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 Peter C. Forster, was:moon shot the american way — Helen Buckingham Bones 25, April 2023
Introducing this poem, Peter writes:
An intriguing one line verse with at least two sides to it, which may not have a concrete image but nevertheless it has senryu-like characteristics. It was the most memorable for me in the latest issue of Bones.
On contemplation, this short verse struck me as noteworthy on two counts. First, it takes two well-worn expressions and juxtaposes them in a way which is not, on the face of it, startling or unexpected, but which succeeds very well in focusing thought, inviting and intensifying meditation on ‘the american way.’ Second, the conscious separation of moon and shot, in lieu of the customary ‘moonshot,’ draws attention to ‘shot’ with all the connotations the word can have — including guns, cameras, an attempt or effort. There’s a great deal of surplus meaning in this combination.
Helen Buckingham has an incisive style and is very readable. Many of her verses are clipped to my favourites file and there’s more than a slice of irony in several of them. Here too the line is edged; double-edged. One’s admiration for the can-do approach that has led to the seemingly impossible being achieved (and think about the James Webb telecope, the mRNA vaccines and other recent breakthoughs in RNA/DNA applications in medicine), is tempered with the American way of shooting first and asking questions later. Be careful not to ring the wrong doorbell. In which context the moon might be seen as representing love, its pockmarks, bullet holes. One great leap for mankind; or — a bootprint on the moon. Blemishes or no, we love the moon anyway. And, for me, the astonishing achievements of a vigorous and outward-looking democratic society are more significant than its blemishes. Thank you, Helen, for making me think about these things again.
I’m not a huge fan of one-line poems. They make my brain hurt trying to figure them out. I need a bit of space and a couple of line breaks to help me make sense of them. To give a framework of where to start and what words are intended to go together. Otherwise, for me, they seem to run together like melted ice cream.
But I find Helen Buckingham’s one-liner on the moon intriguing, so I’ll do my best. I read this poem multiple times, adding in line breaks to search for meaning.
the american way
shot the american way
the american way
This third read gave me an entrance to the poem. It harkens memories of the first landing on the moon July 20, 1969. One small step, one giant leap. I watched the moment live on our family’s black and white TV in the family room with my parents and brother. School was out for the summer and I was six years old. The American flag was planted on the moon while marshmallow-clad astronauts took clumsy steps on a cratered surface. On the moon. It was all so surreal. But it was entirely real at the same time.
Space as the final frontier, claimed in a very John Wayne way. Captured on the lunar surface and transmitted back to American living rooms for all of us to see. First hand. On our television sets.
There are many other layers that could be at play in this small poem. The physics of “shooting the moon” and going into orbit, the timing of landing on the moon, the engineering involved with launch, re-entry, splash down. The word “shoot” and all the mass murders in America, along with the gun culture here. I could spend days with this poem and all the myriad meanings that could lie within.
Or I could rest in the memories of that day when the Eagle landed and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin changed the world for me. Through their steps onto the surface of the moon, a new future unfolded before our eyes and everything became possible.
Counting eight syllables in this single-line poem, they leave me a trifle befuddled. I like simple, nature poetry, so this poem set me thinking!
1. One option –
moon shot/the american way
Strangely the first letter of ‘american’ is in lowercase. I don’t know why! Perhaps, it’s an attempt to universalise something that is so american.
2. OR perhaps:
moonshot/the american way
beginning – moon
ending -the american way
moon/shot/the american way
~ the moon is being filmed ~
Now if the two words are joined, the term ‘moonshot’ is derived from the Apollo 11 spaceflight that landed the first man on the moon in 1969. While ‘moonshot’ originally meant ‘long shot’, it’s increasingly being used to describe a monumental effort, a goal—in other words, a giant leap. The possibility of success is low, but people still make an effort to hope for a positive outcome.
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy delivered his Moonshot speech at Rice University, committing to putting a man on the moon and bringing him back. The expression “moonshot thinking” comes from this speech where he challenged an entire nation to achieve a goal that seemed impossible at that time: reaching the moon. It was an achievement that boosted American confidence and prestige at home and around the world. Though he didn’t live to see it happen, it was JFK who harnessed America’s energies toward the goal of sending a man to the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.
Given this context, I take the poem’s message out of its American context and plunge it into a universal one. If we dream big, the impossible seems possible, and the Universe conspires to manifest that thought/dream (however wild it may seem) as a reality.
Or is the poet alluding to a cinematic technique of filmmaking?
‘American shot’ or ‘cowboy shot’ is a translation of a phrase from French film criticism, referring to a medium-long film shot of a group of characters, who are arranged so that all are visible to the camera.
Maybe, it’s a film about filming/shooting the moon. Film shots are an essential aspect of a movie where angles and cuts are employed to express emotion, ideas, and movement.
OR It could even fit a crime that took place in April 2023 at American Way, Memphis, USA… Either way, the reader can draw his/her own conclusions.
I like it, but is it a haiku or a senryu? Bones used to be subheaded “journal for contemporary haiku” but is now more accurately “journal for the short verse.” However, there are two parts and an implied cut, and the moon. Is that enough?
I like it because there are so many suggestive echoes, in this brief, simple juxtaposition of grand achievements with a gun-crazy flawed society, of why we admire/are proud of America and shudder a little at the same time.
