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re:Virals 18

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

     their wings like cellophane remember cellophane
          — Lorin Ford, Roadrunner IX:2 (2009)

The act of remembering is a fraught exercise, especially when conjoined with such elusive material as Lorin’s challenging poem. Scott Mason, with apologies to Richard Gilbert, opined:

It’s a bird . . . It’s a dragonfly . . . It’s the poet’s consciousness!

And Marion Clarke, also with a nod toward Gilbert, fleshed this out:

This delicate monostich with its ‘wings like cellophane’ whispers to me of dragonflies, colour and sunlight. However, it takes a twist when it suggests that the wings ‘remember cellophane.’ “But how can this be?” the reader asks. Such an unexpected statement requires us to reread the words in order to attempt to make sense of the ku. We realize that it goes beyond a natural observation in which the writer is comparing the translucence of dragonfly wings with a man-made material, but what can it really mean?

Perhaps ‘remember cellophane’ is imperative, begging the reader not to forget the natural beauty of dragonfly wings? It could also be an environmental statement or sci-fi ku in which the author addresses a member of a future race that has long-since departed an abandoned earth. Finally, although I’m not familiar with dragonfly anatomy, the repetition in ‘like cellophane remember cellophane’ is like a pulse that might echo their movement when at rest.

Of course, it’s difficult to read any reference to dragonflies in a disjunctive haiku and not think of Jim Kacian’s famous:

my fingerprints
on the dragonfly
in amber

and Richard Gilbert’s essay “The Disjunctive Dragonfly: A Study of Disjunctive Method and Definitions in Contemporary English‑language Haiku” in which he discusses the use of this literary technique.

I’m not saying that I totally understand Lorin’s haiku, and perhaps that was not her intention, but it is sufficiently open to make me stop and think about the use of language. In any case, there is a sentence in Richard’s essay that begins, “There are several varieties of disjunction used in excellent haiku . . .” and I think that Lorin’s poem is a fine example.

Jo McInerney explains the technique, and then grounds it in the real:

Lorin Ford’s one-liner opens by reaching for a simile. ‘[T]heir wings like’ and there it is, the comparison — cellophane. We realize we are probably being shown a dragon- or a damselfly.

‘Cellophane’ at first seems a slightly jarring comparison, one without the obviously beautiful connotations of gossamer. However, the image-maker is not looking for poetic effect. Cellophane has a shine and transparency that is just about right because without the winged creatures being named we know what they are.

Yet the poem is focused as much on this substance as on what is being described. Perhaps the writer has been taken back to childhood memories of gifts and lollies, cellophane-wrapped. There is a lovely spoken quality here — ‘remember cellophane’, a gentle wonder in the call to remember, as well a longing for confirmation. Thus the one-liner creates a sense of transience, a wistful recall of what once was and we are brought back to the ephemeral creatures with which it begins.

And Cynthia Rowe unpacks the variety implicit in the exotic word choice:

Lorin’s haiku provokes the reader, stirring the imagination. The simile ‘like’ is overt and yet we don’t know which insect’s wings are ‘like’ cellophane. Our thoughts are drawn to dragonflies and their whirring. Then again Lorin could be referring to cicadas whose wings vibrate and crackle in the way that cellophane does. She asks us to remember the ubiquitous product cellophane, which of course we do, particularly every Christmas when we wrap presents to place under the tree. The haiku could also refer to Christmas beetles. The kigo could be implied by the word ‘cellophane’; the speculation of the insect that the poet might be referring to is endless . . .

This week’s prize goes to Kathe L. Palka, who “remembers”:

I do remember cellophane! My fondest memory is of its use to wrap the sweet popcorn balls my mother ordered yearly from the Sears and Roebuck catalog and had delivered to our farm at Christmastime. Wrapped in jewel tones of crinkly cellophane the arrival of those special treats marked for me the start of our family holiday celebrations as a child. But over time cellophane as a packaging material, although still used, has been eclipsed by modern plastics. I imagine Lorin Ford’s inspiration for “their wings” to have been the observation of flying insects with clear or even the translucent jewel toned wings of dragonflies or damselflies. Their wings jogging a memory, perhaps one similar to mine, of cellophane use in the past, some use now less often seen. There is a strong element of time and movement present in this monostich. Movement along a continuum echoed in her choice of formatting. The quick flitting of wings flying in a straight line, then pausing or changing direction works to evoke memory and the redirecting of the observer’s thoughts and attention. There are strong connections made between the world of nature and the world of humanity and science. The insects and their fragile wings, the stronger but visually similar extruded cellulose of man-made cellophane, our own human lives and the memory of it all will eventually surrender to time’s passage. To delve further into the poem’s scientific aspect, the word “remember” serves both to invite the reader into the poem’s experience and to recall the natural essence of cellophane which is completely biodegradable itself, made by dissolving naturally occurring cellulose (from wood, cotton and other sources) using chemical additives. And so the past dissolves into the present and all things breakdown and are absorbed and remade. People, insects, cellophane, memory. All elements of this haiku work together to create a rich and fully realized poem using only five words with one repeated.


As this week’s winner, Kathe 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 18:

     dry heat —
     to the same withered flower
     a bee returns
          — Charles Easter, Frogpond XXII:3 (1999)
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