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