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 Melanie Alberts, was:
crumpling her letter
uncrumpling her letter
— Fran Masat
Modern Haiku, Volume 35.2 (Summer, 2004)
Introducing this verse, Melanie writes:
I imagine that many of us have been on the sending or receiving end of what turns into a crumpled letter (not including junk mail). There is an almost-whimsical, interactive quality to this six-word senryu. The reader’s eyes leap up and down between the two actions, as if the poet installed an infinite loop in the em-dash; yet one can easily picture several different scenarios, from the dark, confessional depths of the soul to a flash of anger to the frustration of the perfectionist: “This is rubbish!” (Crumples.) “Oh…wait…maybe not.” (Uncrumples.)
These days there’s such a welter of haiku and senryu with the on/off, in/out, there/not there trope and its variations, part of the contemporary haikuist’s standard toolkit, that it might be easy to pass by this earlier verse. However… it’s instantly relatable, unusual and striking, and it works. The structure gets attention. The em-dash is more than just a cut or kire. It’s a line in itself, full of ma — space for thoughts to grow. And between the two images/actions in lines one and three, varied by just two characters, there’s a wealth of reflection — implied, not bluntly shown.
As to the thought – well, the “her” together with the male author of the verse as reader signals a lover. We can also try imagining the reader of “her” letter as a woman; and (because I have a roaming sense of comic irony) even a particularly exasperating letter from a didactic mother or aunt, an interfering neighbour; a poisoned pen. The possibilities are legion.
But, as Melanie hints, letters are being supplanted, and ere long this verse may belong with parchment and inkstones. With a sigh one imagines publication of: “deleting her email —— undeleting her email”. Which wouldn’t quite have that crumpled ring to it….
Marion Clarke retrieves it from the wastebin:
Although there is no mention of a wastepaper basket or bin in Fran Masat’s senryu, I can imagine one in the bedroom of a young, lovesick teenager into which this crumpled note was fired. Who hasn’t discarded something in the heat of the moment, only to retrieve it once they’ve calmed down?!
The em dash under ‘crumpling her letter’ makes this a concrete poem, like a physical drawing of a line under the event, but then there is humor in the imagined scramble to find it.
Radhamani Sarma reading, re-reading:
Fran Masat opens the write with a curiously personalized interesting observation: “crumpling her letter” — “her” obviously refers to feminine interest, a letter of romance, failure, agony experienced, apathy noted, imagination culled, empathy understood or misunderstood, all pages and pages from ebullient streaks of pen, reading and re reading etc: some additions, omissions, some sensational touches here and there, or who knows, tears swelling in her eyes, emotions uncontrolled, folding and unfolding her letter, or even out of anger, crumpling with her fingers fast and steady, beyond our ken.
Break in second with a line. After all the above mentioned ruminations, consequence of her being in panjandrums, negations, not in a happy mood to post the letter…. and in the last line “uncrumpling her letter” maybe the lady feels her moods, rejections, opinions are all misfigured, not properly understood or translated; opening again.
Another possible inference is that , the letter, which the lady receives, is not so pleasing, or could be harsh, somebody reprimanding, full of severe complaints about her attitudes or overtones of ironic sentiments. Hence first she crumpled, now decides to reread. Crumpling and uncrumpling: a physical action or gesture, involving hands, mind and moods.
Ann Smith adds a few wrinkles:
I love this senryu, for me it is all of these things – aural, visual, tactile and emotional.
The letter could be about anything but for me it is a love letter – either ending a relationship – a Dear John (or a Dear Jane) letter – or trying to save a relationship. There is so much emotion in the first line – hurt, anger, resentment then the gap the pause the space and the Maybe. The hope. The letter is picked up, smoothed out…..maybe things can be smoothed out.
But who is doing the crumpling? The receiver of the letter or the author? And who is the author? The “her” can be interpreted in more ways than one. Is the author male or female? Is the receiver male or female? Did the author draft the letter, decide it was rubbish, crumple it up and throw it in the bin – then have a change of heart? Did the receiver read it, crumple it, throw it away then pick it up, uncrumple it and read it again – hoping to read something different between the lines?
We imagine what has happened and we imagine what will happen. So many possibilities from two scant lines. I asked my other half for his reaction to this senryu and…you will just have to imagine his reply!
As this week’s winner, Ann 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!
my son invents
— George Dorsty
The Heron’s Nest VI:7 (2004)
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Footnote: Francis Masat died at the end of December 2014. There’s an interview with him in 2010 here.
You can find some more of his many verses in The Haiku Foundation Library in the anthology Lilacs After Winter – and elsewhere online.
I picked out:a vulture hovers
a feeding hawk
on the wrong bus
in drifting cotton
a snail creeping
into a cracked wall
harbor sunset —
in reflected light
…any of which could be food for re:Virals…