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re:Virals 401

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 Sushama Kapur, was:

     to cook the dinner
     Bob Dylan
     — Helene Guojah
     Haiku Foundation Haiku Dialogue 17 May 2023

Introducing this poem, Sushama writes:

This quirky poem resonated instantly. It’s incredible how one name can bring so much to a poem. And yet this one is so light and airy. Eagerly looking forward to reading the commentaries.

Opening comment:

Uncomplicated and good. When this was published in the Dialogue I commented: “A natural expert at senryu humour, Helene’s choice of Bob Dylan is beautifully edged, adding…” (to a pleasant musical accompaniment) “…just that note of protest at kitchen drudgery.”  How many times…the answer is blowing in the wind…  Watch out guys,  your old road is rapidly aging, please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand, for the times, they are a-changin’ .   Agreeing, a frequent Dialogue editor John S. Green whose wife has written some “Dylanku” added that you don’t see Bob Dylan in many haiku and that Helene Guojah was now on his list of favorites with this striking poem. That makes two of us.

Ruth Happel:

This haiku seems to convey a hint of needing something to get through the mundane task of making dinner. It is unclear if she lives with people who aren’t pitching in, because in that case crediting Bob with helping make dinner could be a subtle jab at lack of help from family or friends. Perhaps she lives alone, and simply enjoys music to make possible drudgery of meal preparation more entertaining. These lines reflect how music can add joy to our days, since songs often provide the backdrop of our lives. But given the way the haiku was literally written, I also imagined a humorous image of her standing in the kitchen with Bob Dylan right there, helping to chop the vegetables.

Jennifer Gurney:

This poem is simply brilliant. One of my all-time favorite things to do is cook with someone, preferably live and in person, with great tunes on the stereo. In Helene Guojah’s fun haiku, Bob Dylan helps cook dinner. Such an unexpected turn of events in this short, but sweet poem. Love it!

Herb Tate:

This just made me think of the relative lengths of various pop and rock songs and what use they would be as a timer for cooking the dinner. As a Prog Rock fan ‘And You And I’ by Yes at 10 minutes long might be pushing it, but ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’ — pretty much bang on 3 minutes. Perfect eggs!

Rupa Anand:

A short, succinct, sweet poem of 10 syllables. A senryu focuses on people, the human mind, its foibles, its attributes, and its interaction. I see no kigo or seasonal word, though I do detect a pause after L2. It is a straightforward poem delineating an everyday occurrence. A dinner made by someone, a mother, a grandmother, for herself, perhaps for the family – or by a young professional, living alone and coming home, after work to rustle up a meal, listening to Bob Dylan. I see the lyrics of rock & roll being infused with whatever is being stirred over the fire. Music relaxes the body and mind and such a mind can make any task quiet and peaceful. I particularly like the way in which the task/job has been allocated to the singer. Bob Dylan is indeed ‘helping’ to cook this meal, by just blowing in the wind.

Wonder if I’m invited?

Jonathan Epstein:

Who doesn’t love a good senryu like this? There’s charm, delight, surprise, even joy here. While making dinner, the poet is listening to Bob Dylan or, more likely, accompanying Dylan on a song or two. “Blowin’ in the Wind” ? “Mr. Tambourine Man”? She could be a flower child at heart, “forever young”(a touching lullaby Dylan wrote for his oldest son). Whatever her age, she is likely steeped in Dylan’s values of social justice; bottom line, she is a free spirit.

By L3 we realize that ‘helping’ in L1 doesn’t mean ’lending a hand’ to produce the dinner but pouring ‘good vibes’ into it. Bob Dylan may not be dicing onions or grating Parmesan to further the culinary process, but he is “helping to cook the dinner” as the cook’s muse, stimulating her imagination with a swirl of lyrical poetry and a burning desire to make the world a better place.

The change of tempo from the rhythmic iambs of L1-2 to the staccato of ‘Bob Dylan’ adds gravitas to the poem by shifting weight onto “Bob Dylan,” with all the associations his musical legacy conjures up.

I feel myself watching over the cook’s shoulder as she moves dinner along. (It matters not whether she is cooking for herself alone or family or guests.) Maybe a glass of wine — or something stronger — is close at hand, for she seems in a jolly mood — as am I, contemplating this narrative fragment that fans the embers of a bygone era.

