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re:Virals 303

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

     slung boots
     over the powerline
     southbound geese
          — Gideon Young, Wales Haiku Journal (2021)

Hildy Bachman feels compelled to look up:

The phenomenon of boots and shoes slung over a powerline seems universal. It has different meanings in the United States and around the world, from signaling gang or drug activity to tossing shoes just for the fun of it. What it does require is someone to tie the shoelaces together and throw the boots high enough into the air so that they land precisely on a powerline. This action takes practice, determination and strength to accomplish. So we can rule out children, even though it may seem like a childish act.

Why boots? Shoes such as sneakers are more typical, but boots narrow it down to someone wearing combat, work, or hiking boots. We don’t know from the poem the type of boot or the reason why the boots were slung. There would need to be a good reason for someone to throw their boots away because they are expensive. However, they may not be throwing their own boots; it could be someone else’s pair. The speculation is endless.

Why throw boots over a powerline and not over something else? The powerline makes the boots highly visible to vehicles and pedestrians passing by. Something out of place makes us look up.

The third line introduces the “southbound geese.” We know the time of year because the geese are migrating south, something that they do instinctively before winter each year.

At the point when we look up to see not only the boots, a flock of geese flies by. We are momentarily distracted by the loud honking of the geese and see them flying in perfect V formation.

What is the connection between boots on a powerline and geese flying south? In both instances, we are forced to look up. In the boots, we see something permanent, out of place, and a mystery. We also see a fleeting moment of noisy geese. We don’t know the doer of the boot throwing; we can only speculate about who and why. The geese seem the catalysts for that speculation.

Priti Aisola finds a range of meanings:

This dramatic ‘ku invites one to fill in the many blanks in a story that begins with “slung boots.” It is a story that one writes and modifies in one’s head many times.

I have only seen pictures of boots hanging from powerlines or telephone wires, and these would puzzle me. I now realize that “slung boots” has a range of meanings and connotations – from the grave one of commemorating the death of a loved one to celebrating a significant milestone or rite of passage in one’s life. The latter could be completion of basic training in the military. Here in this ‘ku, one has to see the image of tossed or dangling boots in conjunction with the image in the fragment: “southbound geese.” The geese migrate in winter to warmer places where they can rest and feed. From what I know, these are non-breeding sites. Hence, I feel that person who has thrown his boots over the electric wires is someone who is either taking a break from military service or has retired from active service. Very likely, it is the latter because he is going home to unwind and rest after years of strenuous service. Perhaps he was stationed in a war zone away from his home country and is now back after a harrowing period, relieved to put that time behind him. Heading home, he hurls his boots over the powerline. For him, there may be no return migration to the north (to active life in the military or in society), unlike the geese that return to their breeding sites. Back in the comfort of his home and hearth, will the memories of his military life really release him and set him free? We do not know and herein lies the solemn beauty of Gideon Young’s ‘ku.

Sushama Kapur takes in both views:

What catches the eye at once about the poem is the pivot line in the middle — “over the powerline.”

The two images before and after this line need it — to complete. As an aside, the word “powerline” could be viewed as a symbol of a developed world that has conquered its surroundings to make life on earth more comfortable for its people.

To summarize:

1. There are boots flung over a powerline:

slung boots
over the powerline

2. The eye looking up can see geese flying southward:

over the powerline
southbound geese

I believe that one of the most common reasons shoes are thrown over powerlines is to show the location of a crack house or a drug dealing spot. Also, dangling shoes can be a symbol of gang members claiming territory, especially when the shoes are hanging from powerlines or telephone wires at crossroads.

The first image gives us a glimpse into unfettered wants of perhaps shaky minds, or miscreants (gang members) who would stop at nothing to get their way. Thus, “slung boots” could be a symbol of misdirection, indulgence and, in all probability, even violence. It is a still image, the boots obviously showing no movement.

On the other hand, the second image presents to us an eternally beautiful picture of flying birds: this time, a gaggle of geese in the blue vastness of the sky; so much ma… The word that is significant here (because something in it contrasts vividly with “slung boots”), is “southbound.” They are migrating birds, yes, going in a definite direction! They are following rules of nature. Their migration is necessary for their survival. They are a flock, a team going towards feeding and/or breeding grounds. And within the image, there is so much movement. Imagine the birds’ wings cleaving through the air with a natural and timeless purpose — causing ripples in the atmosphere!

