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re:Virals 346

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 Harrison Lightwater, was:

wild geese
I missed
my calling

— Ernest Wit
Frogpond 45:1 Winter, 2022

Introducing this poem, Harrison writes:

I like the plain economy of these few words that stir the regrets many of us have about the inviting paths that we decided not take, or the realisation too late in life of our vocation.

Opening comment:

A contemporary haiku of image + thought as compared with the traditional two images juxtaposed, and one where the ego is present albeit in a universal way. Instances of this approach seem to be on the increase.

Geese are often indicative of a season, generally with a clue as to whether they are leaving or returning – the season differs from country to country, and indeed from species to species, so it may be a questionable season word. In this haiku, which is for an all-season reflection, it doesn’t really matter. We are not told whether the geese are leaving or returning… Use of “wild,” and the ability of geese to fly, encodes freedom, and their migration to and from far-off places is also evocative for humans. These two plain words bear a weight of associations.

The honk of geese in flight leads to a double meaning of “calling,” but there is more to this verse than a pun. The poet reflects on a missed vocation, and the use of “I” makes it personal to the reader who is nudged to insert their own “I” and associated regrets. I guess few readers are wholly satisfied with the course their lives took, and many hanker after a different one, imagined to be more fulfilling, somewhere else, more exotic perhaps. That’s perhaps the way to fretfulness rather than acceptance and inner tranquility. After all, the geese that fly away will come back here in six months’ time.

Lastly, the verse is crisp, no word wasted, and has a pleasing rhythm to it when spoken. I enjoyed it.

Sushama Kapur:

I read the first two words of the fragment and on instinct, look up. For me, the words “wild geese” immediately conjure the unifying V formation of these migratory birds flying together in the sky. The vast blue above me is empty right now, but I could imagine! Of course “wild geese” would not necessarily mean flying ones. They could be the ones flocking around water bodies, weaving their honking calls and cackles with the echoing sounds of moving waters.

The next four words of the phrase are many layered. What is this reflective statement about? Seeing the beauty of so many wings cleaving through air in unison, or the flocks resting together, perhaps the poet wishes he were a naturalist, or a wildlife photographer, or just a bird watcher with a hobby. Or does he wish he had the time “to stand and stare” at the many many small natural wonders waiting to be discovered in our surroundings? There is perhaps a regret in the phrase, almost a wistfulness of the ‘actual living’ that may have been lost while being inexplicably caught up in a daily grind.

This six word haiku packs a punch and leaves the reader wondering about priorities in life. A deep reflection like this one may well have within it an opportunity for change – and new beginnings. After all, let’s not forget you live only once, and time does have a habit of whizzing past …

Lakshmi Iyer:

Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese takes me to that state of awareness and realisation that we should welcome life’s struggles at any cost and live life to the fullest.

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”

I stated the above poem to recall that moment which Ernest must have thought of, whilst writing this poem. A beautiful minimalist poem:
Line 1 has a strong image of the wild geese representing autumn, change, apprehension, transience, and migration.
Line 2 & 3 brings a sad tone in his voice of missing his calling. What is the calling? Why has he to announce it now looking at the wild geese? Is this a period of contemplation; self realisation, to come out of his shell of self pity and ignorance. Have the geese sent him a green signal? Maybe yes?

This poem in fact is a universal truth to all of us. Let bygone be bygone! The wild geese return to their home. So why not dive into the natural beauty of life and swim in the ocean of enjoyment.

Marietta McGregor:

This supremely economical six-word haiku conveys poignant regret in so few words that its complete backstory could easily be forgotten, or at the very least, overlooked. We have a kigo as the fragment which is immediately recognisable. The appearance of the geese is memorable because we imagine they congregate in numbers large enough to be notable, thus we see them as they begin to migrate, or they remain in our thoughts when they have already departed. The phrase swings the poem’s meaning from the avian into the human sphere and the personal world of the poet. Communications between members of the departing flock when they know it’s time for their seasonal transition trigger a deep sense of loss, of unrealised possibilities that may never be revisited. We miss the wild geese when they finally leave, just as we miss the things we wish we had done but never could do, or didn’t manage to achieve for whatever reason. The ku also works as a monostich reading several ways, in each case conveying the immediacy of the squandering of time.

Shalini Pattabiraman:

A moment in time is many things to many people, but there are seasonal markers like the arrival or departure of wild geese that allow us to label time — give it a name, a colour, a texture, a mood. Then there are other allusions that spring to mind — Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese… And just like that, you think about your place in time, mull over the space you take up: wondering whether you are someone who can spread your arms wide and hold yourself like a bird — free to call the sky your home; or you are this other person who shrivels inside the tiny space between the shoulder blades and mistrusts everything? If at all, at this point, if you are pushed to ask yourself these questions, then certainly you have missed your calling, for you may not be who you say you are. Maybe it is only in that moment of time, when the wild geese cry, that you truly discover how fragile your own sense of self is and how much you wish, you could be the wild geese that know how to navigate through life.

