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 Sushama Kapur, was:
off the edge of the sofa
— Elancharan Gunasekaran
Prune Juice #36, March 2022
Introducing this poem, Sushama writes:
What drew me to this verse was the intriguing juxtaposition between the words, dinosaurs and sofa. Is it a child doing the tipping? Or is it somebody more adult? Let’s not forget it’s dusk, the beginning of night. One wonders at this choice. The questions are many, just as the doors are many. As a sci-fi and fantasy literature enthusiast, I am reminded of Ursula Leguin’s titles: ‘Dancing at the Edge of the World’ or ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’. Looking forward to reading the commentaries.
A neat verse for all seasons, setting humans against the rest of the natural world, which sparks a reader’s attention and reads well. It brought to mind Kerouac’s “nightfall / boy smashing dandelions / with a stick” that we recently considered here. Elancharan Gunasekaran’s verse is more playful and charming, yet has similar sinister undertones. As we’re in the Anthropocene rather than the Mesozoic era, these are clearly toy dinos and either a child is having fun making them fall off a notional cliff (this behaviour, which I’m sure we all indulged in as small children, itself prompts thought about our instinctive urges and little pleasures in destruction…), or a parent is clearing up at bedtime.
Beyond the playful innocence of the observation we have clear associations: dusk, the end of day, the coming of the dark time; extinctions, and human culpability for some of them — the sofa being emblematic of our comfort and convenience at the expense, perhaps, of other species suffering by our uncaring indolence or whim. Beyond that? Well, it wasn’t our fault dinosaurs died out, and we mammals survived their attempts to eat us, and flourished when they were gone. The real world of nature, about which poets so love to wax lyrical…
Thanks to Sushama for picking this one out.
Time depicted in the fall of the day, an image giving space to enlarge the imagination, perhaps a home, a décor, a sofa, perhaps beneath the sofa, layers of dust. One can visualize, it is not bright day time, sunlight glowing, where the speaker sits or sees an outside world. Perhaps it is night fall, when exhausted and worn-out he sits on his sofa with a view to his poetic capture. I envisage layers of accumulated dust, unswept; covers hanging like birds…. “ tipping dinosaurs”- why, where? Like birds; “dinosaurs” — do they fly? “Dinosaurs did not walk with humans. The evolutionary record says different. They gambled.” — Steve Martin. Yes, dinosaurs did gamble with space, yes dinosaurs like gambled with dust.
I lived this senryu the other day. It is the summer holidays so we are enjoying the continuous ebb and flow of summer visitors. Last week this included our three year old great grandson who knows more about dinosaurs then any man alive, ever. His very impressive dinosaur collection began the evening lined up on the sofa and then was scattered to the far corners of the sitting room as Asteroid Jensen hit .
Gareth Collins, a lecturer on planetary science at Imperial College, London, describes what would have happened after the impact of the asteroid: “For the first few hours, there would have been close to total darkness but soon after that, the sky would begin to lighten. The following weeks, months perhaps even years were probably somewhere between twilight and a very cloudy day.”
So, here I am: “dusk” places me in a cataclysmic twilight world where dinosaurs are being tipped off the edge ….. and then the contrast of the last three words ….
of the sofa. And I am brought down to earth with a bang and a laugh.
p.s. I was very surprised to find that there is a rat (or mouse) called Toby who appears on YouTube tipping over toy dinosaurs.
p.p.s I spent the rest of the evening tripping over dinosaurs and tidying them away.
Our fascination as kids of all ages with those monstrous lizards, particularly everyone’s favourite tyrranosaurus. Like we are fascinated by serial killers, murderous pirates. Tipping them off the sofa, getting our own back, showing them who’s the biggest boss. Then the thought of bare feet and hard little dinosaurs on the carpet. Ouch. Plastic… will plastic dinosaurs still be around long after we are extinct? What a puzzle we will be to paleontologists from another galaxy!
This haiku immediately took me back to past times both in my role as a mother and grandmother. ‘Dusk’ — that time of day when the energy levels of both children and parents are running low. The time of day when dinner needs to be prepared but when children can be the most demanding.
It also reminds me of the various obsessions children have in their early years although some carry them into adulthood. Lego comes to mind. There were many others… Raggedy Ann, the Pound Puppy, Barbie, GI Joe, Donkey Kong and Smurfs… My experience has mostly been around anything with wheels, which expanded my knowledge of vehicles to the point I could hold my own during discussions with male counterparts. But then came the dinosaurs. I must admit they held a certain fascination for me as well as the children, and the encounter provided knowledge I may otherwise not have.
