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re:Virals 365

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, chosen by Wendy Mader, was:

garden party
the brief appearance
of butterflies

— Bryan Rickert
Stardust Haiku issue 61 January 2022

Introducing this poem, Wendy writes:

This poem calls to mind the gentle lazy days of late Summer gatherings. Lingering briefly, the season’s final butterflies fade reluctantly from a ramshackle garden. Even as ladies sipping tea comment on the refreshingly cool breeze, and make plans for Autumn events soon to come.

Opening comment:

This artfully simple haiku immediately rang my bell. Summer garden parties… for a short while we deck ourselves out gaily and flit from greeting to greeting, tasting a little conversation in each group, before returning to our ‘real’ lives. Mental images of green lawns and lovely dresses, sunshine and champagne flutes, and butterflies. For me, a very neat haiku (in the shared area between haiku and senryu), the two parts not straining disruptively but complementing each other; melliflous language and ideas accessible to anyone who has ever attended such a party. You don’t need to Google anything.  The suggestion that the guests and butterflies sharing the party are comparable is a gently humorous one in the haikai tradition.

The scenario has particular appeal for me; forgive me. Over twenty years posted abroad in various embassies I had to attend hundreds of official garden parties and national day receptions as a representational duty, and each year our own mission held the QBP – Queen’s Birthday Party – in June, usually in the garden where there was one. Bastille Days in July were also memorable: better champagne (a matter of French pride) and without the duties of hosting. The very notion of the diplomatic corps as butterflies fills me with glee. Such occasions were an excellent and efficient way of courteously acknowledging colleagues one didn’t want to have much to do with, and quickly moving on; and also of having many discreet, short but substantive exchanges with contacts one did want to see, without attracting particular attention. A lot of cross-pollination could be done.

If a reader wants to zoom out further, well the “garden” and the short-lived butterflies could also be seen allegorically as the fleeting enjoyment of Eden before the fall, or our frivolous species frittering away this green and blue planet in the sunshine.

I mustn’t leave without complimenting  the host:  thank you, Bryan.

Rupa Anand:

This sweet ku resonated with me immediately. I loved its lightness, its flavour of fun. The tone is personal and friendly. Imagery is of spring. Butterflies imply flowers. Flowers imply a garden. And a garden implies butterflies! Put them all together and it’s spring!

The structure is simple and straightforward:
L 1 – The poet has spoken in the general.  Of parties, not a particular party!  The butterflies are not intruders, not part of the setting or the party. But they’re as esteemed and welcomed as the human guests present at parties and gatherings. They make an appearance and depart. Just like socialites do!
L 2 -Their presence is brief because, by nature, butterflies flit in, out and about.
A happy, joyous poem.

Lakshmi Iyer:

Haiku is all about ‘show not tell’. Well, what a lovely image in the very first line of a “garden party” which most of us look forward to. But, unless the reason and season is defined, one can’t come to conclusions. The next line “the brief appearance” lays down so many possible questions in the reader’s mind. The last line “of butterflies” sets another image and prompts thought about whether the line 1 has anything to do with the brief appearance.

Is it the arrival of fall? Or nearing winter? Is it that the garden is just a new one with not many flowers around? Is it that there is too much of sound, show and pomp that butterflies don’t flutter much?
Or maybe the flowers put up are just paper ones that the butterflies just appear for a brief time? Or that the butterflies must have been in the air and the fragrance of the scent around must have brought them down for a short spell.

I like the way Bryan has crafted the poem. I appreciate the sight and the silence distinct in it.

Wendy Bialek:

In my garden…butterflies hang around all day from the onset of spring through early autumn. They are attracted to the special flora I planted for them, as are the bees and hummingbirds. They know they are safe in my garden…everything is organic. For me, Bryan Ricket’s spring ku is multi-layered with meaning. The garden comes alive when the butterflies come to visit, announcing with joyful flutter the arrival of spring…

On the one hand, all that is needed is a brief appearance of such a flutter to make it a party in the garden, as we know there will be flowers attending, too. On the other hand…are there very few flowers, so the work of extracting nectar is quickly finished — explaining the brief appearance?

Another layer I see here is the metaphorical meaning of transience that is a prevalent theme in zen buddhism philosophy — spring, like life, is brief. We are all just visiting, passing through, like butterflies, so what we make of our short life here can be a party, if we choose it to be.

