Friday 13th: what can possibly go wrong?
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, chosen by Lakshmi Iyer, was:pumpkin soup the family's oneness in slurps —Aparna Pathak, Gurugram, India 1st Prize, Senryu Contest on the Theme of Gourds, 2018 IRIS International No. 4, 2018, Journal of Haiku Association “Three Rivers”, Ivanić-Grad, Croatia
Introducing this poem, Lakshmi writes:
Dinner time and the soup holds good for a get-to-gether. And the merriment continues with the sounds of ‘slurps’. An irony or humour unfolding in the words. Are we categorizing our wants with the sounds or are we trying to be complacent with the unity in the family? A classic senryu! The reader is sure to have much to say about ‘slurps’ and the table manners. Looking forward to reading the comments. Thanks, Aparna Pathak, for sharing your poem.
“Oneness” is another notion from Buddhism, that like “letting go” is much overworked in haiku and senryu. In consequence any insight that names it risks being rather stale, especially in haiku that are intended to be serious. However… in this senryu the notion is deployed with disarming humour, which if anything amplifies its effect. After all, in haikai and particularly senryu, humour is part of the essence.
Another notable feature of the verse is the selection of ‘slurps’ — a word intrinsically humorous, unusual in poetry even of this genre. We’ve learned in re:Virals that getting the reader’s attention without being too obvious about it is a crucial part of the art.
The imp in me immediately traduced Marlene Mountain into: “pig and us pumpkin soup.” But in Aparna’s verse the slurps are a sign not only that we are at one with animals of piggish appetites, but that the family scene is relaxed and unconstrained by formality and manners. It celebrates the simple satisfactions: pumpkin soup (signalling autumn) is cheap and accessible: we might even conclude that the family is not a socially-exalted one, but ordinary, even poor. The rituals of fellowship and eating together are brought into play also; as is the silence and focus that we deduce from the only recorded sound being slurps. I recall my wife observing in wonder that everything went quiet when food was put in front of the Evetts!
Altogether a verse of plain words that conveys heightened awareness. It manages to avoid cliché (just), self-conscious lyricism, obscurity, ego, and unanchored pronouns, and blends several relatable ingredients in an artfully brief recipe. There is plenty for the reader to fill in, and yet clear communication of what that might be, without stating it explicitly. It is the poetry of the people, and it grew on me warmly. A smile is a precious thing. Well done.
This heartwarming poem celebrates a family sharing a meal and reminds us of the importance of cherishing these moments in our busy lives. It made me smile to read about “the family’s oneness in slurps” and I could imagine everyone sitting around the table and slurping together with smiles on their faces. Whenever I read about family gatherings and meals it makes me think of grandmothers around the world. Grandmothers have long been the keepers of culinary wisdom, cooking and serving thousands of meals during their lifetimes, preserving family recipes and passing them down to younger generations.
My own grandmothers lived on farms and must have spent a significant portion of their lives planting gardens, feeding the critters, milking cows, cooking meals and serving the meals to husbands, children and to an army of invading grandchildren on Sundays. I don’t think my grandmas ever prepared pumpkin soup but I do remember their delicious pumpkin pies, collard greens, cornbread, gravy, biscuits, the garden vegetables: tomatoes, okra, beans and homemade ice cream. I hope there is an International Grandmother Day to honor our beloved grandmas.
“Slurps” they are not steady. They fill up. They spill out. They drip out. They are enjoyed. They are guzzled mindlessly… and so the “oneness” is not constant or singular. I think it is more about being united as family in consuming pumpkin soup. Yummy haiku! Great choice for the season anticipating Thanksgiving. Great nutritional choice!
Pumpkin soup, an autumn kigo. We will soon be able to prepare that pumpkin soup. And if you’re single you may be nostalgic while reading this haiku. If you chance to have your own family you may relate to it in a different way, cherishing that slightly awkward “slurping” sound, not one slurp (and we see here an inner contrast in the haiku with the word oneness in L2) but several slurps, bringing rhythm to the family meal. That rhythm, that sound becomes one by the fact that it represents the wholeness of the family. That wholeness whether you are part of it or not, resounds, resonates in the reader’s soul, bringing different layers of meaning depending on the reader’s personal story.