Whether Dylan is background music for the cook or singalong inspiration, salted into dinner is the spirit of Bob Dylan, singer-songwriter-Nobel prize winner; a mystery condiment that permeates the cook’s psyche; a subtle stimulant to stir the dreamy soul. By cooking (not making) the dinner, heat is applied to blend
the meal’s ingredients. Adding Bob Dylan to the mix makes dinner an offering. The alchemy of his music transforms the meal, takes it — and the poem — to a new level. Hats off to you, Helene Guojah

Ann Smith:

So full of joy and humour this is. Cooking shakshouka to Lay Lady Lay. Singing along to Forever Young while peeling potatoes. An everyday task made pleasurable with music.

I love the way “Bob Dylan” falls, plonk, so unexpectedly after “helping to cook the dinner.” And I love the double reading. It is with delight that I imagine Helene in her kitchen with Bob as her commis chef. I live this poem most days, singing along (and sometimes dancing along) to music playing in my kitchen while I am chopping and stirring and pouring and preparing the dinner. Our kitchen is small so sometimes I get carried away and dance out of the kitchen with my wooden spoon for a brief appearance in the dining room.

It reminded me of the Morecambe and Wise Breakfast Sketch {* see Footnote} when they prepare the breakfast in time to “The Stripper” music which is playing on the radio. And now, having been minded to watch it again by Helene’s verse, my smile is twice as wide as my face.

Thank you Sushama for suggesting it and thank you Helene for writing it.

Mark Gilbert:

This is an example of a “whoku,” the subform of haiku/senryu which incorporates a person’s name as a line in order to create a link with culture/society similarly to the way kigo is used in Japan. I believe the first person to do this may have been Elizabeth Searle Lamb.

Listening to Dylan’s music may not be the obvious accompaniment for kitchen activity but it could make the process more bearable or enjoyable, the sparks of enlightenment his lyrics can generate in listeners providing a welcome distraction during dull moments. Perhaps his songs literally help the cooking through the additional warmth and empathy his work can provide. This whoku reminds us that Bob Dylan, and artists like him, were once respected for challenging the audience’s preconceptions, a bygone age before songs were written by committee (and software) to maximise commercial opportunities. Perhaps it also takes us back to a time when people prepared their own meals rather than having them delivered to their front door by strangers.

Harrison Lightwater:

Delightful to read a senryu that is entirely natural, has wide appeal and doesn’t try to labour some current angst. Many like cooking from time to time, or even more often, if there’s some new dish to prepare or an occasion to show off a skill with a favourite. But those who have to, or are expected to, cook dinner as a matter of routine might find it a drudge or even feel put upon or unappreciated. Surely many of us have put some music on to make the routine mechanics of it more pleasant, in either situation.

The magic ingredient is the inspired choice of Bob Dylan. I mean, it could have been Mozart or Beethoven or Elvis or the Beatles; just think…. But no, it’s Bob Dylan, whose name is synonymous with songs of protest, and who deservedly —and appropriately— won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015 “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” So, aside from the enjoyment of music, and even the amusing thought of the songster of “Country Pie,” unkempt hair, scowl, harmonica and all actually helping Helene in her kitchen, there’s the suggestion of protest here! The reference not merely gives this senryu depth, but an indirect message to those who still expect a woman to cook dinner every night: “The times, they are a-changin’.”


Beata Czeszejko — everything is possible, even rebellion:

Although during reading Helen Guojah’s verse I had many questions for the author – I chose only three questions and answers as a comment on Helen Guojah’s haiku…
Why did she write about Bob Dylan in her haiku?
What did the author prepare in her kitchen?
What would I make together with Bob Dylan, if I could cook with him or for him?

I read a lot of haiku texts describing cuisine, meals and delicious food. Although they described the sense of taste or the sense of smell, the main purpose of those haiku was to connote feelings of nostalgia. Those nostalgic evocations of the good old days were – especially through the concretizing sensory depictions of images – both literal and figurative.
The main character appearing in this kind of texts is: a mother, a granny, an aunt in their kitchen, leaning over the oven, a pastry board with a rolling pin and dough or over the hearth. Women typically agree with Virginia Woolf who wrote in “A Room of One’s Own” that “We think back through our mothers if we are women”. Hence my great surprise while I was reading three times (sic!) the haiku by Helen Guojah – why Bob Dylan? Why him?

