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re:Virals 272

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

     the open lids of grand pianos sailing a sun-struck wall
          — Jo Balistreri, NOON, Issue 16 (2020)

Keith Evetts observes:

The greatest music is but a shadow of butterflies.

Radhamani Sarma takes note of a congenial mood:

Jo Balistreri’s monoku veers around the theme of music, releasing our stress during these COVID times and their devastating repercussions. The poem is all about the joy, the exuberance experienced during a piano recital, and not simply that of any piano, but a grand piano.

The monoku’s beginning highlights the instrument in plural — ” grand pianos” — the structure and rendition after which the sounds vibrate to the highest pitch.

Readers here are assigned the role of listeners as well as onlookers, when high-strung notes from the high-pitched strings of grand pianos affect the open lids. One is forced, or rather drawn, to the magic charm the monoku’s wording: The open lids are sailing where? In the descriptive verb “sailing,” readers, here spectators, witness the operation or flight of piano lids that open to the sun–struck wall.

In big, broad, grand pianos, freedom is unlimited due to their open lids: They are sailing straight to the sun-struck wall. The mood is also congenial, for ambience from the sun shining on a wall is synonymous with the warmth and congenial mood of an artist in high spirits, with voluminous notes produced by the artist. The notes affect the speed of the open lids so as to reach the sun-struck

I am reminded of Wordsworth’s immortal verse, “My heart leaps up when I behold/ A rainbow in the sky…” reflecting sentiments similar to the piano lids flying to reach the sun-struck wall.

Alan Summers runs with his imagination:

This single line haiku simply sails along! I’m reminded of a piano shop that I would regularly pass by at different times of the day through different seasons of the year. I’m sure most of us have seen at least one piano with its lid open to the musician and the audience. We’ve even possibly passed by a shop selling pianos, or at least a variety of musical instruments. We might have seen the sun glancing off the piano lids and thought of sailing boats and ships passing by, if we let our imagination run riot.

I asked Jo Balistreri, the author of the poem, about her work, and this is what she said:

“We were in the Steinway showroom just looking, and the sun was coming in the front window. I commented on how that couldn’t be good on all the grand pianos when that thought was erased by the scene on the wall — the sun had created a regatta of sails out of the upraised lids of the pianos, as if they were moving to some music we could not hear. Such beautiful harmony. The haiku kind of wrote itself.”

Donna Fleischer discovers an opus:

This straight-lined monostitch, or one-line haiku, transforms poetry into music, into painting. It literally is a horizontal plane where words like musical notes and dust motes, float, waft, sail . . .

“the open lids of grand pianos” resemble sails upon an open sea as they reflect upon a wall of sun, ultimately sound.

A complete world is given to the reader in almost a single breath, and its direction is almost as surprising. When this reader opened the lid, I expected death, as in an an open coffin lid. The haiku steers us away from death this time. Thank You.

As this week’s winner, Donna 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!

The Haiku Foundation reminds you that participation in our offerings assumes respectful and appropriate behavior from all parties. Please see our Code of Conduct policy.

re:Virals 273:

     yellow ginkgo leaves
     shedding our inhibitions
     on the Zoom meeting
          — Sari Grandstaff, The Haiku Foundation's Haiku Dialogue (November 2020)

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. NOTE: You still have time to submit a commentary for re:Virals 273. I will continue to consider commentaries submitted through Tuesday night (12/15) and will post as usual next Friday, 12/18.
    Theresa Cancro
    Editor, re:Virals

  2. When I see statements or comments haiku poets make it becomes evident that many believe
    they have to write exactly what they saw or or heard. Or maybe it is not *true*. In this case, I am under the impression that a small change would greatly improve the haiku. By indicating there is more than one piano, the setting for the haiku is narrowed down to, as the writer says, a showroom. Where else would there be more than one? Unlikely even in a teacher’s studio. And if the writer had simply said “the open lid of the grand piano sailing a sun-struck wall” things
    open up. For one thing, one can imagine music being played on a single piano more easily than on several. It adds to the image of the sail-shadows crossing the wall. This is how I see (and hear) it.

    1. Thank you for your comment, it’s deeply appreciated.
      I was just using the famous quote (and also the misquote) by John Muir about a single thing, which is also a feature of many haiku.
      The many versus the single:
      the open lids of grand pianos sailing a sun-struck wall
      the open lid of the grand piano sailing a sun-struck wall
      There is certainly nothing wrong with your rewrite version! 🙂
      For me, that version has a single piano and its lid, and a single wall, and the single act of a sunbeam, and that’s beautiful!
      Do I prefer it? No.
      With the original haiku I already have the agent which is a single agent, that of the wall, and even, actually the sun. Do I need another single agent, that of a lone piano? It’s enticing, but I’m not quite seduced.
      I lose my own “rêverie observation” with the revision.

