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re:Virals 197

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

 
     a horse with no legs
     floats in a jigsaw puzzle
     called post-surgery

          — William M. Ramsey, IS/LET, September (2018)

John Levy is puzzled:

The first line, “a horse with no legs,” makes me see a horse’s corpse. I would rather see the corpse than a living horse that somehow lost its legs and is in its last agonizing moment(s) of life. The second line can be read as something of a relief, allowing me to visualize a drawing or painting of a horse with no leg rather than a flesh and blood body. Perhaps the image is surrounded by clouds or otherwise floating in a realistic or surrealistic jigsaw puzzle. The third line changes everything again so that “floats” brings up the sensation of floating anaesthetics or pain killers may produce.

This is a haiku that may be interpreted in many ways. Is it “about” a post-surgery patent’s hallucination? If so, why has this patient chosen (if a hallucination is a choice one’s subconscious makes) a horse and then why is the horse so mutilated and/or dead? This is sad and frightening no matter how I imagine answering the why.

A jigsaw puzzle is typically an object one uses to challenge oneself and pass a length of time pleasantly, solving and being rewarded by creating a whole from many fragments that are meaningless in themselves and have intriguing individual shapes. It seems unlikely that the jigsaw puzzle in this haiku is a literal jigsaw puzzle (to state the obvious). Is the haiku’s jigsaw puzzle completed or near completion? It seems that the puzzle is at least sufficiently finished so that “a horse with no legs” is recognizable and its immediate surroundings also have been pieced together enough to show a horse that is floating.

In such a short poem the two articles, both of which are “a,” are important. If one substitutes “the” for either “a” the meaning of the haiku shifts.

This powerful, moving, and evocative haiku has an affinity with another haiku that was recently the subject of re:Virals, this haiku by Reka Nyitrai:

an octopus
in her father’s lungs . . .
first autumn rain

Both of these haiku are striking, haunting, and memorable. And both evoke sad and scary situations. Nyitrai’s haiku’s third line introduces the season whereas Ramsey’s haiku doesn’t seem to exist in any season or outside of any season. Both haiku are empathetic and unsentimental.

Dave Read puts the pieces together:

Ramsey’s haiku begins in abstraction but is grounded and given context with the surprising third line. In fact, learning the setting is “post-surgery” helps better inform the poem’s surrealism and deepen its expression of the surgery’s immediate aftermath. The details augment the content, and work as metaphors. A “horse with no legs” is both not whole and unable to do what we most associate horses with: run. As such, there is the implication that one coming out of surgery may feel incomplete while suffering a loss of capability. Furthermore, that the horse is “floating” brings to mind the high that accompanies anaesthesia and other medicines. The patient continues to be drugged up. Finally, a reference to the jigsaw puzzle provides the idea of being put back together again. While Ramsey nowhere mentions a specific medical condition, the reader can only be left with the impression that it required major surgery. Some time and effort will be involved in moving towards full recovery, if it is even possible

virus2
As this week’s winner, Dave 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 197:

 
     stone cairns
     a faded cap drifts
     downriver

          — Debbie Strange, 1st place, 2015 Harold G. Henderson Haiku Contest.

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Just found this wonderful feature and have enjoyed reading everyone’s comments.

    I was interested in Alan Summers’s idea of an inner cut:

    a horse with no legs
    floats // in a jigsaw puzzle
    called post-surgery

    Once, at a horse show in Lima, I was fascinated to see, from a distance, one of the famously smooth-gaited Peruvian Paso horses moving behind a chest-high fence. It really occurred to me to wonder if the horse was just standing on a conveyor belt, so smooth was his gait.

    This image has often recurred to me since. So it is easy for me to imagine, even though this would not be a very common interpretation, this lovely floating horse with no legs appearing to me as part of the jigsaw puzzle of post-surgery consciousness.

