, from left to right. One learnt (not as quickly as some and never as neatly) to catch the flow of cursive and go with it, to not be heavy-handed and so passed. (I think the script was called ‘copperplate’ , not ‘cursive’, back then.)

    .
    – Lorin

  7. 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)
    .
    .
    I now recall learning to write these at primary school (5-7 years) and how to memorise spellings even if I didn’t know what the word meant for a while. 🙂
    .
    When I lived in Bristol (England) I did pass my old junior school a couple of times, and brought to mind all the advanced handwriting and writing stories in a short time. Little did I know how far it would take me, in different job choices.
    .
    I very rarely pass by schools, unless I’m a poet-in-residence, and no one need write haiku in cursive! 🙂
    .
    Writing cursive “a”:
    https://gb.education.com/worksheet/article/cursive-a-third/
    .
    Of course the haiku is not simplistic, and for me, suggests the passage of time, from glimpses of memories of being a schoolboy, to jumping ahead, as if in time travel, to the age I am now. The row could be the letters during that school day, or term, or how I see myself enjoying the cursive letters to this day, as I still use a notebook for my draft haiku.
    .
    It’s a mix of a happy verse and poignant, and wonderfully re-readable, as so many of Cor’s work is, of course. A sublime and highly crafted haiku hidden from sight but not from our mind. Beautifully done!

  8. Dear Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă,

    in Your observation, you have mentioned,

    “Maybe the final line of this ku represents the start of something very important: an inclination to notice the invisible threads of nature that weave beautiful images and govern our everyday language/senses.
    Therefore until it’s not too late wake up, feel and try to pen at least a line.”

    a very common ,yet noteworthy point here.

  9. Dear Garry Eaton,
    Greetings! In the process of your observation on the poet’s early career,the following statement with a valid point of view.

    “Could this haiku represent the young poet’s first glimmer of understanding of the relationships between nature’s often tragic beauty and his lifelong engagement with the creative uses of language? I think so.”

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