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re:Virals 189

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

 
     gas chamber
     a man lifts up
     his child

          — Dietmar Tauchner, As Far As I Can (2010) 

Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă reasons for the absence of season:

Why doesn’t a seasonal reference appear in the poem? Because nature must not be present in any way as an accomplice in a place that is synonymous with genocide, barbarism.
The first verse makes you think immediately about the atrocities that took place in the gas chambers from the Nazi concentration camps.
No survivors could forget what happened in those gloomy days in the history of mankind.
While visiting the memorial as tourist, the child in this ku is probably very curious and noisy, that’s why his dad helps lifts him above the crowd her in order to better see that gas chamber.
One can notice the subtle irony of the author who seems to say that in the past in these kind of rooms no child could escape, because they knew what was next…
A painful lesson of history that should not be forgotten.

Radhamani Sarma gives thanks:

Such a sad topic. Our sincere thanks to Dietmar for having given us an opportunity to think more about gas chambers.
This powerful senryu highlights the horrors inflicted on those selected for torturous death—even children are not exempted. Isn’t it barbaric!

virus2
As this week’s winner, Cezar 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 189:

 
     gunfire the length of the playground


          — John McManus,  Modern Haiku 45.1

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Dietmar’s ku speaks of the unspeakable.
    It moved me so deeply I could only read, read and re-read it, each time letting it loosen ‘hard’ memories in me. When I lived in Europe and visited Polish friends, I accompanied them to Auschwitz not once but three times. Not as a tourist or even visitor, but a repenting pilgrim.
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    For years I could not put aside the shock of it. Nor erase photographic images of those cruelly obliterated. Nor unfeel the numbing emotions it evoked. Only the moving stories and spirits of the so-called ‘damned’ held for me traces of redemption. That’s what I also find among the thoughts expressed here.
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    So how can I thank Dietmar for his ku? Cezar-Florin (congratulations) and Radhamani (more than once) for what they wrote of it? or the stirring commentaries that follow theirs?
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    With Garry I want to say I ‘appreciate Lorin’s point about the father unknowingly holding up his little son to ensure his exposure to the water.’ Or, as Robert suggests, perhaps as ‘the last ditch attempt of man to save his own creation.’
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    Together with Roberta’s Dee Evetts’ haiku, I want to thank Alan for his monoku:.
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    ‘trucks in the violin mimicries of D-sharp minor’
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    as well as the one he lifted from the collection:
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    ‘the child’s eyes green beyond barbed wire’
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    and also to echo Alan’s unconcern for the precise type of ku Dietmar uses, because “the content ‘surpasses’ form or genre.”
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    Petru’s ‘hope’ that ‘the man who held up the child gets to see’ the ku gives me pause. I find it difficult to imagine a parent actually bringing an offspring not yet a teen into Auschwitz. Still, I agree with Wendy that in a place of “degradation toward humanity” what Dietmar highlights is “a kind, tender moment.” That’s what a father/mother could do too.
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    I could go on and on… Rather, let me observe that it is evident that what’s been written thus far comes from poets used to unearthing the unimaginable and somehow saying the unsayable.
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    I’d like to second Lorin when she says ‘It is the spareness of words, the lack of overt sentiment that allows this haiku its power.’
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    As always thank you, Danny, for making so profound a conversation possible.

    1. P.S. Meant to mention Garry’s addition as a also ‘chilling!:’
      .
      gas mask
      a neo-nazi’s son in training
      for pest control

  2. I’m responding to Garry’s post first but I see there’s a queue of replies to that already and don’t want to confuse anyone, so . . . 🙂
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    Garry Eaton says:
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    “It is gratifying to read the many comments, but surprising to see only two responses to the poem itself. ”
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    That might’ve had something to do with Easter holiday commitments for many, Garry? (The ‘official’ commentaries had to be in to Danny by last Tuesday.)
    .
    The issue of kigo has been brought up. We who are used to traditional notions of “4 seasons” , what do we make of the 5th Japanese season, the New Year? Clue: the Japanese New Year is a season unto itself, a human season of cultural significance, not a season of nature, It does not appear in saijiki as a sub-season or section of of winter, for instance, but has its own section. It is considered to be a season, not a topic. I have also heard it said that “War is a season unto itself”.
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    Some resources on kigo in contemporary haiku, for those interested, are archived on Richard Gilbert’s research site, all put there in 2006:
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    http://research.gendaihaiku.com/kigo.html
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    .

