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 Marion Clarke, was:
sunrise darkens the face I dream with
— Peter Yovu
Sunrise, Redmoon Press 2010
Introducing this poem, Marion writes:
This intriguing one-liner from Peter Yovu sounds almost apocalyptic, end-of-world stuff. Could it be a nightmarish landscape that inspired this monoku? What thoughts lie behind its construction, and how do readers react to it?
You may hear Peter Yovu reading this signature poem of his book 2 minutes and 20 seconds into this video, which contains some comments on his approach.
A line to be experienced whole, yet within it Peter again shakes up a reader’s perception with a consciously disjunctive approach, introducing the unexpected, initially counter-intuitive: “sunrise darkens…”. This gets the reader’s attention (half the battle in poetry?). The unpunctuated line progresses in stages:
darkens the face
the face I dream
the face I dream with
For some, the poetic moment is not to be deconstructed, but when a poem has an effect on me, I like to think ‘why’ as well as ‘what’. Also, to learn from the craft – and the thinking behind it. We work with words, and words carry meanings both plain and allusive. Put together, they may evoke a transcendent moment the reader can simply bask in, and that might be enough – but I like poems that make me think, poems of the mind, that express something better than I could, perhaps something I knew must be there but couldn’t find. And I like to think, and learn from, how they do it.
So, what do the words encode here? As is often the case, we reach the end before we reappraise the beginning. “The face I dream with” I construe as “my” abstracted face rather than another’s face on an adjacent pillow. Another reader might choose differently. “Dream” is an evocative keyword, much used by poets, that carries many very positive associations. Dreams may come while asleep at night or as daydreams, and in this line we have sunrise, the transition. It is open to the reader to think of both. “Sunrise” — daylight — tends to imply dawning reality, realisation. Knowledge, revelation, even. And another day – a little more time passing, a little more ageing.
Whether the sun is awakening us from gorgeous dreams of night, or will intrude upon pleasant daydreams, the advent of reality darkens our dreams, and our blissful baby-face deepens its lines.
The arrangement is very simple and clear. But if we join two words as we read, the perspective changes and so too the poet’s thoughts on the experience of his day with the sunrise.
“sunrise darkens”… Got really startled to read this! How can sunrise darken; in fact it highlights our face. The last three words are the game changer for the poet. ‘I dream with’ states clearly his dreams and his wishes which he knows are not going to come true due to some unavoidable circumstances — maybe an unknown event: like the war, for instance, that has broken the wings of everyon’s dreams.
The moment a war is announced it shakes off everything. Even the recent incident in the US of the shooting of innocent school kids…. haywire!! Even without the sunrise, the glow on the face vanishes.
I thoroughly enjoyed the poem with the subtleties of a crisp and clear statement, out there to the world, to bring peace and love. This haiku is not of the poet alone, it is a macro zooming out!
“Sunrise darkens the face I dream with”
Emotionally affected writer, coming out with his grievances, his failures, could be his love, his romantic prospects all compressed in a shell of suspense, his mood of gloom, not finding strength, his face supposed to be cheerful, optimistic, now in a coil of disappointment. Hence sunrise darkens (the opposite of what it is supposed to do).
In a juxtaposition of moods and images, the monoku effectively portrays the poet’s idea. We can hope that as the sunrise slowly creeps into day and from thence to night, the expected does not turn up.
Sébastien Revon – a surrealist poem of longing and awe:
“Sunrise” is indeed a dramatic moment of the day. It carries a lot of metaphorical power which in return, if used in a haiku, deserves care. Then the striking paradox of a sunrise that darkens… what?! We will know in a few milliseconds of reading time. This element brings out the necessary tension that is often the trademark of a well chiseled haiku.
When the word “face” came through the reading process it triggered emotions which I didn’t identify at the time. When “I dream with” arrived, I felt the need to read and read again the poem, to impregnate myself with it. As a non-native speaker it took me several readings to really connect to the emotions that arose when I first met this poem. I really feel this poem. I even have the impression that I understand it. The poem only reveals itself with the last word. I felt that the light of day was almost killing the dream which gave me the feeling of longing which I would relate to wabi-sabi. That alone, would be enough for me. But then, another dimension came to my mind. Whose is that face? Could it be the face of the dreamer as well as the face the dreamer dreams about? This made me feel as though I was in a surrealistic poem, and makes me think now about a painting that Dali could have realised.
I tried to translate this poem into French, my native language. It goes like this:
le soleil levant assombrit le visage avec lequel je rêve
For the record, this version of the verse contains 17 syllables…
Longing and awe are the two main feelings that I experience while reading this poem. It is not something which happens to me often, hence my total love and admiration for this haiku.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Sébastien 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. Out-takes from the best of these take their place in the THF Archives. Best of all, the chosen commentary’s author gets to pick 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!
All Souls’ day
my cake never as good
— Eleonore Nickolay
Failed Haiku vol. 7, issue 78, June 2022
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Peter’s poems have been considered several times in past re:Virals, e.g:
Peter Yovu deconstructed the haiku scene in his article “Disordering Haiku”, for the New Zealand Poetry Society, the substance of which first appeared as a book review in Modern Haiku: “of the 171 poems in Big Sky, more than 100 begin with a noun preceded by an adjective…“. The article is well worth reading. Although that was in 2008, the scene has not changed that much. The substantial majority of verses that flood the journals follow recognisable patterns. Peter and like-minded have fostered a refreshingly different approach that leavens the mix, makes us blink, and can produce effects that transcend the words. I love that. The risks, I suppose, are that some may see these actively disjunctive poems as somehow “too clever” — and that with more one-line poems of this style now appearing, “haiku ennui” may come to extend there, too. But as long as good poems are being written, satisfying as this week’s example, does form and formula matter so much?