Patricia McGuire:

I am not the greatest fan of haiku or senryu in which the personal emotions of the poet intrude forcefully into the work. These works are too self indulgent for my taste.

There is a fine line between the use of aesthetics to create emotive responses whether joy or sadness and indulging your own mood. As Otsuji says, “When one is overwhelmed by sorrow, that sorrow cannot produce a haiku. When one is joyful and immersed in happiness, that feeling cannot produce a haiku.” (Kenneth Yasuda, Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature and History).

The sentimental content of this poem may forge a verse that is likeable, because it appeals to a common denominator of the human psyche. In this case we can all identify with the idea of regret. However, this does not a haiku make. “In such haiku, the expression of visceral emotion is all too reminiscent of the presentation of transparent feeling and empty social exchange in the media.” (Bruce Ross, The Essence of Haiku on the NZ Poetry website).

I’d like to give you an example of work that has managed to illustrate how we can evoke emotion without the ego of the poet being in full view.

Alan Summers has a written a haiku which is on an especially emotive subject, but the ego is contained, the emotion restrained and yet the Sabi aesthetic gives the poem gravitas. We can identify the emotion, the poet is giving us clues without obviously being in the poem.

the rain
almost a friend
this funeral
Alan Summers, Azami #28 (Japan, 1995) ed. Ikkoku Santo : The Temple Bell Stops: Contemporary Poems of Grief, Loss and Change (2012) ed. Robert Epstein

When we write haiku shouldn’t we aim to eliminate the self, the ego? In so doing “eliminating the physical barrier between” ourselves “and nature”. See Thomas Lynch’s essay, Intersecting Influences in American Haiku.

As Gabriel Rosenstock says in his book, Haiku Enlightenment, we should not interject anything of “our personal or egoistic needs between” ourselves “and the experience.”

In essence this is a lovely poem… but is this the direction we want to take the haiku genre?

Radhamani Sarma:

Sitting near my balcony in India; wishing to be by a pond or river to view geese and listen to their honk.

Ernest Wit, in the first line of his haiku compresses so much. Bird calls and the migration of birds in seasons create a serene mood. The poet establishes connectivity, but there’s possibly a missing link with the following two lines:

“I missed
my calling”

As the poet tunes in to the honk, is he so deeply engrossed that he misses his official responsibility, or commitment to his office? Does he simply feel deprived at the thought of no longer being able to hear the geese as they move farther and farther away? Or would he rather be somewhere, someone else? Or even, are there now missed calls on his phone?

Barbara Sabol – connecting a natural event with personal emotion:

The appeal of this haiku is its direct and immediate connection between a natural event – the overhead calling of geese – and the longing their cries engender in both speaker and the universal “I.”

Traveling well beyond this speaker’s vantage point, the birds’ cries amid their arresting flight pattern connote a larger elsewhere–other journeys and opportunities not taken. This harkens to Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” and the inevitability of having to choose one path. In this haiku, though, the tone of regret and resignation comes through: a person feeling tethered to their choices; perhaps having chosen a dead-ended path.

The placement of “my calling” as the third line adds another layer of meaning to the poem. The phrase commonly refers to a person’s profession, what they are “called” to do. Here though, “calling” works as rich double entendre, with the speaker’s lone voice calling for a different kind of life, drowned out by the honking geese who enact the freedom he longs for.

This is a rich sensory narrative in just six words, suggesting fall when geese migrate south in great numbers. I feel the chill of changing temperatures, hear the wild honking overhead, and am also struck with the wonder, and maybe also a touch of envy, of the elsewhere of their destination.


virus2

Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the best commentary this week, Barbara 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!

         dipping
         her hat
   in a desert stream
   the years wear on

— Victor Ortiz
Acorn #48, spring 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.


Footnote:

Ernest Wit’s short bio and a selection of his haiku can be read in the Foundation’s Haiku Registry, with further examples at the Living Haiku Anthology, both of which carry links to his blog.

Particular thanks to Patricia for grasping a few nettles, in a well-argued contribution generalising from this verse to aspects of the current haiku trend.

Where relevant to the poem of the week, readers’ reasoned views are invited on the penetration of the ego in latter-day haiku, the growing preponderance of “image plus thought” as contrasted with “two image” verses, and the apparent increase in lyrical and sentimental haiku. Is this distorting the genre’s traditions, or extending them? Or outside them? There are precedents in the tradition by e.g. Basho and Buson for notes of lyricism (or were they enhanced by translators?). And by the likes of Issa, Shiki and Ryokan, to name just three, in use of the first person. Views can be included in your future commentaries or added in the comments below. Let’s see how it goes. I know you’ll keep it respectful.

