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
dripping tap I begin to think you’re right — Rachel Sutcliffe, Frogpond 36.3 (2013)
Marion Clarke, who suggested this week’s poem, provides some possible insider information:
Although we’ve never met in person, I have been reading Rachel’s work on an online writing forum for a number of years now and I know she suffers from serious immune disorders. When I spotted this haiku some time ago, I immediately assumed (and I may be totally wrong) that it was inspired by one of her hospital visits. For me, a dripping tap is one of those annoying noises of which I often don’t take any notice until it has driven me crazy with its relentless drip, drip, dripping. Perhaps the author is likening this sound to series of relentless test results. There is a lot of tension in the haiku, in any case.
And Jo McInerney expertly parses its small erosion in this way:
It is the openness of the fragment and phrase and the subtle variety of the potential interactions between them that do much to make Sutcliffe’s haiku so effective.
Line one, “dripping tap”, is highly evocative. The power of a dripping tap lies in its persistence; its capacity to interrupt thought, especially at night. It has the power to disrupt in part because of what it seems to symbolise — all of that which is outside our control; those things we cannot fix. It also implies a constant, uncontrolled waste. Its drumming can seem to echo our own heartbeat, a measure of time which suggests our slow, inevitable progress toward death.
All these possibilities from line one then play off against lines two and three. A specific second-person listener is addressed, someone who has previously expressed a view with which the speaker has begun to agree. Who is this other? What is the relationship between the two? We have very little to go on.
It is possible that this other person has nagged the speaker into agreement with a relentlessness analogous to that of the dripping tap. However, that does not seem quite right. There is no resentment in the speaker’s response; indeed it is quietly, if hesitantly, considered: “I begin to think”. Perhaps the tap and/or the other speaker’s words have prompted thought rather than interrupted it.
And what is being considered? What tentative agreement has been reached? We do not know, but the possibility is there that it relates to the ideas suggested by the drip of the tap — the limitations of human action and the unavoidable nature of death. These are not easy insights to arrive at and accept. As readers we can empathise with the gradualness and perhaps the reluctance of the recognition.
And Garry Eaton adopts its strategy:
An excellent example of a juxtaposition that is also an objective correlative. In this haiku, a dripping tap seems to emphasize the silence that follows an unresolved domestic disagreement. Its even, measured reiteration, like the ticking of a clock, may also provide a detached point of reference for at least one of the combatants as she tries to reflect calmly on what has been said on both sides. In contrast to the irrational outbursts of intense argument, it represents the possibility for a more controlled release of the pressure of emotions. “Drip, drip, drip,” it is essentially saying. “Calm down, calm down, calm down.” Time passes, cooler heads prevail.
As this week’s winner, Garry 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!
followed home by a dog i don’t know — autumn dusk — Jim Kacian, Robert Spiess Memorial Haiku Contest (2007)