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
his death added to her litany of complaints — Tom Painting, tsuri-dōrō, Issue #5 (2021)
Lakshmi Iyer encounters a complete scene:
“litany of complaints” — What a striking phrase that gives a complete picture of the image built up in the poet’s mind. “Litany” is a persistent list of grievances constantly mentioned. And when it is said as “litany of complaints,” it can be experienced as well.
What made the poet come to such a conclusion? Line one says, “his death.” Doesn’t this sum up the haiku? The litany of complaints continues, endlessly talking about the deceased person’s life, his highs and lows, his journey. “his death” adds more fuel to the fire. And including the word “added” gives the ‘ku a perfect shape. Isn’t this even more sarcastic? A perfect senryu!
Nick T ponders the possible circumstances:
For the death of a person to be added to a litany of complaints implies the death did not register as an important event, but rather is seen as just another problem or annoyance. Under what circumstances could this happen?
Because of the reference to “his” and “her,” I wonder, perhaps, if this relates to a married couple in which the marriage has broken down to such an extent that the death of one party is viewed dispassionately by the other. I can imagine the surviving spouse having a long list of complaints relating to their husband/wife which remain or have increased with the passing. Perhaps “adding his death/ to the litany of complaints” is as simple as adding the word “deceased” after the dead spouse’s name.
Poems about death can descend into sentimentality, so it is refreshing to read one which, dare I say it, has a more cynical and possibly irreverent approach.
As this week’s winner, Nick 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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powdered snow— a crow’s eyes above the no parking sign — Alan Summers, Does Fish-God Know (2012)