Another layer that can also apply is that of extinction of butterflies due to landscape-scale threats from pesticides, development and climate change. The monarch butterfly is on the endangered species list. Butterflies, like bees and birds are essential for life. They help to pollinate, and are crucial for reproduction of many edibles and some ground vegetation. If our butterflies are placed at risk….all life forms are at risk, too. They deserve our encouragement and every effort to protect them.

Ann Smith:

On first reading I saw a beautiful garden with a cloud of butterflies – so much colour in these lines without one colour being mentioned and so much action without a single verb.

On a second reading I saw a garden party attended by human social butterflies flitting from person to person but not spending much time with any of them. On a third reading I saw the garden as our world and the butterflies as us — ephemeral and short lived. (The average life span of most butterfly species is 2 to 4 weeks).

Although I couldn’t find it in the kigo list I usually use I found a world kigo database where I read that the butterfly is a kigo for spring. It can also symbolise hope, transformation, rebirth and even immortality despite its brief life — since it regenerates from its chrysalid ‘death’. While researching this I read about a dream that the Taoist sage, Chuang Tzu, who lived during the fourth and third centuries B.C had :

“Chuang Tzu dreamed that he was a butterfly.
All day long, he floated on the breeze
Without a thought of who he was or where he was going.
When he awoke, Chuang Tzu became confused.

“Am I a Man”, he thought,
“who dreamed that I was a butterfly?
Or am I butterfly, dreaming that I am a man?
Perhaps my whole waking life is
but a moment in a butterfly’s dream!.”

Anyway I have gone off on a tangent. I love Bryan’s haiku which led me to Chuang Tzu’s dream and inspired me to write a sequence about butterflies myself. Thank you to Wendy, Bryan and Keith.

Radhamani Sarma:

Yes, after days of stringent hard work, tiring work and gloom, one calls for a party, or a garden party, to interact with friends, neighbors and relatives and close repartees. Merry cheers, freedom and discussions and time at your disposal – all at the kind invitation of some good hearted soul, blessed soul;

The first line of this senryu, the writer makes us interact with the invitees of garden party and how nice to be among blossoms, flowers and cakes, sweets, mobiles switched off…. time spent in open air theatre.

Next, we have “ the brief appearance / of butterflies”. Filled with guests, talks, inspiring chats, drinks, spills, loud clatter, sweets and garden flowers, thrown waste foodstuffs, spilt drinks, flowers hidden, how can one expect butterflies to suck from them? They are slow, they appear, zoom around only for a short while, lest they should be trampled and caught, deprived of freedom. Noise and hectic activity deter them butterflies from entering the garden. The same garden, where those butterflies used to visit and imbibe honey , now they think a while…. Hence brief is their visit and appearance.

Butterflies also represent symbolically , faith, life and energy; “their brief appearance” could possibly allude that there is no life and spirit in the garden now, amidst noise and crowd and drinks there is little hope of survival.
They take the exit to seek elsewhere their honey and flowers.

“ Butterflies are self propelled flowers” — R.H. Heinlein.

Amoolya Kamalnath — the wealth packed into a simple ku:

When I read this haiku, I continued to read the poet’s name and the publication reference. Then it struck me that I’ve read it earlier, probably when the issue was released. I usually save the poem and go about my work and my brain sets into motion working out the ku. But it was different this time. My mind just overflowed with thoughts and ideas and I had to scribble it down immediately lest I miss the train.

My first thought was that it was a simple but enthralling observation about the mystery of butterflies, from where they come and where they go, how far they travel and why they choose to travel a certain path. I’m sure we all remember our fascination for these beautiful ‘magical’ creatures as children? I’m afraid this will run long. So many scenarios play in my mind when I contemplate this little ku. Are human beings partying in a garden where butterflies enter? Or is it a lush green garden during spring abounding in floral splendour and there are these butterflies chasing each other in play, to further mate, bringing about gaiety in the observer? Or is the poet being metaphoric? Is it a party at night where the twinkling stars are seen for a brief period in between a cloudy and gloomy weather? May be, even a short spell of rain in a not-so-flourishing place but with contented people abounding?

Some other similar but rarer ideas too come dashing in just like the flash floods. At a pub, at a stag party, somehow two women wander in, very briefly, without the bouncers stopping them! I don’t know how that came in my mind but it did! Could the ku be portraying the surprise visit of grandparents at a grandchild’s home or vice versa – grandchildren staying faraway visiting their grandparents for a day or two? It’s almost always a happy surprise party when either of these happen. How about close friends or best friends catching up at a common friend’s party? It’s such a great pleasure! Also, meeting favourite/close relatives at a function, briefly, can evoke the same thrill and excitement.