  3. the haunting sense of danger…may prompt a parent to hold a child near. In some camps men where often separated from their families, and placed in different rooms or buildings….”to shower”.

    1. Wendy, yes, I agree with you. That action of picking up one’s child (and holding the child close) is often an instinctual protective action.
      .

  4. It is gratifying to read the many comments, but surprising to see only two responses to the poem itself. Cezar’s point about the absence of a kigo is interesting, and may well have been a consideration in Dietmar’s mind. I feel that a kigo is unnecessary in a senryu, or hard haiku, such as this. As well, its absence leaves us free to realize that such scenes would have happened throughout the year.
    I also appreciate Lorin’s point about the father unknowingly holding up his little son to ensure his exposure to the water.
    Chilling!

    gas mask
    a neo-Nazi’s son in training
    for pest control

    1. I’m not sure anything could poetic could surpass the British poet Don Gibson’s poem about the early experiments. I workshopped with him, and then witnessed him read/perform the long poem to a crowd of mostly novelists and novel enthusiasts, but no one got the amount of applause that he did. It was chillingly spellbinding.
      .
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      Inspired by his poem, many years later I wrote in haiku ‘form’:

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      trucks in the violin mimicries of D-sharp minor
      .
      Alan Summers
      Otoliths ed.Mark Young (Feburary 2017)
      “Not when she’s in Kansas”
      A haiku sequence haibun hybrid
      .
      .
      .
      Regarding…
      .
      .
      gas chamber
      a man lifts up
      his child
      .
      Dietmar Tauchner, As Far As I Can (2010)
      https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/omeka/files/original/3bd5a7738382e99754e9bed54179287c.pdf
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      The whole book is spellbinding and I assume, Gary, that you made it available to THF as I’ve located the pdf web link.
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      The first line will mean a lot to various generations, and I hope younger generations, as the rise of Hitler continues in various world leaders post-WWII all the way up to the present day.
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      Whether the verse is considered senryu or haiku, and whether it’s gendai in either genre, I’m not overly concerned with, as the content ‘surpasses’ form or genre for me.
      .
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      It’s difficult to locate a time of year as I have strong visions of winter and snow, as well as high summer.
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      I have never visited the death camps, although a non-blood related relative died in Auschwitz. But decades before I knew much about my family, I remember tears rolling down my face as a very young child watching both documentaries and movies concerning the determined eradication of an entire race. These attempts have been successfully and unsuccessfully since before the Greek and Roman empires, and we’ve seen ongoing attempts in not just recent years but recent days.
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      So saying all that [above] isn’t is wonderful that even though women and children are legitimate military and terrorist targets, a parent can joyfully, maybe defiantly, maybe innocently, lift up his child, whether it’s connected to a death camp artefact, or perhaps for another view?
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      How far in time and place are the juxtaposed images (other than the obvious mid-20th century crime/war) and a contemporary family interaction? Perhaps the man has left the camp behind, and moved on.
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      There is often a lot said about juxtaposition and that the two images should not be too far apart. Here, the juxtaposition could be immediate in time and place, or over 70 years apart.
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      We don’t know if the man is a son, or a son of a son of a son of a survivor. But we do know, surely, that a gas chamber is not a piece of kitchen or bathroom equipment but a murder device, and is in stark contrast to the innocence of children, and a parent of whatever genders, doing what a parent will do physically and in support of a child’s advancement.
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      The simple use of language and phrasing works as there is no need, surely, to embellish one of the most vile and global crimes ever perpetrated in still relatively modern times.
      .
      gas chamber
      a man lifts up
      his child
      .
      Dietmar Tauchner, As Far As I Can (2010)

