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:
a heron’s flight
— Goran Lowie
Wales Haiku Journal, Autumn 2022
Introducing this poem, Harrison writes:
This has the feel of reality, to me. Goran has managed to suggest several things in a few neutral words. I look forward to readers’ discoveries, and views of how and why this poem works.
Beyond its immediate impact there’s much to notice in the craft of this haiku. It’s a continuous sentence (or phrase) yet split by linebreaks into two juxtaposed and complementary parts about a focus. I like the balance of the two parts around the focal “in my” of the short second line.
We have the picture of a stricken person’s acute longing for freedom from disability, on top of the dreams we all have of flying. But here, we also have the fitting choice of the heron as the bird (often used as a kigo for summer). The area I live in is full of grey herons (I confess I talk to the patient individuals I can identify). Their flight, particularly on take-off, is somewhat laboured, ungainly, with their legs trailing. In the context of this poem’s third line, need one say more? Then there is the arresting choice of “self-propelled” in that line: not merely echoing the heron’s autonomy, but showing the stricken poet’s determination to be independent; not to succumb. The wheels of the wheelchair are the wings of the heron. Lastly this is a good use of “my,” I think. An abstraction would lose immediacy and impact, and “my” dovetails with “self” in “self-propelled.” Centered on the disabled writer, the reader is brought in, not excluded: we soar with the heron as we empathise with the writer, who has managed skillfully to convey several positive thoughts in two economical images without being mawkish.
Uplifting. Poet at work.
I am so pleased to respond to this wonderful senryu by Goran Lowie. The first line grabbed me with two favorite subjects, herons and flight. I live in Florida so seeing the herons is quite common for me, and watching their graceful movements and onto flight. I imagine the thought of flight is not an unusual desire but I’ve learned to long for the ability since I was a youngster. The freedom unmatched.
The last line is awesome in its freeing of someone that is previously limited in movement, again free to soar in their world. Loved this piece immensely — it was so relatable to me!
Barbara Anna Gaiardoni:
When you are free, you always find the courage to look beyond and admire everything around you, whatever your condition: because freedom is also hospitality.
Goran Lowie’s haiku really made me wonder: does watching a heron fly make him feel like he is in flight himself, albeit from the confines of a wheelchair? His poem reminded me of the book Rules by Cynthia Rylant. One of the main characters is a teenage boy who has autism and uses a wheelchair. He develops a friendship with a teenage girl, whom he convinces to push him fast in the parking lot of his OT’s office. His mom, understandably, freaks out. But he feels free. And the two teenagers’ friendship blossoms.
Goran’s poem evokes a sense of freedom that I really love. “Self-propelled” also harkens a sense of self-determination, self-advocacy, assuredness, that I enjoy.
When a heron takes flight and spreads its wings, it is truly majestic to behold. And so is Goran’s poem. Thank you for the gift of being able to soar alongside you through your poem.
At first this reads as very simple and easy to summarise. But, with multiple readings we catch the poet’s stance on self- motivation.
Line one: “heron’s flight” –
What better bird than the heron where the intent is its flight and the correct path. Heron’s flight sets the image to develop our relationship with the bird and how far we consider it as our strong contender for self-motivation and an energy that uplifts oneself from within.
“in my self-propelled wheelchair” — The poet convinces us that “So what, if I’m on my wheelchair. I can navigate my journey on my own. If the heron can lift itself then why not me? My wheelchair is self-propelled and so why should I have to depend on others.”
It’s very easy to put in words, but tough to practice. With challenges come bumpy roads; with erratic roads comes a guidepost; with four lanes ahead comes an end. The flight taken by the heron is our ultimate goal. With just nine syllables the poet has arranged a state of mind of positivity and connectivity.
This senryu contains a whole journey in itself in just seven words. It has the assonance of e, a/o in a heron’s and i/y in my and flight. It is nicely written without overt expression of any emotions. It seems like the speaker here is in his/her autumn years and is sick or injured and is pouring out their sorrow and helplessness. A heron’s flight can be for a maximum of about 200 yards which is only a small distance. The poet compares the distance which the person here is able to journey in his/her wheelchair which is self-propelled. He/she is also lonely because he/she doesn’t seem to have anyone to help with the wheelchair.
Ann Smith: set free:
I enjoyed this senryu a lot. On a first reading I imagined Goran in his wheelchair watching a heron take flight — the freedom of the bird in the sky contrasting with and emphasizing the lack of mobility of him in his wheelchair rooted to the ground. I read that few birds fly like the heron with its head curved back against its body, and its feet dangling down which again made me think of the plight of a wheelchair-bound person.
But then I read it again and this time I thought that Goran was writing about himself in his self propelled wheelchair flying just like the heron.
I then remembered sports such as wheelchair racing, wheelchair rugby; and wheelchair motocross where sportspeople perform acrobatics and backflips and fly through the air in their wheelchairs.
In fact, a Welsh teenager named Lily Rice living just up the road from me, in Tenby, was diagnosed with a rare muscular disorder, hereditary spastic paraplegia. In the beginning she struggled to come to terms with having to use a wheelchair. But then she discovered WCMX (wheelchair motocross) and said that her chair went from confining her to being the very thing that set her free. In 2019 she became the women’s WCMX world champion.
In Japan, the white heron is esteemed for its ability to move between three elements: air, earth, and water. Earlier this year Lily switched sports from WCMX to swimming, and was named in Wales’ Para-swimming team for the Commonwealth Games.
Goran and Lily are herons. I wonder whether they know each other?
Author Goran Lowie:
I have long had a fascination with herons. They always exemplified freedom for me. When I was a child, they were common enough to spot at local nature reserves yet rare enough (for a boy who never much went outside) to evoke a sense of awe. As such, they came to hold an almost mythological spot in my childhood.
I wrote this poem following the translation of The heron-girl by Mari Ness, a beautiful sapphic piece of flash fiction in which the transformation of a heron into a girl plays a key role. At the time I was relying on crutches after I got hit by a car while biking to work. Suddenly I was endlessly more aware of the fragility of our body, and how quickly the things we take for granted become amiss. I didn’t know at that point if crutches would be a temporary thing, if I would have lasting damage … this poem came very naturally at the time. It came to me not as a poem at first, but as an image — I then had to find the words.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Ann 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!
merely a lake
flowing into a lake
— Maxianne Berger
The Haiku Foundation Haiku Dialogue, 23 November 2022
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Goran Lowie’s website is here.