Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly commentary feature on some of the best contemporary haiku and senryu written in English. This week’s poem, proposed by Peggy Bilbro, was:
composing ourselves a perfect circle
— Peter Jastermsky
Failed Haiku: A Journal of English Senryu Volume 6 Issue 71, November 2021
Introducing this monoku, Peggy writes:
I like poetry that leaves openings, that makes me wonder about where it came from and where it is going. This monoku does that for me. Though it seems to be closed — the perfect circle — I still am left with so many questions. Who are “we”? Why and how are we composing ourselves? Why in a perfect circle, and is a perfect circle even possible? Peter Jastermsky’s monoku seems so simple, but for me it is more complex each time I read it.
Five words that contain two gently complementing ideas in one breath. It can be read in more than one way. This is poetry of the mind. Its scope expands in multiple meanings and in symbolism. The verb “compose” could here be: to set in proper order; to settle; to adjust mind and body to an attitude of tranquility, freeing it from disturbance….. for meditation, or, as Eliot has it in Prufrock: “to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.” And also, composing can be the act of artistic creation, of grouping elements to make a whole.
The circle has strong symbolism in many cultures, representing totality, wholeness, perfection, timelessness, and to some, deity. We find it in wheels, in the Circle of LIfe, in an enso, in rings, in haloes, in the clock; even in the circle embracing yin and yang – apropos, the stresses in “composing ourselves” are masculine, balanced by those in “a perfect circle” which are feminine. Not least, Seisensui (1884 –1976) and others have characterised haiku as a circle, begun by the author, that is completed by the reader….
Sushama Kapur takes a shine to the poem:
At first glance, this monoku is almost ambiguous. The word “composing” intrigues for a while specially when read with the last word: circle. Songs, and poems are composed. Music is composed. But a “perfect circle”? One hears the word ‘draw’, perhaps? Unless the poet is alluding to a perfect circle of friends, which they have “composed” for themselves, just like bits of a musical composition, each holding their own unique place in the whole. That’s a beautiful thought!
I remember too, a rock band of the nineties called ‘A Perfect Circle’. Could this incredible monoku be referring to it also? Perhaps “ourselves” are fans of this band and have many a times gathered to immerse themselves in its musical compositions? Thus becoming a perfect circle in those moments, as well as spilling over in later time too?
The concept of ensō also crops in my mind: the sacred symbol in Zen Buddhism meaning circle, or sometimes, circle of togetherness. Although ensō is not a perfect circle, it symbolises many things: beauty in imperfection, the circle of life and connections thereof. There is the moment: that of a single brush stroke which creates an ensō — an imperfect circle, perhaps — but perfect because of its very imperfections. Would this also be what the poet is saying: that this circle we have composed is perfect, just as it is, for us?
I think one could go on discovering pieces of meaning in this monoku! And it’s remarkable how they fit together so well that the poem shines from any angle it is viewed.
Melanie Alberts takes a rounded view:
We meet in the most intimate of spaces to write our stories: sitting on living room sofas, pulled up around kitchen tables, in cramped library conference rooms, or on backlit screens, our faces framed by flickering boxes. When we meet this way, we often refer to ourselves as a circle; when we meet this way, we agree to be equals without a teacher. We teach each other through our compositions, based on a prompt like a poem, a quote, or one evocative word.
Peter Jastermsky’s monoku reminds me of sitting in such circles in order to share the writing experience. Ours is a solitary experience, so gathering together to encourage words to rise up from our tranquil centers can feel exhilarating.
But this poem goes beyond a description of a writing group; it brings to mind the completeness of the natural and man-made objects in our environment. Besides “ourselves” there is the perfect circle of the full moon, the perfect circles of our eyes as we scan the page, the perfect circles of our mugs of tea, our wedding bands, the vinyl disc playing on the stereo.
The sounds of this ten-syllable poem’s first two words are smooth and expansive, yet narrow down to harder consonants of “perfect circle” as if to double down on the rightness of this form. The poet is sure that we are disparate, singular beings but when we meet, when we create this ideal group in which to write or to sing or to play poker or just to talk, our energies play off of each other and magic happens: we merge, we complete each other, imagining ourselves to be perfect even if just for a moment.
Peter Jastermsky responds:
I’m honored to have my senryu featured in re:Virals! As is the case with many of my monoku, this one began life as two unrelated fragments, with “a perfect circle” coming first. There was just something about the image of a perfect circle I found comforting. Soon, I came up with the fragment ‘composing ourselves’ from which emerged two interpretations that appealed to me. Sensing that the two fragments “belonged” together, I combined them, creating a poem that I feel intuitively works. What does the poem mean? I leave that question to the reader!
As this week’s winner, Melanie 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 send your commentary in the Contact box (“Contact” in the top menu bar) 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!
re:Virals 328:crumpling her letter
uncrumpling her letter
— Fran Masat
Modern Haiku, Volume 35.2 (Summer, 2004)
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.
Footnote: If the text had read: “composing myself a perfect circle,” this week’s senryu might have been contemplated as a potential “death poem.” Not least because another monoku by Peter, that fits the context, was published a month later:
end of life . green apples
— Peter Jastermsky
Cold Moon Journal, December 20, 2021
As well as writing haiku & senryu, and cherita, a few years ago Peter Jastermsky introduced the split-sequence haiku, an attractive form either for one poet or for 2-4 collaborating poets:
the basics of the haiku split sequence (contains his short bio, too)
and examples of split sequences in collaboration with Bryan Rickert.