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re:Virals 410

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 Ashoka Weerakkody, was:

     depression pills for craters on the moon
     — Marilyn Ashbaugh, USA
     Prune Juice issue 39, April 30, 2023

Introducing this poem, Ashoka writes:

I found these lines extraordinary as they indicate an innovative ultra-modern trend humanity might need to be cautious of, specially with Artificial Intelligence slowly and surely advancing past its own masters. The line below may look like a monoku but if h(AI)ku is read as a title or introductory line appearing on top, it indicates this influence of AI, which seems to bend away from reality to absurdity as craters on the moon are likely to be ‘doctored’ by robotic brains going wild beyond limits.

Opening comment:


depression pills for craters on the moon

First, a confession. When he put this forward, Ashoka was under the impression that it was one poem. In haste I checked the reference at Prune Juice and still did not realise it was in fact two poems, until after last week’s post first appeared, whereupon Amoolya raised the question within minutes. Hence the unusual solution, agreed with Marilyn the poet post hoc.

And for me, the ensemble works better than the two lines do independently. The lately fashionable device of brackets may sometimes seem like an affectation of cleverness, but as ‌in this case it can be used economically to suggest a juxtaposition within a single word, or two. Here, haiku is juxtaposed with Artificial Intelligence. As one of the earliest to chat with Chat GPT on the subject late last year, this immediately rang bells with me. AI can do a decent job of answering questions on haiku, but its own compositions are — to date — dreadful. The contrast here is with “natural,” that is human, intelligence which is capable of the subtleties of poetic thought. That may well turn out to be a short-lived conceit of ours — AI is developing so very quickly.

Turning to depression pills, mental health is currently another hot subject. In this one-line phrase, the symbolism of the moon (love & the feminine) suggests that things might be going wrong in that quarter; the likely roundness of pills might also read across to the roundness of the moon and of craters on its surface. The craters might also be seen as depressing blemishes or flaws in beauty.

Treating the two lines as one poem produces the above, but also the notion that haiku can counter depression (the smallness of a haiku, the smallness of a pill); or that the usurpation of natural by artificial intelligence in the writing of haiku is itself depressing, and the results so far might be seen as unsightly “craters on the moon.” Taken together, a wealth of interpretations for a reader to ponder.

Dan Campbell:

Marilyn’s thought-provoking haiku delves into the theme of depression and the metaphorical comparison of “craters on the moon” to the impact of depression on an individual’s emotional landscape. The poem also appears to touch upon the complex relationship between mental health and advancements in artificial intelligence (AI).

The line, “depression pills for craters in the moon” sets the tone of the poem by immediately introducing the subject of mental health struggles. It conveys the idea that the poet is seeking relief or assistance through medication for depression.

The line is a vivid metaphor that compares the emotional scars caused by depression to the potholed surface of the moon. The craters on the moon represent the impact of distressing experiences and symbolize the wounds and challenges inflicted by depression on a person’s life and psyche.

The fusion of “(AI)” within the title “h(AI)ku” suggests a connection to artificial intelligence, which may imply a deeper exploration of how technology, specifically AI, could potentially impact mental health treatment and support. AI-powered chatbots or virtual assistants can already provide mental health support, offering resources, coping strategies, and a listening ear to those in need.

In summary, Marilyn’s short but powerful poem tackles the theme of depression through the lens of lunar metaphors. The juxtaposition of depression pills and craters on the moon creates an evocative image that invites readers to reflect on the emotional toll of mental health struggles. Additionally, the inclusion of “(AI)” in the title suggests an exploration of the relationship between human emotions and technology in the context of mental health.

Ruth Happel:

This haiku contains a clever double meaning. It could be a literal suggestion that the moon’s craters take pills, so they are no longer depressed- a very whimsical view. It could also mean if someday we are forced to leave earth because of our mismanagement, we might need to live on the moon. Compared to the richness of earth, living a lunar existence with lifeless craters would be sad. We may rely on depression pills to cheer ourselves up.

Jennifer Gurney:

This haiku intrigued me. Marilyn Ashbaugh’s use of AI in parenthesis in the first line is a pretty clear reference to Artificial Intelligence. I have to admit, I’m not a fan at all of AI. Robots in general bother me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the TV show The Jetsons growing up and several robot-themed movies have really grabbed hold of my attention. Ones that come to mind that are very thought provoking are: Wall-E; The Day the Earth Stood Still; the Terminator movies; and especially Bicentennial Man. I’m also a huge fan of science fiction, and in particular Doctor Who. So robots are part of my wheelhouse. But when anyone turns to a robot, or in this case AI, to create something like poetry, it gets under my skin. If an AI is writing poetry for other AIs, that’s one thing. But AI is writing poetry for humans. And as such, it needs to appeal to our brains, hearts and very souls. So, in my humble opinion, you need a brain, a heart and a soul to write poetry that is intended for humans to read.

The rest of the poem is a bit nonsensical, as AI tends to be. There can be rather random associations of words that a robot might make, but not necessarily a human. That’s the case with this poem.