This seven-word ‘ku is fascinating in its restraint of what it offers the reader. But what it does give packs a punch! We have two images that show two opposite ways of life — juxtaposed with the help of a pivot (with its human element). The eye looking up sees both. Which way is better?

As this week’s winner, Sushama 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 304:

     reflective mood
     I loosen the lid
     of a firefly jar
          — Vandana Parashar, Asahi Haikuist Network (2018)

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. I think there are many ways of looking at and writing about haiku that do not take away from the experience but may enhance it.

    One example may be found in the very brief “essays” on individual haiku written by H.F. Noyes. His appoach is grounded very firmly in
    haiku that do not veer very far from the traditional (as he undersands it) but is worth considering for its brevity and restraint allowing the haiku to speak for itself.

    Have a look here:

    I’m sure the same has been done for more experimental work, perhaps some of the commentaries by Richard Gilbert. You’d have to decide that for yourself.

    I showed the current haiku to someone who is not especially knowledgable about haiku and asked what he saw (it was my husband actually). He said he noticed that the shape geese make flying is “echoed” in the shape of two boots hanging from a wire.

    Sometimes a straightforward phenomenonological approach can be helpful— not what do you think it means, but . . . what do you see?

    But I agree, people should write about haiku in whatever way helps them appreciate it. Readers can always pick and choose which commentaries, and which commentators they find most interesting or helpful.

  2. Parseff san,

    Thank you for saying this…I’ve gotten great joy from many haiku that fall into the realm of mystery, the “not knowing” brings me back to them again and again.

  3. I wonder if it is possible to read a haiku and just hold it in place a while without going into reveries about what it means, or whatever it may bring to mind.

    This is Wikipedia’s take on the Japanese aesthetic element called ma:

    “an emptiness full of possibilities, like a promise yet to be fulfilled”, and has been described as “the silence between the notes which make the music”.

    I tend to think the point is to hold onto *possibility* (or promise) without fulfilling it. A kind of tantra, perhaps.

    One is free, of course, to explore a haiku as one wishes. But one has to ask if one’s commentary is a distraction from holding the more difficult state of *not knowing*, which I feel the best haiku require.

    Which I guess brings up the question: how then does one write about haiku?

    1. Please be certain I am not saying that one should not write the kind of commentary
      we are accustomed to seeing of late. I know it brings enjoyment to the writers
      and no doubt to many readers. I have a different approach and outlook is all,
      and I wonder what others think.

      1. I don’t know if it has to do with my current age or the result of a culture innundated with knowledge of so much of everything or something else, but when I read analytic criticism, which is what all writing about writing is, I have to say there comes a point where I, as artist, say, “words, words, words. too many words.” The pleasure of haiku is it allows one to enter a state of being in few words, so it is a challenge to step back from that serene state to analyze. I don’t know…thank you for your post.

  4. slung boots
    over the powerline
    southbound geese
    — Gideon Young, Wales Haiku Journal (2021)

    Many thanks for giving us this senryu, interesting topic veering around
    geese. Author Gideon Young, from his keen observation has woven this
    write, perhaps enamored by musical rhythm of southbound geese, all flying
    sight unique with a dignity and decorum on sky.
    Beginning with term, “slung boots” a picture of boots with sling or pull,
    for purpose of adjustability; In general, these slung boots are worn by
    gentlemen, on climbing expedition on rocky area or possibly near ponds
    or streams .

    slung boots
    over the powerline

    in the above possibly, powerline implies, dug holes, on streets, where cable wires are embedded, or ponds, when slung boots tread upon, geese towards south fly for feel of warmth, after enough of cold experienced. When men come, mankind treads with slung boots, covey get cautioned fly towards south bound. Shift from (cold river or pond) to warmth, south bound, a seasonal reference. Cold atmosphere coupled with sound of boots, heavy disturb birds, make them have a shift.
    Another viable inference, is that you tube songs amidst videos, where, boots with sling attached, come along, make birds fly south, a warm region. Birds and powerlines all powered by power of flight.

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