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 Jonathan Epstein, was:deep in the tidepool a child’s gaze — Gregory Longenecker Frogpond vol. 43:1 winter 2020 and THF Haiku of the Day May 2022 and: lingering in the tide pool a child’s gaze — Gregory Longenecker First Place, Haiku Poets of Northern California, San Francisco International Competition 2019
Introducing this poem, Jonathan writes:
I am always on the lookout for haiku that make a difference in my life, that re-awaken a sense of awe and wonder at the splendor of life and self. This haiku does that for me.
Of the two, it is the newer version that draws me in. From L1 I am pulled straightaway into the depths of a child’s new world. The separation between seer and seen has already dissolved. Child and tidepool (here one word) are joined as one. The mechanism that makes this possible: childhood wonder. Under the microscope of “a child’s gaze” nothing is small or less than amazing. It is only much later, as adults disillusioned with much of life, that we realize such fulsome curiosity is the source of the fountain of youth. I recall the surge of feeling and connection that infused my life with meaning and aliveness; the union of subject and object. I see now — in wonderment — how the trajectory of my life was set long ago by its early “tidepool” moments.
I like this haiku. I was that child. Along with frogs near a local ford, and newts in waterbutts on my Grandad’s allotment garden, tidepools on seaside holidays in my very early years got me interested in the aquatic world, which got me to university (where I deviated).
I’ll leave the eloquence to others and take a brief look at “deep” and “lingering.” I like them both. “Deep” grabs the attention: we know that rockpools are not deep, so the depth suggests the intense fascination in the child, and that it is an important, transformational experience, not to be uprooted. “Lingering” is not as strong; but the competition in which that version was entered was (I believe) on the theme of childhood memories and perhaps “lingering” suits memory more than “deep.” It also carries the suggestions that the child spends time in this contemplation, and that the memory is persistent. To me, either version reads well, though “deep” is shorter and crisper as well as stronger, and nuanced in different ways.
Awarding the “lingering” version its first place, contest judge Scott Mason commented: “Quiet meditation with an element of surprise, this haiku poignantly weds the observed to the observer — and, in the process, ephemeral nature to enduring wonder.”
I really enjoyed both versions of Gregory Longenecker’s haiku. However, the first one really caught my attention. I love the image of a child being transfixed while gazing into a tide pool. What must they see and experience? Starfish, fish, aquatic plants, snails, urchins…magic? I was reminded of exploring the tide pools in Monterrey, California more than 25 years ago on a family reunion trip. My son was only weeks old and I vividly remember showing him all the cool creatures that summer’s day.
But the double entendre of it actually being the youngster’s reflection that is “in” the tidepool is where the beauty lies for me. It reminded me of those never-ending photographs of a mirror reflected into a mirror that go on and on.
I also love that the haiku begins with the word deep. For me there are three meanings of deep that are relevant. Deep as in the depth of the body of water. Deep as in deep in thought. And deep as in this haiku itself is multifaceted and hence deep.
Well done, Mr. Longenecker.
John S. Green:
Very young children are drawn to tiny details, subtle things that adults often miss. Every feature is noticed and absorbed by the child. Some objects in an environment can be so small, it is as though what interests them is invisible. A love for nature is developed in the early years when the foundation of the whole psychic life of the child is formed. Periods of deep concentration by activity creates a child who is radiant, refreshed, and satisfied with a profound feeling of joy that can be termed spiritual. Longenecker has captured this in seven words.
(This commentary was published in The Wanderer Brush ed. Ion Codrescu, The Art of Haiga 2020, Red Moon Press).
I think this kigo-less haiku works well because the words chosen are full of associations for anyone who was taken to an interesting beach as a young child. Parents can relax on towels while kids scramble over the rocks in plain view, or show their toddlers a thing or two. And wow! — in the clear still water of rock pools there is this wondrous child-sized world of limpets, shrimps, crabs, sea anemones, starfish, and blennies, among the algae. A magical revelation of what the sea holds and might hold, transfixing a young child just beginning to explore their own world. “Deep” (or “lingering”), “child,” “tidepool” and “gaze” are words that project images, trigger emotions and rouse memories. Put together, they take the reader far away in reverie.
The fact that a small child is on the beach is a clear enough expression of summer — those halcyon days. Who needs a kigo?
I was wondering if there is a clear juxtaposition in these verses, the child’s gaze is ‘deep in’ in verse 1 and it is ‘lingering’ in verse 2. Either ways, L3 is open ended by not revealing the object in the tidal pool and hence the implied cut at the end of L2 makes the verse work even if there is no strong juxtaposition.
The words ‘deep in’ entail observation and concentration other than the physical component it speaks of while lingering would refer to hanging around in a place. So I would say, for me, ‘a child’s gaze deep in’ would mean focusing on one particular resident of the quite shallow tidepool, be it animate or inanimate, while ‘a child’s gaze… lingering’ would mean looking for all the varied life forms and their locations for a longer time. There is an indication of a reluctance to leave from the place, maybe after precious sightings and amassing a wealth of knowledge.
What can be more beautiful to behold than an image of a child’s wondering eyes exploring the universe around? Both the versions of the verse have their own supporting arguments: “deep” in one and “lingering” in the other.
Deep as in the actual depth of the pool, deep as in being totally engrossed and oblivious to the surrounding time and space. It seems as if the child’s gaze cannot be torn away from the treasures visible in the tidepool. At once discoverer, explorer, traveller, the eyes have become deep pools of wonder as they “linger” to reflect this world. So much that can be learnt only by observing …
In a way it reminded me of of Alice in her Wonderland, “Curiouser and curiouser,” she says about things happening around her. I cannot but also remember another small being, this time a boy, exploring with the raptness of a budding zoologist, the garden around their house: Gerald Durrell, in ‘My Family and Other Animals’!
