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 Amoolya Kamalnath, was:
river fog –
a nameless ache
fills the page
— Hansha Teki
Frogpond 35.3 Autumn 2012
Introducing this poem, Amoolya writes:
This riveting haiku by Hansha Teki transports us into mysterious lands, perhaps of melancholy, pain and suffering. There’s also an element of despair, which seems to be engulfing the poet. The reader is left with thoughts and questions — including whether this poem was the only product of the fog, or was there more on that page?
River fog in the cooler mornings brings associations of a passing life (river) and uncertainty. The kigo fog also sets the season to autumn, which often carries the implication of mature or later life.
Concerning the “nameless” ache, the artful use of explicit absence (as in “all the things we’ll never know/have/be”) is a common motif in haiku and leaves space for the reader…to consider their ache. And so, we do — with our own uncertainties, our aches that we cannot clearly define, our loves and yearnings…. that at times may seem so all-consuming that they “fill the page” and we can’t think of anything other.
Or, perhaps, fill the page with our poems. This one is crafted in a masterly manner, with plenty of content and not a word of the eight wasted, as we move from a meditative riverside poet and his waiting empty notebook to our universal search for elusive fulfilments. And if we let ourselves into it, this poem works on our emotions. Mist, mystery, mysticism.
Hansha Teki’s beautiful ku gives the ‘aha’ moment. A wonderful image of how the river fog affects the human psyche. Expectation, despair, nostalgia -are a few emotions that readily come to mind.
“And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:”
Any mention of fog also brings to mind the above lines from S T Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
As an optimist, I always believe that once the fog clears, it is cheer and brightness once again.
Connie Pittman Ramsey:
You know how sometimes you go into a museum and a painting catches your eye and your body turns to be with it; to let the eyes feast upon something you can’t explain, but you can FEEL?!? This is what this haiku does for me. Takes me immediately into the water; into the fog, and the silence; permeates the flesh, on down into the soul. Once there, a shift in mood. Heavier than expected, and no words to describe the feeling that is older than any thought. That is all I can say about this profoundly thought-provoking and emanating haiku.
Something roams over a body of water: the river fog.
A nameless ache: something roaming within the body.
Fills the page: What page? Whose page is it?
As a pharmacist, I feel deeply connected to the topic of pain. This is often a very difficult topic to address. How to talk to somebody who experiences physical or mental pain or both? And when you experience that pain yourself, how to address it? If you “give a name” to that pain, can you then cope better with it? I feel as if this haiku contains some elements of an answer to those questions.
L3 (fills the page) is in fact what triggered all those questions within me, but if I want to come back to the beginning, “river fog” I would analyse it as an Autumn setting: “fog” is indeed an Autumn kigo. But do we need to know that to feel this haiku the way I explained it in the first part of this commentary? I think not.
This haiku might seem cryptic at the first reading but I think this one gets clearer and more profound the more you read it and “chew it over.”
When I read again and again, the juxtaposition between L1 and L2 becomes like a no brainer if I dare use this expression here… I can feel that ache/pain filling that body/page like the fog over a river.
(I can’t help but notice the nice paradox of an apparently nameless ache represented by the word “fog” which is obviously a “thing” with a name)
The ultimate door that this haiku opens (and that is one of the things I look for in haiku) is in L3. In my opinion L3 is the question as well as the answer of this haiku. How clever and well felt is the use of that last word “page”! We, body and soul, are like the pages of a book in the writing. Some are well kept with a nice handwriting on it, and some are torn. They will remain torn and we have to live with that. But then, are we only that page? Is that page not bigger than ourselves? Can we share the pain? Let’s believe the fog will eventually lift. The cycle of water.
Allow me to propose in translation:
brouillard sur la rivière –
une douleur sans nom
remplit la page
This haiku will live with me when I go to my work and sometimes have no answers to comfort people who share their pain with me.
