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re:Virals 328

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.)

Opening comment:

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.

Great fun!

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!

re:Virals 328:

dead hamster–
my son invents
a religion

— George Dorsty
The Heron’s Nest VI:7 (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: 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

rainy day—
staying dry
on the wrong bus

children running
in drifting cotton

a snail creeping
into a cracked wall

harbor sunset —
lovers stroll
in reflected light

…any of which could be food for re:Virals…

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Amanda White: welcome to re:Virals, and many thanks for your comment on the new senryu. I have saved it and removed it from these comments on re:Virals 328 so that others’ comments can be made uninfluenced..

    I know it can be confusing for new commentators to use the Contact Form for “General Enquiries.” I found the same when I first began trying to comment as a reader. We’re going to address this imminently, I hope, with a dedicated submission form for commentaries. Meanwhile, rest assured your commentary has been received!

  2. For the most part, I take poems such as this (most haiku, really) phenomenologically. That is, I don’t need or want to
    imagine anything, interpret, find symbolism, story or meaning even, beyond what is immediate. This one has a simple,
    direct and physical bearing. I don’t *think* what it means, I experience what it means.

    1. Phenomenologically — what a great word! I am going to incorporate it into my poetry reading! I agree that much haiku — not all by any means — is meant to be enjoyed phenomenologically. A well written haiku opens a window for the reader to experience the same thing the poet has experienced and recorded, so it can be experienced directly – phenomenologically – by the reader. I believe this poem is a senryu rather than a haiku, and for me it is impossible to simply read it as an experience of crumpling/uncrumpling. That space between those two lines forces the reader to participate in the process by inserting something, even something as simple as ‘he changed his mind’, or even just the word ‘oops’! How elaborate that insertion is depends on each individual reader and how much story they imagine between the crumpling and the uncrumpling. As Keith as commented below, it is a perfect example of showing not telling, but leaving an opening for the reader to find their own meaning. (BTW, you probably notice that I’ve fully adopted the singular ‘they’ because it is so much easier than ‘he or she’ or ‘his or her’!)

      1. Some verses may just be experienced holistically, part of the mystery of poetry. But an author will often give much thought to considering, choosing, arranging and revising words, and by paying attention I respect that craft. I gain a lot from thinking about what underlies the effect, and from meditating on the verse. Also, as a lay writer I’m fascinated by readers’ reactions – the kind of thoughtful feedback one sees in re:Virals is fairly rare.

  3. Thankyou Keith for choosing my commentary and thank you Melanie Alberts for introducing me to Fran Masat’s work. I love his crumpling and have since enjoyed more of his haiku. Thankyou Radhamani for your congratulations and kind comments.

  4. Congratulations dear ANN SMITH, for being winner, this week.
    I like the following from your observations:
    “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.”

  5. What a fascinating poem! I meant to comment but missed the deadline. In brief, what I wanted to say is that this is in actuality a three line poem. The middle line, with the elongated dash, belongs to the reader. As each of the commenters noted, there is an entire story between the first and last lines, and that is where the poem occurs. It draws the reader into the creative process, making them finish the story. Thank you Melanie for the challenge and thank you Keith for your additional notes.

    1. I’m glad you liked it and replied, Peggy! It was certainly a fun exercise, and I so much enjoyed reading everyone’s comments here, along with Keith’s comments and notes on Francis. I’m heading over to read the interview now.

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