All this and more. This poem also directs us to some philosophy. Life is fleeting and nothing is permanent. May be a bit of Buddhist Zen philosophy and a little Advaita Vedanta of Hinduism. There are only brief periods of both happiness and sadness and sometimes both at the same time. To appreciate beauty even in transience is something we all have to learn, therein lies the secret to a longer, happier and healthier life.

Here too, a little like the previous poem we studied, we come from a relatively larger garden and/or a party to something small like a butterfly. It’s somehow similar to human beings coming from the cosmos/God/heaven which is so vast down to a neonate who is only a few centimetres long. I see the consonance of ‘r’ and a bit of assonance too giving a beautiful lyrical feel to the poem.

So much wealth packed into this notably simple ku

Author Bryan Rickert:

I believe there are always those people who come fashionably late to parties. Making an entrance, going through the room with a flutter of activity, there is definitely that need to have all eyes on them. Then, as quickly as they come, they go. After writing the initial draft of this haiku, it seemed that these could be either real butterflies or people that we refer to as social butterflies. In the context of the haiku moment, all I can say is that at a party, I am the guy most likely to wander off and look at flowers. The guy to notice when butterflies come and go. Such is the case with this poem: it came from an actual garden party moment in my own garden!

Many times I write a haiku and only revise them sparingly. This time, I was so involved with events that I noticed it, catalogued it in my brain, and came back to it on my lunch break — I try to visit a local park every day on lunch, for the purpose of reading or writing haiku. It’s very romantic to say “I spotted the butterflies in action then stopped the world to write this poem!” But that’s not my reality! I notice a lot of things and file them away for my writing sessions. I like to write and edit while I go. I always carry a little notepad for such occasions. Many people just make notes on the phone. I can’t quite get myself to make notes on the phone. I guess I’m just too old fashioned.

Thank you for this delightful opportunity to share a few thoughts about this poem.


virus2

Thanks to all who sent commentaries, and to the poet, Bryan. 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!

tiger bones steeped in rice wine my sanity

— Corine Timmer
Haiku Society of America 2022 Senryu award (Honourable mention)

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:

Bryan Rickert is a prolific author of senryu, in particular, and much published. He edits Failed Haiku and the Living Senryu Anthology, and is Midwest Regional Coordinator for the Haiku Society of America from his home in Illinois. A short bio and many senryu may be perused in the Living Senryu Anthology.

This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. This poem has a multiple resonances. The scene could be busy: a party (of people) in a garden, into which butterflies make an appearance. Or the scene could be still: in a quiet garden, the movement of butterflies suddenly enlivens the scene. I suspect we’re meant to read it as a combination (or crossover) of the two, with perhaps a dash of social commentary, mainly because of the way we understand the concept of “social butterflies.” In this combined reading, butterflies are metaphorically people – or people are metaphorically butterflies. The poem arrives in the overlap between the two possibilities.

  2. The thought of social butterflies hadn’t crossed my mind somehow. So it was a revelation to me when I read Bryan’s comment.

  3. I like this haiku a lot, I like Keith’s introduction, I like the comparisons, by the various people who commented, of actual butterflies and “social butterflies” (who briefly appear at such functions, needing to be seen and then leaving). I like the author’s ( Bryan Rickert’s) comment.

    But honestly, although I appreciate the enthusiasm shown by commentators, I’ve find some of the commentaries here on the current series of re:virals rather over-egged, rather too expansive, speculative and detailed for my taste. This week is no exception.

    1. I think poetry of any kind is difficult to write about, because, well, for many reasons that just about anyone who has tried will attest to. I am tempted to say that haiku is especially difficult, but this may not be true, except there is something about a poem of extreme brevity that often enough can make lengthy discourse about it seem unnecessary at best, foolish at worst.

      I do applaud those who try. Often enough on this blog, people seem to write about how they experience a haiku, what it brings up,
      what it reminds them of and so on. I have limited patience for this, personally, (especially when it gets to be more about the one writer the commentary than the poem) but I know many enjoy it, and I would not begrudge anyone their enjoyment. And sometimes I enjoy it too.

