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re:Virals 185

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

 
         frayed feathers
     beneath the dogwood tree

            silence

          — Mary Kendall, Acorn, 41 (2018)

Radhamani Sarma questions the tree:

As always many thanks for this Haiku Foundation blog, featuring haiku/senryu poems, stirring our creative and critical minds. I am privileged to comment upon the senryu of American poet Mary Kendall.

What are frayed feathers? An uncouth atmosphere prevails around the fallen feathers, shredded from the birds, strewn all around. It could be the natural ageing process.

One question also arises, why has the poet chosen dogwood tree? Why not any other tree?
It could be governed by a contrast: worn feathers are null, silenced by the colorful flowers of the dogwood tree, spreading all around.

The dogwood tree also sheds leaves in autumn upon full growth. So perhaps this senryu pictures dearth and aridity—a sort of eerie silence going down through the dogwood tree, combined with the frayed feathers.

virus2
As this week’s winner, Radhamani 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 185:

 
     beach sand shimmer—
     her shed clothes
     she doesn't fold 

          — Michele L. Harvey, Modern Haiku 50:1

This Post Has 51 Comments

  1. What a great conversation and participation from all involved in this thread! And to have Mary, author of the (excellent!) haiku under discussion, also joining in is a superb bonus. I think we all benefit, both as readers and writers of this genre, from such open explorations of a particular haiku and the consideration of various viewpoints. Very enjoyable. 🙂
    .

    – Lorin

  2. Pratima says, “what if I wrote about the tamarind tree or the neem or the peepul trees which have a deep symbolism attached to them.” I would love to see a collection of your poems that have emerged from your own culture and natural environment. You could annotate them for those of us. It familiar with your area.

    1. Hello Peggy,
      I like what you say. A collection of poems from my own culture will take longer than a collection that flows naturally…when it seeps through I will no longer hesitate to express it,…Danny’s weekly poem thingy is a great thing happening, isn’t it?

      i find it very interesting to observe intercultural interactions and exchanges…this is a wonderful synergy happening here. The world is a small place, when we reach out

      thank you

  3. I am really enjoying this literary/cultural exchange of ideas! Thanks everyone for chiming in with your own share of information. Lorin, you are correct that my use of ‘must’ was too harsh. What I meant was that we must leave open the possibility for that interpretation along with other possibilities, even though it is based in regional religious mythology. I don’t think at all that a Christian based mythos is of any greater importance than that of other cultures or religions. I love discovering the culture of other poets through conversations such as this. Each perspective opens a new reading of a poem like Mary’s. Which leads me to respond to Mary. I had heard of the Judas tree, but had no idea that in southern Christian mythology it is thought to be the redbud. After living 47 years in the South, I am still learning new things about my adopted home. Thanks for enlightening me!
    Peggy

  4. I’d like to thank Petru Viljoen for selecting this particular haiku/senryu of mine. It’s so interesting to see how many ways a poem can be dissected and what people will find when they pull it apart and put it back together. I’ve enjoyed reading each comment and response as well as all the questions raised. Let me thank Danny Blackwell for presenting the very excellent Re:Virals.
    .
    Mary

  5. The dogwood has a wonderful fruit that attracts many birds….hungry cats hang out there knowing this. I do see that at least one became a dinner….this event might have created noise…but the belly was fed either under the tree or taken elsewhere….leaving frayed feathers on the ground. The silence remains….as all the surviving birds have temporarily flew to safer places.

    Also. the “notch” in the flower of the dogwood resonates with frayed feathers visually. (don’t know that the author had that in mind, but it does make this poem deeper for me)

      1. yes, thank you for pointing to my post here….S. Radhamni….i forgot to mention that the shape of the poem is the shape of the dogwood tree. Did Mary plan this?

