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re:Virals 212

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 blue coffin
   one nail escapes
   the solar system
     Peter Yovu, Roadrunner 13.1

Rich Schilling enjoys the challenge:

For some reason when I think of a space, I always think of David Bowie. If anyone could live there, escape from here permanently, it would be him. In his song space oddity the line “far above the world planet earth is blue” reminds me of the blue in this poem. A blue coffin, to me, refers to the earth, blue when seen from space and a coffin because a coffin is something you never leave. But one nail escapes the solar system? Nails are used to hold things together but the nail in this poem seems to be floating away in space. Is that a metaphor for the earth falling apart, its eventual decline? Initially I thought escapes meant the nail broke free which would make sense but it could be the other meaning of escapes, as in failing to be noticed by anyone. As with many modern ku this one is a mystery open for interpretation. These are the kind of poems that get my attention. I want poems to be challenging, to make me forget where I am or what I was doing before I started reading it. I think what Peter does best is create small worlds with a few words that we can wander around in.

Hansha Teki connects the dots:

The images of the first line and the last lines of Yovu’s poem images progresses Carl Sagan’s “blue dot” image, referencing the famous 1990 Voyager 1 photograph of the earth in 1990, to one of our blue coffin. The poem appeared near the time that the same Voyager 1 space probe escaped the solar system to continue into interstellar space. Aboard the probe is a gold-plated audio-visual disc packed with images, sounds, speeches, music etc. to convey something of the intelligent life living on the planet of its origin as a message to any who may at some future time and place encounter the probe.

The idiomatic “final nail in the coffin” is that one factor that causes the failure of something that had already started to fail; the one additional event that serves to seal one’s fate. Upturning the image, Yovu breathtakingly imagines Voyager 1 as a symbol of hope for a future as it races out into interstellar space bearing mute testimony to the unknown out there of what the best of us aspired to even as a species we continue to actively turn our blue dot into a blue coffin.

I love Yovu’s masterful poem.

Dave Read finds fresh insight:

The power of a good haiku is derivative of its “aha” impact; its ability to make us see and understand things in a new way. Often, that insight is lost as practitioners of the form fall into a rut, collectively writing structurally similar poems on common themes. In such instances, rather than creating new insight, the poets are treading familiar waters with only mild eddies stirred by the effort.

Peter Yovu’s “a blue coffin” does not fall into the trap of familiarity. With unusual images and a broad scope, Yovu creates a powerfully insightful haiku. On a first reading, one is drawn in by his seemingly surrealistic imagery. However, subsequent readings reveal how specific Yovu is being.  Within “the solar system” setting, the “blue coffin” refers to our planet and the increasingly destructive behaviours of its human inhabitants. The urgency of climate change is embedded in our news cycle. Yet as humanity continues on its stubborn path, the prediction of Earth becoming “a blue coffin” becomes even more harrowing and real. The “one nail” of Yovu’s poem can, on the surface, be interpreted as space junk. However, there is a depth to the selection of a nail as a central item in the poem. The purpose of a nail is to hold or to bind together. Yet, ironically, it is exactly this object that “escapes / the solar system.”  That a nail drifts away into space is symbolic of our inability to bind ourselves to the need to change behaviours lest our inactivity leads to our very planet’s death.

Chris Patchel follows the nail:

“No metaphors” used to be, and maybe still is, an oft-repeated precept in haiku circles. With some valid reasons. For one thing, haiku is traditionally already a kind of “absolute metaphor” (Bruce Ross) whereby actual, sensory things undergo a symbolic transformation and take on greater significance as “objective correlatives.” (T.S. Elliot).  

But to each poet his own approach. This poem by Peter Yovu revels in overt metaphor, and does so to great effect. The “blue coffin,” which surely refers to Earth, brings to mind Pale Blue Dot, a photograph of our pixel-size planet amidst the vastness of space. That image was taken from a distance of 3.7 billion miles by Voyager 1, the probe which eventually exited the solar system in 2012 after completing its 42-year mission. Aboard that probe is the Golden Record, a sort of time capsule which President Jimmy Carter summed up with: “This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.”

