Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly commentary feature on some of your favorites among the best contemporary haiku and senryu written in English. This week’s poem, proposed by Amanda White, was:old coat closer and closer to my dad — Sébastien Revon Seashores, Volume 6, April 2021
Introducing this poem, Amanda writes:
Immediately tender, poignant, deeply relatable, immersive – this rolls through like a short film that symbolises a lifetime of relationships and ones still to come. Each word and line is weighted with perfect timing and imbued with triggers and themes that contribute to our understanding of what it means to be a parent, a child, fragile and human. The coat is old, but maybe we too are old or not looking to an older parent, we are there putting on this coat remembering our own losses or ones to come and then the finale the personal connection to a loved one, a Dad. This has stayed me long after reading and is something I recall often.
There are many verses in the genre that address how we either are or become like our parent(s). Common themes are reflection in a window or in the glass of a photograph; developing similar physical characteristics such as laughter-lines; cooking the same recipes or catching ourselves saying the same things; and observing similarities in taste or style. I have the impression that these are mostly the observations of ageing poets. While the very young may try to imitate their progenitors, most of us then rebel as we create our own space outside parental control. As a young man, I wouldn’t have been seen dead dressed like my father, still less following him into his profession. We fought a lot. However, towards my middle age that mellowed to conciliation and respect.
I think Sébastien’s verse goes beyond most of the usual themes, in subtlety, in progression, and in abstraction. It has many qualities, not least its plain words. The fragment “old coat” is immediately evocative of use, wear (wabi-sabi – the transitory flawed beauty of natural ageing) and affection. We aren’t told whose it is, or who is wearing it. As we read on, it doesn’t really matter whether Sébastien’s old coat is his father’s, or simply that his old coat mirrors his father’s: it represents something familiar that they have in common, that unites them. Yet I am sure I’m not the only son to have kept an item or two of a father’s clothing. The power of an object’s association with someone is very strong. Next, the phrase “closer and closer to my dad” abstracts far more than a growing physical resemblance or inherited habit, symbolised in the coat. Beyond the simpler and more obvious formulation “more and more like my dad,” “closer” suggests the deeper understanding and love that comes with age. And indeed I feel, within, that although my own father is now twenty-five years dead, I understand him more, and love him more, with each year that I myself get older. As a son and as the father of sons and daughters, the poem has particular meaning for me.
Children love dressing up and adults do too. Perhaps as children we tried out our parents’ clothes but what does it mean to do so as an adult? All the more poignant if a parent has passed away. Fathers may be remote from their children. Traditionally men are brought up not to show emotion. How may we know our silent, locked-in fathers? We can see the coat in Sébastien’s poem as armour and to wear it means to enter the locked world of paternal emotions. There will be scent, the fatherly spoor. Also taking on the role of father, literally donning the mantle, passed from father to son. Slipping into his skin. Knowing him from the inside.
This poem created a great emotion in me. But first, the translation in French. Sébastien is French and I’m French too, and I like his writing.
de plus en plus proche
de mon père
L1 : A coat, probably his, old and worn. It is physically the coat but also all the worries of life that we all have on our shoulders.
L2 : Closer and closer … to what, we don’t know … to the bin, the cellar, the attic…. We wait and…
L3 : it’s the surprise, his dad…
With maturity (old coat) the author closer and closer to his father despite the distance and the hazards of life. It is very nicely said. I really like this senryu which in a few words speaks of the complicity between father and son. It is brilliant and very moving, and it echoes in me.
Sébastien Revon’s poem brought tears to my eyes. When my father passed away a few years ago, I sorted through his clothes to give to charity. He had a wool coat that was his favorite. The feel of the wool and the smell of the coat brought him back just a little. In looking through his pockets I found a cough drop and a tissue. Yes, I too felt “closer and closer” to my father by simply touching his coat. It is like reeling him in from someplace far away. The author’s close relationship with his father is apparent as he refers to him as “dad.” The use of the words (old, coat, closer) has the sound of “o,” which evokes the sadness that he feels in losing him. The author’s poem captures so many emotions in just eight words.
I simply love Sebastien’s haiku. It is charming, heartwarming and really draws the reader in, line by line. I can feel the worn coat and even imagined I was wearing it…or could see him wearing it.
Reading the poem several times, I vacillated on the meaning of “closer and closer.” Closer emotionally? Closer in age perhaps? It made me wonder if maybe his dad had passed and he was growing closer in age to the age when the dad died. Or is he saying that he’s becoming more and more like his dad as he ages? I’m thinking it could mean all of these. The ambiguity is appealing. I like being left wondering.
