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 Mark Gilbert, was:
to the cellar
— Alice Frampton
The Heron’s Nest, Volume XX, Number 1, March 2018
Introducing this poem, Mark writes:
This resonated with me on various levels. It’s got mystery, but for me it is a pleasing mystery which drew me in, made me want to read it over and over and find more to enjoy in its brief poetic content and atmosphere.
Welcome, latter-day Druids.
The solstices, each signalling a moment of stasis in transition between shortening or lengthening days, are often the peg for haiku linking with images of the known/unknown, regret/hope, chill/warmth, death/rebirth, &c.
Here the poet uses direction. Our first thought of a staircase (which perhaps implies effort, concentration, step by step) is ascent. But no – this one leads downwards, to the cellar, a subtle disjunction. So – what lies in the cellar, and do we take the staircase down to it? “From” the cellar would hint at hope, a way up or out, if we are looking forward in time. “To” might suggest a darkening, looking back to the period we are at the point of leaving behind. Or is it the other way round? A descent to a darker future? I find interesting the way motion is given to this moment by a static image: the staircase. Even if you were to remove the preposition, say:"winter solstice the cellar staircase."
…when a reader has the option to choose up or down. What’s in your cellar? Memories? Gloom? Depression? Spiders? Or bedrock beliefs? A den with bright lighting where you can escape? A pile of all the toys you gave the kids, that they don’t play with? When I had a cellar, cool, dark and fusty, there were crates of wine in it (I have an amateur interest in wine, which is hard to fund). Yuletide calls for midwinter feasting, breaking out the stores to dissolve the long night. So from me – here’s to surviving winter; and to you, Alice for a satisfying haiku that prompts reflection.
From India, at my writing desk, fanning myself, and under a fast rotating fan, unable to bear the scorching heat, reading a senryu on the winter solstice serves well. Alice Frampton has captured the intensity of cold in the winter solstice, the month being coldest December; perhaps the witness feels the intense cold and imagines a way of keeping oneself warm is to run down the staircase to the cellar. Perhaps for coal; perhaps for a sip of wine – soothing comfort; added to this is the heat emanating from burning coal, another comfort. Thus one inference might be that in tune with the time honored belief, the author celebrates winter solstice, for rejuvenation, comfort, cheer and warmth, with fire and wine.
As someone who has watched a lot of horror films, I would advise staying away from the cellar stairs on the longest night of the year! In fact, if you whisper Alice Frampton’s haiku aloud, those sibilant consonants definitely make it sound eerie!
Harrison Lightwater – a gentle and elegant example:
Compare this ku with the one from last week where we had
— Julie Schwerin
This week there is
to the cellar
— Alice Frampton
Frampton supplies two visual images of things, the stairs and the cellar, that are anchored in a specific season. The classic kigo establishes connotations of the sun returning (in Japan, ichiyō raifuku), with better days to come. The two images complement each other. There is toriawase. Still, there is a juxtaposition of ideas, too. Not the total mismatch of things often seen in more far out journals. It is gentle and elegant. The winter solstice signals optimism, but the staircase leading down to the cellar signals a pessimistic prospect. There is no need to say more. A reader is thinking already.
Both this week’s ku and last week’s are alliterative. This week’s has a lighter touch. As a modern English language haiku it is rooted in traditions. It could be a good example to use in discussion. Does it excite the reader in some way? Your mileage may vary.
Author Alice comments:
Always keep your senses open for the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the best commentary this week, Harrison 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!
— Ernest Wit
Frogpond 45:1 Winter, 2022
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.