Thankfully I have a little family of three. I try everyday to create that wholeness. When I was a child that wholeness wasn’t really there but, anyway, this haiku paints a sound picture of what this feeling of being complete can or could be.
Nairithi Konduru (aged 8):
This is a unique poem. Pumpkin 🎃 is an autumn season word.
“The family’s oneness in slurps” could mean that the whole family is slurping the pumpkin 🎃 soup in unison . It could also mean that when the youngest member of the family slurps the pumpkin 🎃 soup, everyone laughs 😂 and has a great time.
Each family member could be slurping at different times and that is kind of producing a melody.
It could also mean that the family loves to slurp and they are not afraid to slurp even in a fancy restaurant.
Jonathan Epstein — the singular harmony of a shared meal:
Pumpkin soup at a family gathering speaks of warmth and abundance; a celebratory occasion, a reunion perhaps. I imagine a roasted pumpkin soup with zesty spices and coconut milk. What could be more soul-satisfying on a winter day?
What unites this family goes beyond the idiosyncrasy of slurping soup. It points to the gifts of a Mom or a chef whose dishes border on magic and result in gratitude more easily expressed “in slurps” than words.
This robust soup fully satisfies the senses, and by evoking the reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste and sound (!) convinces me something more than bodies is being nourished. The slurps are music to the cook’s ears. Other songful notes: “soup” finds a lyrical off-echo in “slurps.” Sibilants (soup, oneness, slurps) and soft plosives (pumpkin soup, slurps) add melodic legatos and staccatos.
A warmly bemused and heartful “slice of life” look at not just one family but all families and the power that sharing a meal can have in uniting a disparate group into a singular harmony.
Author Aparna Pathak’s comment (received after the post):
Well, when I wrote this poem I was actually reading an article on how festivals are losing their meaning day by day. In the digital world we are more lost in our phones than physical presence of family members.
Here the poem shows the discomfort each member is feeling while having dinner together. They all want to finish it fast and go back to their digital world.
There is such a silence among them that now they are not able to understand what to talk among themselves. Hence the only sound we hear there is of slurps.
I tried to keep it simple with minimum words and a tinge of satire. It was a pleasant surprise when I came to know that this poem won the award on the theme of gourds conducted by IRIS International No. 4, 2018
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Jonathan 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:singing bowl the room swept clean of sorrow — Sally Biggar The Heron’s Nest, Volume XXV, Number 3: September 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.
Indian poet Aparna Pathak’s achievements include:
“Haiku Master of the Month” (April and November 2016), NHK world TV program – Haiku Masters; 3rd Place, Samurai Haibun contest (United Haiku and Tanka Society) (2016); shortlisted in Touchstone awards (2016), and 1st place in the fourth Sonic Boom senryu contest.
The present verse and some other haiku of Aparna’s may be read in the publication of reference, which is available in the Foundation’s library: IRIS International No. 4, 2018.
In background emails on this week’s verse, a correspondent likes it but wonders whether this is the kind of thing that gets haiku a bad name in the mainstream of what we might call “the Poetry Establishment.” I recall getting an earlier email shortly after taking on re:Virals in which a distinguished poet, haikuist and translator questioned whether haiku was poetry at all. I know an eminent retired academic in the field of poetry who is similarly dismissive of haiku in English. Apart from there being no other shelf for a librarian to put haiku on, it’s a question that can fairly be raised by those steeped in English poetics outside the haiku community. And, dear poets, how this English Language Haiku community just loves to call ourselves poets! Could that be neuro-lingistic programming born of a queasy concern that it may not be so?
In an excellent paper entitled “Haiku Poetry,” Journal of Aesthetic Education (University of Illinois Press), 1975 vol 9 #3, Lorraine Ellis Harr wrote that haiku is:
“… simple enough to be taught to children, yet sophisticated enough to appeal to the minds of master poets, courtesans, monks, empresses and emperors…. but this very simplicity makes it difficult to grasp in its inner sense……. Haiku is not “a little poem.” It is a distinct art form. It is not poetry (in the English language sense) but it is pure poetry.”
Discussion is invited…
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