  6. Ah yes, the space before silence.
    A very good instrument of impression / expression.
    We find the remnants of a bird beneath a dogwood tree.
    (Something sadly I experienced in my own garden recently).
    Our immediate thoughts are driven towards the victim and the agressor.
    Mary having left us the space to determine whether it is just a rotting feather, perhaps dislodged in a preening session, Or what the agressor has left behind for the bugs.
    My first thought being for the victim creates the sadness. Moments later the anger towards the agressor. Then further thought for the aggressor, for if left to go hungry would also be a cause for sadness.
    Nature doing what it does in itself, leaves us as humans with the ability only to wonder, if any thought from other species is given to the way we act.
    Thank you Mary for the journey and for capturing this image, so vividly. Something that failed me when living the experience.
    Thank you Radhamani for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Dear Robert Kingston,
      “A very good instrument of impression / expression.” fine depiction.
      And the sentiments following the victim and aggressor- very well portrayed.
      with regards
      S.Radhamani sarma

  7. Radhamani, you have thrown us quite a challenge with the poem this time around…beach and sand shimmer ….there are these boats here that carry sand from the back waters, but then it can wait, this is a tough one, cheerios

  8. Congratulations, Radhamani. 🙂
    .

    I find that extra line space, indicating an absence, in Mary K’s haiku is a an excellent touch, bringing a sense of immediacy when combined with the final ‘silence’ . ( “The rest is silence.” ) We have no answers to what exactly happened, but ‘silence’ after that silent line seems to underline the ultimate silence of death.
    .
    We can only guess at what has happened to the bird. But my own cat sometimes brings ” an atmosphere of the uncouth” right into my house, through the cat door.
    .

    – Lorin

    1. hi all,

      I was kind of taken in by Radhamani’s response to the poem, and am almost convinced that the silence is eerie, and like Boring pointed out, the pause created by the blank line seems to reinforce the finality in there…

      but, I like to monkey around, do the poem gym and what I see is a tree, the ground and the tree, ok, there is no bark or wuff or whatever therein because there is silence

      that said, I want to turn the thought around, not because I disagree with what either Radhamani or Lorin have said, but because I want to see the positive in there, and frayed feathers can mean a whole lot of things, like bird molting or partial molting…and maybe that is what the frayed feathers meant or birds in a squabble and now gone, the loquacious notes replaced by the caesura…a brief pause, surely there will be something following, a rustle in the wind or whatever…

      Only the ground is sure of that which has transpired, holding the frayed feathers for the speaker and anyone who cares to look and wonder aloud

      What I am attracted to is the environment in the poem, the speaker is generous as is the poet: we have the name for the tree, and while I have walked around dogwood trees, they are not really from the space I inhabit as of now … but this is one poem, where the frayed feathers up their position and the dogwood, even though recedes, for look…even though frayed, feathers are light and are not flying around, how still the breeze must be…and look further, there is the concrete visual of a tree and the shade on the ground “beneath” the feathers are in the shade…how still the wind and how full the foliage …and how still the feathers, but where is the bird or birds…

      I wonder…I wonder…like I said…I always learn that the more I think the more I do not know…and the monkey in my mind gym is so very restless unlike the feathers of that or those that have flown “away”

    2. Dear Lorin,
      Thank you for your comments. Your opinions are always deeply valued and appreciated. Just as in music, the pause carries equal weight as the notes. I’m glad you commented on this.
      .
      Kind regards,
      Mary

    3. That line space followed by the word gives a kind of double silence. The space provides the imagination with fodder.

  9. Upon researching the dogwood tree, it is the hardest wood and was therefore chosen for the cross Jesus was crucified on. Perhaps an Angel shed a frantic feather or two at the site.

    Whichever bird it was that died under the tree, no doubt hunted if the feathers were frayed also wondered which god forsook it that it should meet such a fate.

      1. “Upon researching the dogwood tree, it is the hardest wood and was therefore chosen for the cross Jesus was crucified on. ”
        .
        Rubbish! You’ll probably find, if you research further, Petru, that the poem in which this myth is promoted, was written in the 20th century by some anonymous person living in the USA. In other words, it is sheer fiction.
        .
        “Wood
        .

        Dense and fine-grained, dogwood timber has a density of 0.79 and is highly prized for making loom shuttles, tool handles, roller skates and other small items that require a very hard and strong wood.[15] Though it is tough for woodworking, some artisans favor dogwood for small projects such as walking canes, arrow making, mountain dulcimers and fine inlays. Dogwood wood is an excellent substitute for persimmon wood in the heads of certain golf clubs (“woods”). Dogwood lumber is rare in that it is not readily available with any manufacturer and must be cut down by the person(s) wanting to use it.
        .