While this poem made me think fondly of my dad and how close we are, it really resonated with memories of my mom, who passed away two years ago quite suddenly. She died during covid and I live across the country from my family. The suddenness of her death meant there was no opportunity for goodbyes, even by phone. It was more than a year before I could fly to see my family. It was more than a year before I could see or touch any of her belongings. I’ll never forget the feeling of sitting in the room above the garage going through her things from her nursing home. I was flooded with memories and an overwhelming sense of closeness with my mom by touching the things she had held and worn, especially at the end of her days. Her spirit was there. Now, back in Colorado, I brought some with me and I feel her when I wear her scarves, her sweaters and her rings. These are my “old coats.”
Sebastien’s lovely poem brought me back to that moment again, anew. I’m grateful.
When reading this senryu I imagine the author wearing one of his dad’s old coats. And I imagine the coat maybe has his father’s shape and his father’s smell and that wearing it is almost like wearing his father. Wearing it is, in fact, almost like receiving a hug from his dad. It made me think of the time when I was a kid and my dad, a carpenter, was out at work. I found one of his pullovers and hugged it and it smelled of wood shavings and it was as though he was in the room with me. Maybe the old coat in the poem did not once belong to his father but is the poet’s own. Maybe, as he ages, the poet’s style and sense of fashion is changing and growing more similar to the style and fashion of his dad. I’ve often heard the expression “I’m turning into my mother” but this is a much prettier way of saying it.
I think it is a charming senryu which crystallises the description of the father and son authors in the forward of their book Résonances. Jacques & Sébastien Revon – one living in France and one living in Eire – “eloignes par la distance mais tres proches par la pensee”. I like the repetition of the c sounds in the English version, and that of the p sounds in the French. And I have really enjoyed spending time inside the ma inside the coat
I read somewhere that we should beware the over-use of ‘old’ in order to avoid pushing the reader in a particular emotional direction. However, I think it works here to provide the reader with an image of a well-worn garment that the speaker is regarding with fondness.
We are not told where this coat is located but, at first, “closer and closer” in line 2 suggested that perhaps the speaker may be approaching the coat, so I imagined the coat on a hook or coat stand—or even a scarecrow! However, the last line places the coat on the speaker…and on re-reading, I think from line 1 he is in the process of putting on his father’s old coat. By line 3 it is on and buttoned/fastened up. Perhaps the poet has sunk his hands deep into the pockets and pulled up the collar in order to become enveloped in the familiar smells of his father (aftershave/soap/tobacco). The olfactory association is not stated, but who hasn’t buried their face in an item of clothing in an attempt to get closer to, or remember, someone important in their life?
An alternative reading could be that, when wearing this coat, the speaker resembles his father in physical appearance, highlighting the passage of time.
Finally, the use of ‘dad’ rather than the more formal ‘father’ reinforces the closeness between the two. A moving poem.
It would be interesting if commentators inserted their opinion as to whether the poem is a haiku or senryu. This one is, in my view, an admirably competent senryu, managing to avoid the saccharine display of child/parent emotional dependencies. Does the vignette depict an adult coming across a dead parent’s coat, maybe doing a house clearance and lingering over the memories it holds… Or is the scene a dark alley with a fearful small child clinging even closer to the adult. Let’s hope for the sake of those commentators wanting to say it’s a haiku that the coat involves nature by being made of wool, and there is an unspoken season of winter which implies absence.
‘old coat’ – a take away piece of cake in this haiku that is so striking and so memorable. It just ceases our thoughts from all the mundane dramatics we go through each day of our life. So many questions rush to our mind… How old is the coat? Whose is it? Is it a formal gift or a parting memory that reminds the family of his father. This plays a significant part as it connects and reflects on the second and third lines: “closer and closer / to my dad”. Who gifted? Where purchased? Any particular place that brings back yesteryears’ love, romance, pain, healing, struggle, etc. What colour? …
Apart from all this, there is a special sense of longing, looking forward to a deeper understanding of bonding and family ties that has become such an important urgency today. In a way, looking back to those little things which the poet must have missed out on, to reciprocate. Have there been times when the poet became ignorant, or taken for granted, that now urge him to hold the coat closer and closer to himself to experience being closer to his dad?
I liked the way he has used the casual word of ‘dad’ rather than father. Liked also the way the words are so beautifully placed in a symmetrical way so as to imbibe the feeling of oneness. Ultimately, the universe is an open school of learning and understanding, of adjustments and arrangements, of sincerity and honest revelation. Nothing to hide in this poem. The poet has showed his respects, his poise, his forgiveness which states the fact that: yes! you are forgiven!