We know that memories about preparing meals are related to existence in general because food forms a chain around us: connecting and binding with a family, friends and a society. Thus cooking and experience of food are literary figures, motifs or bricks to build stories about happy or not happy homes, group of society or even societies.

My point of view is simply stated : food preparation is not only a literal image but also a symbolic figure of identity, values and attitude towards the world. So these two elements “cook dinner / Bob Dylan” though evoking a smile on my face (Helen Guojah’s great imagination)- suggests something bigger! Bob Dylan’s songs could be read as poems that gave a new lyrical structure to the bitter thoughts about contemporary society. Bob Dylan sang about injustices observed in everyday life; he asked many difficult, uncomfortable questions and had many difficult and uncomfortable answers in his texts. Moreover – he would show the true faces of corrupt politicians. The poet Dylan had the strong will to describe contemporary society or even change the world with his songs. Well, it may have been naïve thinking, yet radical transformations in lifestyle simply just happened as we now see in our history.

Thus “helping to cook / Bob Dylan” is more than preparing meal while listening to his famous songs. Maybe it is a metaphor about preparing a new rebellion (e.g. our climate, new poetry), a new lifestyle? Why do I think so? Nobody knows what is in a woman’s pot … until we can see those things on our plates! As the proverb says “Cooking is like painting or writing a song.” – maybe the author (Helen helping cooking dinner) thought about a new poem, haiku or a sonnet during listening to the Bob Dylan’s songs? Maybe?

And the last question I asked myself was: “What would I and others cook together with Bob Dylan or for him?” I have asked a few people. And here goes with some answers!

Sébastien Revon:

“I’d be more like –

to cook the boeuf bourguignon
Gustav Mahler”.

Amoolya Kamalnath:

Me (Beata Czeszejko):
With Bob Dylan everything is possible. Even a rebellion!

Author Helene Guojah:

I can deliberate over writing a haiku, revising and revising and then sometimes one just seems to appear, as this one did, in the blink of an eye. Usually, I suppose, because there is truth there.

An unsuitable boyfriend introduced me to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album in the 1970’s, he also said that this part of the final track “I shall be free,” reminded him of me.

‘Well I got a woman five feet short
She yells and hollers and screams and snorts
She tickles my nose pats me on the head
Rolls me over and kicks me out of bed
She’s a man eater, meat grinder, bad loser’

Unsurprisingly the relationship did not last but I still love and listen to that album. Serious, full of wit, funny and he likes a rhyme, from time to time, and so do I.

There have been occasions when cooking has felt like a chore, feeding finicky toddlers or teenage fads or earning a living from it, with all the ups and downs that entails, but now it is almost always a pleasure and frequently therapeutic. Worries can be put on the back burner while you knead a loaf or bake a cake or tackle an untried recipe, most cookery has a definite beginning, middle and end so if not instant, you can be guaranteed fairly fast gratification. You will please yourself and probably someone else as well. Even better, with the bitter sweet wheeze of Bob’s harmonica in the background and something delicious in your favourite cup, or glass, you can raise the humdrum to something less ordinary.


Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Beata 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!

Poem for commentary:

     how we ended
     flower                         thrower
     — C. X. Turner
     Failed Haiku volume 8 issue 89 April 2023

The Haiku Foundation reminds you that participation in our offerings assumes respectful and appropriate behavior from all parties. Please see our Code of Conduct policy.


Helene Guojah worked for many years with victims of domestic violence and homelessness. A keen cook, she now divides her time between private catering and renovating an old cottage in Cornwall. She began writing haiku in the first lockdown of 2020. Helene’s work has been published in Prune Juice, Failed Haiku, Cold Moon Journal, The Haiku Foundation Haiku Dialogue, and MacQueen’s Quinterly.

Her published output is small but often nails that senryu note of slightly ironic, but warm, humour. Tasters:

the legs
I always wanted
— Prune Juice #35

the curve
of the hip
a little more clay

each other’s novels
overdue bus


thrown into
the arms of a stranger
on the fast train
— all in MacQueen’s Quinterly #18

earnest faces
in drizzle
— Cold Moon Journal November 2021

And, unpublished I think, except for the Facebook group The Daily Haiku:

computers and me —
I chose
the red one

Which creases me up for all sorts of unworthy reasons.