This beautiful haiku resonates within. It has a tinge of sadness, of melancholia. It reads so well, rhythmically, as if one is on a river, drifting. Line one gives the reader the location. A river or a water body always has a dreamy effect. The “fog” on the river implies mist, an inability to see too far ahead, both physically on the river and metaphorically too, in our lives. Line two, “a nameless ache”, blew me away. There appears to be a deep sense of loss, personal tragedy or grief, that the poet qualifies as ‘nameless’. It’s an ache – a deep pain within that refuses to go away. The choice of the word ‘ache’, is so appropriate, that it’s humbling. A ‘pain’ sort of goes away … but an ‘ache’ is deeper, embedded in our bones. In line three, the poet appears to be coming out of his exile and writing once again. This loss, this ache, this grief within spills onto the page and permeates his writing.
Quite simply – mind-blowing. I dare say, here, that I’m new to haiku; I had never heard of Hansha Teki. My instant Google search revealed his background – his childhood years were spent with writers and painters and their artistic company permeated his mind; he had an autistic child; he returned to writing poetry after a hiatus of four decades. All of the above is so vividly encapsulated in his haiku.
Incidentally, ‘river fog’ recurs in another of his haiku:
the murmur of
(ed. note: unpublished, I think – cited in the Living Haiku Anthology)
Reading this haiku brought back my own fog memories; listening to the sound of tugboat horns in the fog; making campfires with our son in morning fog; reading those Sherlock Holmes and other stories where fog added a sense of mystery to the pages. Movies often use fog to create a feeling of mystery and secrecy. Fog hides and obscures the reality so perhaps Hansha’s nameless ache is the desire to truly understand life and the meaning of life. Two of my favorite quotes about fog are Benjamin Britten’s “Composing is like driving down a foggy road” and Mehmet Murat ildan’s “The most talented of all magicians in this world is undoubtedly foggy mornings!”
“ river fog—” a very tricky topic, as tricky and elusive as unsolved mystery. The poet, Hansha Teki, must be sitting with his book of poems and haiku by the river fog, awaiting a green signal or final nod from a favourite Muse for a further move. His river fog – curious mixture of warm and cool temperature by the river — creating space for writing. Then:
“a nameless ache
fills the page”
… he is bent upon writing, but his story goes on, perhaps, not as smoothly as he expects; intervening is some unwholesome event or happening; unidentifiable
pain/loss/ suffering/ inner conflict — all to be expressed in physical terms as his potential writing spirit.
Joshua Gage — capturing existential anguish; a near universal emotion:
Hansha Teki creates a marvelous sense of ennui in this week’s selection. The kigo–fog–indicates an autumnal scene where trees are slowly losing their leaves and the world is becoming barren and empty. Juxtaposed against a blank page and the nameless ache that fills it (instead of merely words or a poem), Hansha Teki creates a powerful mood within the reader that resonates deeply.
As much as the aesthetic “mono no aware” is difficult to define in English, I think this poem deeply resonates with it. If the phrase is loosely defined as “pathos” or “transience,” Teki taps into that idea through the misty and impermanent kigo of the fog as well as the blank page. As soon as words are written on the page, the “nameless ache” of line two will be replaced, possibly even named. However, for right now, there’s nothing but ache filling the page, and no words to attach to it to claim it or release it. The existential anguish is palpable here, and Teki has found the balance between the concrete and the abstract to capture a near universal emotion in a mere eight words.
Author Hansha Teki:
This piece found its expression almost exactly ten years ago — late autumn / early winter in New Zealand. My walk to and back home again from my workplace took me along the Hutt River valley. At that time of year, this walk would most likely be through the beginnings of or endings of an all-enveloping river fog. This was my sacred space and time for contemplative prayer, through an image for the cloud of unknowing. It is as if the fog envelopes me within my inner room recalling the words: “But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
With sound insight, the editors of A New Resonance 11 (Red Moon Press, 2019) in introducing the selection of fifteen of my haiku included therein commented: “The poet seeks nothing less than an active engagement with the protean present, using the tools of a poet—that is through words. These poems seem uncertain if words are a useful tool for such a quest, but what else is there?” The author of The Cloud of Unknowing offers key images to guide us into the way of contemplation. The Unknowing is, paradoxically, a kind of knowing by not knowing. As the author asserts: “We can not think our way to God. He can be loved but not thought.” The heart of prayer lies in our God-given ache for the ineffable — in our reaching out in love to God and in allowing God to reach back to us. In a similar manner, my haiku reveals a seeking for the words to voice the ineffable experience of river fog at a certain place at a certain time and succeeds in filling the blank page with the expression and fulfilment of that longing.
