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re:Virals 25

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

     in the inkwell
     a star.
          — Alexis Rotella, The Haiku Anthology (1999)

Peter Newton finds a metaphor for the creative process in this classic haiku:

What I find helpful about re:Virals is its invitation to explore a poem beyond two or three readings. Sometimes, I don’t know what I think about something unless I write about it. In Rotella’s poem I see the vast blackness of space. A metaphor for the mind. Anyone who has stared up at the night sky can attest to its awesome and sometimes unsettling effect. Here, the poet sees an inkwell. A wellspring of creativity. A source of inspiration. A star — the goal of any poet. A wish that comes true. A truth that just appears. But not without effort. Writing is akin to space exploration. An act of probing the mind.

And Garry Eaton parses the images themselves to plumb its depths:

In this fascinating haiku, the precise matching of two elusive images opens doors to a spectrum of possible meanings. On one level, the reader/writer sees a gleam of light reflected in the blackness of an open inkwell and makes an imaginative leap, risking paradox, to call it a star. However, the brevity of this haiku and its lack of specificity in how the images relate allow the images to oscillate in the mind, revealing that the star can also be read as a literal object in a literal night sky described here as an ‘inkwell’. If we imagine space as in the mind of an old astronomer, the inkwell becomes the lens of his telescope and the haiku a trope that mimics his ancient search for meaning in the constellations.

These two related interpretations partially resolve on another level, where the haiku turns self-reflexive and the search for a star is refocused onto the imaginative process of discovering meaning (and by extension, the universe itself) in the darkness of ink and mind.


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!

re:Virals 25:

     AIDS rally
     the p.a.’s echo
     “our friends (friends), lovers (lovers) . . .”
          — John Stevenson, Something Unerasable (1996)
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