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re:Virals 205

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 fork in the
     the road turning into a
     a clock
          — Peter Yovu, Sunrise (Red Moon Press, 2010)

Judith Hishikawa discovers her own hidden meaning:

I like the way fork and clock both have an ‘o’ and a ‘k ‘in them, even though only the ending sound is the same. Both the fork in the road and the clock can have a Y configuration in them, visually connecting them as well.

The viewer, reader, is left to decide for themselves what the connection between time and choosing could be. Perhaps the meaning is, don’t linger too long over your choices, be decisive!

Theresa Cancro’s thoughts take many directions:

The form and the reading of Peter Yovu’s haiku leads me from one line to the next like a winding road. The lines enjamb in such a way that they almost curve, like a clock. The repetition of words definitely mirrors the repetitious ticking of a clock. If one is at the fork in a road, there’s often a moment of indecision: Which direction should we follow? That moment of hesitation is a turn in the flow as we choose the way we’ll take.

Perhaps we can view it metaphorically: Here’s a ‘moment’ in life when we have to choose which path we will follow, be it a life milestone like marriage or a new job, which in turn will determine the course of our future. Roads are often circuitous, winding here and there, as are changes in our lives that lead us in different directions.

The thought of directions takes me to the idea of the rising and setting of the sun, also an orb in the sky, not unlike a clock. A fork in the road may suggest various directions, including east and west where the sun rises and sets, a basic way of reckoning time. Why not all four directions? Ancient people used the movement of celestial bodies among all directions to mark the seasons, to help them determine the optimal times to plant and reap crops from one year to the next. I am reminded of standing stone circles, like Stonehenge, found in many parts of the world.

Radhamani Sarma finds expansion in the circular path:

This week’s selection by Peter Yovu seems to be a senryu; I think I am not wrong. It brings out his technical skill in evolving an admirable twist and turn,  thereby a challenging task for readers’ imagination.

The very first line “a fork in the…” leading where? The poet deliberately leaves the imaginative aura to our discretion. Converting the term “fork” literally, the  meaning derived is a junction, a divide or a branch and related derivatives.

As a result of the bend or divide within the road what happens: the poet establishes a connectivity with the second line, leading on to the third line.The driver of the vehicle as a result of the fork takes or rides via a whole roundabout, hence a clock, a circle. The divide enables a roundabout – a full circle, not necessarily for a vehicle but also for a walker, a pedestrian.

The senryu can be possibly interpreted this way, too: Peter Yovu envisions poetically the fork as an instrument for cutting.  So in the first line, “a fork” in the orange or apple or fruit, cutting as an instrument used for cleaving, takes the journey to the fruit and an application of the instrument in a circular way, hence the clock. Two images ‘fork’ and ‘clock’ intertwine both in the journey of a road as well as the fruit.

A very demanding and at the same time expanding of our perspectives.

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 206:

     Putting Christmas
     back in
     its box
          — Alexis Rotella, Frogpond 42:2 (2019)

This Post Has 35 Comments

  1. a fork in the
    the road turning into a
    a clock
    — Peter Yovu, Sunrise (Red Moon Press, 2010)
    I can’t wax lyrical because this poem reminds me of f a possible psychology tests. It depends on what the reader supplies more than many haiku.

    a fork in the (road? pie? potato field? eye? devil’s hand? snake’s tongue? . . . )

    the road turning into ( a golf course? private driveway? forestry track? bowling alley? desert ? flying carpet?. . . )

    clock ( time? time out? out of time? clock on? clock off? clock clock go those wooden Dutch shoes?. . .)
    Only when a reader assumes that “a fork in the . . .” has a connection with “the road…” in L2 (and not with a devil pitching more coals into a fiery furnace) can there be a “story” of any kind. What the poem does, in my opinion, is point at the reader (each reader) allowing each the possibility of being conscious about how she/he construes language and guesses at likelihoods and how interpretation is much a matter of relying on cues that we’re familiar with and from that point, basically making it up as we go along.

