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:
monologue of the deep sea fish misty stars Fay Aoyagi, Modern Haiku 33.3 (autumn 2002)
Mark Gilbert ponders the fish:
To me, the anthropomorphic ‘monologue’ works to suggest the constant gulping action of a single solitary fish in the ocean’s depths, poignant perhaps because there is no audience. The fish may even be one of the last of that species. ‘Misty stars’ adds to the tone of loss and regret. There are other interpretations of the third line but these are probably too literal.
Kyora Umeda finds poetry:
The unknown stars murmur an endless story.
We can’t hear the words of the deep sea fish and stars.
An infinite number of scenarios disappear into the darkness of the universe,
and the deep sea and human’s inner space are a part of universe.
This work has infinite space.
Nancy Liddle takes a trip:
The juxtaposition of deep sea and deep space and the beings within. The communication of beings reduced to a monologue telling of an apparent loneliness, a singularity of being. The black velvet of both vastnesses, the murmur of one small voice continuing. Such an evocative haiku that travels the reader both up and down into wells of incomprehensible depth and width that we are lost, muttering to ourselves. Thank you for the trip!
Rich Schilling measures a sense of space:
Fay’s haiku starts from the thoughts of a fish, deep in the ocean and ends up in space. So it is a poem of distance, measurable distance, but also a distance that can’t be measured, from the internal to external. Both the stars and fish are basically alone in a darkness, existing as part of a world, but they may never interact with. There is loneliness in every line of this haiku. It gives me the sense that we are sometimes self-contained within our own thoughts and even though we know there is so much more than ourselves, sometimes it is hard to make a connection. This haiku has an unclarity (misty), a darkness, and the seclusion of life. I think of stars as distant and out of reach but using the word misty makes them dreamy, gives them a softness; possibly giving a bridge to escape the isolation. Maybe it’s a caveat of the way to not get lost within ourselves, to see the stars and ourselves among others even if it is a little unclear, as life usually is.
Reka Nyitrai immerses herself in the depths:
In theater, monologue is a speech by a character to himself/herself. Most often this literary device is applied to express aloud the thoughts, feelings of a solitary character. The critics of this theatrical device are pointing toward its lack of feeling real, true and are describing it as static, improbable and even boring.
If a man/woman alone is not expected in real to talk aloud, how improbable is it to expect a lyrical outburst, a confession from a fish? Not any fish, but a „deep sea fish”.
Not revealing the exact name of the fish, Fay Aoyagi gives free hand to her readers to imagine what kind of fish is the one that delivers the monologue. Hence, I assume that the speaking I of this monologue is an ankoo 鮟鱇 (あんこう) (anglerfish), an awkward looking fish, that lives in the bottom of the sea.
It would be interesting to find out the gender of Aoyagi’s anglerfish.
Taking into account the major physical differences between the male and female anglerfish, I assume that the content of the monologue has to be pretty different, depending on the imaginary speaker’s gender.
The piece of dorsal spine that protrudes above their mouths like a fishing pole, that gives the name of this fish, is worn only by females.
The male anglerfish, which is significantly smaller than the female, has no need for such feature, because it has evolved into a permanent parasitic mate. When a young, free-swimming male angler encounters a female, he latches onto her with his sharp teeth. Over time, the male anglerfish physically fuses with the female, losing his eyes and all his internal organs, except the testes. A mature female anglerfish might carry more than one male on her body.
Stepping further into the white space provided by Aoyagi, I am going further with my assumptions and imagine that the speaking I of this monologue is a blind male anglerfish.
Eventually, identifying the one who delivers the monologue, I finally understand the hidden drama of this haiku, drama mainly revealed in the last line of the haiku, that discloses who is the audience of the monologue.
This is the moment when I sense the power of this ku that constructs a surreal arch that connects the bottom of the sea with the sky – all trough the pathos and weight of an imaginary monologue delivered by an awkward, misunderstood creature: a parasite, a blind male anglerfish.
My last question would be: what makes the starts look “misty”? Probably, they too, feel for Aoyagi’s character.
Clayton Beach talks of masks:
This haiku is dense and perhaps a bit unapproachable to some readers, with its cryptic idiosyncrasy. I often find clues to the meaning of a haiku in other poems by the same author. Each provides a lens, and in the connecting of threads we can trace the contours of an author’s ongoing themes and general style.summer festival— my Astro Boy mask has lost its power — Fay Aoyagi, In Borrowed Shoes
Aoyagi’s subtle but pithy humor and sense of whimsy are perfect evocations of haiku humor, a touch of sadness in the symbolic fading of power, but also the childlike innocence of summer and cartoon characters.
Reading a swath of Aoyagi’s work reveals a playfulness and humor that warms the poetry. Her puckish humor often involves masks of one kind or another, such as here where the author is eager to assume the role of a crustacean:cold rain— my application to become a crab — Fay Aoyagi, Haiku 21
We may read this as a playful way of saying that the author is grumpy on a cold winter’s day, with a hint of melancholic hyperbole reminiscent of T. S. Eliot’s “I should have been a pair of ragged claws.”
In this sense, we can imagine the deep see fish as the author, and search for a hint of setting. “Misty stars” gives us a sense of night, perhaps with a deep fog that makes one imagine being a deep sea fish, a humorous or lonely monologue delivered while wandering the foggy streets at night in a distracted, dreamy mood.
“Moonlight and rain” as a trope in Japanese literature is associated with the supernatural, of which Aoyagi is no doubt aware, so the surreal initial impression and eerie undertones linger even if we manage to find ourselves comically as a fish entering the misty twilight murmuring a soliloquy.
As this week’s winner, Reka 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!
winter fog an old man turns back into a tree — John McManus, he Heron’s Nest, Volume XIV:4