My poetic praxis continues to have something of the same nature as contemplation. In gratitude.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Joshua has chosen next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. 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!
of his cum
— Lori A. Minor
Peach Fuzz 9:2 (2022)
Joshua’s choice is a challenge that may raise eyebrows, but please examine and write about it dispassionately whatever your verdict. He and Lori are established haiku poets with several awards. The publication, Peach Fuzz, is also established: founded in 2013 by editor-in-chief Kelly Dugan and assistant editor Laura McNairy, who describe it as “a shameless celebration of sex + art. A throwback to the old school nudie mag, with diverse bodies and open conversation about sexuality and the human condition. Basically, we love sex and the naked body. And we understand that when a healthy and open conversation can be had about healthy and open sex, we are paving the way for a healthy and open culture.”
You may also find useful a recent translation of an essay by Masaoka Shiki, the father of modern sketch-from-life haiku, dealing with vulgar matters in the genre, which is available in Poetry Magazine at the Poetry Foundation. His words: “If we attend to beauty, we can find almost nothing that completely lacks it.”
In your commentaries you might examine to what extent the subject is shared in common, what beauty, art, insight, elegance, humour or other appeal the verse contains to elevate it; whether the juxtaposition works, whether there is “ma” – space left for the reader to complete a circle of meaning; and whether it reads well or has musicality. And what place you would assign it along the spectrum of haiku through senryu, zappai to bareku. A healthy haiku conversation about healthy and open sex; erotica; or…an embarrassment? We look forward to reading your reasoned commentaries.
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.
The following commentary was received from Matt Cariello after the deadline, but adds further to the appreciation of this week’s haiku:
“What an unusual haiku with three overlapping metaphors, each of which is striking and original, and a dynamic pivot line in the middle. “River fog” is a complex two-part image, based on our common understanding of rivers and fog. “River” invokes the conceptual metaphor “life is a river” with all its entailments: constant movement, forward progress within constraints, ceaseless change, etc. Rivers move, but when covered by fog you can’t see the movement. Which is to say that this river is unknowable or nameless, presumed to be there, even if unseen. Yet its presence is felt or sensed – as an ache. An ache indicates generalized pain. The ache in this case is nameless, which is to say it has no clear source or meaning: the nameless ache is like the river fog, soft and pliant but still impenetrable. The final line offers a third metaphoric map: “fills the page.” We can say that pages are full because of a conceptual metaphor that allows us to see them as containers for words, as in the idea that a full page contains many words. The middle line – “a nameless ache” – acts a pivot between the first and third image, modifying both independently: river fog (is like) a nameless ache; a nameless ache (is like words that) fill the page. Think of it this way: “river fog fills the page” would successfully connect two metaphor maps, but “a nameless ache” modifies both in such a way as to deepen the meaning of both. ”
Hansha Teki is the pen-name of Stephen Bailey , whose short bio and a few haiku you may read in the THF Haiku Registry.
…the Japanese dictionary gives “Hansha” as reflections or reverberations, and “Teki” as the rival, adversary or threat.
At least one book of his fine haiku is available to read or download in the THF Library: inter/words by Hansha Teki / Stephen Bailey. Recommended.
He also has a website where recent poems are posted.
Hansha Teki / Stephen has also been a joint creator of the excellent and useful Living Haiku Anthology, which he continues to maintain – see Charlotte Digregorio’s interview with Don Baird in 2020; and his own entry, with several of his haiku, is here.
The Cloud of Unknowing, a mediaeval Christian spiritual text of great influence, may be read online (translated) here