Caught deep (and lingering) as I was in the first two lines of this sentence haiku, I carry on to finish reading the verse: “a child’s gaze”. Something very appropriate about the word “gaze”, I think. It carries in it a sense of being locked, a sense of forgetting time, so powerful is the spell cast by what it is viewing. (“I gazed and gazed but little thought/ what wealth to me that show had brought” -Wordsworth).
This small verse, so light its touch, and yet with so much space and time in it, is one of the best that I have read! The image lingers – a rapt child, all eyes, by the tidepool, discovering life – could this become his calling?
Both these haiku are first-rate; they operate in very different ways. “Deep” emphasizes, well, depth, and all that we associate things being metaphorically “deep.” Deep thoughts, deeper meanings, even such phrases as “falling in love” all depend on a positive association with “deep.” “Lingering” is more complex, emphasizing the lasting effects of an event. It can be negative (nagging, chronic, persistent), but can connote something positive as well (surviving, abiding, enduring). This poem obviously relies on the positive connotation.
Both these versions make me ask who, exactly, is doing the looking? The scene is observed, so it’s not the child’s point of view, but that of a third-party spectator. Or is it? It may be that the spectator is also the participant, but the point of view shift allows for evaluative authorial distance: “I see myself as a child looking at the tide pools.” Either way, the effect is the same, although the narrative tension this uncertainty provokes adds to dynamics of the poem.
I like the lack of verb in the first one, and way in which “deep” acts as both a literal description and as a metaphor. It gives a sense of seeing beyond the moment. But I also think that “lingering” resonates better with the temporary nature of tidepools, implying that the gaze remains (in the mind) even after the tidepool is gone. In either case, the reflection of a face in the tidepool maps beautifully onto the ways in we reflect on small, temporary moments of our lives, which nonetheless remain within us, rippling and reverberating.
Greg Longenecker: a source of inner experience:
Referring to my first draft journals I found I wrote the following one-liner on August 12, 2019:
“deep in a tidepool the child’s gaze.”
At some point I switched the two articles to:
“deep in the tidepool a child’s gaze.”
The other five haiku I wrote that day and in preceding/subsequent days suggest I was reviewing old journals looking for material. The year before I had written “a glimpse of deeper seas tide pool” (tinywords, 18.2, 2018). I have also written other haiku featuring tidepools; I find them a source of thoughtfulness, of inner experience.
Each year, until the pandemic, I’ve been in the habit of attending the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society’s Annual retreat to Asilomar, California, along the Monterey coast and it’s possible this was on my mind. The image is one I’ve often seen among the tidepools there; youngsters excited by this glimpse into the sea, but close up. Recalling my own childhood, I thought of how I often would stare into tidepools, wondering about the life there, about life in general, about my life. This was the impetus for the haiku.
The deadline for the 2019 San Francisco International Haiku, Senryu and Tanka Contest was October 31, 2019 so at some point I sent in the haiku. Unfortunately, my second draft file contains no information on what I sent in. I do recall looking at the haiku and thinking, “deep in” seems a bit short, clumsy maybe and I changed it to “lingering in.” I liked the sound of it first, then I liked the way it fit in with the “child’s gaze.” I also changed it to three lines, but I can’t recall.
Frogpond submissions were due during the month of November and here I have notes indicating I sent in “deep in/ the tidepool/ a child’s gaze,” forgetting I’d sent another version of it to the Haiku Poets’ of Northern California’s contest. Of the two, I prefer “lingering in” as the opening line. It sounds better and, as I say, works better with the image of a child.
I hope this helps you and other readers to understand my writing of this haiku. Thank you again for this opportunity.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. It is difficult to choose between several good ones, but for me the poet’s own painstaking and thoughtful commentary is exceptional. And so, exceptionally, Greg 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!
in a room I never go in the ticking clock — Robert Epstein Modern Haiku,Vol. 53:2 Summer 2022
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Particular thanks to Greg for his excellent true-to-life response when approached for the poet’s comment, above. I am sure that readers will value it as much as I do.
Gregory Longenecker lives in California and is an active member of the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society and the HSA. He scarcely needs introduction: a haiku poet of long experience, an editor and a contest judge: his work has been published in many places, has received awards and been anthologised. Among other roles he is an editor of the Living Haiku Anthology where some of his verses may be found. His collection “somewhere inside yesterday” is available from Red Moon Press. (Alas, the postage from USA to UK and other foreign parts has become prohibitive).
In background exchanges on these verses a shy poet asks: “Can these poems be an inverted sentence? — inverting “a child’s gaze deep in the tide pool, a child’s gaze lingering in the tidepool?” I think it’s a fair question, bringing in the matter of one-sentence haiku with or without juxtaposition (ichimonojitate and ichibutsijutate), and the role of the ‘cut.’
As one sentence there are still the two images, tidepool and a child gazing, for a reader to put together and reflect upon, but without the inversion the initial focus changes from the tidepool to the child and there is less of a ‘reveal.’ That is, less insight (last week’s discussion of “aha”….). Basho wrote of ‘reverberation’ whereby the second part of a verse, or the second of a pair of verses, prompts the reader to return to see the first part in a new light. Some separation – the cut – helps this process. It is of course possible for otherwise peaceable poets to dispute for hours, years even, about whether the ‘cut’ is a ‘rule’ without exceptions; but in nearly every case it is an important and often essential part of a haiku. In ELH, linebreaks (and/or inversions, depending how you view them), prompting a pause, are often the only ‘cut.’ Whereas in its native form, haiku is written in one chain of characters, so some modification indicating a visible cut is (usually) required. Even there, there are some single-breath sentence-like haiku where a cut is not present – at least in the romaji and the translations.