And then the tipping point when energy and patience has been exhausted and any further play is out of the question. Not knowing what to do the dinosaurs are tipped off the lounger, which just seconds ago was providing habitat, to draw attention and let whoever is near know that the game’s over and it’s time for someone else to take charge of what happens next.
A delightful haiku which brought back some lovely memories as well as some aspects of motherhood I prefer to forget.
Amoolya Kamalnath — a playfully poignant ku:
The first line has a single word – dusk. It’s portraying the end of the day. Is it only the end of the day or does it hint at something else? What’s happening at dusk? The first word tipping in line 2 adds to the mystery. Then, it unfolds – dinosaurs!!! But how?! Dinosaurs are extinct, so this must refer to toys. Or does it hint at going back to the pre-historic period? The answer lies in line 3 and is very cleverly worded – off the edge of the sofa. The toy dinosaurs the child is so fondly trying to play with are falling off the edge of his/her play area, the sofa. The child may even be enacting the pre-historic drama where those mighty giants got wiped off the earth all too suddenly, noone still learning the reason. This haiku is also narrating the real story of the dinosaurs in the play-way method.
The scenario written here brings to mind a local news item I heard as a schoolgirl. A bus full of young college students tipped off the edge of a cliff and none survived.
A deeper meaning this haiku conveys is about the latter part of life in the life cycle. Dusk can mean senescence, closing in, to the onward journey to where we came from. Tipping off the edge can mean death. So, a seemingly playful haiku contains a much much deeper meaning to it, of life and death, of growing old and facing our worst fears, of the cycle of birth and death. On second thoughts, this poem may not be written in a lighter vein at all. The poet must have wanted to write about the philosophy governing life and hence used metaphoric mapping to convey the essence.
Author Elancharan Gunasekaran:
This particular haiku is a rather strange one. It encompasses so many points of view and philosophies. My daughter was playing with mini dino figurines in the living room and lined them up on the arm of the sofa. I quickly captured the shot.
The haiku takes place during dusk. More than any other time of the day, the evening skies usually seem like they are filled with fire, smoky clouds and chaos. Sometimes, it feels like hell on earth before nightfall. Now imagine a scene of fire raining, asteroid debris streaking from the sky, red orange and lightning jumping cloud to cloud. Celestial event? Armageddon? Perhaps.
It seemed like the dinosaurs were lined up waiting for an extinction event to take place. And in the background, was our betta fish tank. Back in the prehistoric days, fishes, dinosaurs and strange creatures coexisted on the planet. Even after dinosaurs were wiped out; creatures survived in the oceans, hell they thrived! But it doesn’t end there, does it? People actually thought that the Earth was flat and somewhere at the edge of our planet was where things ended or disappeared. Flat-earthers would be pretty disappointed to know that the earth is round or curved and that you don’t simply fall off the face of the planet!
After my daughter left the living room, I got bored and started tipping the dinosaurs over the edge of the sofa. Finally, this got me thinking about the entire event — what if the whole extinction thing was not just a natural phenomenon? The work of a god, gods, maybe. What if highly evolved beings played their hands or all this was part of a greater plan by an alien race to terraform or speed up evolution? And that’s how this haiku came to be!
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Amoolya 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. All with respect for the poet. 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!
a boy with his ear
to the bucket
— Brad Bennett
The Heron’s Nest, Volume XXIV, Number 2: June, 2022
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Multidisciplinary Elancharan Gunasekaran is a prolific writer of haiku and senryu, whose bio and many poems, particularly monoku, may be found on his website.
Addendum: Rupa Anand commented well after the deadline:
“This appears to be a simple poem recording an everyday commonplace happening, involving a bit of fun and games. The time is late evening or dusk as established in L1. It’s a playful, joyful ku. The physical setting appears to be the living room or as we say these days, perhaps the TV room, inferred by the word ‘sofa’ in L3. And what is happening between L1 and L3? Some fun and play!
I understand the poet Elancharan Gunasekaran lives in Singapore with his cat, Leo. To someone who lives in a household with six cats, I’m aware of the dynamics at play between the felines and us. Cats are super intelligent, have individual personalities and love to have their individual toys for entertainment. Perhaps, Leo has a set of stuffed dinosaurs to keep him company. He’s cosy with them on the sofa and in typical cat behaviour, starts ‘tipping’ them off the edge of the sofa, one by one! That’s what cats do. Play. That’s what our cat does at home – knock things off the edge and wait for our reaction. A fun Haiku. “