        Larger items have also been occasionally made of dogwood, such as the screw-in basket-style wine or fruit presses. The first kinds of laminated tennis rackets were also made from this wood, cut into thin strips.
        .

        Dogwood twigs were used by U.S. pioneers to brush their teeth. They would peel off the bark, bite the twig and then scrub their teeth.[16] ”
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornus#Wood
        .
        None of the dogwoods are native to Israel in particular or the Middle East in general anyway and I doubt very much that the Romans who occupied Palestine 2,000 + years ago had dogwood shipped in from the USA, China, East Asia or Siberia.

        .
        – Lorin

        1. Lorin, well done for the ”Rubbish”. Made me laugh out loud at the directness. A well-deserved lesson in doing proper research before one opens one’s big mouth.

          Apologies for the late response. I’ve necessarily been offline.

  10. re:Virals 185:

    frayed feathers
    beneath the dogwood tree
    silence

    — Mary Kendall, Acorn, 41 (2018)

    As always many thanks for this Haiku Foundation blog, featuring haiku/senryu poems, stirring our creative and critical bent of mind; simultaneously giving an opportunity to most of us to comment upon. Privileged to comment upon the senryu of Mary Kendall,American poet, from whose observation, obiviously,this Powerful writing proceeds forth.

    The first line “frayed feathers” goes thus: what are frayed feathers? An atmosphere of uncouth prevails around the fallen feathers, shredded from the birds, strewn all round. Could be the natural aging process, or upon maturity.

    I must mention an incident which I had to witness some decades ago in my village,far from development. A merciless wayward, hunter like killed a hen, removed all the feathers, to be taken home for boiling water and hen for the meal. Desperate,helpless, spectators used to this pitiable, bleeding!

    The second line, “beneath the dogwood tree” typifies a blossoming tree with green foliage, thick with berries and spring is the season synonymous with colorful foliage. There is one similarity here, the dogwood tree also sheds leaves in autumn upon full growth. This senryu pictures dearth and aridity- a sort of Eerie silence going down through the dogwood tree,combined impact veering,round frayed feathers.

    Question also arises, why the poet has chosen dogwood tree? Why not any other tree? Taking in its full totality, its rich ambiance, the choice might have been ( upon googling, the term dogwood tree emanates a plethora of meanings).

    Could be viewed in another perspective. Governed by a contrast,
    Worn feathers are sheer null/silenced by the colorful flowers of dogwood tree.

    Here is my choice for the next week
    beach sand shimmer—
    her shed clothes
    she doesn’t fold
    Michele L. Harvey

    http://www.modernhaiku.org/issue50-1/haiku.html
    modern haiku
    volume 50.1, winter-spring( 2019)

    1. Here in the Southeast United States, where both dogwoods and religion flourish, the dogwood tree carries a widely-held religious significance. The flowers have four white petals, usually with a red center on each petal at the center of the flower. Thus the dogwood is considered to represent the purity of Christ in the white and his blood shed in the red center, which also visually forms a kind of cross. The legend does include, as Petru has pointed out, the story that dogwood wood was used for the cross due to its hardness. This may all be myth and legend, but it is deeply engrained in southern religious thought so must be considered relevant in the reading of the poem. Perhaps the feathers represent the death of the dove of peace, or perhaps as Petru suggests those of a frantic angel, or simply the sacrifice of a small innocent bird to a bird of prey. In any case, the depth of the silence that follows must lead us to consider the silence that, according to the biblical story, fell upon the earth after Christ’s death. Thus, we move from a few tattered feathers to contemplation of more universal possibilities.

      1. hi Peggy,

        this is the greatness of discussions and thankfully the internet makes the interchange of relevant ideas possible.

        Thank you for sharing this. I am Indian and I understand that trees are symbolic and often worshipped, but what you share is not common know for me.
        And yes indeed, we move from a few tattered feathers to the contemplation of more universal possibilities

      2. Thanks for your take on all this, Peggy. I love your closing thought that a few tattered feathers can lead to “contemplation of more universal possibilities.”
        .
        I, for one, believe that myth/legend, though not factual, have something significant to teach us about the human condition: Christ’s, the Buddha’s, other figures and (perhaps especially) our own.