In Kyoto,
hearing the cuckoo,
I long for Kyoto

— Basho tr. Hirshfield

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Dear Keith,

    You have encouraged discussion on matters that come up with some of these re:Virals. I applaud this, and have a suggestion that you might consider passing along: because each week’s installment very quickly moves off the homepage and has to be searched for, perhaps it could be linked to the Forums where it would be readily available, and perhaps more people would see it to further
    discussion. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for the thought, Meg; appreciated.

      It’s open to any forum member to take comments from here and introduce them in the THF forum, with the link. These intriguing questions don’t crop up every week, though, and are connected with the haiku put forward in a given week, so it’s not easy to see how it could/should be systematized. (Not mentioning the work…!)

      1. Thanks Keith–

        yes, bringing a topic for discussion over to the forums would be ( I should say, could be) a good way to go. I have in fact tried it, to no avail, but perhaps someone else would have more luck.

        As you know, notification of any given week’s re:Viral can vanish quickly from the home page, depending on the arrival
        of new features. I could be wrong, but I tend to think, once it is out of sight, it is out of mind. Perhaps a few people
        seek it out.

  2. Patricia McGuire says:

    “When we write haiku shouldn’t we aim to eliminate the self, the ego?”
    “As Gabriel Rosenstock says . . .we should not interject anything of “our personal or egoistic needs between” ourselves “and the experience.”

    In essence [Ernest Wit’s] is a lovely poem… but is this the direction we want to take the haiku genre?”

    She asks fair questions, ones which writers of haiku have wrestled with probably from earliest days. I am only in my thirties but have been aware of the haiku “scene” long enough to see these concerns come and go. Long enough to say, respectfully, that there has been, concerning haiku, a puritanical streak running through it. Of course, it manifests most obviously in declarations of what is and what is not, haiku. The danger is that one is constantly looking over one’s own shoulder in judgment, a state that I have found stifling of creativity.

    If one is looking for haiku in which there is no whiff of the author, a great many important works will have to be discarded, many by writers cited by Lorin Ford. Even a beloved poem such as Marlene Mountian’s

    pig and I spring rain

    is not without a sense of self, in this case an “I” revelling in the kinship with a muddy pig. There is both pigness
    and woman-ness in this. One might argue, of course, that the author does not intrude. I guess that depends
    on how far one wishes to take this. At the very least, she asserts herself. She says how she feels.

    There is an irony, or paradox: the effort to eliminate ego is an act of ego. One of the charms of haiku is its quiet celebration of ephemerality, and perhaps the best hint at the fragility of all things, including self, and including ego.

    1. Thank you, Meg. “….declarations of what is and what is not, haiku. The danger is that one is constantly looking over one’s own shoulder in judgment, a state that I have found stifling of creativity.” – Meg Halls

      I have much sympathy for this view. At the same time there is a constant quest for understanding through analysis, and many attempt to outline the results as helpful instruction (and it is, generally, helpful). And so we see a stream of verses written to conventionally-accepted formulae in the journals.

      I prefer not to think of fixed “rules” but of non-prescriptive principles that can with advantage be adapted to one’s writing.

      On “ego” in haiku – there is an excellent and readable treatment of this by a young Makoto Ueda as part of the nine-page essay “Basho and the Poetics of Haiku” (The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 21, No. 4, Summer, 1963, Wiley on behalf of The American Society for Aesthetics) – available to read in the THF’s invaluable library at https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/omeka/files/original/0f0a1ed12e6d4d667347796343865b89.pdf

  3. Dear Lorin Ford,
    Very lively, reading through your comments following thus:
    I find something interesting and new in your mentioning, ” Travelling Birds”

    “my response to this statement in context of ‘ wild geese’ is an immediate feeling of uplifting awe and of opening out/ expansion and (2.) I recall the superb film by French directer Jacques Perrin that I know by the title ‘Travelling Birds’ (titled ‘Winged Migration’ for the USA release. The original title is ‘ Le Pueple Migrateur’) There are migrating geese in that and they made quite an impression on me. (I’m in southern Australia and don’t see geese migrating… godwits, yes. Perhaps my calling, had I the choice and the income, might’ve been to become a travelling naturalist. )