      I feel more is wanted on the poem itself? Okay, the very opening word ‘gas’ on a purely sound aspect, is almost onomatopoeia to me, and the second word ‘chamber’ feels achingly chilling as a retort to ‘gas’ enlarging upon what kind of gas container/implement. If this was in a short story or a novel, just those two words alone would form an effective grammatical sentence, and of course it was a sentence of death.
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      ‘a man lifts up’ makes us want to turn to the next line, and the verb choice becomes the driving force of the short verse when we read the third line, and then travel back to the opening line.
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      Tautly crafted, without telling emotion, or even showing emotion. Jewish women were fooled that these places were shower blocks, and queued with their children. I can almost envision a male parent and his son.
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      I can never see the film, but I read the book that haunts me still, called The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas which is a 2006 Holocaust novel by Irish novelist John Boyne.
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      The haiku (monoku) that follows, in the collection, is:
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      the child’s eyes green beyond barbed wire
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      .

      1. Dear esteemed poet,
        Greetings! Going through the entire analysis is educative and interesting with a lot more information. The following quotes , remarkably evocative of much curiosity and interest.

        “We don’t know if the man is a son, or a son of a son of a son of a survivor. But we do know, surely, that a gas chamber is not a piece of kitchen or bathroom equipment but a murder device, and is in stark contrast to the innocence of children, and a parent of whatever genders, doing what a parent will do physically and in support of a child’s advancement”

        your subsequent notes on the employed language, with its linguistic aspects, adding a new dimension to analysis.

  5. As I write this comment the scene outside is of grey skies, the tail end of storm “Helen” sweeping across the UK. The wind in the trees and finding its way through gaps in windows, adds a further chill to Dietmar’s poem.
    Yesterday having been a warm sunny day, presented the opportunity to open wide the windows to allow spring air to sidle through.
    One can only imagine the terrors of the gas chamber and the chilling events that led up to that final walk. To be not only starved of food and dignity, but of the most vital ingredient that allows us to exist, “air”.
    .
    gas chamber
    a man lifts
    Up his child
    – Dietmar Tauchner 2010
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    We can visualise the last ditch attempt of man to save his own creation,, or of a man who can visualise the terror that is about to unfold, choosing to humanly speed up events for one so young.
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    Viewed from the witnesses perspective, I see Dietmar’s poem capturing another image. One of innocence.
    The mention of the word “child” conjures up many images.
    I wonder whether the child was being mischievous and out of respect the parent/ guardian quickly picked up the child in order to calm him or her.
    Or whether the fear that ran through the parents mind at viewing or hearing about the chilling scene, gave cause to grab the thing all us humans hold so precious.
    Thank you Danny.

    .

  6. gas chamber
    a man lifts up
    his child
    .
    — Dietmar Tauchner, As Far As I Can (2010)
    .
    Susumu Takiguchi had a special category for haiku on topics such as war and other horrors. He called it simply ‘ Hard Haiku’ and he encouraged the writing of such haiku. After all, haiku is not all about ‘breeze through the willow tree prettiness’ or worn-out sentiments.
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    Some things are stark and raw and Auschwitz-Birkinau stands as a reminder of the horror for all humans. The museum, which it now is, of this largest of Nazi Death Camps “attracts over 2 million visitors per year”.
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    The horrible irony in this haiku is that the father’s protective, nurturing action of lifting up his child in the present (post WW2) might very well echo that of a father, unaware that what was about to come out of the shower head, lifting up his son in happy expectation of refreshing water at last.
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    The captive Jews were not herded into the gas chambers at gun point: they walked there willingly, with their children, not knowing that they would all be gassed to death with Zyklon B.
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    “a man lifts up his child” : such a normal, fatherly thing to notice. It’s suggestive of tenderness and caring and normality.
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    “gas chamber”: an atrocity, even the words, the mention of such a place conjures up horror.
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    Hold these two separate images up together, as Dietmar has done, and note how they interact. Then see how they blend, horrifically, into one image. It is the spareness of words, the lack of overt sentiment that allows this haiku its power.
    .

    1. Dear Lorin.
      Greetings, Appreciate your analysis, in your mentioning, the following, is very striking and new piece of information. New revelation of history.

