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 Amanda White, was:
in the narrative of rain blackbird song
— Caroline Skanne
tinywords 6 January 2022
Introducing this poem, Amanda writes:
Caroline’s monoku evokes a filmic and sensory world in which the reader is fully immersed in their own narrative where the leading protagonist of this moment is a blackbird with its song. I was reminded of a story from an American friend of mine who commented on spending time in England that “you have so many words for rain and yet nothing I have experienced here is rain.” As I read and re-read this monoku each time the narrative of the rain changes punctuated by the uplifting song of the blackbird signifying perhaps joy, or change, or mystery and even at times magic. I look forward to your thoughts on this arresting and inviting monoku.
On first seeing this monoku in my tinywords feed, I confess I reacted against the word “narrative.” It is so very frequently used in so many contexts these days, much as “journey” was fashionable ten years ago. However…the more I got to thinking about it, the more I grew to like it, and to value “narrative” as the crux of this particular poem.
I’m also very partial to blackbirds (the blackbirds found in UK). I recall on the seismic day of the first Covid lockdown in March 2020, when we were all uncertain and afraid, taking the trash out to the bin at the end of the garden. It was early evening in the finest spring in memory. The moon was rising. And a blackbird began to sing. I wrote a poem, the first of many on blackbirds.
“Narrative” here is a key word, for it points to the continuing, uncompleted story carried by the rain, the default associations of rain being gloom, sorrow, adversity. Moreover, out loud or sounded in the mind, “narrative” has that even rhythm of short, sharp sounds, well matched to the patter or the rattle of raindrops, against which subdued pizzicato the blackbird’s song in Caroline’s poem presents that mingled bittersweet love and hope — and we feel it.
Alternatively, rain might be seen as the life-giving rain of spring, which the blackbird greets and celebrates. But I prefer the mono no aware of the former interpretation. Either way, this poem is full of delight.
If one listens to a male blackbird, its sounds are shrill like a “twee twee,” sharp and metallic. It reminds one of the whistle of the wind driving the rain to a whisper or to the whoosh of a squall. The female blackbird’s call is even more shrill, as if sounding an alarm — something like the pitter patter of rain turning suddenly alarmed into a drumbeating downpour. Apart from the shrillness, there is also the song of the blackbird — like a gurgle that is more conversational than musical. For this gurgle is discontinuous and varied, like a conversation that may vary in pitch. Perhaps that’s why Caroline’s poem is a narrative like the rain – sometimes shrill, sometimes gurgling, discontinuous and uneven in pitch.
Seven words: 4 nouns, no verbs. It’s that word “narrative” that piques my interest. Caroline chooses the Norman French “narrative” over the Anglo-Saxon “story”. It’s a word that’s risen to prominence recently in the company of “control”: “controlling the narrative” is the term political commentators use to describe bending the truth to suit a specific end. Is that what’s meant here? I’m not sure but it does strike a jarring note.
I find that Caroline is being unfair to the rain here. I think she’s suggesting that the blackbird’s song transcends the rather dull sound of the rain (narratives go on and on), interrupting it, cutting through, pushing it into the background. (I have to confess a love of the sound of rain). She heightens this through a deliberate reversal of the word order of speech. This would be “Blackbird song in the narrative of rain”. Through this reversal Caroline creates a feeling of strangeness and surprise. Does the birdsong come as a rallying cry in a damp world, a wake-up call? No, I think it’s better to leave it alone, not over-interpret, just let it be its own beautiful self.
The monoku “ in the narrative of rain blackbird song” refers to sequential rain pouring, when a blackbird dips its wings delightfully, fritters with a move ahead, almost for hours drenching like a deep immersed bath, synonymous with that of nonstop melody, dipped in sorrow. In the pitch dark of night, also, when gloom prevails, the blackbird pours out its melancholy strain.
Rain typifies a sense of uncertainty, dismay, dark — and a blackbird sings equally In its sad norms. Another viable poetic inference could be that as rain pours from the sky, all its speed and immeasurable trail to the ground are impounded and converted into blackbird song.
Marion Clarke – a song of hope:
A simple, but very effective, one-liner that prompts the reader to imagine the different sounds of falling rain, accompanied by the music of this bird. I can almost picture black music notes floating in the air through the rain! I like it even better now I’ve had some sleep … I’m lying in bed listening to the birds through my window as I type and can imagine that this sound through falling rain would be very soothing. Especially against the background of dire news on the media….a song of hope as rockets rain down on the children of Ukraine with their narrative of war and occupation.
Author Caroline Skanne comments:
Many thanks to Amanda White for selecting my poem & to Keith Evetts for hosting re:Virals.
I was exploring different types of narratives for a novel I was writing, when I realised it had started to rain. The reason I became aware of the rain was because of the blackbird singing into it. These separate yet connected events merged into the poem. I look forward to seeing what readers find in this poem.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the best commentary this week, Marion has chosen 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, which take their place in the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentary’s author gets to choose the next poem.
Anyone can participate. Simply use the re:Virals commentary form below to enter your commentary on the new week’s poem (“Your text”) by the following Tuesday midnight, Eastern US Time Zone, and then press Submit to send your entry. The Submit button will not be available until Name, Email, and Place of Residence fields are filled in. We look forward to seeing your commentary and finding out about your favourite poems!
eating apple slices
off the blade
— Chad Lee Robinson
Acorn: a journal of contemporary haiku , no. 36, 2016
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A recording of a blackbird singing in rain.
You may read about Caroline Skanne on her website.
Mike Rehling interviews her here.
Among Caroline’s many haiku, I think this one sweetly complements the one we’ve been discussing:
waiting for you at dusk robin song
— Caroline Skanne
Presence #70, July 2021