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
uncoupling… row upon row of fiddleheads — Jan Benson, tinywords, Issue 19.1 (2019)
Lakshmi Iyer unwinds the meaning:
On my very first reading, I got confused since the images weren’t clear to me. Later, when I checked Wikipedia for the word “fiddlehead,” I realized: This is that phenomenon that takes us back to the same circle, wherever you are; the same principle of winding and unwinding, life and death. Uncoupling our thoughts to remain aloof from all the layers we come across is a task indeed! It is impossible. We fall into that same vicious cycle.
“…[F]iddlehead greens are the furled fronds of a young fern, harvested for use as a vegetable. Left on the plant, each fiddlehead would unroll into a new frond. As fiddleheads are harvested early in the season before the frond has opened and reached its full height, they are cut fairly close to the ground” (from Wikipedia)
The poet has very cleverly used this image of fiddleheads to “show and not tell” the uncoupling principle. At some point, we attach all the couplings together just like in our life: the way we disjoin and join our relationships.
Radhamani Sarma reaps a harvest:
This week’s selection by Jan Benson is all about agriculture, fields and ferns, even moreso about plants: their shape and structure are the focus of this haiku. Fiddle-shaped, with tiny flowers like stars carved decoratively all over, this plant of the spring season is actually quite delicious.
The very first line, “uncoupling….” gives readers room to hypothesize with wide speculation. The fiddlehead’s intertwining structure, the layers of this plant and its positioning, make for a hard task, especially for those who pick, clean and cook it. The hard links and interconnection are such that “coupling” is the right term. Segregating or unlinking is a must for a healthier cooling of the plant, so “uncoupling” is also an apt, descriptive coinage here.
Harvesting “row upon row,” one after another, of this delicacy, the fern, a product of spring, is a task for field workers and housewives. No emotion, no anecdote, no rehearsal, no illustration, no pain or pleasure is involved in this task — only strain while pulling up fiddleheads from the land. They are green, like beans, coiled; plucking them must be a hard task for field workers. More of observation, more for undoing and doing, these ferns are taskmasters.
Strictly interpreting “fiddleheads” from the point of view of a fiddle or violin, one might imagine “fiddle” as a term inclusive of “heads” or “musical instruments.” Bow after bow upon the strings, a melody uncouples stress, rendering relief and solace, a possible extension of imagination and poetic allowance.
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!
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velvet sunset where the wild roses grow — Iliyana Stoyanova, Blithe Spirit, Volume 30, Number 4 (2019)