  4. “Barbara Sabol – connecting a natural event with personal emotion: ” – Keith Evetts
    .
    This header sums up why Barbara Sabol’s commentary would’ve been my choice, too. What is the calling the “I” of the poem feels he’s missed? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. What I do know is that (1.) my response to this statement in context of ‘ wild geese’ is an immediate feeling of uplifting awe and of opening out/ expansion and (2.) I recall the superb film by French directer Jacques Perrin that I know by the title ‘Travelling Birds’ (titled ‘Winged Migration’ for the USA release. The original title is ‘ Le Pueple Migrateur’) There are migrating geese in that and they made quite an impression on me. (I’m in southern Australia and don’t see geese migrating… godwits, yes. Perhaps my calling, had I the choice and the income, might’ve been to become a travelling naturalist. )
    .
    It’s interesting that Patricia McGuire considers that “In this case we can all identify with the idea of regret. ” I’ll say straight out that “the idea of regret” (nor any other idea) nor even a sense of regret isn’t something that dominates for me in context of this haiku. “What might have been and and what has been/ Point to one end, which is always present.” Time is interesting. To me, the sight of the wild geese in Ernest Wit’s haiku opens out possibilities that hadn’t even been thought of before. It’s the awe, the revelation and the (metaphorical) expansion of horizons that are primary, to me . . . regret? well, perhaps, but for me it’s a secondary thing to the revelation.
    .
    Regarding the talk about “the ego of the poet” intruding, how does an exclamation in first person introduce the ego? (Is the first person pronoun considered to be equivalent to ego? !!! ) I think there is a common misunderstanding regarding the use of “I”. In normative English grammar the first person is stated. (We say ” I had fish for lunch.” ) In South Eastern Asian languages, the first person is implied/ understood. (They’d say “Had fish for lunch” when referring to their own self) I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that the first person might be implied rather than stated in Japanese, too.

    Did Buson, writing about his stepping on his (supposedly) dead wife’s comb, introduce “the ego of the poet” into that haiku? Did Issa introduce his ego? Did Basho? Did Kaneko Tohta?

    (Personally, I much prefer the use of the first person pronoun than the ever-accumulating pile of ku that use what I call “the mysterious third person” – the generic ‘he’ or ‘she’, used without a clue to further identification. )

    1. Many thanks for this comment, Lorin. I hope it will spark others in discussion. On the interesting question of the first person in Japanese, I’d first make a precautionary comment that we are writing in English, and what we’re discussing is the extent to which haiku adopt, or not, a principle (as contrasted with a rule) of abstraction from the egotistic “I”. I suspect that it is a question of degree rather than of absolutes.

      I am not a Japanese linguist either, but following your comment I read with interest this ex cathedra entry in Wikipedia:

      “Pronouns are used less frequently in the Japanese language than in many other languages, mainly because there is no grammatical requirement to include the subject in a sentence. That means that pronouns can seldom be translated from English to Japanese on a one-to-one basis.

      The common English personal pronouns, such as “I”, “you”, and “they”, have no other meanings or connotations. However, most Japanese personal pronouns do. Consider for example two words corresponding to the English pronoun “I”: 私 (watashi) also means “private” or “personal”. 僕 (boku) carries a masculine impression; it is typically used by males, especially those in their youth.

      Japanese words that refer to other people are part of the encompassing system of honorific speech and should be understood within that context. Pronoun choice depends on the speaker’s social status (as compared to the listener’s) as well as the sentence’s subjects and objects.

      The first-person pronouns (e.g., watashi, 私) and second-person pronouns (e.g., anata, 貴方) are used in formal contexts (however the latter can be considered rude). In many sentences, pronouns that mean “I” and “you” are omitted in Japanese when the meaning is still clear.

      —-

      In Japanese, a speaker may only directly express their own emotions, as they cannot know the true mental state of anyone else. Thus, in sentences comprising a single adjective (often those ending in -shii), it is often assumed that the speaker is the subject. For example, the adjective sabishii (寂しい) can represent a complete sentence that means “I am lonely.” When speaking of another person’s feelings or emotions, sabishisō (寂しそう) “seems lonely” would be used instead.”

      ———-

      1. “Japanese words that refer to other people are part of the encompassing system of honorific speech and should be understood within that context. Pronoun choice depends on the speaker’s social status (as compared to the listener’s) as well as the sentence’s subjects and objects.” – quoted by Keith
        .
        Interesting, and it seems right to me, Keith. What’s above is true for Bahasa Indonesia, anyway. . . Indonesia being an island nation, like Japan.

  5. Dear Lakshmi Iyer,
    A fine observation, here. Going through the following comments, a probe
    into life’s philosophy, how true, how applicable !

    “Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese takes me to that state of awareness and realisation that we should welcome life’s struggles at any cost and live life to the fullest.

    “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.”

    I stated the above poem to recall that moment which Ernest must have thought of, whilst writing this poem. A beautiful minimalist poem:”

  6. Hearty congratulations to Barbara; going through your comments, following vital points worth note. Reading over again, something new and catchy.

    “Traveling well beyond this speaker’s vantage point, the birds’ cries amid their arresting flight pattern connote a larger elsewhere–other journeys and opportunities not taken. This harkens to Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” and the inevitability of having to choose one path. In this haiku, though, the tone of regret and resignation comes through: a person feeling tethered to their choices; perhaps having chosen a dead-ended path.”

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