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re:Virals 228

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

 
     still winter field…
     the repeated bark of
     a solitary crow  
          —  Bruce Ross, among floating duckweed (1994)

Judith Hishikawa takes the perspective of the bird:

Crows fly high and see far off. They have a habit of warning other creatures on the ground of dangers seen from above. Chinese tradition has a special three-legged crow as a connection with the sun. In this case, it seems that the crow is deploring the desolation of winter as seen from its perspective. Matsuo Basho wrote:

on a withered branch
a crow is perched
an autumn evening

kare eda ni
karasu no tomarikeri
aki no kure

In my neighborhood in Vermont, the local crows loved to hang out at the dump near the county airport on the top of Pudding Hill.

Radhamani Sarma reflects on the loneliness of the crow and the spectator:

In the first line, “still” denotes absolute silence in the winter field, intensified by gloom or fog or frost. “the repeated bark of/ a solitary  crow” is just a vivid record of the crow’s cawing. Yet here the poet uses a strange phrase not applicable to the crow. “repeated  bark” is usually  associated with the sound of a dog, whatever the reason or mood. Here, the repeated “bark” of the crow highlights its irksome cawing. Crows don’t have seasons; they are at all times birds. In this specific winter field, the crow, in its solitary mood,  isn’t pouring out a melody but a bark, emphasizing the intense gloom.

“winter field,” “the  repeated  bark” and “solitary crow” express a vast, expansive arena. In summer and spring, a crow’s cawing gathers, but now in the winter field, in its stillness, no gathering occurs, for the solitary crow continues without any group or its pals.

The language of  the speaker is that of an angry spokesman reflecting on the loneliness of the bird, who knows the speaker is in the same predicament.

There is also a lesson for humans of philosophy: In jubilation, all partake, but in suffering, none comes to the rescue. The spectators are mute witnesses, while the sufferers are lone sufferers like the solitary crow.

Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă focuses on the wintry scenery:

The snowy field looks like a huge sheet of paper that someone should try to write something on, but hesitates. The atmosphere is frosty, dull, the intense white of the snow blinds him, and inspiration has left him. The only element that animates this landscape is a crow that cries, crunching the air. It’s written down here in print that the bark of a crow gives the impression that something bad or unpleasant is going to happen. If we extrapolate, it is clear that the author, who probably reached a respectable age or lost a beloved person, suffers enormously because of loneliness that overwhelms him. Therefore, he screams like an expressionist poet seeking to free himself from negative energy and to find some solutions or the right way to enlightenment.

At the phonetic level, some consonants suggest discreetly that we are dealing with frozen scenery where only a crow haunts. On the other hand, the vowel “i” highlights the apathy of the background, and “a”  increases the noise emitted by the bird. Its shrill bark follows you long after you’ve read the poem.

We can say that the sound of one color can make you go insane. Beware!

Mary Stevens finds harmony in a crow’s rough call:

Two words are particularly striking in this haiku. The first, “bark,” surprises: Along with the preposition at the end of line two instead of the beginning of line three, it sets the reader up to expect a dog in the next line. The word “caw” would be another option — and seemingly a better one because it’s more precise and onomatopoeic to that animal. Both animal sounds are abrasive and would interrupt a still scene. Why did Ross make that specific word choice? A poet of such experience and quality writing had to be going for more than quick, clever shock value.  

The other powerful word is “solitary.” Dogs bark out of excitement or aggression in response to another being. Crows, too, vocalize in response to others: to attract a mate, scare off a predator from its nest, or intimidate prey. But this one is alone in the landscape.

It may just be singing.