    – Lorin

    1. Many, it seems, have come to believe that the greater the ambiguity in a given poem, the better it is. Or at least the most fun. This kind of focus, on finding multiple readings, has trained us (annoying to generalize, I know) to view a poem almost atomistically, as some of the deconstructionists did, going off word by word.
      A lot of one line poems give themselves to this way of reading, of course. A difficulty is, that once you have agreed to read a poem this way, you have to accept *all* possibilities. It does begin to look like a Rorschach test.
      Well, one possibility (it strikes me now, after reading Lorin’s post and thinking about this a little more than I thought I would) is that “a fork in the” is a kind of commentary on all that. Or maybe that is just another interpretation among many possible. After all, a clock provides many forks,
      and only on occasions when the two hands overlap, is there relief. If that is the right word.
      But I see that I begin to play the game, and I don’t wish to be a deconstructionist here. I don’t know what I was thinking over ten years ago. The poem came to me as it comes to anyone reading it for the first time now. (It was more *read* than *written*). A poem, and I am not thinking specifically of haiku here, may be said to begin as a puzzle and end in a riddle.

      1. It’s always nice when the poet comments and sheds a little light. “more *read* than *written*” is a good point. We write poems out feeling not out of analysis, that comes later. Something you said in the Haiku Foundation video referring to one of your poems, is that you don’t really know what it means but it feels right. I’ve never heard a poet say that before and assumed every poet knew what every word of their poetry meant. Hearing that meant a lot to me. I often write what I don’t understand but maybe that’s the point of writing it down, to work it out. Just for the record, Imago is my favorite book of poetry. Thanks for the great writing and for commenting.

      2. Peter…
        no one said anything about the “a” doing a a stutter of surprise,
        why did you have the double – a-?

      3. Dear Peter,
        Honestly, I did not associate this ku of yours with a Rorschach test. (I’ve been known to whinge about ku that people have praised for their ample “dreaming room” and compare those ku with Rorschach tests) There is a difference. With a “Rorschach test” ku, you can make just about anything you want of it. With this one of yours, I believe that the reason that most people will read “a fork in the road” is that we see “road” in the next line before the brain begins to process what we’ve seen.

        Perhaps ‘neurology tests’ would’ve been a better word choice than ‘psychology test’ ( but these fields overlap). I was thinking more of the kind of tests used to find norms of brain function and disruptions like trauma to certain parts of the brain that I’ve been reading in a book written at the turn of the century, A User’s Guide to the Brain .

        It’s fascinating! (for me, who never really thought about these things . . . and never did any science since I never went to high school)

        Anyway, most unexpected and lovely to read your response here, Peter.
        – Lorin

        1. Lorin,

          I should have been more clear. I did not think you meant *Rorschach* specifically, but I narrowed things down for my own purposes. Oddly enough it seems, this little thing becomes another kind of test, the one that is designed to show that habitual seeing can override what is actually *there*, in this case the “stutter” that Pratima mentions:
          a fork in THE
          THE road turning into A
          A clock
          which if it had any appeal for me whatsoever when I came up with it, was that it somehow mimicked the splitting of a road into two diverging parts: stutter of surprise, stutter of hesitation, stutter of indecision.
          I do think that a sense of TIME is more pronounced when one is faced with some sort of
          decision to be made. Less pronounced, or maybe absent when one is in the flow of things.
          But I think I was just going with the kinetics of this, and not any particular thoughts or interpretations.

  2. A few re:Virals ago, the writer of this– poem– had this to say:

    “For me, it long ago became apparent that many things I was writing and publishing in various places were, if not haiku, short poems that I probably would not have written but for my exposure to haiku. Maybe some day there will be an easy way to say what such writing is. “Influenced by haiku”, “haiku-like”, “derived from haiku” etc.— these are all awkward descriptors. I do think that a lot of what one sees in the magazines falls under the category of “maybe not haiku but influenced by it”. I like that there seems to room for such things. And personally, though I very seldom write anything even resembling haiku these days, when I did, I may have for a time thought I was stretching the genre (or form, or whatever it is) into new possibilities. I no longer have any interest in that. Haiku. Influenced by haiku. Good writing is what matters.”

