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
newspaper kite the obituary page now closer to heaven — Lakshmi Iyer, Honourable Mention, 24th Mainichi Haiku Contest 2020
Priti Aisola reflects on a tribute:
This is a poignant haiku with a tender, heartfelt tribute to a loved one. A simple image in line one stimulates our interest: “newspaper kite.” Who has made this kite? A child, a group of children, a young adult? Are they going to participate in the annual celebratory kite-flying event, which happens around the harvest festival of Makara Sankranti in January? Does the child or the young adult, or someone else, not have the money to buy a colorful, fanciful kite? While one is still reflecting on this, one is startled by the image in lines two and three: “the obituary page/ now closer to heaven.” Someone has crafted a kite using the newspaper’s obituary page, which has a restrained, but formal tribute to a loved one who has passed on.
We think of those who leave us as being closer to heaven. The message on the kite, though very likely in stilted, stylized words, pays an affectionate tribute to a loved one who is no more. This obituary message connects the one who is still alive and well on earth with the one who has departed.
As the plain kite, made partly from the obituary page of a newspaper, flies higher and higher towards an imagined heaven, the hope is that the departed loved one will receive the message of love, grief and cherished memories (all expressed with dignified brevity).
Celebration of nature’s plentiful gifts through kite flying, sorrow at the death of a loved one, the need to communicate this sorrow through an obituary message, the hope that this message reaches the loved one in heaven through the medium of the kite, the inner knowing that it does reach him/her — all these elements come together to make this poem a memorable one.
Sushama Kapur explores the views:
As I read Lakshmi’s deceptively simple haiku for the first time, it instantly resonated. Loss is unfortunately such a large part of life; something we all have experienced some time or the other. I could imagine the departed person in the obituary as somebody very close to the narrator’s heart. In fact, I do know that this haiku was written for her father.
Fathers and mothers have special places in children’s lives. They play so many roles: of life-givers, nurturers, role models, friends, critics, mentors, and, in fact, they are sometimes grown-up children themselves! They play such a huge part in shaping their children into adults. The lessons learned from them stay all through life; their love and caring become a part of us, and they live in our hearts forever.
On reading the ‘ku again and yet again, I wondered what it would be like if the kite had a voice? What would it say?
“I am a kite made from a newspaper printed in India — put together by a little boy who did not want to cut the paper at all, and so he used the full paper and folded it carefully into an intricate kite — where on one side a beautiful little haiku could be seen — and on the other side, he drew a big heart and filled it with red color, so that it shone brightly.
He took me outside one breezy day, on a playground, to fly me up towards the sky. He was joined by his friends who had kites too, made from the same day’s newspaper. And they, too, had folded it just like the little boy, so that the little haiku could be seen on one side. They, too, had drawn hearts on the other side and filled them in red, pink, orange, yellow and so many other colors! All the little boys and girls had attached their kites to a strong and long thread wound up in a large reel. As I was, too!
They wanted their kites to fly high up in the blue, breezy sky because, you see, there was a message in that beautiful haiku and it had to reach someone now living in heaven. The message was full of love and the didi who wrote this tribute carried that person in her heart forever.
Can you imagine the picture of me and the other kites flying joyfully in the breeze, up high towards the sky — near heaven — flown by a group of boys and girls on their playground, laughing with joy, too — with the same message on each kite, full of love and dancing in the breeze?
We carried up the message, and I am sure the person it was addressed to got the message and was looking down smiling as he saw the colourful hearts in the haiku.”
Alan Summers finds humor and pathos:
Perhaps it’s an unusual opening line to have a kite made out of newspaper nowadays, but they are good material, and why not give them their own afterlife?
“Kite” is a spring season word in Japanese haiku, although flying kites in England seems prevalent in the summer. However, obituary pages, although year-round, make me think of the latter end of autumn when the last vestiges of summer are gone forever, for that year.
Heaven is a destination for many people to consider, and for this person, they have certainly been granted an opportunity via their obituary.
