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re:Virals 26

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

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


Our featured poet writes:

I am not taking part in this officially. I presume that the writer of the poem is not eligible. Just want to comment. I am both pleased and surprised to see this poem here. I remember so distinctly the moment depicted. I was early for a regional H.S.A. meeting at Kent Hall on the Columbia University campus. The building was almost empty and I decided to explore it. I bet I could go back there right now and find the exact classroom, exact window through which I heard this.

I used to include this poem in my public readings. It works better when spoken than it does on the page, in my opinion. I haven’t recited it for, probably, ten years now because A.I.D.S. is not the the unspoken thing it was and I haven’t been sure if an A.I.D.S. rally would register for younger people in the audience.

Tzetzka Ilieva seized immediately upon the poet’s technique as the crucial element of this poem:

Beautiful use of the echo. When hearing “our friends’ friends”, we become certain that the attending audience will keep on repeating the message and reaching more people, yet “our lovers’ lovers” brings that uneasy feeling that the virus has already spread way farther than we imagine.

Some haiku work because they radiate peace, this one works because it disturbs our peace.

I’m looking forward to reading other readers’ comments because I had trouble deciding what to make of this poem. I still don’t know if the echo represents only the fact that we are all together in this situation, or there is also a fine irony embedded in that same togetherness, or maybe the irony is in the fact that it’s the echo, not the people, that first hears and repeats the message . . . My compliments to Garry for his choice!


As this week’s winner, Tzetzka 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 26:

     The shell I take,
     the shell it takes
     — ebb tide
          — Vincent Tripi, Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (2013)
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