* Morecambe & Wise’s The Breakfast, a delicious routine to The Stripper, a classic of its kind cited by Ann Smith, may be viewed here.

Maybe you have to be British…

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Being a huge Bob Dylan fan, even to the extent that my wife has made up a Dylan-ku or two . . .

    darkness at the break of noon alone on our favorite bench

    Jennifer Green

    I read these comments with a smile.

    Johnny’s in the basement mixing up the medicine another shot of Heaven’s Door

    Thanks Helene, and everyone, for making my week.

    the worst fear that can ever be hurled spinning through space

  2. I see that Helene gets a Hon Mention in the May kukai for:

    church bell
    in forget-me-nots
    — Helene Guojah

    Good to see you back, Lorin btw.

  3. I’ve skimmed the thread and the comments here. I agree with Meg Halls that, of the ku by Helene Guojah that Keith has provided , this is the best.

    sunset. . .
    the legs
    I always wanted

    The visual image is immediately clear: the sun is behind, the shadow cast in front has very long legs. As reader, I smile and admire the unforced humour and succinct delivery. I’m not so keen on the one chosen for commentary, although listening to some of Bob Dylan’s songs might help anyone get a move-on about cooking dinner:

    to cook the dinner
    Bob Dylan
    — Helene Guojah – Haiku Foundation Haiku Dialogue 17 May 2023

    By chance, it looks like this ku was published on the birthday of two haiku enthusiasts: Charles Trumbull and yours truly. :-)

    I recall a kitchen the refrain in one of Dylan’s songs/poems, ”Tombstone Blues” —
    “I’m in the kitchen with the tombstone blues”
    Then there is ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. Here it is, filmed, and that is Alan Ginsberg in the background. :-)

    But his ‘Visions of Johanna’ is a brilliant song/ poem (how spot-on his “… the opposite loft” is for pinning down the “back to earth” trend, when everyone and their dogs were a potters, carpenters, weavers etc. The age of communes. (yes, we were there, but perhaps without the biting insight of Dylan. “The opposite loft” seems to me to show the mundane side of the ‘hippie generation”.)

    (I wasn’t aware of any haiku/ haikai references to Dylan. By chance, there will be a haiku of mine in the July issue of the ‘Presence’ journal that includes one.)


  4. Cute. But I guess I’d say the same about Issa’s:

    don’t worry spiders
    I keep house

    1. Issa’s poem does way more. It has humor and depth at the same time. It speaks to his trademark compassion and feelings of
      connection with all creatures without being explicit with it. I like some of the poems which Keith has offered by Helene Guojah much better than the one being considered, which I find to be a commonplace observation.

      sunset. . .
      the legs
      I always wanted

      is unusual, far more subtle. But maybe senryu aren’t about subtlety?

  5. The first word, the lone word in the first line, a verb, piqued my curiosity. Whom is the poet helping? L2 made me realise that someone/something was helping the poet and not vice versa as I had imagined. L3 was an aha moment. I was really taken by surprise to see, not a family member, but Bob Dylan there. Now the question, why Bob Dylan, why not any other singer/song? This is why- “Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1963) and “The Times They Are a-Changin'” (1964) became anthems for the civil rights and antiwar movements. His lyrics during this period incorporated a range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences, defying pop music conventions and appealing to the burgeoning counterculture”. (Wikipedia) He wrote the song lyrics in a way of resisting the then system. So here, is the poet resisting her mundane daily task? Definitely! We all know how monotonous kitchen work is. Most times, when we hear a song, we like it when it sounds like the singer is going through a similar situation as ours or when the song seems to empathise with us. The other side to this humorous take on the scenario is that in most households, especially in India, the woman of the house, doesn’t get a day off from household drudgery including cooking and cleaning up. I have seen both my mother and mother-in-law rant about the unsavoury work. In many households, even highly educated daughters-in-law are still made to do all the work single-handedly.

    I could relate to this ku instantly and very strongly. While doing routine tasks like cooking, folding the clothes, cleaning the utensils, rearranging the washed utensils, ironing, and while studying at college – writing records/log books, drawing figures in records, studying etc., without realising why, I have been listening to music from when I was quite young. Any kind of music but I do have my favourite melodies. Doing any of these back-breaking tasks actually becomes an enjoyable and cherished experience for me because I get to listen to my favourite songs (only if I do get to listen, else it definitely is burdensome).

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