Amoolya Kamalnath — a powerful monoku:
Moon shot, if read as one word ‘moonshot,’ could refer to the Apollo 11 spacecraft via which the American astronaut Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the lunar surface. An extremely ambitious and innovative project.
The American way is a method or manner of behaving or living that is regarded as distinctively characteristic of the U.S. and representative of its values (Merriam-Webster). The American way of life or the American way is the American nationalist ethos that adheres to the principle of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This concept is intertwined with the concept of American exceptionalism, the belief in the unique culture of the nation (Wikipedia)
moon / shot the american way: the moon here may refer to autumn (the implied meaning of autumn). Here, moon implying autumn/sadness/loss can be better understood with linking to shot i.e the firing of a gun as in school shooting with moon also referring to purity and/or innocence, for example, a child or children. American Way is also a street in Memphis, Tennessee where shootings have taken place in November 2021, June 2022 and April 2023 and people have been injured and/or killed. However, I would consider the poet talking about the american way of things here (rather than the street) since the first alphabet ‘a’ of the word is in lowercase, also perhaps implying that the incidents of school shootings are making the Americans look smaller. Many countries which have outlawed firearms have seen school shootings go down to zero, but not so in USA. Is this in order to preserve a notion of individual liberty?
Shot can also mean a critical or hostile remark, or again a dose of spirits or even coffee? But if so, what is the place of the moon here?
With five words and eight syllables, a powerful monoku has been crafted.
Author Helen Buckingham:
In Alice Walker’s free verse poem Who?, from her collection Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984), the final lines are: “Moon!/We hoped/you were safe.” I first read the poem in the mid-eighties and, as a newbie poet and confirmed moon addict, it had a profound effect on me. After a long hiatus, the imperialistic jaunts that inspired Walker’s poem are back on the agenda. And how. Disney Moon is on its way. And although the number of space hopping countries (not to mention ‘private‘ individuals) is growing all the time, the USA’s current revival in celestial adventurism and its ever more terrifying domestic gun culture combined to inspire the selected monoku. Moon et al, I hope you are safe.
My thanks go to Keith, and to Peter for selecting my poem.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. Amoolya has earned the privilege of choosing 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!
Poem for commentary:old age home the sudden urge to climb a tree — John Pappas Failed Haiku #87 1 March 2023
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British haikuist Helen Buckingham has been widely published over many years. Two of her books, sanguinella and water on the moon, together with a short bio, may be read in the Foundation’s online library. More of her haiku and short poems have been featured on several occasions in the Akita International Haiku Network’s World Haiku series. Recommended!
…. after receiving Helen’s own comment above, I too began to shudder at the thought of Disney Moon….Lunar Pizza Hut….the annual Lunar Moto-Cross….Moonbucks….low gravity baseball…. It won’t happen, will it?
This Post Has 5 Comments
Thanks, everyone, for your fascinating comments, they really are appreciated. I include yours in that, Keith. Hope I didn’t freak you out too much! And, hailing as we do, from a country with one of the worst records regarding imperialism on Earth among its failings, I certainly wouldn’t argue with the last line of Corden’s farewell speech.
The only quibble I have is technical. I’m concerned that you didn’t use the submitted italics
in my bit about Alice Walker. In retrospect, I should have put the title and lines from the poem in quotes, and just the title of the book in italics. However, I do feel uncomfortable about them being posted entirely naked. Is it too late/complicated for the problem to be rectified? In case yes, I’d just like to put it on record that I wasn’t being disrespectful to the magnificent, the heroic, the sublime Ms. Walker and her work.
Helen: definitely not freaked out. I relish your approach. Apologies for my omission: naked words now clothed in italics.
moon shot the American way
— Helen Buckingham
I find it interesting to read this along with Joshua Williams’
which, (as I read it) through the too forceful use of wrenched enjambment using the hinge word “shooting”— seems to demand that *I make something of it* from what seem to me to be warring elements leading to distracting questions.
Not so with “moon shot” which, though it is written in one line does not compel me to deconstruct it into its components. It has a trace of humor, an off handedness that allows me to move more deeply into it, to see how serious it is.
The main contrast it offers: the disconnect, so pronounced in American society, between the ideal and the real, between hope and
despair, between (if one considers the enormous expense of space exploration) rich and poor.
I want to add, as an aside, that I recognize how difficult it is to write about haiku. There is almost a taboo against criticism, a hesitation to sound harsh. I too feel sometimes what I think may be a prevalent view among writers of haiku, that encouragement and approval are the most important things. And they are important, but it is also important to try to get at what gets in the way of a haiku being— I don’t know how to say it— a living thing, able to breath on its own. I would say, from being a poem.
I could be entirely wrong about Joshua’s poem, which in its way, (and strange to say about haiku) is rather ambitious. And what I have said against it could be what someone else would say is exactly what makes it a good poem. Strange stuff, haiku.
And I see in today’s news Brit James Corden’s farewell message to America as he ends his evening talk show after eight years: “I implore you to remember what America signifies to the rest of the world. My entire life, it has always been a place of optimism and joy, and yes it has flaws – so many. But show me a country that doesn’t.”
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