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re:Virals 319

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

 
     powdered snow–
     a crow’s eyes above
     the no parking sign
          — Alan Summers, Does Fish-God Know (2012)

For Sushama Kapur, it’s all about choices:

Visually, each line in this small poem has a different color: white (snow), black (a crow’s eyes), green/red/yellow/ blue (parking sign). The scene is also steeped in silence: We have powdered snow (and the em dash after that for emphasis), the focus is on the eyes of a crow (not its caw), and the reference to a “no parking sign” probably means no engine sounds.

So why has the poet brought together these three images? Does the poem say something more — other than being a beautiful visual scene and a treat to the eye?

The answer might reside in the choice of the bird: a crow! This bird — besides being known to be intelligent, adaptable and, in some cultures, wise — could symbolically have connections with death. In fact, in some religions, crows are believed to be carriers of the soul in its journey to the afterlife and could have links to other everlasting mysteries of life as well.

So what, then, are the eyes of the crow doing above the “no parking sign”? Are they warning us? Are they safeguarding/ policing the “no parking” rule? The snow around is “powdered.” Does that mean it’s thin, and so the space below the sign is more easily accessible to rule breakers?

And again, why the choice of a “no parking” sign? Why not any other sign, or a gatepost, or a branch of a tree or anywhere else that the crow perches itself on? What links the bird to this specific sign? Could the sign then be alluding to a cemetery? Would that explain the presence of the crow, and the possible warning in its eyes?

Well, a lot of questions do spring to mind! With every reading the poem seems to get more and more intriguing. And for me, therein lies its greatness!

Donal O’Farrell goes on a journey:

I love this poem. The opening line presents a view of pristine newly fallen snow. Then line two gives a crow’s knowing view of things — that cleverest of birds. And then line three: All this will be turned to grey slush soon enough when the cars return. The poet takes us on a whirlwind journey. A bit like that much loved subject of haiku: the cherry blossoms that are soon to be swept away.

Lakshmi Iyer makes keen observations:

I feel that the weight of any haiku is the use of the kireji — it pauses, reflects and explains. Here, the em dash in line one makes all the difference. It highlights the truth. The first line transports us to winter where snow is thick all around; and what a clear-cut image it is.

The images between the first line and the second line seem slightly unrelated at first, but, through keen observation, we can make out the relationship between the powdered snow and the crow. The poet has used the crow as the main character of lines two and three. Crows are intelligent, apt to detect any danger, and that is what is seen here. “crow’s eyes above/ the no parking sign” — Is there any danger in that area? If so, what? Reading about powdered snow, I came to learn that crows collect it in huge cauldrons kept outside in a snowy biome while it is snowing. There are chances of falling. And yes, in that case, the crow’s cache is a dangerous area. The “no parking” sign explains this.

I love the way the poem has unfolded the poet’s love for the crows and how beautifully the crow’s eyes are taken as a medium to pinpoint the whole image.

Alan Peat is struck by the poet’s craft:

One of the acid tests of a fine poem is the length of time it remains with you. I first came across this haiku a little over a year ago when I first read Alan’s collection Does Fish-God Know, and I was immediately struck by the precision of its language. There’s snow, but it’s not just any old snow; it’s powdered snow. And there’s a crow, but it’s not the whole of a crow — it’s precisely the eyes of that crow. For me, this attention to language makes the image that the poet creates much more vivid. The specificity of the language and the specificity of the image go hand in hand.

I was also struck by the craft of this haiku: it’s subtle and it’s very clever. Alan opens the ‘ku with “powdered snow” and ends it with “parking sign”: the PS of the start is the PS of the closure. In a sense, the poet has created a frame for the image with the very language of the haiku. The “picture” sits comfortably in the space that this forges. The blank space that surrounds the haiku (the poems are arranged one per page in the collection) functions as an outer frame, further amplifying the visual impact of the words. Put simply, the ‘ku functions in a space within a space.

Then there’s the wry humor of it. The crow has parked itself on a “no parking” sign — it’s funny but it also resonates with deeper meaning: We can’t control nature. It was written in 2012 and it was prescient then but it’s even more prescient now. Nature has no regard for our rules — that’s the deeper meaning that I take for this multi-layered haiku.

