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re:Virals 372

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:

Today
our story starts
with cherry blossoms.

— Chloe Chan
Honourable Mention, Sakura Awards, Youth section, Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival 2022

Introducing this poem, Harrison writes:

Congratulations to young Chloe Chan for this very fine haiku in one sentence that for me embodies much of what Basho was about.

Opening comment:

I think this is a wonderful haiku. A few plain words of natural speech, which in an instant convey, and share, blushing beautiful dawn, renewal and hope. A fine line of poetry that rolls naturally off the tongue. Light and airy as the blossoms themselves. There are so many haiku on cherry blossoms and yet Chloe Chan shows us that it is still possible to write a great fresh one. She has not gone down the customary paths of praising cherry blossoms with some image of awe or reverence, or some smart  juxtaposition; or some ostensible insight or philosophical thought.  “Cherry blossoms” are not added somewhat dutifully as a kigo; nor to tick the box for a festival of cherry blossoms.  She has used the power of cherry blossoms, with all their accumulated associations, as the sole image.  She has deployed the plain words “Today,” “our,” “story” and “starts” to maximum effect to signal Now, Us, Life, and Beginnings

On structure, we have a one-breath sentence with no obvious juxtaposition and just the one image. Ichibutsujitate. There’s no conspicuous cut.   The lines flow, albeit the arrangement on three lines produces slight pauses for the reader to weigh them. The expanding shape of the poem is subtly pleasing, as is the initial capital of Today.  I considered the closing full stop or period: the obvious alternatives are to remove it, or replace it with an ellipsis, inviting a reader to bring their own trailing juxtaposition, to think what might come next.  But I like the affirmation.  I think that the likes of Basho might have made ‘kana’ the last character, translating as an exclamation mark.  For those who like to lay down contemporary rules, this is a haiku to ponder…

Amid all the depressing news, the quarrels, the politics, the vice and viciousness, the wars, the despoliation of the planet, fears of the future and of the end, amid the often contorted faces of contemporary poetry, we can turn to this little poem.  It can be spring, and Today, our story starts — with cherry blossoms! It is artful yet effortless. Just lovely, and immediately added to my short file of favourites.

Françoise Maurice:

So few words in this haiku by Chloe to express love and grace. The cherry blossoms suggest spring, whiteness and purity. I am happy to read this haiku that speaks of cherry blossoms to evoke budding love. Congratulations Chloe for your honorable mention at the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival 2022.

Ann Smith:

I wish I had written this. A very deserved Honourable Mention.

Cherry blossoms (sakura), so ubiquitous in haiku, are a symbol of the spring, renewal, and the fleeting nature of life. Their blossom lasts for just two weeks and is celebrated with hanami (flower viewing festivals) when people gather under the cherry trees to enjoy their beauty.

The vertical and horizontal axes of a good haiku are evident here. The horizontal axis – the focus on the contemporary, the present, what is happening now (the Cherry Blossom Festival) and the vertical axis – movement across time and allowing for multiple interpretations by the reader

With the three words “our story starts” Chloe Chan has introduced (for me at least) the present the past and the future (….once upon a time/ today’s storytelling/how will it end?).

Her poem took me to the huge question of climate change. It seems that the cherry trees have been flowering much earlier than usual due to the rising temperatures caused by climate change caused by us. And yes … how will it end?

P.s while researching for this commentary I also read about a study from South Korea’s Forest Research Institute which reported that each 25-year-old cherry tree can absorb about 20 pounds of emissions each. “The country’s cherry trees are said to be capable of absorbing about 2.4 tons of carbon, roughly equivalent to the emissions of 6,000 cars per year”

Radhamani Sarma:

The prime image ( cherry blossoms) figuring in the last line of this verse has manifold appeal and focus here for readers. The first line starting with “ today” denotes that day begins with cherry blossoms”. Cherry blossoms are national flowers of Japan, hence, deep history ,representing auspicious symbols for propagation of culture, music, art as well as philosophical belief rooted in destiny. And “our” could be a loving pair, writing their story, cherry flowers in the background highlighting many aspects; ephemerality of life, short living beauty.

“Due to their short bloom time, Sakura blossoms are a metaphor for life itself: beautiful yet fleeting. You’ll realize when you’re as old as me to hang on to the good times because they won’t last forever.” ― Shannon M Mulle

“The notion is called wabi-sabi: life, like the cherry blossom, it is beautiful because of its impermanence, not in spite of it, more exquisite for the inevitability of loss.” – Peggy Orenstein

Lakshmi Iyer:

So much is said about cherry blossoms, the transcendental technique of allowing us to remember it whenever possible. Beyond all time and space, we witness the beauty of cherry blooms, that lives to celebrate a festival. Not all flowers get this honour, and so the first line ‘Today’ gathers the moment of the magnitude of the magnificent blooms. Collectively it aims at enhancing the power of the unheard silence of the universe. The time.