The image of the still, winter field is beautiful and calm. The crow’s calls contrast in our human judgment of the sound as abrasive. There is another contrast in the monochromatic field and the black bird. But, similar to Basho’s crow on the bare branch, the image is all of a piece: In a spare, harsh time of year, a roughly sung song is perfectly harmonious.

virus2
As this week’s winner, Mary 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 229:

 
     I chucked the urn too
          — R. P. Carter, Frogpond 33:3 (2010)

This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. This poem by Lorine Niedecker will not show up properly here, but nonetheless—

    Wallace Stevens

    What you say about the early
    yellow springtime is also something
    worth sticking to

    º

    The Man of law
    on the uses
    of grief

    The poet
    on the law
    of the oak leaf

    º

    Not all harsh sounds displease—
    Yellowhead blackbirds cough
    through reeds and fronds
    as through pronged bonze

    º

    1. It did make a mess, but I will try to improve it–

      .

      Wallace Stevens

      .

      What you say about the early
      yellow springtime is also something
      worth sticking to

      º

      The Man of law
      on the uses
      of grief

      .

      The poet
      on the law
      of the oak leaf

      º

      Not all harsh sounds displease—
      Yellowhead blackbirds cough
      through reeds and fronds
      as through pronged bonze

      º

  2. I chucked the urn too
    — R. P. Carter, Frogpond 33:3 (2010)
    .
    “It could be a key line from a “ some mother’s do ave em” scene.
    .
    Ah yes! images of the lovable character of Frank Spencer played by the exceptionally talented Michael Crawford. An accident prone husband who though trying to be the master tradesman, inevitably ends in or with a pile of mess.
    In this scenario I could visualise him stood amongst the broken pieces, with an array of facial expressions of both confusion and befuddlement attempting to piece the urn together in front of a disgruntled crowd.
    .
    Alas, I think R.P.Carter has intended a touch of suspense and amusement to what for many is a serious moment.
    The aha moment I believe is tucked away in the discarding of the urn along with the ashes.
    I believe Carter captures well, the fake ness of symbolism and materialism, choosing instead to harness the most precious things from a loving relationship in the safest of places. Our heart and mind.

      1. Robert,

        If you’d like your commentary to be included along with those for #229, let me know.

        Best regards,
        Theresa

        1. Hi Theresa
          I am happy for my comment to be included if considered worthy.
          My apologies for posting in the wrong contact box.

  3. Crows can have their tongues split down the middle as a young bird. Then they make sounds that are more like human words. As a child we had a crow like that in our neighborhood. It had been raised as a pet, but was not kept in a cage. It flew around visiting and getting into all kinds of trouble. About that time, stenciling was popular. My grandmother bought antiques at auctions, stripped the paint and repainted them, and then stenciled designs on them. She’d do it outside in the summer. Crowkie, as we called the neighborhood crow, would come and pester her. She kept her many-sized paint brushes in a coffee can full of turpentine. He would come along and pull them out of the can just to get her attention. So one day she’d had it and painted a silver streak on him! He took that as a warning and stayed away after that.

  4. Does the use of the word “bark” redeem what is otherwise a very generic haiku? Is it possible to see/hear that word and not think of a dog? If a drill sergeant “barks” out commands, we understand the word is used metaphorically, referring to a dog. Is Bruce Ross saying a crow sounds like a dog? A crow it seems to me, has its own distinctive and insistent calls, and needn’t be compared to another animal. Or, as is more likely the case, is he saying that he, the experiencer of this scene/event, mistook a crow’s repeated calls for a dog’s, and then realized his mistake? So you get into wondering about something that bothers a lot of haiku writers and readers– is this about a crow or about the uncertainty of perception? I bring it all up, because , if I remember correctly, Bruce Ross has championed haiku in which the experiencer does not intrude. In this one, he does. The writer is the one doing the barking.

    1. no Meg,

      the crow does seem to bark, when everything is still and calm, the caw of the crow is anti-calm, it jars, esp. in the mornings, after a good night’s sleep, the crow seems to get going with this bark kind of sound, as if clearing its throat for a riyaz ( music practice)

      still winter field

      what does- still – mean here ? Still is an adjective or an adverb?