        1. You are absolutely right, Christina! Even though we may reject a set of myths, they still have been integrated into our culture and imagination. Mythic beliefs are so essential to our being that we even create family myths (those stories we repeat over and over through the generations) and even our own private myths (do you remember the time I…..). What was once religion passes into mythology only to be replaced by a new set of of beliefs, sacred or otherwise. Sorry to ramble on about one of my favorite topics!

          1. Ramble on, Peggy! Though I’d be the last to call your insightful thoughts ‘rambling’ — especially since I encounter in them a lovely kindred spirit.
            .
            Am truly grateful. Christina

        2. Christina, I agree with you and Peggy on this. Religion, myth, legend, folktales all have helped different sets of people explore and explain things that unknown or not easily understood. And Peggy’s line, “Thus, we move from a few tattered feathers to contemplation of more universal possibilities.” is probably one of the reason we both to pick up a pencil and paper and write when we witness such a thing. Beautifully put. Thank you.

          1. Thank YOU, Mary, for your generous responses to our diverse commentaries. Besides being poetically incisive they are, to borrow your own words, “beautifully put.”
            .
            Especially thank you — along with Petru and Danny — for your stirring haiku.
            .
            Christina

      3. “Here in the Southeast United States, where both dogwoods and religion flourish, the dogwood tree carries a widely-held religious significance.” – Peggy
        .
        Dear Peggy,
        Indeed, many plants around the world have been given religious significance. It’s a well-known fact that Spanish Jesuits used the flower of the passionfruit (native to Sth America) as a teaching tool in their conversion of the Sth American peoples to Christianity. Symbolism and myth go hand in hand.
        .
        I’ve been interested in mythology for much of my life. I’m aware, too, of the legends and myths, religious and otherwise, that play an important part in Japanese culture (and are referred to in Japanese haiku) . It’s no surprise to me that the Christian legend or myth surrounding the dogwood tree arose in the USA’s South and especially since this lovely tree seems to come into blossom at Easter.
        .
        But I believe we need to distinguish between legend/myth/ symbolism and fact. When someone declares as fact, as Petru has declared, that:
        .
        “. . . the dogwood tree, it is the hardest wood and was therefore chosen for the cross Jesus was crucified on. ”
        .
        then I think the confusion needs to be cleared up in cases such as this. It needs to be pointed out that someone made up this story. I wanted to show the humorous absurdity of this story being taken for fact.
        .
        I have to say that I don’t understand your conclusion, here:
        .
        “This may all be myth and legend, but it is deeply engrained in southern religious thought so must be considered relevant in the reading of the poem. ”
        .
        Why must the (relatively recent, in terms of history) American Dogwood – Christian story be considered relevant in reading Mary Kendall’s haiku, which doesn’t allude to this or any other particular legend/story/myth at all?
        .
        Just because the myth/legend/ story “is deeply ingrained in southern (USA states) religious thoughts”? The Dogwood has been significant in Indigenous North American cultures as well (before European settlement in the South began!)
        .
        http://www.native-languages.org/legends-dogwood.htm
        .
        https://dogwoodgardenclub.org/legends-of-the-dogwood/
        .
        Why is the more recent Christian story more relevant than these indigenous stories? (There is a Chinese dogwood, too, with it’s own cultural significance and legends, but since Mary is in the USA, it’s fair to assume it’s the American tree she intends.)
        .
        yours sincerely,

        Puzzled of Brunswick
        .
        (that’s Brunswick, Victoria, Australia. We have Dogwoods here, too…. not native, of course, but lovely trees in gardens up in the hills surrounding Melbourne. )

        1. several times, I hesitated and still do when sending out my own work( rarely but it happens) with the culture of mine seeped in it. I wanted to ask:

          what if I wrote about the tamarind tree or the neem or the peepul trees which have a deep symbolism attached to them.
          I remember someone telling me that it was alright to write it and send it with a note attached or a link or both, because poetry is a window, not just of culture or history but also of everyday common lives…

          it is also why I said that the tree recedes as I dwell on the concrete form of the poem itself, and I am happy this discussion is happening… there is no right or wrong to a way a poem is interpreted, everyone has the right to free expression and each view is as important for the progress of not just haiku and allied forms but also for the own personal growth of each haijin here, reading or actively participating…