    I wonder, given that a poem by Peter Yovu is currently in front of us, what you think of his statement? Does it alter the way you look at the poem? This is The *Haiku* Foundation, but is it necessary to regard this as a haiku (or senryu)?
    Personally, I am happy to see it as a very short poem. (That leaves me not worrying about “cuts” and “kigos”) though I think some people may be confused about that, and perhaps rightly so.
    A question I tried to post a while back was– should haiku publications and websites be offering
    poems that stretch the idea of a haiku to (perhaps) the breaking point? In other words, are you glad or not to see work like this, more easily characterized as a short poem than as a haiku, in haiku publications? Do haiku publications need to broaden their scope in this sense, and make it clear that they will publish work which is not necessarily haiku but “influenced” by it?

    Thank you,


    1. Why do you need to worry about the publications? Just write and send out the work. Journals will have their …what is that word…portfolio, manifesto… attribute… aaaargh, I am on a holiday, my mind is …

      1. Hello,

        I am not at all worried about publications. I think there may be a couple of interesting questions to discuss in what I posted.

    2. Hi Meg
      I went looking for the piece you mention. Unfortunately not finding it. I was hoping to read it before commenting on your post. If you can find the piece, a link would be appreciated. Peter has 4 pages of books, essays etc. In the hfdl.
      Whilst there I did come across this essay “Plausible deniability: Nature as hypothesis in English-language haiku
      Richard Gilbert, Kumamoto University (”
      Which you and others may find of interest.

        1. Dear Princess k and Meg
          Thank you, I will have a look.

          In my opinion, I think it inevitable that peoples exploration in and around haiku will result in new boundaries. Basho himself brought us the hokku from a longer form. Recently we have participated in Craig’s brevity challenge. How some have approached this has shown how broad people are willing to take things. Hence my mention of the piece I highlighted earlier.

          Best regards

      1. Yes, I was just about to offer what princess k has just posted. Thank you.
        Seems like a good place to open a discussion for those interested.
        I seem to recall in a review of a book by Yovu that Paul Miller asked of one of his poems:
        “It may be an interesting poem, but is it a haiku?”. That’s not exact probably, but
        some people may ask the same question of the poem in question this week. I’m not asking whether or not people think of this poem as a haiku or not–. I’m asking, do you welcome seeing poems which may not be haiku (but may be influenced by it) in haiku publications?


        1. the question is not whether the reader welcomes poems that are not strictly haiku, the question for me is whether something that is absolutely haiku by nature of its composition is interesting enough for me as the reader and whether it will pique me enough to dwell on it in my thoughts

          well, that is it. I hope you are happy with the altered perspective…:)

        2. I wrote some commentary on this poem but didn’t send it in because I wanted to read what others wrote. Peter Yovu is one of my favorites which is why I picked this poem but I do think he pushes the form of haiku into something else. I wrote an email to him about a year ago seeing if he had a copy of Sunrise (it was out of print then) and asked him a couple questions. He said he is not a haiku poet but is influenced by haiku. I don’t think this poem is a haiku or senryu. To me it’s just a great poem. It takes the form of haiku. My favorite poetry looks minimal but are full of layers and interpretation despite the amount of words. I would love seeing more of these types of poems in haiku journals. Otata, antantantantant, Noon, is/let, Sonic Boom, Human/Kind are some of my favorite places to read haiku and it’s because they push the boundaries of haiku which I’m all for. I would love to see more journals that have poems that look like haiku but maybe aren’t so concerned with kigo and cuts.

          1. yes Rich. And people have pushed boundaries all along.
            Here are the links for the first edition of Modern Haiku and the current one, I chose MH because of easy access across the timeline. 1969- 2019 …
            1.1 – 1969:

            current issue:

            there are so many more ways to write the haiku … in 2019, it seems…

            how do we define haiku? If it has one standard definition, then would it be organic enough to be a poem?
            If I were to say – Haiku is the aha moment, where does that position the poet and the editor? Where does it nail me as the reader? Who is the actual speaker in the poem? Is haiku just the moment?

            If haiku is a simple poem based on images from nature, then how can there be no kigo. Does that mean that without seasonal words, a poem is cast aside as not haiku?

