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re:Virals 254

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

     autumn dusk...
     I stir my coffee
          — Chen-ou Liu, First Prize, 12th HIA Haiku Contest (2010)

Radhamani Sarma contemplates the twilight hour:

Writing from India in the peak of summer, drinking lemon or coca-cola, or even tender coconut water, I find Chen-ou Liu’s poem about taking coffee during autumnal dusk quite interesting.

In the first line, the mention of autumn dusk with the pause allows the reader to speculate more on this moment. Not a congenial mood in general, dusking time is the twilight when brownish shadows fall in the darkening hour, preparing us for a gloomy atmosphere.

The first person perspective in the second line – “I stir my coffee” – continues into the third line, “anticlockwise” – augmenting the mood of the persona. At the same time, we get a pictorial image of a thinker, perhaps a philosopher, seated in a chair, stirring his coffee anticlockwise, waiting for the heat of the coffee to cool down or the sugar to dissolve.

The beautiful coinage of “anticlockwise” – an act of involuntary motion – stretches our interpretation to a metaphorical level. Perhaps the narrator is reminiscing about a significant event or loss or an expenditure due to family wedding prospects, or even resolving a debt. Several interconnected issues cause him to ponder how to redeem a loss, or perhaps how to improvise moving ahead. Similarly, a clock moving backwards is highly impossible.  A sense of the retrograde is entwined in the thinking mode of this speaker.

The poem presents a philosophy of two ways in life: Even a straight path at its dead end has to come back along the same way; likewise seasons and shifts, birth and death, dawn and dusk, beauty and ugliness. Clockwise and anticlockwise are just two sides of the same game.

As this week’s winner, Radhamani 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 255:

     about nothing
     but it’s everything
          — Bruce H. Feingold, bottle rockets, #15 (2006)

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I agree with the inspired interpretation by Radhamani Sarma of this poem. I would just like to add a comment on one particular word: ”anticlockwise”.

    In a melancholic mood, implied by the crepuscular connotations of ”dusk” and ”autumn”, the poet probably feels regrets for some of his past actions. The gesture of stirring the coffee anticlockwise lets us understand that the poet wishes he could wind the clock back, to dramatically change his course of life. Thus, this single word concentrates the meaning of this remarkable poem of Chen-ou Liu.

  2. Western haiku seems increasingly to be moving away from traditional models of nature observed. They’re becoming more and more about the poet’s personal feelings, more like sentry or tanka. Interesting evolution from Asian humility to Western self-absorption.

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