Next comes the second line
“our story starts”
Words illumined with the five elements and expressions to construct a story told, retold and untold to several faces of life; to dive deeper into this phenomenon that forms the final line of this poem: “cherry blossoms.” The underlying meaning of this poem is that anything and everything begins with the age old line: “‘Once upon a time…” And what better start to this poem, this ageless and timeless cherry blossom story forever!

The poet has something bigger and deeper substance in the structure of the poem, something that just can’t be stated but needs to be measured in the cup of words. So the story starts…..and never ends….

Amoolya Kamalnath:

This poem could be a haiku if we consider cherry blossoms in the last line to be a spring kigo or it could be a senryu if we consider it to be mainly about the poet’s life (but which is associated with the cherry blossoms). It has the t and s consonance sounds.

The three lines are in an expanding fashion (written in such a way that each line ends a little after the earlier line) meaning the story started and is ongoing and growing.

‘Today’ with capital T emphasizes the present, a new beginning from this new day, ‘our story’ could be a newly married couple’s journey (or a couple which has newly started dating), ‘starts with cherry blossoms’ meaning beginning in spring season.

My initial understanding was that it could be the story of a couple who have started their blissful journey on the path of love and/or marriage during the spring season. Upon further thinking, it could be the starting of the story of the couple along with that of the cherry blossoms both occuring and continuing simultaneously. Or is the narrator/poet narrating a story to someone mentioning cherry blossoms at the start?

In his haiku, Matsuo Basho attempted to show the delicateness and impermanence of humans and the connectivity with everything in existence. His poems took common things from the surroundings, in which unnoticed life takes place, into interiority and depth. He told his disciples to aim for simplicity with elegance in expressing the “haiku moment,” the truth of the original noticing. This haiku follows Basho’s teachings and hence is very Basho-like. In simple language, ordinary things from our surroundings and from nature have been dealt with in a striking manner.

Sébastien Revon — the essence of beginnings:

Where to start on this haiku?

After a few readings, it feels like it encapsulates a huge amount of metaphorical power. Of course, springtime, and cherry blossoms. So many haiku have been written about cherry blossoms but what this haiku is saying simply to me is that the haiku path has indeed a starting point. Apparently, this haiku was written by a very young poet and so it is that she has managed to define the essence of beginnings along her journey and our journey too if we all look back.

The clear reference to spring and the Japanese tradition locates the poem in place and time. After a few more readings I started to wonder about the importance of the first word, which is for me the main point of the poem. What I’ve written so far reflects on line 2 and 3, but if we add to it the first line, this single word “Today”, it gives the poem a sense of hope, hope for the future. This “Today” is the Today that all of us can hold.

The story starts again every day. For the young poet as well as the old one. To me, this poem is like a reminder that I have to try and have a fresh look at things every day and that my haiku and life journey should be lived as if it was something new.

Author Chloe Chan:

Honestly, this haiku was one that unexpectedly came to me in a moment. One of those poems that I wrote down in a notebook somewhere and completely forgot about until a school assignment and the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival haiku contest.

On my elementary school playground, there stood a small cherry tree. And throughout my last few years at elementary school, but especially during the time it was in bloom, my friends and I held many small meetings under those branches and petals. Many stories were told there, real and fictional, and we composed many poems together about the blossoms. Reveling in the various cliches and far-too-commonly-used metaphors and phrases associated with cherry blossoms, we wrote these pieces to be as cliché and unoriginal as possible. So that’s where the story of my haiku starts.

Haiku say as much as possible, in as little words as possible. And that’s why I like them. Oftentimes, they aren’t a story. They don’t come full circle with rising and falling action, primary and secondary characters. Haiku are just a fragment of words from a story – but a fragment that leaves you with something. I never wrote it or considered these lines to be this way, but cherry blossoms blooming are a symbol of the beginning of spring for many. And a new story, a new beginning – that’s just what spring is.


virus2

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. 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 bookmark
where my son
grew too old

— Chad Lee Robinson
Prune Juice #37 July 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:

Among Basho’s thoughts on haiku passed on by Doho and other followers are that “oldness” and skilfullness are poets’ diseases. We should, he said, apply our heart to what children think and say. “In the verses of other poets is too much making and the heart’s immediacy is lost.

Basho did not always follow his own advice, it seems: many of his hokku are carefully composed. He let fragments sit for months, revisited them, and consulted other poets. But they are in the “ordinary words” and natural speech that he thought were the essence.

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Chloe Chan’s haiku is a great haiku. For any and all ages. And her account of its origin and maturation is a delight to read, too.  Thank you, Chloe. I have used one of my little ration of nominations to put this haiku forward for a Touchstone Award, and also for the Red Moon Anthology, and wish it success.