Perhaps this is a mixture of humor and pathos, honoring a friend or close family member, and that a nod to a loved one is for any or all seasons despite the potential guidelines for mourning or haiku!
Marietta McGregor encounters a link:
This senryu immediately makes me think of our mortality and the fragility of the bridge between life and death, as I think the poet fully intended. I picture a child, maybe helped by a fond parent, folding, sticking, tying and stapling together a fragile structure from whatever materials they have readily available — as it happens, today’s paper. With no thought other than to create a toy for enjoying the freedom of the wind, the news pages are pressed into use. No one worries about which of the broadsheets are used — could be the financial columns or the horse racing pages. But as it happens, the paper so carefully fashioned into something that will fly is the page often called “hatches, matches and dispatches” — the page we often first turn to as we get older, wondering if we’ll see familiar names of people we once knew, acquaintances we have unaccountably lost touch with, friends who have dropped away, distant cousins in another state, now gone forever. Kites are a spring kigo, a symbol of playfulness in a time of renewal. And yet this haiku has a melancholy feel about it. Or does it? Maybe the high-flying kite which lifts up the names of the lost is a soaring triumph, transporting those who have passed to a new realm, a joyous swoop into the blue, to transcendence.
Hildy Bachman celebrates the ordinary:
In the first line, we are introduced to a simple kite made from newspapers. I would think that the paper has to be very thin in order for it to have buoyancy. Flying a kite is a fun activity. The doer of this action is not mentioned, but it could be a child who made this kite. We also do not know the season. In the second line, the obituary page in the newspaper is used as the kite material. We don’t know why the obituary page was chosen. Perhaps it was inadvertent. Spirituality is introduced in the third line when the poet presents the kite now closer to heaven, that is, higher in the sky. The poem goes from the ordinary (newspaper) to the extraordinary (heaven). But in order to go very high, the kite has to have a very long line or the doer has to release the line so the kite can soar. The important intermediary here is the wind that lifts up the kite. The wind is in control. In doing so, the names and pictures printed on the obituary page are elevated to the heavens, a sort of ceremony to honor their memories.
As this week’s winner, Hildy 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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graveyard shift the leftover radish tumbles in the lunchbox — Elmedin Kadric, The Heron's Nest, Volume XVII, Number 3 (2015)
This Post Has 4 Comments
Really am thrilled to have read all your comments and thank you so much for taking the time. This really means a lot to me and will be cherished for many long years to come.
How wonderful to see such a diverse response to this haiku! I loved reading so many different views. Everyone got the same message, but each one put their own distinct reading to it, thus creating a new poem with each reading. Thanks to all!
Yes, really it is!!
the obituary page
now closer to heaven
— Lakshmi Iyer, Honourable Mention, 24th Mainichi Haiku Contest 2020
At the peak of summer, viewing summer sky with stars, also delectable with kites by boys; delighted to view a write by Lakshmi Iyer, with a jocular note. It is but natural for boys,after hot summer, holidays just started, when exam fever is over, to fly kites ,run along them in the sky, with a string controlling both the kite and in a way the operator. These days, colored papers, specially designed by the kite sellers, are sold; but another viewpoint of author is newspaper, for kites, adapted and improvised to suit the need of the hour, taste of boys to serve immediacy of purpose. That is how “obituary column closer to heaven”
The first line, “ newspaper kite” gives room for readers to expand more possibilities into what next. One wonders, if the kite made of newspaper is torn, or cut in the middle, or frittering down with great difficulties, or disappearing far beyond his/her vision. But, the second line leading on to third line, “ the obituary page/now closer to heaven”/ gives us a picture that the newspaper column divided into various sections like rental, wedding, advertisement, media etc., highlight the abovementioned segments. Here, as mentioned by the Persona, hints that obituary column printing about dead persons, nearing heaven; implying Kite wandering above, higher than our vision , hence “closer to heaven” obviously any dead and departed will be reaching heaven, leaving this earth,; interpreting this point of view the page is nearer to skies, heaven which implies, dead is also nearing Heavens; kite’s page closer to heaven, wandering here and there.
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