      If it is an adverb: like say in: still emphasises that something is continuing.

      so

      aw Gawd, still this winter field, how I long for the turn of colour, the fragrance of plum blossoms, the crow seems to bark in frustration. Or its caw is a frozen short harsh sound, much like the sudden bark of a dog, and then again, and then again, even the crow is frustrated of the winter, the field(s) in winter.

      Here is the next speculation: what is the word – field- how transparent is it? how many types of nouns is – field?

      is it just the land used for cultivation, is the specific area of interest or work, is it a group of people say…competing,… How does the poem read as each kind of noun changes the reading?

      The third word: solitary
      what does it lend to the poem

      It is always nice to have the freedom to express. How does reading a response change the way we perceive the poem?
      How does it open our minds to a larger canvas?
      That is what interpretation and critique are all about

      I don’t find poems with crows interesting anymore…I am bored. Just as I am bored with pathos, so excuse me people from my tangential this week

      1. Amen to the comment about pathos pratima.
        .
        Meg – you speculate that “The writer is the one doing the barking.” – I believe that is also what Cezar was saying in his commentary, and yes the word “bark” is what makes this haiku standout (for me) from the generic field.
        .
        When I first read the poem I thought that perhaps the crow was imitating a dog barking, as crows and ravens are said to be great mimics.
        .
        Then, like pratima, I started thinking about each word in the poem, and the one that caught my interest was the word “repeated”. What would make the bark repeated? Perhaps the crow is barking over and over?, perhaps the crow barked once and the conditions were right for an echo?, perhaps another crow or dog in the distance was answering the bark? Or? I don’t know but I like to think that it was the latter, that another crow off in the distance was returning the communication and perhaps they’ll get together later for a rave.
        .
        Then my thoughts started to wander (yes, I get to wondering also) and thought about the possibility of the crow being an indian of the Crow tribe, and thought about possibly the crow taking on the voice of the dead dog that it had just finished scavenging from the winter field, among other possibilities. I think that all of the readings are valid and that is what makes this poem so interesting.
        .
        Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts – always enjoy reading the commentary on virals.

        1. Hi Princess,

          While I have been long aware of the – children of the large -beak – I am also aware of the misnomer being used widely … as an auto-didact of anthropology, and being interested in race and culture, and also in human rights and gender rights, and colour, I am very aware, thanks also for my choosing to write, it makes me read, it also makes me realise that we are not what we are by birth, we are what we make ourselves, thanks to a certain extent by the environment and the pseudo-helplessness we feel, and then learn to swim upstream.
          Thank you for being here. This rant was long in coming

    2. My goodness, Meg! No, it’s not Bruce Ross doing the barking, it’s you: “barking up the wrong tree.” (Do you have that idiom in the USA? ) I imagine you’d have had some contact with the same crows on the same continent, so it’s puzzling. Apparently they can make a barking sound, like a little yappy dog.
      .
      Listen to this American crow:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BARc-ps0Cd0
      .
      Even here in Wikipedia, the American crow seems to be making a barking sound:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_crow
      .
      If it sounds like barking, why not call it barking?
      .
      Why would focusing attention on the one sound to be heard in a still , winter field (I imagine snow, perhaps, or simply icy coldness) seem “generic” to you, I wonder?
      .
      “So you get into wondering about something that bothers a lot of haiku writers and readers– is this about a crow or about the uncertainty of perception?” – Meg
      .
      Well, no, actually I don’t “get to wondering … ” about any of that, but apparently you do.
      .
      – Lorin

      1. How ironic I should come across a poem and commentary about a barking crow.
        A few weeks ago, waking we heard a strange barking sound coming through the window.
        Eager to see what strange breed or dog with a sore throat, we peered out to discover a crow on the ridge of the neighbours house.

  5. Thank you for selecting my commentary, Theresa!
    .
    I’m looking forward to people’s reflections on Carter’s haiku.

    1. Hi, Mary, great write and a good read. I also like the poem you have chosen.

      I hope I can write something. Right now, I am drawing a blank

      But, at least it reads different and is a challenge enough

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