            And does a haiku have to fit the format of phrase and fragment? Ah, tundra, Oh, tropical …me, dunnoh … 🙂

          2. Well, perhaps there isn’t a lot to say on the matter. I like Rich’s statement
            “he pushes the form of haiku into something else”. That something else will either appeal to someone or it won’t. Publications like is/let or Bones purport to be haiku journals,
            but I would say many things they publish “push the form into something else”. At this point, there may well be writers whose exposure is not first to “classic” haiku but to what has already been pushed beyond. Bones may be their starting point. Hard to know.
            Overall, I’m not sure that what a lot of current writers are doing (and publishing in Bones, Is/let, etc) is taking the classic haiku, the haiku of cuts and kigo, of “fragment and phrase” and seeing how far it can stretch, seeing what may be possible within those limits, but rather seeing what can be done with single line poems, period. In other words, what may be *most* important for a lot of writers is *brevity*, writing punchy, weird, dream-like things that throw incongruous images and impossible notions together. That sound like I’m being dismissive. I’m not. But I will admit that, liberal as I feel myself to be about these things, it is only very seldom that such a poem works for me.
            Yovu’s poem at least gets you thinking about things, which itself may not be a haiku ideal.
            But then, he probably doesn’t think it’s a haiku.

  3. It is interesting to read and interpret Peter’s works.
    This one, to take a different stance, and offer a different reading, the explorer in me, not the armchair explorer, mind you people, the actual one who often fumbles through bumbles and forgets time, because, the road less explored seems so very enticing and fun, and the time forgotten, the schedules forgotten, just the bucolic mind meandering through unfamiliar paths and interesting locales and a sudden cosy chair in the sunlit corner of a coffee shop, and did the phone just ring, did I notice the time, was I not supposed to be elsewhere,
    oh dear, oh dear, I am already unfashionably late

  4. I had what is maybe a silly association to Peter Yovu’s poem: the children’s books about Amelia Bedelia, the housekeeper/nanny who always interprets everything literally. In one story she is bewildered when she can not find the “fork” in the road she had been instructed to take. My further associations were: well, if there can be a fork, why not a clock, or anything else? But if the points on a clock are seen as directions, then unlike a fork, with its limited possibilities, the clock suggests greater potential. So literalness/limitation opens a path (through absurdity) to greater potential.

  5. my Birthday
    I take another slice
    of the clock
    Perhaps a poor interpretation, none the less I believe Peter is referring to a life clock. Each year we record another slice of life. All the time the clock counts down to an empty plate.

    1. Thank you, Robert, for your response to and commentary on this week’s haiku.


  6. my Birthday
    I take another slice
    of the clock
    Perhaps a poor interpretation, none the less I believe Peter is referring to a life clock. Each year we record another slice of life. All the time the clock counts down to an empty plate.

  7. Dear Theresa Cangro,
    Greetings,your perceptions of fork image with the clock and sun rising -directions of east and west- are all
    quite interesting taking us into new approaches .
    with regards

    1. Thank you, Radhamani, for your feedback on my commentary. I’m happy to read that you found it interesting.
      Best regards,

  8. “The lines enjamb in such a way that they almost curve, like a clock. The repetition of words definitely mirrors the repetitious ticking of a clock.”–Theresa Cancro

    I equated the abruption of each line ending with the indecision of the poem…not being able to choose when coming to a fork in the road, or choosing but dwelling on the choice not made. Many of Peter’s haiku have great sounds in them. I like how you found the repetition of words to sound like the ticking of a clock.

    1. Thank you, Rich, for your careful reading of the commentary. I appreciate your insightful thoughts about my own and about the haiku in general.


  9. “Perhaps the meaning is, don’t linger too long over your choices, be decisive!”–Judith Hishikawa

    I pretty much came to this same conclusion. I saw this poem as a condensed version of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.

      1. Yes, Frost had the first say. Also, look at the letter K. If you look at the right side, there are two directional lines, one pointing up, one pointing down.

        1. which ‘K’
          I seem to be spatially slow today. My topographical attributes have called it a Sunday …
          but sharp of you to observe …

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