Quite an expansive haiku. And though pessimistic about humankind’s chances of survival (understandably so) it does leave open the possibility of a different outcome. And/or that perhaps the Golden Record time capsule, and Earth herself, might someday be discovered by some spacefaring civilization.


As this week’s winner, Chris 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 213:

   only a drawing
   of a labyrinth, only
   the moon’s pull           
     –Mark Harris, Noon 8

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. re:Virals is one of the few places where (mostly) intelligent discussion happens. However,
    as was the case today, it sometimes disappears into the archives which effectively ends discussion. It needn’t of course, if readers/contributors were aware of how to find archived material.
    I wish it was possible to keep the re:Virals feature on the main Troutswsirl page for at least one week, and to give a link to the archive.

    1. Great idea Meg. And for those who missed Richard Gilbert’s commentary on Peter Yovu’s poem (posted as a comment on the re: virals 211 column), you can find it here:
      In the book, Poetry as Consciousness (Keibunsha, 2018) I included Peter Yovu’s poem under the grouping “Novel Worlds” (pp. 149-50), writing:
      2. Novel Worlds
      A philosophical-poetics utilizing new forms of language and thought spawns novel worlds of mind. These compositions reveal how imaginative modes that break with conventional thought—in language, image or story — not only surprise, but may inspire revolutions in how a “world” is defined, or comes into existence.
      In Yovu, is the resurrectional ascent of the impossible: a coffin nail flies outward towards the cosmos—why only “one nail”? This image posits a philopoetic idea.
      A poem I simply love.

  2. I am left to wonder about this poem (written, it seems, in another lifetime) as much as anyone.
    What I can say is, when it came to me, I was not thinking about the Earth or Voyager 1, or probably anything at all. Which doesn’t mean those thoughts weren’t off in some corner of my consciousness quietly thinking themselves.
    My approach with such things is to attend to them as one would a dream, to resist, at least for a while, coming down on any meaning or interpretation, (or if they do come to entertain them and enjoy them and give them room to change). I also wonder why one needs to find meaning in the first place. (I’m not saying I don’t).

    1. Hi Peter, I guess the writer has the choice, and can write without intending or meaning or whatever.
      The reader, esp. this reader, after a while is nonplussed and has to reason out or let that which has intrigued the mind to solve itself and therefore dissolve into the cosmos or it will stay in orbit and iwill interfere with everything and burnt toast and cerebral densities … et all. Some of us like to solve things and dissolve into confusion. And your poems are always fun to discuss.

      all 400 plus more
      in Nippon waters

      🙂 I used the approach you just spoke about

      and whoosh outtah here

    2. Thanks Peter, for sharing your thoughts.
      Regarding: “I also wonder why one needs to find meaning in the first place. (I’m not saying I don’t).”, would you mind sharing your thoughts on why one /would not/ find meaning in a written piece?

  3. I think Hansha Teki’s take on Peter’s poem could hit the proverbial nail on the head. As do some of the other comments. All of which I have enjoyed digesting.
    I do wonder though if there is an oversight regarding the blue coffin.
    In 1986 and 2003 we had those horrific scenes as space shuttles challenger and columbia had problems entering and re-entering the earths atmosphere.
    For me this is the more likely explanation in the line. “a blue coffin”

  4. All pertinent readings of and excellent commentaries on Peter Yovu’s excellent haiku, Rich, Hansha, Dave and Chris.
    Perhaps Chris nails it with his understanding of metaphor. . . certainly “blue coffin” and the “nail” are employed as symbols for Planet Earth and Voyager 1 . . . but I’ve enjoyed reading each commentary.
    – Lorin

  5. ok, now I have a real challenge, such neat responses. I do admit that I did think of Carl Sagan’s blue dot. And am so glad to see that this particular image resonates with a lot of us.
    As an aside though, I would like to say that we are undoing the wrongs of the past, caring for the world and the planet better and better, because we are aware, no longer hunting for food and cutting wood or burning plastic for warmth…hopefully…