A bit of sense can be made of the second line if you add a comma. If it reads, “depression pills, for craters on the moon,” then it could be a reference to anti-depression medication. The lows of depression could be compared to craters on the moon, I guess, if you’re an AI robot and have never really experienced the emotions of being human. It’s a very literal interpretation of the lows and pitfalls of depression that a robot might come up with.

So in the end, AI still leaves me with a disjointed feeling of artificialness and a separateness that lacks the full range of human emotion that is necessary to access poetry. And I’m guessing that Marilyn Ashbaugh wrote this poem entirely on her own, in a style that simply mimics AI. For that, I say, hats off to her. It’s very clever.

Jonathan Epstein:

With ‘h(AI)ku’ surrounded by blank space, I took this to be a one-word poem before discovering the rest of it — “depression pills for craters on the moon.”

What does AI stand for and why center it in ‘haiku’? It could be the acronym for Artificial Intelligence or it could be the romanized form of 愛 , the Japanese character for love (ai). Only love has a central place in haiku. Seen in this light, AI appears cupped not between open and close parentheses but between the palms of two open hands or two petals of a flower, a tulip or a lotus.

From ‘h(AI)ku’ the eye passes down through a few lines of blank space. This creates a long pause that isolates the word for emphasis and links to the final line. We can now read the poem: “h(AI)ku/ depression pills for craters on the moon” and decode it: “Haiku is medicine (depression pills) for the hollows (craters) in our psyche (moon).”

In the final line, “depression pills”’ equates with haiku-as-medicine. ‘[M]oon,’ arguably the most common kigo in Japanese and English language haiku, references the earth’s satellite as seen in the night sky — dark moon, full moon, gibbous moon, autumn moon, winter moon, etc. — a reflector of human emotion and, depending on its phase and attributes, an indicator of growth, change, potential, fullness, sorrow, emptiness and a host of other emotions. On the other hand, “craters on the moon” takes us (surprisingly) to the moon’s surface, where we are astronauts probing the moon’s dry impact craters, symbolic of psychic wounds such as depression, hollowness, loneliness, and all the feelings of lack that give birth to human desire. What at first looked like a stand-alone word — h(AI)ku —ends with a statement of its aim, or perhaps an artistic manifesto: Haiku (centered in love for nature) can fill our empty places.

Amoolya Kamalnath — a new world in front of us:

The AI within parentheses juxtaposes with ‘ku/haiku’. Is it about the chatbots writing haiku with the knowledge they are fed prior or is it about the poets’ way of juxtaposing two images in such a way so as to create an artificial intelligence-like picture?

depression pills for craters on the moon:
My first reading was that this poem is about the dark circles around the eyes. Depression causing insomnia – leading to dark circles – leading to taking pills. It is also that the onset of depression was due to the blows that life gave the speaker (use of craters as a metaphor). The deliberate ambiguity in the word “for” offers a literal reading that the pills are for (to treat) the depression that the poet feels on seeing craters in the moon, and the reading that the round pills may be metaphorically mapped to craters on the moon.

Taken as one poem:
depression pills for craters on the moon

It was also interesting or rather intriguing to see a call to write about the poems separately or even jointly. Now I don’t remember how I first read them when I read the poems in Prune Juice. As an afterthought, it did seem like it was one single poem with the one word poem as a fragment and the whole poem as a duostich. It makes sense to emphasize haiku to be the depression pills for life’s sorrows. Reading and/or writing haiku are sweeter than those bitter pills we need to swallow. Haiku opens up a new world in front of us at the place where we’re seated. The AI in the word haiku could mean taking assistance of AI to write haiku or to learn about haiku.

Author Marilyn Ashbaugh comments:

Artificial Intelligence or AI has permeated many aspects of our lives in surprising ways. I recently read that AI was not only used for writing haiku but also used for submissions to journals. I knew I wanted to write a haiku about this but was stuck, until there, in plain sight, AI was embedded within the word haiku.

My senryu was complete! Then I began imagining how culture is shaped by AI and vice versa. My American culture seems obsessed with creating some pill to solve a problem. There is something artificial and non-intelligent about this, but how can I show rather than tell this in a ku? The second senryu is my answer.


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

     scars on my wrist
     the man who begged me
     to call him uncle
     — Roberta Beary
     tsuri-dōrō, Issue #16, July/August 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.


Marilyn Ashbaugh is a poet, nature photographer, and organic gardener. She is widely published in journals and anthologies featuring Japanese short-form poetry.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. “The AI within parentheses juxtaposes with ‘ku/haiku’. ” – Amoolya Kamalnath
    Not really: it’s more like a title than a juxtaposition, in my view. That’s ok because this is clearly not a haiku but a senryu, published in a long-running and acclaimed senryu journal.

    depression pills for craters on the moon
    — Marilyn Ashbaugh, USA

    “My American culture seems obsessed with creating some pill to solve a problem. There is something artificial and non-intelligent about this, but how can I show rather than tell this in a ku?” — Marilyn Ashbaugh

    I don’t know the answer to that question but there are plenty of psychology books and preachers claiming to have all the answers. AI is here to stay and will “evolve”.

