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re:Virals 420

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.

Opening comment:

“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.

Dan Campbell:

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.

Pamela Garry:

“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!

Sébastien Revon:

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

fireworks image

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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This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. I loved Jonathan Epstein’s verbal tools to describe the delicious sounds in this surprising haiku.

  2. I couldn’t write a commentary earlier due to certain circumstances. However, I didn’t want to miss out and so here it is.

    A simple senryu with a touch of satire. The p and s sounds give the rhythm and melody of the slurping of the soup.

    The moment I read this ku, I went back to my childhood. Many of our Sundays were ‘soup days’ for the simple reason that on most Sundays we all were home on the holiday. In our neighbourhood bakery, fresh bread was baked at around noon. As the soup was being made, my mother used to send me to get two loaves of the warm bread and she would be ready with the soup by the time I got back home. We all had warm bread with the soup, toasted or not toasted, as per our preferences. And the slurps? Not even to be mentioned. My mom was strict regarding table manners. So no slurps allowed for us! However, here and there, a few escaped our mouths and we would get a dressing down! My grandfather always slurped. My father would slurp to bring out his mischievous inner child and I would smile at what would ensue. That rhythm of all the slurps would also show the degree of palatability, the tastier it is, the more number and louder the slurps, some would reckon.

    However, I also felt a tinge of sadness reading the poem. In fact, I wondered where the slurps were and where the oneness was, in today’s families. Do we all still sit and eat together? Do we slurp and relish our meals like those olden golden days? Do we take our time in eating or drinking mindfully? Have not our devices overtaken our minds and hearts? I don’t have my mother with me now where I stay to tell me how to or how not to drink the soup but these days I don’t relish the soup as much as I did those days.

  3. 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…

    The matter of whether or not a haiku is a poem is probably not one which needs to be decided, though discussions about it can be interesting and perhaps fruitful. I for one would not care to try to convince anyone that it is, or isn’t. That said, I suspect that someone who writes haiku and proceeds from the belief or conviction that “haiku is not poetry (in the English language sense)” will steer themselves, perhaps subtly, in a different direction than someone who believes it is.

    I do, however, object strongly to what Harr wrote. Not because she is willing to say that haiku “is not poetry”, but because she seems to dismiss, if not disparage *poetry*, which unlike *haiku*, she implies, is not the real thing, is not “pure”. Perhaps, were she able, she would object to my pouncing on her words this way, oversimplifying. But as it happens, this view has been a common one in the haiku world— poetry, unlike haiku, is too often polluted by the writer’s ego, calling attention to him/herself (good-bye Walt Whitman) with dubious techniques and flashy language. (Which may account for the prevalence of sparrows in haiku and dearth of birds of paradise.)

    Many, perhaps most haiku writers who feel this way would probably grudgingly say that this may not be true of all poetry, but enough to distinguish haiku as having a value which escapes the mainstream, and accounts for so little of it being published by its journals.

    Well, to temper this brief outburst a little, I will offer something written by W.S. Merwin from his Preface to ( Asian Figures ). He is not writing about haiku, but I think what he says is relevant, and interesting:

    “There is an affinity which everyone must have noticed between poetry — certain kinds and moments of it – on the one hand, and such succinct forms as the proverb, the aphorism, the riddle, on the other. Poetry, on many occasions, gathers the latter under its name. But it seems to be likely that the proverb and its sisters are often poetry on their own, without the claim being made for them. In order to do more than suggest this, I would be led, no doubt, to step out onto that quicksand, which is the attempt to define poetry, and I am not about to do that. . . What I . . .want to do is to try to give voice and form to something that these other genres, and what I take to be poetry, share. There are qualities that they obviously have in common: an urge to finality of utterance, for example, and to be irreduceible and unchangeable. The urge to brevity is not, perhaps, as typical of poetry, as we would sometimes wish, but the urge to be self-contained, to be whole, is, perhaps another form of the same thing, or can be, and it is related to the irreversibility in the words that is a mark of poetry.”