    Perhaps this is what spurred my thoughts on. Because, for me the nail ( HI Chris at @ objective correlatives) alongside the word- escapes is almost oxymoron-ish.
    And then I read Francine Banwarth’s write on Peter’s winner. She senses the optimism too in a way.
    I see it as one problem gone, left out in space, buried where it can freeze into nonexistence.
    And the planet is one problem less and one more step towards pristine( arrrgh, wrong kind of word, but read pristine as an emotional echo for well, wholistic …etc)
    And the magnitude of the solar system in comparison to the coffin (blue) is instantaneously visible to the mind’s eye. (hi, Richard Gilbert, the nail…)

    And going off tangential, I think it is more human really, like dependence, interdependence and self-reliance. Like when the fledgelings are ready to fly and do fly off. But why the coffin? Is there anything there, other than the Pandora’s box that I mentioned above? Is it like saying, out of the umbrella, out of the orbit? I don’t know, but I am smiling, because I read that in a voice of laughter.
    I feel that this is a nod to originality. And saying that in slant. But then again, we all read words with our own minds, and Peter, your work is always wonderful to discuss.

    Blabbersworth and the city and the tower and how one language says so many things, 🙂 I am glad the nail escapes,

    1. .
      Hi Pratima – regarding the coffin: I admit that – trying to analyze the haiku rationally – I initially had the same reading of the haiku as most others have described in their commentaries. But then my confirmation bias took over, and I started seeing what I wanted to see.
      You’ve doubtless had the experience of meeting someone’s gaze from across a room, and the rest of the world fades to grey while you are connected in the moment. Of course this person has blue eyes (these are the eyes you could truly get lost in and probably never emerge from – eyes to die for!). And time stands still, and there is that sparkle of hope… This is how I (want to) see the coffin.
      I always have this same sparkle of hope looking into a baby’s eyes (most baby’s eyes are blue at birth). Both scenarios are still a Pandora’s box, but one I can more easily relate to.

      1. I was expecting your response, though the blue eyes thing swat me down and I am off in a space capsule of burnished matte chrome steel which seems blue because of the light reflecting on it…and space is a dark realm…

        the poem is really an exploration. Of the human mind. And blue eyes may be onyx eyes or gray eyes or slate eyes or emerald eyes or honey eyes with deep blue lenses on them, the colour of blue varies in lenses and they are programmed to pass the retina scanners… hmm

        Peter’s poem is very in the moment, it is like I am sitting in front of my Lego Star Wars Solar System and I am holding an escape pod in my hand, as I cruise it out of the Millenium Falcon…and all these thoughts of how the nail escapes the solar system are really thoughts of how the escape pod gets out of trouble… you stay put on earth, I choose you as my anchor, I will cruise in the escape pod and call you from space station of greater liberty…

  6. .
    a blue coffin
    one nail escapes
    the solar system
    Peter Yovu, Roadrunner 13.1
    Surely Hansha Teki is correct in his reading/interpretation of this haiku, however, on a lighter note, my inclination on reading this haiku is the desire to smoke a kretek out by the sarcophagus while reading a Stephenie Meyer novel. No disrespect intended – loved the haiku!


  7. e:Virals 212:
    a blue coffin
    one nail escapes
    the solar system

    Peter Yovu, Roadrunner 13.1

    MANY thanks for giving us a haiku by Peter yovu, giving us more and more room for rumination and expansion on the theme of blue coffin. In fact literally and metaphorically, this topic on “blue coffin” evokes many inferences.

    Here is literal meaning; blue coffin refers to a variety,brand name,blue coffin nail designs, added mode of attraction. While the alignment of all the lengthy front fingers in straight mode,
    One, thumb, short finger,here the nail escaping,the route of coming round all the other fingers,point of unreachability. Hence the one nail,imagined poetically as escaping solar system.

    There is another possible viable inference: The line one,” a blue coffin” referring to a blue casket or coffin,wherein,one nail,missing; hence the final journey is missing. The poet’s
    Perception refers to that as “missing solar system”.

    Here is my choice for the next week

    stuffy lecture hall –
    through an open window
    wind chimes call

    — Ron Woollard, The British Haiku Society.

    Teaching haiku.

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