Alan’s poems demand close reading, and the reader who takes the time is amply rewarded. The black eyes of that crow will continue to stare out at me from the powdered snow and the white of the surrounding paper for years to come. That much I am certain of.

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As this week’s winner, Alan 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 320:

 
     into a wild boar’s dream the thud of an acorn
          — Réka Nyitrai, while dreaming your dreams (2020)

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Dear Lakshmi Iyer,

    I love this from you!

    ” I came to learn that crows collect [powdered snow] in huge cauldrons kept outside in a snowy biome while it is snowing.”

    Wonderful! 🙂

    powdered snow—
    a crow’s eyes above
    the no parking sign

    Alan Summers
    Joint Winner, Haiku International Association 10th Anniversary Haiku Contest 1999 (Japan)

    I appreciate this statement:

    “I love the way the poem has unfolded the poet’s love for the crows and how beautifully the crow’s eyes are taken as a medium to pinpoint the whole image.”

    Thank you!

    warm regards,
    Alan

  2. Dear Donal O’Farrell,

    re:
    “The poet takes us on a whirlwind journey.”

    powdered snow—
    a crow’s eyes above
    the no parking sign

    — Alan Summers
    Joint Winner, Haiku International Association 10th Anniversary Haiku Contest 1999 (Japan)

    Thank you! 🙂

    re:
    ” A bit like that much loved subject of haiku: the cherry blossoms that are soon to be swept away.”

    Ah, yes, snow and blossoms, and birds just for a while enjoying vantage points too! 🙂

    warm regards
    Alan

  3. Dear Sushama Kapur,

    Thank you for this statement:
    “Visually, each line in this small poem has a different color: white (snow), black (a crow’s eyes), green/red/yellow/ blue (parking sign).”

    And you are right, although there must have been some hustle and bustle of pedestrians, and some road traffic, everything felt stilled because of the still powdery snow, and that magnificent and regal crow on the sign.

    powdered snow—
    a crow’s eyes above
    the no parking sign
    — Alan Summers

    This is a good question:
    “So why has the poet brought together these three images? Does the poem say something more — other than being a beautiful visual scene and a treat to the eye?”

    The poet and critic Allen Tate, regarding tension etc… in a poem, referred to the elements that are necessary for a work to be considered whole or complete (from two terms used in logic):

    extension (literal meaning)
    and
    intension (metaphorical meaning)

    He further mentioned that there was a mutually dependent relationship between these different forms of meaning. That though the existence of both kinds of meaning creates a conflict, they are actually both necessary, because it is this conflict or tension that gives poetry its meaning.

    First of all it is a direct sketch (shasei) but we know that is not enough in itself.

    Sushama Kapur said:
    The answer might reside in … links to other everlasting mysteries of life as well.

    I agree with your whole statement, and this last bit really caught my attention, because the crow, and it could have been any kind of animal or incident, slowed down time and showed a parallel universe, in that we humans might think we see this world, but we are blinkered, as we are currently finding out!

    Sushama Kapur said:
    “And again, why the choice of a “no parking” sign? Why not any other sign, or a gatepost, or a branch of a tree or anywhere else that the crow perches itself on? What links the bird to this specific sign? Could the sign then be alluding to a cemetery? Would that explain the presence of the crow, and the possible warning in its eyes?”

    It was a direct sketch from my experience, and one of my favourite approaches to haiku is to capture the incident, and not embellish or amend it, or adapt it to further ends. I do many approaches to haiku, but recording, faithfully, a number of the actual incidents, is a vital act for me, for when I look back over the years (nearly 30 years). I couldn’t do that if I changed certain circumstances.

    Sushama Kapur concluded:
    “Well, a lot of questions do spring to mind! With every reading the poem seems to get more and more intriguing. And for me, therein lies its greatness!”

    Gosh, thank you! It’s been a while since I visited this haiku, but the memory and the incident, remain potent. Perhaps I can add metaphorical meaning to it. Perhaps, alongside the crow using the vantage of a fairly tall street sign, on the side of a busy street, but slowed down by snow, and how cold it was, it can be seen as humans cannot park forever, meaning our lives, not cars, so make the most of things while you still breathe.

    Crows are more and more intelligent than we know, and are inquisitive, and have a sense of humor and fun, despite being stern at times too. Christmas shopping with all the bright things in shop windows, and in shopping bags, and the Christmas clothing, would have entertained the crow for a short time.