    Here are a few things Merwin wrote. They were included in Robert Hass’ Poet’s Choice:

    Leaves never seen before
    look how they have grown
    since we came here

    Mourning dove sound
    cricket sound
    no third

    Sunlight after rain
    reflections of ruffled water
    cross the ceiling

    Two crows call each other
    flying over
    same places

    Hass adds:

    “I once heard Merwin read poems like these. Someone in the audience asked if they were haiku. He said, no, and then gave a definition of haiku: seventeen syllable poems, written in Japanese.”

    1. Like love and beauty and music, poetry defies definition but almost everyone feels it — albeit not everyone shares the same appreciation of, or emotional reaction to, any one lover, object, song or poem. If we can’t define poetry, then evidently we can’t define ‘pure’ poetry. In any case, I’d argue that impurities can be very attractive…

      Lorraine Ellis Harr made a valiant attempt to lay down dos and don’ts for haiku and senryu, still worth reading, but as I recall it met with blowback, and was doomed as all such attempts. However, the paper to which I refer (available through JSTOR), which presents similar views as ‘rules,’ is a good read and much less prescriptive, and I noted inter alia that “there are, of course, a few exceptions, but these should only be undertaken after a full understanding of the art of haiku has been achieved. “Learn the art first, then experiment.””

      1. A common sentiment which contradicts this is that we are all in a process of learning haiku which never ends: we never achieve a full understanding.

    2. I agree that some writers of haiku feel that what they do is above ‘mere’ poetry, and they are proud of this. Perhaps they simultaneously bristle at any suggestion that haiku is not poetry. I have also noticed that the worst way to insult a fellow writer’s haiku is to describe it as ‘just’ free form poetry, suggesting that they do not hold the bulk of current poetry in much regard.

      Of course I have also come across poets who state that “if it doesn’t rhyme it isn’t poetry”, and others who believe the exact opposite, so these jostlings are common.

  4. For me this somewhat hilarious senryu shows the ability of a seasoned haiku poet to animate an event within the confined space allowed of a set prompt, and in this case the theme of Gourds as appears under the proposed poem. Aparna has won first prize in IRIS senryu contest 2018. Well done indeed!
    Hence it became pumpkin orientated and all commentators kept their sights well centred on the theme like a glider pilot would, flying his unpowered machine propelled solely by wind and thermal currents up there. Using his great flying skills and the artificial horizon, before him, to guide and sustain him safely l in flight for as long as elements would allow, without getting lost among clouds. So did all the commentators and touched down softly on Terra Firma!
    It enthralled me as a reader. As for this ‘slurping’ I once read in a now extinct magazine -Look Japan- that the Japanese do slurp over their noodle soup as a habit and it’s even considered unethical to refrain. I have been there a few times (lucky turns!) and believe that I did notice this phenomenon though never knew its ‘importance’ at the time. Yet in retrospect I also believe that I wouldn’t bring home everything that I discovered over there however romantic and alluring Japan would be. Of course I brought back a Senbazuru paper crane I got as a welcome gift but didn’t bring pairs of chopsticks and toothpicks, not to mention slurps!

  5. Now having read Aparna’s own comment, just received and inserted into the post, I confess I did/would not know from the text that it was the lack of communication that she intended to highlight! The leap from a family meal with slurps, to preoccupation with digital screens, is concealed.

    family evening
    everyone left
    to their own devices
    —Prune Juice issue 35 November 2021

    1. “The leap from a family meal with slurps, to preoccupation with digital screens, is concealed.”

      This did come to my mind when I read the poem because I compared my childhood days when my mom made soup and we all had it sitting at the dining table together whereas these days (at my home included), we all end up sitting with our devices, sometimes in different rooms too. That togetherness and fun is lost. I miss those days of less developed technology on many occasions.

      The advent of cable tv with multiple channels itself started creating a divide. Now it’s much more with each person having one or more devices of their own.

  6. Thank you so much Dan , Pamela, Sébastien, Nairithi and Jonathan for your kind words on my poem. I feel honoured and humbled.

  7. Thank you so much dear Keith and dear Lakshmi for choosing my poem. Lakshmi, It is a pleasure to read your wonderful commentary on the poem. I appreciate the way you have acknowledged not only the scene depicted in the poem but also satire in it. Thanks again.

    1. Lovely comments from all. I am ever grateful to Aparna for sharing her poem and happy that ‘i could honour a poet’s voice in this breathless poem’. Thanks so much Keith!!

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