      “The captive Jews were not herded into the gas chambers at gun point: they walked there willingly, with their children, not knowing that they would all be gassed to death with Zyklon B.”
      with regards
      S.Radhamani

      1. Hi Radhamani,
        Well, I’ve read that from various accounts. Perhaps it was only the first few groups (though they were big groups) sent to the showers who didn’t suspect anything . . . If they’d known, I imagine they would’ve turned on the guards and preferred to be shot dead. Anyway, there are photos available on the www, both of groups walking to the ‘showers’/ gas chambers and the gas chambers themselves, which were rigged up to look like showers with piping and shower-heads on the walls.
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        If you’ve not read it, you might appreciate Primo Levi’s much-honoured novel, If This Is a Man. (translated to English) There will be many reviews of it on the www.
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        https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/22/primo-levi-auschwitz-if-this-is-a-man-memoir-70-years#img-1
        .
        – Lorin

  7. Dietmar’s haiku brought me back to Dee Evetts’ classic haiku, a longtime favorite of mine:

    custody battle
    a bodyguard lifts the child
    to see the snow

    Dee Evetts

  8. My first reference was the story of Abraham and Isaac in the Bible. A sacrifice demanded. I read the ku as if in the time of the WWII. The second reference was – the image of a man holding his child up – the man may resemble the cross and the child Jesus. I realise Jewish people don’t recognise Jesus as a saviour – it’s just an image that came into my Christian-trained mind.

    The sardonic aspect of Cesar-Florin’s comment, a man holding up a child to see better, the way one would do at a concert or the zoo, refers to the blunted emotions humanity adopts, turning the inner eye blind. Indeed it is a lesson humanity should not forget. Hope the man who held up the child gets to see the, read the senryu.

  9. re:Virals 188:

    gas chamber
    a man lifts up
    his child

    — Dietmar Tauchner, As Far As I Can (2010)

    Very much involved to comment upon such a sad topic and Our sincere thanks to Dietmar for having given an opportunity to know more about gas chambers.

    This powerful senryu highlights on the one hand the horrors inflicted on those selected for torturous death, on the other Even children are not exempted. Isn’t it barbaric, one ponders?
    accepting. Irony or pathos implied here, a man assigned some duty or in the pre execution process, painfully lifting up his one child, perhaps unaware that it is his own blood.

    If the descriptive noun “gas chamber” prepares us for a cruel instrument inflicting death pangs, for a disastrous event, the subsequent lines “a man lifts up/his child/ tells us the irony that a caretaker or a man is to lift up his own child; it is a moment of sudden and unconscious move; possibly also, punishment is impartial. Another viable information is that among so many in the grip of grueling death trap, picking up his child- a visual image, unmatched for. Shocking and sudden and helpless predicament.

    I cannot but mention how painful this practice – which I culled out from goggle.

    .
    “SS men escorted the men, women, and children selected for death to the gas chambers—initially to the gas chamber in crematorium I and “bunkers” 1 and 2, and, from the spring of 1943, to the gas chambers in crematoria II, III, IV, and V.
    Trucks carried those too infirm to walk, and the rest marched. These people had to disrobe before entering the gas chambers. In crematorium I, they undressed either in the yard

  10. Thank you Gary for introducing this poem to me:

    gas chamber
    a man lifts up
    his child

    by Dietmar Tauchner 2010–As Far As I Can

    Analysis by wendy c. bialek

    historically gas chambers were used to stop life in humans and animals.

    i picture….the man lifts up his child so that he/she can see it….perhaps the place where a beloved family member spent their last moments. Is the father educating his child on the tragedy in the camps by bringing him/her to one of the many inoperative sites left for the public to tour and/ or reassuring and allowing the curious-hearted, or inquisitive mind child closure, with a way to say the good-bye wishes and make prayers/conversations…as if at a personal grave site.
    My deeper soul search with
    further commentary on this poem by Dietmar Tauchner…reveals to me…that in a place where deceitful manipulations, unkindness and degradation toward humanity prevailed…the poet who was visiting the tour site….noticed a kind, tender moment between father and child…as he empowers the child by bringing him/her up to an equal level to observe, clearly and fully with their own eyes…historical truths. Though the reminder of Holocaust atrocities is hard to swallow, i find the poem to be uplifting in spirit, to contrast good deeds with evil…leaving me with a lasting positive image. Thank you, Dietmar for your ironic and tender sharing of a moment that you captured here and your focused insight.

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