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re:Virals 207

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

     not loss but
     a handful of clear water 
          — Mark Harris, burl (Red Moon Press, 2012)

Radhamani Sarma explores how clear perception is gained along with loss:

Very much delighted to read and comment upon this week’s senryu, by Mark Harris, from burl, upon the theme of water, essential for our day-to-day living. In a way,  this write could also be interpreted on loss and gain, gain of clear perception of water on hand.

During house construction,  in the process of soil testing, landlords and buyers decide as to the purity of water. Holding some running water in the cupped hand, analysis is done on how much clear water is lost.

The  first line says “not loss but.” Possibly the speaker, while holding a glass of drinking water, inadvertently drops it causing double loss: loss of water and the glass.                                                        

Another vital inference is that a water image is always associated with a hand, or cupped palm: obviously water runs down. Related images of pebbles and  small stones stay behind, pushing water down.

One may also come to the conclusion, from a habit developed by some, that while drinking one is throwing away some water, from the bottom, thereby incurring loss.  An image is envisioned, an aura of experience gained, stemming from water, a handful of clear water, etc.

Linguistically also there is the distinct pun and play upon the words ‘loss’ and ‘lost’; ‘loss’ implying heavy or natural, ‘lost’ giving us a hint of our carelessness and a sort of letting go as a possible inference.

Rich Schilling ferrets out both helplessness and catharsis:

Before we get lost, let’s start with something we are sure of. Clear water is a summer kigo. This haiku does not have a summery feel to me, but being lost has no season and that’s where we start off in Mark Harris‘s haiku. The sentiment is clear. It’s a feeling of helplessness. It’s an effective first line and something everyone can relate to. It’s as if he is tired of metaphors and wants to be direct. It has the weight of sadness but at the same time realizing there is always something worse. So he may be lost, but he has not lost hope.

That leads us to L3. In the journal Roadrunner 12.3, Jack Galmitz mentions a clarity in this poem, the clear water. If you are literally lost, the one thing you would need would be water, and there is a clarity but it is fleeting, only a handful. As in life, we spend years trying to acquire things we want but along the way we also lose some of what we gain.

The book this haiku comes from, burl, seems to be about catharsis. Mark is working through something with his poems. You don’t need the back story of why Mark is writing. This haiku stands on its own. I’d like to think Mark or whoever he was writing about found their way back. Maybe to where there was more than a handful of clear water and someone with whom he could share it.

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 208:

     old map
     the whole country 
     one color           
          — Jim Kacian Cranach City Anthology; Border Lands (2007)

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. not loss but
    a handful of clear water
    — Mark Harris, burl (Red Moon Press, 2012)
    To my mind, this haiku enacts a mindful effort to gain clarity. There is a weighing up and a careful distinction made between loss and lost and I imagine that distinction isn’t merely grammatical. There is the clarity of “clear water” and “clear water” is a kigo for all of autumn in Japan:
    – Lorin

    1. yes, and you know how I stand Lorin when it comes to Kigo, the world is on the plate, and where does the kigo stand? gps anyone?

      just for discussion-sake, not disagreeing or anything…

    2. I found clear water to a summer kigo on the same site? Kind of makes me question how accurate that site is…or is just that kigo definitions can be a fluid kind of thing?

    3. Well put, Lorin.

      The Japanese have kigo for most things, it all depends on the character used. And context. I mostly like and use kigo in my own writing. I, as Editor, take both directions. That’s it for my knowledge of Japanese/ In the world, my world — I feel this haiku as autumnal. Based on the loss involved. Preview of winter, a death symbol. Water come and gone = perhaps my life here and slipping away. I have the water in my hand and inevitably it slips away.

  2. I have enjoyed reading all of your comments. some previously considered, others enlightening. I wonder if I can add another element for consideration.
    The hand itself.
    A palm reader would tell us of events through our lives all told on our life line.
    I wonder if the poem is actually about dementia or a similar disease.

      1. yep. It is rather an angle I did not consider but is very close to my heart Robert, someone I am very attached to was affected by dementia, and I see what you say…

  3. I for one was wondering about how the rivers are being polluted or should I say the ground waters are/ were getting polluted by human care less attitudes.
    And that is what the poem is for me, the way the world has been careless for long, lost is the pristine water we need not test before drinking, ( except when there are toxic mineral deposits in the ground water, naturally, like too much of sulphur for no reason other than sulphur deposits found in the ground)

    I remember, we used to drink water from the tap while travelling by trains, there was always a drinking water faucet, but now we have to buy water.
    The issue is not just water. The issue is also about clean air, carbon credits, and a myriad of environmental issues.
    That said, I did not search for the origin of the poem, where it is from ( Thank you Rich! )
    As a reader who does not know the context, the words that stand out for me are: loss, lost, and handful
    Clarity is not the thing that occurs to me. It is the word- lost
    Loss is a greater painful emotion, imo, a sort of unacceptable acceptance of …grief… like losing someone… and the speaker says:
    “not loss” but

    aha, ok, it is not a major below the belt hit, ohkaaay

    so something or state or someone has been lost
    Can that which has been lost be refound?
    I do not have an answer for that question, merely asking it to lead myself onto the next line:

    “a handful of clear water”

    a handful may be all that is needed at the given haiku moment.
    What was it the speaker saw? Murky waters, because of rain, or polluted waters, because of the pollutants being let into the ecosystem,
    a certain state of being, perhaps, a certain wavelength of thought and perception ( which is sort of clarity, but not really)
    and like the trickle of what was once held in the hands ( Radhamani, I hear you) it is gone, like laughter now there, and then nowhere, …
    But then, I would like to ask, how much does it take to collect another handful of clear water to reflect the sky, the sun, the moon and the clouds that cloud it all?
    pouring back
    into itself, the moon
    in my hand

    thank you for picking this poem, thank you Mark for writing it …and wow this is fun

    1. Pratima, you’re spot on about the pollution. Never thought of it, but should have.

      I also note the word ‘lost’ all by itself in a line.

  4. The long last line indicates the water streaming away. Much as words can run away from one.

  5. Loss of a handful of water. An entity slipped through the fingers. It’s no surprise. It becomes lost when the water so slipped either goes down the drain, if the water is from a tap at a basin, sink or bath or merges again with the larger body of water it was scooped from, or it seeps into the ground. Loss because unused, lost because the handful of water lost its identity. The water became something else though no gap was left. A metaphor?

  6. Dear Rich Schilling,
    Going through your comments, the following statements evoke a kind of interesting new note and vital.

    “The book this haiku comes from, burl, seems to be about catharsis. Mark is working through something with his poems. You don’t need the back story of why Mark is writing.”

    with regards

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