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
starving refugee a hand approaches her mouth with a microphone — Indra Neil Mekala, Grand Prize, 22nd International "Kusamakura" Haiku Competition (2017)
Mona Iordan faces dark realities:
The first line of this poem opens up to the shocking image of a refugee, one of the millions of people desperate to flee from their homeland, forced by wars, persecution, oppression. The refugee is starving as they have to face dire conditions even on their way to safety.
In the second line, we understand that the refugee is a young girl or woman, or perhaps a mother holding her child in her arms. Anyway, being a woman means that she is even more vulnerable, adding to her woeful situation.
Then, our attention shifts to an impersonal hand holding a microphone to her mouth. This is actually what the refugee sees, drained by hunger and fatigue as she is. The gesture is aggressive, almost a violation. We feel that the reporter is unaware of her condition; or indifferent to the people in difficulty. All they need is to cover just another piece of news, among many others. For the refugee however, nothing will change.
The dryness in style makes this poem even more poignant, raising our awareness of the darker realities of our world.
Radhamani Sarma relays a disturbing scene:
Very much delighted to view and comment upon this haiku by Indra Neil Mekala, a prize-winning entry focusing on the theme of acute hunger, impinging starvation eating refugees alive. Here, a single refugee is still in a despicable situation.
In the second line, “a hand approaches her mouth” with what? This creates suspense, more for speculation and expansion of view. Obviously, our thoughts go to feeding the refugee with food or drink to quell the hunger, to go down her throat to her empty stomach.
The height of creativity reaches the grand finale, shocking readers when the writer concludes “with a microphone,” meaning that the refugee’s hungered wail, her disturbing utterances, all get voiced with a vibrant note. It could be an angry mob or a responsible person from the press reaching to spread the refugee’s message, her predicament.
Another probable interpretation is how the microphone records and emits the feeble or suppressed voice of the refugee, or even that the low palpitation resounds.
Mark Gilbert senses an inkling of hope:
For me, this is a senryu (though I think there’s a continuum between haiku and senryu). The first line is a stark, contemporary image, which sets the scene precisely. There is a strong break before the more ambiguous second line. Here, we have zoomed in to one person, one movement of a hand. Initially, I felt this was an offer of food or water, then the line break signals another slight pause before the poignant surprise of the third line. A reporter, or other recorder of the experience, is present in the scene. We have stepped back from the viewpoint we thought we had. The refugee is no longer receiving sustenance and will apparently continue to starve. However, I felt it was hopeful, that the voice of this person will be heard. This particular refugee may not be helped at this point, but her words may have a beneficial effect on many more.
Another interpretation is that the hand in line 2 is reaching to censor the refugee, to cover her mouth to prevent her telling the world about her plight. Here, line 3 again steps back to reveal the hope that her words will be heard after all. Again, I felt the presence of the microphone was positive.
A subtle and skillfully executed approach. A poignant senryu about an all-too-human situation.
As this week’s winner, Mark 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!
plumes of smoke curl around... the half-opened roses — Hifsa Ashraf, haikuniverse (2019)