Leaving you with Basho’s plain:

sama zama no / koto omoidasu / sakura kana

many things
come to mind
cherry blossoms
(1688 : tr. Reichold)

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Thanks to Lorin and Keith for helpful remarks and the links which I will look up. I am still a little confused– which mainly means I will probably not attempt any “sentence” haiku– but also because a kind of circular logic is set up–for me– where one definition can be: “a haiku is a poem which has the “character and spirit” of haiku.” That’s kind of unfair on Keith, because I do, in fact, know what he means and accept it. Can you say that “a sentence that has the character and spirit of haiku is a haiku?”

    1. Arthur: you can.

      I think it is a good idea first to follow the conventional principles of haiku and, for anglophones, of English language haiku, until they become familiar and almost second nature. And to read, as widely as time allows, the acknowledged Japanese masters (albeit translations are a factor) as well as the quality contemporary journals. Gradually a “feel” evolves. Along with it, a certain ennui with current haiku may set in as the same ideas, presentation and buzzwords come off the conveyor belt. But also more confidence, in the light of what’s been so often done, to do things a little differently. And to recognise the qualities in lines like John Stevenson’s “a bit of birdsong before we start our engines”, “pretty sure my red is your red”, and “in the beginning he was just pretending to sound grumpy.” Santoka’s “my begging bowl accepts the falling leaves”, “now I stand here where the ocean blue is without limit”, Hosai’s “a sudden scream fleeing into the night” and many others.

      A sentence without a grammatical break or a Japanese verse without a cutting word that can translate well as a single sentence, even phrase, can be a haiku. They may be arranged in English over two or three lines, which might suggest subtle cuts nevertheless. In recent years more have been presented on one line for the reader to cut up, or not, as they may. (Basho, by the way, maintained that you can have a suggested cut without a cutting word). They may contain two images or a single image plus a thought; or they may leave trailing space for the reader to complete one image/thought with their own (suggested by the poem).

      These are big subjects on which a million words or more have been spent; and people do love to argue! But that’s my takeaway, in essence.

      PS There is also the fresh untutored approach….

      1. I sometimes think (speaking of “circular logic”) that a haiku is a very short poem that gets published in a journal that publishes haiku. Of something I wrote many years ago Paul Miller said “the one-liner ‘Monday bleeding down to money’ def[ies] my definition of haiku . . . . It is still an interesting poem, but a haiku?”

        That poem isn’t exactly a sentence— *Monday bleeds down to money* is, of course, and might be stronger— but it allows me to speak to the concern addressed here. For me, it doesn’t matter if it is a haiku or not. I’ll take “interesting poem” any time.

        In the right mood I will say I write haiku (though not exclusively, not primarily) because it is easier than saying “I write little poems influenced (in part) by poets who have said they write haiku.”

        People will no doubt have different views on what has the character, spirit, soul, sense, feeling . . . of haiku. There are some who would, I’m sure, categorically claim that a sentence cannot be a haiku. If any are reading this discussion, perhaps they will speak up. There’s some value in it.

        Maybe all I am saying is, even if I were convinced that a sentence does not qualify as haiku, it wouldn’t matter. I would still write sentences that, in the right mood, I might send out to journals that publish haiku.

    2. ” Can you say that “a sentence that has the character and spirit of haiku is a haiku?” – Arthur
      .
      Probably not (in my view) 🙂 The problem is that it begs the question. “What is the character and spirit of haiku? ” That question is answerable: the character and spirit of haiku and senryu and renku (hakai no renga) is haikai :

      “Haikai (Japanese 俳諧 comic, unorthodox) may refer in both Japanese and English to haikai no renga (renku), a popular genre of Japanese linked verse, which developed in the sixteenth century out of the earlier aristocratic renga. It meant “vulgar” or “earthy”, and often derived its effect from satire and puns, though “under the influence of [Matsuo] Bashō (1644–1694) the tone of haikai no renga became more serious”.[1] “Haikai” may also refer to other poetic forms that embrace the haikai aesthetic, including haiku and senryū (varieties of one-verse haikai), haiga (haikai art, often accompanied by haiku), and haibun (haiku mixed with prose, such as in the diaries and travel journals of haiku poets). However, haikai does not include orthodox renga or waka.[2][3] ”
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haikai
      .
      I have also seen ‘haikai’ translated as ‘broken’, ‘crippled’, but can’t find the sources now.

      Here (in translation) is a haiku by Hosai:

      The crow silently flew off

      — Frogpond , 1978; translation by Stephen Wolfe. From the essay ‘one image haiku’, by Marlene Mountain – archived at THF: https://thehaikufoundation.org/omeka/items/show/521

  2. Lisa Germany comments today via the submission form:

    A very open-ended haiku as it could be used to refer to any transition / new beginning at all.