          1. Pratima, I urge you to publish your poetry using all the things that are part of your surroundings and your culture. If I read a poem and don’t know what a certain plant or bird is, I look it up and usually I learn a lot. It gives me a reason for exploring something I didn’t know about. It’s what gives the flavor and richness of a poem. You can always do a link or note, but I feel you can trust your readers to do a bit of groundwork if need be.
            .
            Best,
            Mary

        2. Dear Lorin and Peggy,
          .
          What an interesting conversation about the dogwood tree and its meaning in various cultures. I am from the USA and I do live in the south (Chapel Hill, North Carolina). My garden has dogwoods–specifically Kousa dogwoods that have a later blooming time–as well as some wild dogwoods growing in the woods out back. Peggy makes a fair point on the symbolism of the dogwood in parts of the south. I’ve lived here 38 years (I’m from up north originally), but I’d not heard of that story. We have the beautiful Redbud (Cercis canadensis) that grow wild around here and are also called the “Judas tree” presumably because the magenta flowers somehow connect with the blood of Christ. I’ve never felt that was very believable.
          .
          Lorin’s excellent point, however, is closer to my own. Different trees, plants, shrubs, flowers, etc. take on “meanings” depending on the cultures in which they grow. Whatever those meanings, myths or stories, they ARE fascinating to learn about. Being in the USA, I’ve always been interested in how the Native American people incorporated different parts of nature into their legends and stories. This is part of what makes reading such a wonderful experience, isn’t it?
          .
          All good wishes,
          Mary
          .

          1. Oh, goodness, You are here, Mary…I was fighting shy of doing another ”
            AHOY MARY care to join the fun”… you are here, I am so happy to read your words…

            I do have to say that there is sense in what you say and cultural exchange is a wonderful thing…though I or anyone else cannot always write only from the cultural poverties, and there is the personal pot too, but that said, yes, I will keep your good counsel in mind, thank you
            this is a small world and there should be no gaijin, hurray 😉

          2. typo typo…pov …point of view … not poverties, the autofill did that, yikes and apologies for that glitch I have overlooked…

          3. Hi again Mary,
            This is very interesting:
            .
            “We have the beautiful Redbud (Cercis canadensis) that grow wild around here and are also called the “Judas tree” presumably because the magenta flowers somehow connect with the blood of Christ. I’ve never felt that was very believable.” – Mary
            .
            I vaguely recalled having heard of the Judas Tree somewhere along the track, so have looked it up. The story seems to have started in Europe:
            .

            “There is a belief that Judas Iscariot hanged himself from a tree of this species. This belief is related to the common name “Judas tree”, which is possibly a corrupted derivation from the French common name, Arbre de Judée, meaning tree of Judea, referring to the hilly regions of that country where the tree used to be common.[10] Another possible source for the vernacular name is the fact that the flowers and seedpods can dangle direct from the trunk in a way reminiscent of Judas’s possible method of suicide.[4] ”
            .
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cercis_siliquastrum
            .
            It’s not hard to imagine someone in the American South making up their own version, that’s how folk tales begin.
            .
            – Lorin

        3. I support Lorin in that the Christian ‘foktale’ shouldn’t be regarded as more relevant than those from another culture.

    2. Radhamani, my thanks to you for such a thoughtful and complete analysis of my senryu. I am always fascinated that three brief lines (or sometimess only two or one line) can evoke such thoughtful responses. You’ve done a wonderful job here, and I’ve loved reading all the comments that followed yours.
      .
      Warm regards,
      Mary

      1. In the comments to the various haikai (thanks Alan Summers) over time I’ve come to realise an entire novel can be extracted from one, two or three lines!

      2. Dear Mary Kendall,
        I profusely thank you for your wonderful words. it is these lovely and
        encouraging words from creative writers, that keep the writing community going ahead.
        with regards
        S.Radhamani

        1. Dear Radhaamani,

          I agree with you and all the others in these postings that the discussion among poets is encouraging to all. Poets have great internal lives that may or may not be shared with those in their “real” lives. To have a community such as this where we can discuss and share ideas, interpret poems, pick apart the many nuances of a single line or word–well, that is heaven.

          Warm regards,
          Mary

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