  2. It’s been interesting to read all the comments. I must admit I was a bit flummoxed by the haiku, and despite two near-death experiences, and hence spending a short while in hospital, I didn’t register my own interpretation until now.
    .
    .
    a horse with no legs
    floats in a jigsaw puzzle
    called post-surgery
    .
    — William M. Ramsey, IS/LET, September (2018)
    .
    .
    I just asked my wife to bring in a dozen children’s fiction novels each day, but I know she loves those huge multi-thousand piece jigsaws to do over Christmas. 🙂
    .
    For me, it could be a either the horse’s legs haven’t been filled in yet, and perhaps the horse or horses are floating as the bottom part of the jigsaw hasn’t been started, or they are floating on a glass topped or baize covered table top?
    .
    Or the horse or horses are in a stream, river, or small lake scene:
    https://www.cobblehillpuzzles.com/Spirit-of-the-Rockies-p/80162.htm
    .
    .
    The post-surgery I guess must be at home, unless there is a leisure/armchair type room for patients to keep the jigsaw on a particular table?
    .
    I do like this phrase which starts midway into the second line:
    .
    .
    … in a jigsaw puzzle
    called post-surgery
    .
    .
    So perhaps commencement of the jigsaw puzzle was diagnosis, then the operation, and then the recovery process or processes?
    .
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    I think this might be way ‘called’ is necessarily retained? Because if a more expected ‘cut’ might reduce it to A=B?
    .
    e.g.
    .
    .
    a horse with no legs
    floats in a jigsaw puzzle
    post-surgery
    .
    .
    ?
    .
    .

    Robert Kingston said:
    .
    “Left with few avenues to further explore I come upon just one, which is more a question than an analysis .
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    Is William’s haiku a statement or perhaps a sentence ?
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    I may have answered this possibly?
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    There could be considered a very neat ‘inner cut’ making this two fragments, but not in the generic manner?
    .
    e.g.
    .
    .
    a horse with no legs
    floats // in a jigsaw puzzle
    called post-surgery
    .
    — William M. Ramsey, IS/LET, September (2018)
    .
    .

    Robert Kingston said:
    .
    “Both supposedly frowned upon in the genre.”
    .
    .
    I’d say that there is nothing wrong with writing well crafted haiku within a sentence set up, and that if we see that inner cut, it really isn’t a statement, certainly not in the flat hectoring manner at least. 🙂
    .
    .

    Robert Kingston said:
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    “Though examples can be found in those written by the masters. And I’m confident most of us will have created such too.”
    .
    .
    I’m sure hundreds of haiku in various languages by established haiku poets and experts can be located since haiku came about in the late 1890s, as well as in hokku and other haikai verses before the 1890s. Although hokku is a form, it started to become elastic under Basho and other contemporaries. As haiku is a genre it has now been allowed to breathe just as senryu can’t be restrained by the laws of others.
    .
    .

    As a monostich Robert Kingston laid out the piece thus:
    .
    .

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    A horse with no legs floats in a jigsaw puzzle called post surgery.
    .
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    It’s still a startling piece, and I’d add:
    .
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    A horse with no legs floats in a jigsaw puzzle…
    .
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    …a jigsaw puzzle called post surgery.
    .
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    Many fine haiku would make excellent opening lines for novels and shortfiction or CNF. 🙂
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    re CNF we need only think of Oliver Sacks’ book title:
    .
    “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”
    .
    .

    Robert Kingston said:
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    “Helped by all of your comments, I suggest it is clear that the horse is not on its legs and not of a state of mind to be so. Hence it is recovering from surgery.”
    .
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    I hadn’t thought it was literally a horse, but it reminds me that people executed horses if they broke a leg. Then someone saw they could be placed in a swing etc… so they could be ‘floating’ until mended enough to place weight back onto the horse’s leg(s).
    .
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    Robert Kingston said:
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    “I’d be interested to hear others views.”
    .
    .
    Your suggestion that it is actually a horse, and not allegorical, makes me think of George Stubbs (1724 – 1806) and I can imagine him writing a haikai verse, maybe incidentally as a fieldnote, but a haikai verse nonetheless.
    .
    .
    kindest regards,
    Alan Summers

    1. Thank you Princess K for adding another perspective.
      .
      Thank you Alan for a clear definition. Through time we read and reread connective information. I know I have read that at some point a broken up sentence was a no no in haiku. Jane Reichhold mentions such in her fragment and phrase section. Though she too goes on the mention the same resolve as yourself.
      .