    I groaned when I read this, as one is supposed to groan when reading or hearing the many senryu that rely on a pun. Here , the pun is around the word “depression”. The craters of the moon are , of course, depressions in the landscape. Depression in relation to human psychology means something like “feeling down” and there are pills for the extremes of that condition.

    But pills for moon craters? Valium for depressions in the ground? Or for people living underground? Back to ‘The Matrix’, anyone? Which pill will you take: the red pill or the blue pill?

    ps Dear Eavonka, I wouldn’t worry about anyone thinking you’ve plagiarized anything. You haven’t. Nor should Marilyn have any concern in that direction. I’ve seen ‘h AI ku’ before, and more than once over time, though not necessarily in haiku or senryu journals. My son pointed out this pun to me many years ago. (where’s that “rolling eyes” emoji ?)

    1. Dear Lorin,
      I took them to be two different poems. Hence, I wrote a small analysis of what my interpretation of the one word poem was. Therefore the sentence, “The AI within parentheses juxtaposes with ‘ku/haiku’.” The last word ‘haiku’ was from the one word poem itself.

      I did think the two ku were senryu. However, reading your comment, a doubt appears in my mind which I want to clarify with you. Were you trying to say that there will usually be no juxtaposition in a senryu? I’d like to learn.

      1. Dear Amoolya,
        I didn’t realise there were two different poems (I didn’t read all of the comments nor did I search for the source)
        re: “Were you trying to say that there will usually be no juxtaposition in a senryu? ”
        No, I certainly wasn’t trying to say anything of the sort. (I wasn’t trying to say anything, actually: I said what I intended to say.)

        I appreciate Keith’s comment on ‘phase shift’:
        “I guess the concept of phase shift might be applied to the degree of separation between two related ideas in a haiku or senryu, and the radiance, resonance, amplification, nullification, or annoying buzz thereby produced.” – Keith

        Not that I can really understand that, either, apart from the “amplification, nullification, or annoying buzz thereby produced.” bit.

  2. Yikes. Gotta say, I have no idea what’s going on here. Seems like a lot of effort to shoehorn meaning into something that comes across to me as pretty arbitrary. Maybe, as was suggested last time, this is *too* wide open to interpretation.

    1. Dmitri: shoehorn might be an interesting prompt for micropoets.

      The new verse for the upcoming week looks clear enough. Looking forward to your commentary.

  3. Eavonka,

    Firstly, I do not feel you plagiarized me. I think the idea was “in the air”, in the zeitgeist, and we both (and probably others) brought it forth. AI is embedded in the word haiku and once you see it, the realization produces a poem. We are both serving our art and craft as poets.

  4. As the proposer of the h(AI)ku by Marilyn, I am obliged to thank her for the wonderful comment expressing her thanks to everyone including myself.
    I still marvel at the capture she made within the word “haiku” that hid AI, as she says, “in plain sight embedded within…” Such discoveries in fact serve as eye openers for everyone, not only of Haiku community but the intelligentsia as a whole, in creating an awareness of the impending depressions: resulting from the phase shift between h(AI)ku and ha(IK)u. Time will tell!

    1. Wow, Ashoka ! “the phase shift ” ! (I’ve never been good at maths, so I’m happy to hand over such calculations to AI) I’ll have to get someone to explain to me what “the phase shift ” means in relation to haiku & senryu, let alone “the phase shift between h(AI)ku and ha(IK)u.”
      (I know what AI is an abbreviation of (‘artificial intelligence’) but I don’t know what IK is supposed to signify)

      1. Lorin:
        “When light strikes a surface from a lower index of refraction to a higher index of refraction, the light wave undergoes a phase shift of pi radians. When light comes from a higher index of refraction to a lower index of refraction, there is no phase shift.”

        In a word: rainbow.

        You might like this approachable study on rainbows related to raindrop size:

        You might also have met phase shifts in noise-cancelling headphones or interference with Mozart when your speakers are misaligned.

        Aren’t scientists the limit?!

        I guess the concept of phase shift might be applied to the degree of separation between two related ideas in a haiku or senryu, and the radiance, resonance, amplification, nullification, or annoying buzz thereby produced.

        Not waving but drowning… HTH.

  5. I am humbled by the depth and breadth of all the comments and deeply appreciate each one. It is an honor to be part of this haiku community.

    Ashoka, thank you for selecting and commenting on my poems.

    Keith, thank you for allowing the pair of poems to be presented together. In hindsight, I agree they work better together.

    Ashoka, Keith, Don, Ruth, Jennifer, Jonathan, Amoolya: Your comments touched my heart and soul, thank you!

    1. Dear Marilyn,

      I fear a deja-ku incident has occurred. I submitted a poem to Suspect Device issue on A.I. a bit ago which was accepted to be the first poem in the upcoming issue.

      h a.i. ku

      I am horrified that you or anyone might feel I plagiarized your poem. I will alert the editor today.

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