    The “story” that is starting could be related to relationships (incl. marriage), life after graduation (given it was submitted to the Youth Section of the festival), the start of a new habit (or the breaking of an old one), the start of a new project, etc.

    Whatever it is we are embarking upon, while the poet is excited by the change and the opportunity to renew (the exuberant blossoming of flowers), she also acknowledges that this initial excitement may not last long. After all, it’s not long before the cherry blossoms fall – ie the initial excitement over the change wanes.

    But for the moment – at the start of whatever it is – it’s all cherry blossoms

    1. I ask because recently an editor politely told me a haiku
      is almost always not a sentence. Is this haiku the exception?

      What makes it the exception?

      Thank you

      1. Hello Arthur

        Yes, a haiku can on ocasion be a sentence, yet still have the character and spirit of a haiku. They are not exceptions. I suggest you look, for examples, at some of those by John Stevenson at, say, https://livinghaikuanthology.com/index-of-poets/229-s-poets/343-stevenson,-john.html. You might also care to search for “ichibutsujitate”.

        Editors have different tastes and different shibboleths. As I mentioned in my opening comment, this week’s example is one to ponder for those who like to make “rules” for haiku.

      2. Hello Arthur,
        Your question is a valid one. Haiku that read as a sentence spread over 3 lines or one line (that is, haiku that have no obvious cut, and I do mean ‘cut’, not ‘cut marker’: Jap. kire = cut, kireji = cut marker) aren’t the norm and have not been encouraged in English Language haiku.

        Also, in EL haiku, unlike the Japanese, we don’t use cut markers at the end of a haiku or at the beginning, only within the body of the text. (You’ll find cutting words/ kireji at the end and/or the beginning in many Japanese haiku. My guess would be that the cutting word at the end of Chloe’s haiku would, if it were Japanese, be kana. That would fit the mood of wonder and anticipation that I imagine the “sentence ” would be received with by the speaker’s audience of young children. (” kana (哉/かな): emphasis; usually can be found at a poem’s end, indicates wonder” .
        ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kireji )

        Chloe’s haiku isn’t the first EL haiku to be in sentence form. A short essay, ‘Haiku Uncut’, by Lynn Rees is available in THF archives: https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/omeka/items/show/979

        This essay includes several well-known EL haiku, including my favourite by Martin Lucas which includes two very unlikely (to me!) town names in northern England.
        And Lynn Rees has sourced each of these haiku from ‘Haiku in English – The First Hundred Years’ – eds. Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland and Allan Burns. Published by W.W. Norton & Company, Copyright 2013. (Available in hardback and paperback. Even in Australia! )

  3. Chloe’s comment is entirely believable:
    “Honestly, this haiku was one that unexpectedly came to me in a moment. One of those poems that I wrote down in a notebook somewhere and completely forgot about until a school assignment and the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival haiku contest.”

    The image I had (& still have) at first reading was that of a kindergarten teacher, whose opening comment to the class is the introduction to a story she is about to read aloud. Each day is a new story, a new beginning and today the story begins with cherry blossoms. What will happen in the story? How will the story end? The teacher would have the full attention of the class. The children would be alive with anticipation.

    “Quick now, here, now, always— ” , wrote a poet who was brilliant but not known for his brevity, a poet who was well aware of the original meaning of “quick” :
    “Middle English quik, from Old English cwic “living, alive, animate, characterized by the presence of life” .

    1. Lorin: I thought of Eliot, too. But in the context of first lines: “Let us go then, you and I”….

      I think that Chloe Chan’s “Today our story starts with cherry blossoms” is also a plain, beguiling, invitation on a similar level.

      My impish side loves the picture in her comment of young children gathering under a small cherry tree to try to write lines as clichéd and unoriginal as possible. It appeals to my sense of rebellion and mischief. For many years I have been in two minds over cliché, on the one hand, and universality (and the academic “intertextuality” – also the subject of Eliot’s famous essay) on the other, in poetry. Her haiku, and the process by which it came about, is an object lesson for me.

      I also admire her comment that a haiku can be a fragment of a story, but one that leaves us with something.

      It seems likely to me that Chloe will go far as a poet, if she wishes. This one is a great haiku. I am not aware of any earlier one in the genre that is similar (I asked for a trace to be done in the database). For me, it could easily have won the invitational overall; and I hope it gets wider recognition. Basho reckoned that in a haiku life, if you manage to write ten really good ones, you’re a master. Nine to go.

    1. Sorry for misspelling your name Radhamani.
      I particularly like the quotes you mentioned, and most of all, the one from Peggy Orenstein:
      “life is (…) exquisite because of the inevitability of loss.”

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