      1. Hi Robert,
        .
        Jane was a friend, and suffered a lot of abuse both during the weird 1970s haiku wars, and misogynist attacks since, but was always an innovator. It’s odd and discomforting that even in haiku poetics there is such aggression. So I’d say, ignore anyone saying haiku has such and such rules.
        .
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        Whether Princess K is right or not, it’s a fascinating and convincing argument, and shows the humour and play in haiku.
        .
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        If there is some law about broken sentences I hold up my hands in despair. When freedom of expression is under attack, as well as democracy as a spent force in the UK and elsewhere, we really need to rally round as poets.
        .
        .
        An interesting debate around the haiku, which proves it really works, whatever final interoperation is correct or not.
        .
        .
        Do come round for a haiku chat, we are only twenty minutes slow stroll from the train station. There’ll be no rules, just friendly inclusive chat, tea, cakes, or coffee or biscuits, or variations. 🙂
        .
        warm regards,
        Alan

        1. Hi Alan.
          Thank you for your kind invitation. Something I will look forward to when time permits.

          All the best
          Robert

  3. Very interesting to read all of the commentaries on William Ramsey’s haiku:
    .
    .
    a horse with no legs
    floats in a jigsaw puzzle
    called post-surgery
    .
    .
    — William M. Ramsey, IS/LET, September (2018)
    .
    .
    Here is my take on the haiku:
    .
    I think the key to understanding this haiku lies in having a more childlike frame of mind as the haiku relies on a play on words of sort. I read the first line as a riddle: Q: What do you call a horse with no legs? A: a seahorse.
    .
    Quoting from the Wikipedia entry on seahorse: “Seahorse (also written sea-horse and sea horse) is the name given to 45 species of small marine fish in the genus Hippocampus. “Hippocampus” comes from the Ancient Greek hippokampos (ἱππόκαμπος hippókampos), itself from hippos (ἵππος híppos) meaning “horse” and kampos (κάμπος kámpos) meaning “sea monster”.
    .
    Also quoting from the Wikipedia on hippocampus: The hippocampus (from the Greek ἱππόκαμπος, “seahorse” from ἵππος hippos, “horse” and κάμπος kampos, “sea-monster”) is a major component of the brain of humans and other vertebrates. Humans and other mammals have two hippocampi, one in each side of the brain. The hippocampus is part of the limbic system, and plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory, and in spatial memory that enables navigation.
    .
    Thanks William M. Ramsey, for reminding me of all of the fun times I have had with my children, telling jokes and riddles.
    .

  4. a horse with no legs
    floats in a jigsaw puzzle
    called post-surgery

    — William M. Ramsey, IS/LET, September (2018)

    I have enjoyed reading all the comments and thank each of you for them. Left with few avenues to further explore I come upon just one, which is more a question than an analysis .
    Is William’s haiku a statement or perhaps a sentence ?
    Both supposedly frowned upon in the genre. Though examples can be found in those written by the masters. And I’m confident most of us will have created such too.
    .
    A horse with no legs floats in a jigsaw called post surgery.
    .
    Helped by all of your comments, I suggest it is clear that the horse is not on its legs and not of a state of mind to be so. Hence it is recovering from surgery.
    .
    I’d be interested to hear others views.

  5. This poem also evokes for me the same song that Pratima has remembered. I see the horse moving so fast that is seems to be floating with its legs disappearing in the dust kicked up with its speed. But then, I am yanked back to a different reality by the post surgery reference. Having gone through several surgeries in the last couple of years, I am familiar with the disorientation when emerging from anesthesia, as well as the sense of things moving too fast around me and my life having been broken into jigsaw pieces that must be put back together again. The speed of the horse as compared to the disorientation of life after a major surgery creates that unexpected juxtaposition we hope to see in haiku. It isn’t a comfortable feeling, but is does give us a certain kind of aha moment. For me, this poem is a mystery that feels very familiar. Thanks for sharing it, and thank you everyone for your commentaries.

  6. John and Dave and everyone else,

    A jigsaw puzzle is something where every piece has its designated space. And when that is done, it is complete. When it fits, it fits.
    William’s “a jigsaw puzzle/ called post-surgery” then, would be a place where the horse is and fits in.
    It is floating in there, this horse with no legs, and it is relief to read that.

    This is where my perspective or aberration of perspective ends. I do not want to see the future, because the poem does not point out the path. For now, knowing the horse floats in there is enough.

    That is my sunshine vitamin.