      “rêverie observation” is a new aspect of Slip-Realism but one where versions of memory from our earlier life or lives are captured. Alan Summers (Sunday 8th April 2018)
      I regain the magic of those times when shops dedicated to pianos existed, I’m that old! 😉
      I wasn’t there, but Elton John and his Hollywood Bowl performance where he used multiple pianos for visual effect and the semi-fiasco of the doves.
      And now that I have left Bristol and it may not be safe to revisit my childhood city, I lose the memories of that piano shop:
      Mickleburgh Musical Pianos and Instruments, all 10,000 square feet!
      Now not everyone is from Bristol (UK) or a musician of course, but the majesty of multiple grand pianos is a sight to behold and I am not a musician. I’ve seen this image on television variety shows as well, and it’s inspiring despite having given up despite free piano sessions!
      I love the idea of a flotilla of grand pianos, and those old science fiction movies or TV dramas with a fleet of spaceships with solar sails! Call me a romantic, despite being British, but “the open lids of grand pianos sailing a sun-struck wall” really floats my boat! 🙂

      1. Thank you so very much for your comment, Alan.

        I’m working my way up from Margaret I had not realized the conversation on the haiku was ongoing so I’m so glad you mentioned it in his week’s Re:Virals. Appreciate all the links as well.


    2. I took the image of more than one piano as done purposely by the poet. I’ve observed several concerts with multiple pianos, and even once took part in a dual piano performance myself. I remember seeing on television a 4 piano performance. Astounding! It is truly a unique experience to participate in and to hear. The performers and their instruments must be in exact synch and perfectly tuned. As they play and sway in rhythm, it becomes almost as if they are swaying with a wind. It doesn’t take much of a leap to imagine the pianos as ships leaning into a seawind and that white wall converting to the wide ocean and sky. Jo Balistreri’s monoku takes us from a simple static image to a moving visual adventure.

      1. Dear Peggy,


        Haiku can work so well in putting the obvious into writing, just like an invention where we all say, of course, and applaud someone actually doing that!


        1. Thank you Peggy.
          I came back to this site quite by accident in reading Alan’s response to the ginkgo leaves.
          I so appreciate your comment.

    3. Thank you very much for your comment. It made me me think what I had written and providing discussion as well. I’m glad you took the time to write and offer another version.

  3. the open lids of grand pianos sailing a sun-struck wall
    — Jo Balistreri, NOON, Issue 16 (2020)

    This brings back a memory of a beach house with a grand piano in an oceanfront room. At a given time of day, the shadow did indeed look like a ship’s sail.

    But princess k and I had similar thoughts about the barque of the Egyptian Sun God (Ra), returning light to the world each morning by chasing away the evil spirits of the night. I often think of this image as the sun begins to rise. Music (or chants) were also believed to dispel evil spirits.

    This poem evokes beauty and hope in so few words.

    1. Dear Margaret,
      Thank you for your comment and for sharing your beautiful memory.
      I’ve just now seen this in reading this weeks Re: Virals and the note by Alan which made me turn back.

      I’m so glad I haven’t missed your generous comment.

  4. “The greatest music is but a shadow of butterflies” is a gorgeous line. Thank you Keith for sharing that lovely image.

  5. Dear esteemed poet,
    Your observation about sailing boats and the sun glancing, etc.; while commenting upon Jo Balistreri’s single line haiku is quite interesting. Also your quotes of Balistreri-
    equally arresting our attention.

    “We’ve even possibly passed by a shop selling pianos, or at least a variety of musical instruments. We might have seen the sun glancing off the piano lids and thought of sailing boats and ships passing by, if we let our imagination run riot.”

    1. Thank you Radhamani sarma,
      It’s been wonderful to see a row of pianos at a dedicated shop. And I believe Elton John had a row of pianos at the Hollywood Bowl in the US for one performance!
      warmest regards,

    2. Dear Radhamani Sarma,
      Just to let you know how much I enjoyed your commentary on my haiku, and also to thank you for your dedication to re:virals. Your thoughts on the poems have so many interesting avenues to pursue. I look forward to reading you each week.

  6. Thank you princess K,

    I especially enjoyed the information about the ancient Egyptian mythology–I had forgotten that and it adds a delicious layer to the haiku. I like the thought of “Ra traveling through the sky on the barge, providing light to the world.”

  7. Thank you to Alan Summers for selecting this haiku and for each and every one of you for your thoughtful commentary. It was pure joy reading through you comments . And again to Alan,
    thank you for your remarks in between the replies–to be savored as well.

    What a delight!

    1. I have messed up my comments to each of you as they are in the wrong place and I apologize for that. I’m so glad that the haiku surprised you, Donna and thank you for your comments. Congratulations on being selected for next week.

  8. .
    the open lids of grand pianos sailing a sun-struck wall
    — Jo Balistreri, NOON, Issue 16 (2020)
    This is a lovely image, and for me, so full of a joyful yang energy, I can just imagine the thunder of a musical score emanating from the grand piano. For me the poem hinges on the word ‘struck’, since the wall is “sun-struck” and the piano keys must be struck to produce sound. I can’t help but think what a different mood and energy that the poem would convey if the adjective was “moonstruck” rather than sun-struck”.
    Since light can travel in waves, I like to imagine that the sun is playing the grand piano, with the light waves reflecting off of the wall, and striking the strings and inner workings of the open lid grand piano, magically transforming into sound waves.
    Another idea that this poem reminded me of is the ancient Egyptian mythology of solar deities where the sun was regarded as “The Sun Boat (or Sun Barque) – the great ship that the gods used to travel between the worlds. Ra was said to travel through the sky on the barge, providing light to the world.
    Thank you Jo Balistreri, for such an intriguing read.

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