    And of course crows have always been an important part of my life and one of them saved my life!

    It’s why my collective noun for these birds is “A Comfort of Crows”:
    https://area17.blogspot.com/2015/05/dark-news-story-of-crows-and-how-simple.html

    warm regards,
    Alan

  4. Thank you to everyone who commented on this haiku!

    powdered snow—
    a crow’s eyes above
    the no parking sign

    Alan Summers

    AWARD:
    Joint Winner, Haiku International Association 10th Anniversary Haiku Contest 1999 (Japan)

    Published:
    Haiku International magazine (Japan 1999) and The Mie Times, Japan (1999)

    Collections:
    The In-Between Season (With Words Pamphlet Series 2012);
    Does Fish-God Know (YTBN Press 2012)
    https://tinyurl.com/doesfishgodknowusa
    https://tinyurl.com/doesfishgodknowUK

    Many people know I love snow! 🙂
    Even before I wrote a zuihitsu “A Boy Called Snow” which named some of the hundreds of terms for snow!

    There is a fascinating variety of snow, including the snowfall that hovers in the air and picks its spot on you when it decides to fully descend!

    Here there was a white covered hill street in the City of Bristol (UK) and a crow, and as Alan Peat states, it was all about the eyes!

    Alan Peat continues with what I deem incredibly important: “…the ‘ku functions in a space within a space.”

    Yes, “Nature has no regard for our rules — that’s the deeper meaning that I take for this multi-layered haiku.”

    Climate Change has many humans denying or panicking and doing things for or to the planet, but the world is safe, it’s us at risk, not the blue marble spinning in space! 🙂

    I guess I should apologise here, because Alan Peat is right when he says:
    “Alan’s poems demand close reading…”

    For those who are wilfully determined to enter one of my poems, I hope Alan Peat is correct when he says:
    “…and the reader who takes the time is amply rewarded.”

    I know the street, and remember that day, in 1999, although half of Does Fish-God Know had haiku ripped off the social media platforms as soon as I posted them! Deep bow to my wonderful editor Brendan Slater, who was going through incredibly tough times, and yet rejoiced in bringing my collection together.

    “The black eyes of that crow will continue to stare out at me from the powdered snow and the white of the surrounding paper for years to come. That much I am certain of.” Thank you! They are indelibly engrained into my consciousness too.

    Thank you so much for your commentary!

    warmest regards,
    Alan

    Alan Summers

  5. Lovely commentary by Alan Peat and I loved the way he has created a series of points that made me to ponder. Yes, the analysis is great!

  6. re:Virals 319:

    powdered snow—
    a crow’s eyes above
    the no parking sign
    — Alan Summers, Does Fish-God Know (2012)

    Very much delighted to read a thought provoking write by esteemed poet
    and scholar Alan Summers. As a sequence to this write, Alan summers
    has posted this haiku and other below 318 re viral: what a fine opportunity
    to read and enjoy the conversion of crow image. A fantastic multidimensional
    approach.

    During dense winter when snowy fall is all powdered, our vison
    is blurred completely beyond perception. The poet’s keen observation,
    “powdered snow” —- proceeds to many a configurations of images and depictions.

    Just as humans, crow’s eyes completely painted or blurred by powdered snow,
    hence from no parking sign, which happens to be its habitual place, it is looking above. Another viable inference is that there is no space in no parking
    lot for the crow to come and play and peck and peep. All obstructed by a broad sheet of snow. Winter and snow and crow are aligned together.

    Powdered snow, all in white, so spiraling, a picture so impacting, it attracts the eyes of crow, hence looking above. Two visual images are linked together,
    Powdered snow and crow’s eyes; one has to imagine, possibly both are painted into snow white, powdered snow predominant image .

    Crow looking above the no parking sigh – instead of sitting near, in and around the sigh, it settles on the no parking sigh, to have a clear picture.

    1. Dear Radhamani sarma,

      Thank you!

      I love typos, so I adored this spelling mistake that actually enhances and accurately depicts the frustrations of a very cold snowy day of Christmas shopping and trying to find parking!

      The crow was indeed sitting “in and around the sigh” of every car driver trying to park or even pause to pick someone up doing last minute Christmas shopping. I can now hear the human sighs because the crow was very quiet, except for those eyes! 🙂

      warmest regards,
      Alan

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