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:
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.
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.
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.
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”
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
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….
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.
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!
where my son
grew too old
— Chad Lee Robinson
Prune Juice #37 July 2022
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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
come to mind
(1688 : tr. Reichold)