    William, thank you for writing this. I really had to sink into the poem to float this point of view. 🙂

  7. a horse with no legs
    floats in a jigsaw puzzle
    called post-surgery

    — William M. Ramsey, IS/LET, September (2018)

    Thanks to Haiku Foundation blog,for promoting our critical skills by way of introducing so many talented writers here. William M.Ramsey’s haiku, interestingly enough, points out,Life is always a puzzle,our ability to problem solving alone Helps us to move on amidst hazards and tribulations.

    The first line “ a horse with no legs” need not necessarily be construed as a literal sense of content implied by the author. The potential strength of a horse, is its running speed, its jumping, galloping fast- all by the Creator’s dexterous tags, inevitable parts. The poet envisages man as a horse, gifted with a power of moving or marching ahead in tune with the eddying currents of time.

    Again the same first line, “with no legs”establishing a contrast/ connectivity in the following two lines.if man gets stuck up in the middle of the stumbling blocks of road /life’s meandering or misleading paths,he has to float,like legless horse/no more running fast
    Second line begins in a contrasting mood, floats with that of running fast if the assemblage is a mis fit in a jigsaw puzzle.
    Third line post-surgery can be construed this way too- when man sits and ponders or rather in a mood of recapitulation,not in tune with solutions but only with blaming his karma or attributing to others’s faults, then he floats, a situation, from which no further move. The metaphoric images imply life’s philosophy carved in the image of a horse.

    Post -surgery a well meaning term symbolic of aftermath of life’s journey/its succor and decisions taken by man,either by
    His crude notes or rash approach.

    1. Radhamani hi,

      When I read the poem for the first time, I recalled one of my favorite songs: A horse with no name.

      It is probably a bias to carry when reading through a poem, because it influences me. The shadow of the lyrics color my read of the poem.

      Which I why I move deliberately towards thinking that when a horse is racing through/speeding through wherever, be it glade, meadow, desert, seashore or just the race tracks, there is a time, captured by the human eye, where the horse seems to be floating, and the legs raised are almost invisible. Does the horse have legs, yes. Of course, just that it is speeding across.

      And I want to mention that positive thought, however improbable it seems right now to other readers, and however stupid my words sound here, that this too is a far-fetched albeit possible reading. The person in post-surgery is speeding through recovery.

      There are lines in the song which I misquote here, all for discussion and because it is always nice to do a different kind of reading…

      “After nine days I let the horse run free
      ‘Cause the desert had turned to sea
      There were plants and birds and rocks and things
      there was sand and hills and rings
      The ocean is a desert with it’s life underground
      And a perfect disguise above
      Under the cities lies a heart made of ground”

      and that gets me to the most interesting part of the poem, the unsaid part that I am speculating about and am terribly unsure of:

      where are the other parts of the jigsaw, … how can we say it is complete as a horse with no legs, what if its wings are missing, what if it is a flying horse?

      I don’t know. Sometimes, I just need to see the hint of a rainbow, the. pathos in the selections are read heavy in my heart and my mind. There is more to the sunshine on our shoulders that is called life. Yes, of course there are shadows. I wonder if the jigsaw pieces that are missing out turn the tale around.

      “Horse with no name” ~ sung by America, written by Dewey Campbell

      1. Dear Pratima,
        Greetings.. Nice to read your response,first excuse me for the delay in responding to you. You have given me a chance to know about your favorite song, ‘ horse with no name’ and more into it.

  8. Dear Dave Read,
    Greetings.
    Going through your analysis, always a pleasure indeed. In this section, the following evokes a fine approach , especially the conclusive line,
    emphasizing ” as metaphors”.
    “Ramsey’s haiku begins in abstraction but is grounded and given context with the surprising third line. In fact, learning the setting is “post-surgery” helps better inform the poem’s surrealism and deepen its expression of the surgery’s immediate aftermath. The details augment the content, and work as metaphors.

  9. Dear Daboth nny,
    Greetings. In the process of being away from home country, time constraint, could not submit my comments on time, anyhow enjoying both comments. I shall try to upload my comments soon.
    with regards
    S.Radhamani

  10. Dear John Levy,
    Greetings. Going through your comments, very lively and enlightening. I like the following, in your take, re reading into it.

    This is a haiku that may be interpreted in many ways. Is it “about” a post-surgery patent’s hallucination? If so, why has this patient chosen (if a hallucination is a choice one’s subconscious makes) a horse and then why is the horse so mutilated and/or dead? This is sad and frightening no matter how I imagine answering the why.
    with regards
    S.Radhamani

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