      I tend to like comments where someone simply says what they notice about the workings of a haiku. Might try, for instance, to say why a certain ambiguity or multiple possibilities or meaning works for or against a poem. In the current example, “butterflies” implying “social butterflies” as well as the actual insects works very well, I think.

      Overall, if writing about a poem helps the writer engage with it, that is a good thing, whatever form that writing takes. But I think I,
      or someone else here, has already said that.

      1. “Often enough on this blog, people seem to write about how they experience a haiku, what it brings up,
        what it reminds them of and so on.
        I have limited patience for this, personally, (especially when it gets to be more about the one writing the commentary than the poem) . . . “. – Meg Halls

        Meg, thank you. With these words, you’ve put a finger on what I find most irritating, especially if such a commentary is praised or rewarded. While of course the reader/ commentator is an “I” who brings her/his own way of understanding to the poem, when a commentator seems to be working from a base of “let’s see how much of ME & my experiences I can pour into this commentary”, it’s a turn-off — a turn-off for me, the reader of the commentary. Some of “me” is inevitable in any commentary and even perhaps essential, but there’s a limit.
        .
        “Overall, if writing about a poem helps the writer engage with it, that is a good thing, whatever form that writing takes.” – Meg
        .
        Yes, I agree. But after engagement comes focus. Perhaps, after writing an over-embroidered commentary about how one is affected and/or inspired by the poem, it might be put aside for a day or so, then self-edited so that it focuses on the poem itself? Surely the aim of commentary isn’t “How many thoughts and associations can I read into this poem if I give my imagination free rein?”

        .

        .

        1. I always enjoy your commentaries when submitted, Lorin. And your comments in other THF features.

          A few observations:

          Reading — that is, really reading, not just skim-reading, and thinking about haiku; meditating, if you like — is I think a key aspect of the genre. It develops understanding.

          What the poet means to say and what the reader may read into it are not always the same thing. I think that feedback on reader reactions is — or should be — invaluable to the poet. It is rare.

          In an international milieu, albeit English-speaking, one can expect cultural differences to produce a wide range of reactions and interpretations. Some may appear to others to be a little far out. I find that stimulating.

          All said, I prefer contributions that remain focused on the verse and its consequences (including the consequences for the readership), as well as how and why it may work. More about the creativity in the poems than that of the reader.

          I am pleased when new contributors come along and begin to think about haiku in this forum. They are welcomed and encouraged. I should wish them to meet with forbearance from the old sages of the genre; and that the appreciation of haiku is broadened, not confined to a cabal of erudite laureates. I’m sure I can count on your help.

          1. PS: “Perhaps, after writing an over-embroidered commentary about how one is affected and/or inspired by the poem, it might be put aside for a day or so, then self-edited so that it focuses on the poem itself? ”
            I think this is sound advice.

          2. Keith, I consider myself to be a fairly new contributor on this forum, and still getting used to it. Long ago, when Jim Kacian was hosting it, I followed it for awhile. I’m afraid I was doing other things and didn’t look in when Theresa was hosting it. (and I probably would’ve made a point of looking in if I’d realised Theresa was hosting it! But I didn’t, and that’s just chance.)
            I may be old (have to admit to that, now) but I’m no sage and certainly have never belonged to a cabal of erudite laureates. . . goodness forbid! (There are those who’d be rolling on the floor laughing at the very idea.)

    1. Don’t know my previous post eliminated the all important gap between

      after the garden party

      &

      the garden

      (all on one line).

  4. congrats over and over again, to amoolya….so well deserved for writing a comprehensive commentary on bryan’s brief butterflies sighting!
    amoolya… i love your enthusiast pursuit of knowledge, leaving no stone unturned .
    thanks to wendy m. for bringing bryan’s beautiful work to my attention.

    all great commentaries….as always!

    endless thanks to keith for diligent, and sensitive work of editing and posting this buzzing garden each week.

    bryan, i relate very much…to how you are selective in your party surroundings.
    should you come into this neck of the woods….we invite you to spend time writing in our organic garden…where the butterflies non-stop, busy themselves.

  5. Dear Amoolya Kamalnath,
    Congratulations .
    Reading through your comments, following quite interesting:

    “All this and more. This poem also directs us to some philosophy. Life is fleeting and nothing is permanent. May be a bit of Buddhist Zen philosophy and a little Advaita Vedanta of Hinduism. There are only brief periods of both happiness and sadness and sometimes both at the same time. To appreciate beauty even in transience is something we all have to learn, therein lies the secret to a longer, happier and healthier life.”

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