In this senryu, the poet has used the techniques of assonance and repetition of a word to enhance that closeness and fondness which he wants to portray. I feel it could even convey grief.
The ku starts with an adjective, old. What is old? A coat. Whose coat? This is answered in the last line. In between these two lines, is the essence of the poem. The old coat is taking the poet closer and closer to his dad. The word closer repeated twice emphasizes the special bond between the poet and his father.
The way the poem is phrased I would think that the poet is very close to his dad and his old coat has only made his fondness for his dad grow over the years. As the poet ages, he probably understands his father better, he being in his father’s shoes now. Probably the poet misses his father’s youth when he wore this coat a lot and the poet has many memories associated with it. If the poet’s father is staying far away, this old coat may be a place where the poet feels he can go to in times of despair or indecision. Maybe his father’s presence is felt or he’s able to think and act appropriately after spending some time with the old coat.
I would say that this poem could also convey a tinge of grief if someone has lost their dear one. The coat would then gain even more significance physically, mentally and emotionally. However, having said that, I’ve had my eldest cousin brother’s (my favourite cousin) pullover passed down (during my school days) after three other cousins wore it. I always felt very close to my eldest cousin wearing it.
Jonathan Epstein — nothing is ordinary:
I see the poet opening a closet to find his father’s coat hanging there. As he moves toward the coat, he increasingly feels his father’s presence. I feel it likely the son will put on the coat. Wearing it, his father’s essence merges in him. Once again, the absent one is present; two become one.
We not only see the coat (likely a heavy winter coat) and imagine the father’s lingering scent on it, but hear a series of four long o sounds (L1 – L2), as the son moves toward the coat, the oh oh oh oh of —the internalized response to an epiphany?
Touch is also present, strongly so. It’s in the physical warmth of the coat as well as the remembered warmth of a loving relationship.
Or paradoxically, if the relationship was not close, the coat without a living father makes it somehow easier to reconcile differences by its simple presence. We might call this a subtle form of magical realism, and while less dramatic than in literature, the ”magical” effects of common objects are an everyday occurrence.
Another indicator of a close relationship: The connotations of the informal “dad” vs. the more formal “father” imply a nurturing father-son relationship, not a strained or absent one. The coat in this case, like a saint’s relic, has the relic’s power to elevate or “recharge” one who approaches it with awe and wonder.
Imagination, fueled by desire, can bypass words to effect a union of souls.
A year ago this month I left my favorite jacket behind in a park, having removed it under a warm California winter sun. When I realized much later that I was not wearing the jacket, I went back to retrieve it. It was gone.
I was bereft. The jacket had belonged to my father, who died 25 years ago. It was navy blue nylon with Kubota stitched in red on the top front left, over my heart. It fit perfectly. Whenever I wore it, I felt light and happy. No piece of me was missing. I felt at one with my father, a kind man and a much-loved surgeon — yet a distant dad whom I longed to be closer to.
Whether or not the “old coat” is touched or worn, a communion is about to occur. This “world in a grain of sand” senryu reminds us of the layers and riches that lie beneath familiar surfaces. Nothing is ordinary.
Author Sébastien Revon comments:
I wrote this over two years ago in response to a prompt including as kigo “coat/winter coat/warm coat.” It appealed to me straight away; I didn’t know why. This haiku just came to me, in two lines. In the original French:
de plus en plus proche de mon père
which translated literally into:
closer and closer to my dad
It was picked among the best haiku in that session, and translated into Japanese:
Kōto furubite chichi no yowai ni chikadzukinu
I submitted it to Seashores in English, in the format of three lines.
I’m lucky enough to say that my father is still alive. I don’t have a winter coat, more like a jacket that I like to keep until it is really worn out. The verse that came to me must have awakened subconscious thoughts…
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Jonathan 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.
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moving boxes… still leaning on the bare tree our rotten ladder — Eva Limbach The Haiku Foundation Haiku Dialogue, December 28, 2022
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First, a clarification: this poem was accepted because it was published in English as written in English by the poet. We’re not opening the floodgates to translations of poems written in other languages: the reason being that most frequently, either things are lost in the course of translation, or else the creativity of the translator needs to be appraised as distinct from the poet’s.
Sébastien Revon lives in Ireland. A pharmacist, a lover of jazz, photography, and short poetry, haiku in particular is his preferred form of writing. He has been published in Seashores, Failed Haiku, Cold Moon Journal, Gong (the journal of the Association Francophone de Haiku), Fireflies Light, and Poetry Pea. His first haiku chapbook “Plan d’évasion” (éditions Via Domitia) and a book of photo-poems, “Résonances” with his father, photographer Jacques Revon (éditions L’Harmattan) were published in 2022.