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 Tim Cremin, was:
Kingfisher 1 (June 2020), 34
Introducing this poem, Tim writes:
I live near a marshy conservation area where I often walk among cattails and red-winged blackbirds. This poem immerses me in that special place. Haiku do not often contain figurative language, so I am curious to see what people think about the phrase “the red-winged wind.”
A sparse and focused poem, tightly written. I had to look up the red-winged blackbird, which I don’t recall seeing in my Manhattan days. It is a superabundant bird in North America, its flocks so great – and increasing – that cereal farmers since the 1600s have killed them, latterly with corn baited with 4-aminopyridine, from which they die a lingering death. A grassland species, it prefers wetlands and is frequently associated with reeds and rushes such as typha spp., the cattails — or bulrushes if you’re a Brit.
“The red-winged wind” is an evocative phrase that, for me, captures the clatter and whirl of a large flock of such birds, with light, colour and air; and with overtones of the wind’s freedom and, perhaps, destructive power. I don’t see a problem when figurative language is deployed so pictorially and powerfully, yet with economy and purpose way beyond decoration, in a haiku. Ten days ago, we were treated to one of H F Noyes’ marvellous books of favourite haiku, that Dan Campbell posted in THF’s Book of the Week. Among which:
suddenly in the heart
the field takes wing
— James Tipton
“…violates the rule against incorporating the beauty and metaphor of western poetry into our haiku. We need to balance this rule with Anita Virgil’s admonition: “To think of haiku as other than poetry is to accede to mediocrity.” (Noyes) “
Buson, Basho and Blyth would have agreed, surely? In Hoagland’s poem — and we can say that it certainly is a poem — the phrase “red-winged wind” distils and conveys the essence of this image, where the birds and the wind fuse, very well. My only question is whether it would have read more naturally as a duostich?
To me, hailing from India, the word cattails is at first a puzzle; it requires deeper study. Cattails derive this name probably from the upfronting, fluffy seed heads similar to a cat’s tails. I imagine seeds blowing in the air after an explosion, their red color merges in wind, dipped in red, a “red-winged wind”.
I like “the red-winged wind” as an attractive combined one-ness of bird and wind. Cattails sets the location and can be associated with the habitat of the birds. I didn’t however get much of a juxtaposition of images here, and while the haiku’s a colourful description, it did not make me think that much.
John Lanyon – the presentation of Nature:
This one needed some translation for UK readers. Cattails are known here as bulrushes and the red-winged bird is not the European Redwing (a kind of Thrush) but presumably the Red-Winged Blackbird. Language defines not just meaning but also place.
In this haiku human activity is absent. Nature is presented not interpreted. Wind and birds become one. The birded wind stirs the bulrushes in the marsh, the habitat of both the bulrushes and the Red-Winged Blackbird.
Wetlands are mysterious places: not quite water, not quite land yet full of life and threatened as never before (drainage, peat extraction, pollution, global warming). This haiku encourages us to see but not touch.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the best commentary this week, John 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!
Cinnamon cheeks, Lord,
cornbread smile. SONGS feed your ribs
when you’re hungry, chile.
— James A Emanuel (1921-2013)
A haiku verse from ‘Mahalia Jackson’ — a haiku sequence from “Jazz From the Haiku King,” James Emanuel Broadside Press, 1999
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Submitted after the deadline by Florin C. Ciobica:
A fine visual poem in which the auditory (wind) borrows something from the visual (cattails) on which the reader’s gaze is focused. This overlapping of images creates the impression that from this happy interaction a kind of beautifully crafted upholstery was born. Attracted by the velvet side of this reed-like swamp plant, the wind’s wings seem to put on casual clothing. The middle line longer than the others induces the feeling of the opening of a finely floating wing. We can speculate that if you look at it from a certain angle, this longer line seems to resemble the taller stalk of the plant in question. In addition, postponing the surprise until the last verse is read increases the value of the poem, and the alliteration in the last two words (almost pronounced the same) makes the reader feel the fine breeze of the wind and meditate on the beauty of nature that provides little and shows only to those who know to sharpen their senses.
Evident from the comments is that this is a North American haiku, where cattails and redwinged blackbirds require active research if readers elsewhere are to get the most from it.
A fascinating and challenging choice from John for the coming week – we’re really looking forward to your commentaries.