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re:Virals 428

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 Amoolya Kamalnath, was:

     lying face-down
     in frozen-slushy-muck
     an old love poem
     —Connie Pittman-Ramsey
     LEAF, Issue 1, June 2023

Introducing this poem, Amoolya writes:
This is a poem I first read in the Facebook group The Daily Haiku and it immediately caught my attention. Reading L1 would take the reader to a mattress/bed where someone may be lying down in grief. Then L2 suddenly takes one to the outdoors, the street and that too, to the slush and muck areas which is frozen in some parts. ‘Frozen’, again metaphorically speaks of sorrow/grief. Now why is someone lying down here? Is someone fallen down drunk? Now, the aha moment in L3: found there, is neither a human being nor an animal but an old love poem. The poem side of the page is in the muck.

It’s neatly done without any overt expression of the speaker’s feelings. The assonance contributes to the poignancy in the poem. There is also a tinge of satire here. Though the number of hyphens is on the higher side, it doesn’t take the reader away from the senryu.

Opening comment:

There is a deal of association in every word of this original and spare haikai verse.

I’m sure that many have been driven by the intoxication of young love to write romantic poems. The old poem and the old love may have become embarrassing to think about in one’s sober years of maturity and older age.  But in spite of everything, many will have retained deep affection for an old love even though the scales eventually fell from their eyes.  This little poem manages to condense all that into a poem that, while evoking the above along with an image of insobriety and abject prostration, nevertheless and somewhat remarkably also suggests continuing affection. I feel that Connie would still help the ‘old love poem’ home.

The verse also stands out for its hyphenations. Now, from a grammatical viewpoint none of these is strictly necessary; but frozen-slushy-muck I think is terrific. That’s just what the stuff is when the beautiful snow has melted, been trodden into mud, and freezes again: it’s all of a congealed piece. The three words thus conjoined evoke the cooling of love, the slush of lyrical romance and its poetry, and the muck that contaminates purity.

The words could be taken as describing the external world in real images, but their primary impact is figurative.  The taut lines convey very well the received image of past,  disillusioned, love.  In the last century, more than one Japanese short-form poet rebelled against the cold shasei style advocated by Shiki (who, however, modified his opinion as he went on towards death), on the basis that it was little more than a brief description of nature in the external world.  Some argued that a poet’s feelings and emotions (jikkan) if sincerely, honestly felt (makoto and kokoro) supply what external images cannot, and can be conveyed by metaphors that come to the poet’s mind for a superior verse.

Lastly, I recalled the work of the consummate love haikuist, Masajo Suzuki (1906-2003).  For example:

with all my heart
I loved a man — such a past!
early February cold


I could just see them,
my love affairs of long long past
in the waves of winter

I think Connie’s is at least as good, just as universal, more detached from the ego, and for me,  by a distance more powerful and evocative.

Pamela Garry:

“frozen-slushy-muck” – such accessible language! Right away I feel it must be me who is stuck in such an awful mood. In rereading, I understand it is also Connie the poet lying facedown in the muck, poor thing. At first, “an old love poem” is a missed opportunity that still stings- frozen in the mess of time. And then, more humbly, “the old love poem” is the subject, a piece of fragile paper litter splayed out with that old loving feeling.

Nairithi Konduru (aged 9):

This is a very intriguing verse. The speaker may be cleaning her closet and she finds an old love ❤️💕💖🦄🌈🌸🪻 poem which she reads on a walk, so, may be, she is embarrassed with what she had written and fell in frozen-slushy-muck. She could also have possibly been completely immersed in the content of the poem and accidentally, not noticing where she was headed to, fell in the muck by the roadside near her house. She may have been sad 😿 because it may have been from her ex and that is why wanted to cover her face and so was lying face-down in frozen -slushy-muck. Could she also be using the term “frozen-slushy-muck” referring to her own bed because it was so cluttered after the break-up had occurred or may be even because of the design of her bedspread?

Radhamani Sarma:

This haiku/senryu distinctly brings out the fact that the world is a combination of chaos… beauty, serenity, and sluggish muck. Beginning in the present continuous, “lying face-down” makes many a question arise in a reader’s mind as to who, what, why, and how “in frozen-slushy-muck.” Hyphenated, “frozen-slushy-muck” amply denotes snow slippery possibly with a mix of mud or manure. In normal ambience, frozen snow gets an image transformed, clothed in poetry or haiku or senryu. But here it is dethroned, denigrated, only muck.

What follows is the crux of the write. The third line, “an old love poem “establishes connectivity between the first and last. The old love poem lying face down, bereft of its value, time perhaps has decided its vigor and power, success or failure, from happy mood to disgust. The irony is love is lost in slushy muck — a wonderful expression of love and loss, decay and decadence, beauty and ugliness, despair and merriness.

Jonathan Epstein:

The sacred meets the profane in a slush pile of gritty snow; winter is morphing into spring. The hyphens in “…face-down/ in frozen-slushy-muck” conjure up James Cagney accusing his betrayer— ”You (!) dirty(!) rat(!),“ — as if to clarify that “lying” means dishonesty and “an old love poem“ (a reference to the New Testament?) has joined the “frozen-slushy-muck” of today’s grubby world.

I’m no doubt overthinking this. Still, it’s an arresting juxtaposition — love’s fall from grace and winter on the outs as well. Perhaps all is not lost, as nature is ready to burst again into its exuberant yearly growth spurt. The once virgin snow (now slush) and the once vibrant love of the “old love poem” are ending their allotted time on earth. Enter spring, when all nature is reborn and the world rejoices. To every thing there is a season….

Ann Smith — turning the page over:
I love Connie’s ku. I am a very clumsy person and spend a lot of time bumping into things, tripping over things, falling flat on my face and breaking things including my bones and sometimes my heart. The first two lines therefore could be a description of the day in my life when, aged 9, I was running away from a security guard on a building site where I and some friends were playing (ok ….I mean trespassing). I fell, sprawling on the rough ploughed up ground and saw my left arm stretched out in front of me and it went up and down just like the ploughed up earth. It followed exactly the contour of a trough in the mud as my forearm had broken clean in two.

lying face-down
in frozen-slushy-muck

and then comes the pause, the cut, the kireji and just as we are catching our breath we read the words

an old love poem

and realise that the poet (and we) are suffocating, drowning in the overemotional, schmaltzy, maudlin maybe, words of an old love poem that we have found tucked away at the back of a drawer – an old love poem which, in my mind, is written by an ex-love or written to an ex-love.

And now, after reading the last line, I go back and read the first two lines again.

I like the hyphens in this. And the poet’s choice of the hyphenated words is very telling –
Frozen (solidified, ice cold and the other sense frozen in time…a blast from the past)
Slushy (the opposite of solidified but what was wet is now frozen… and the other meaning sickly sentimental )
Muck (it’s obvious what the poet’s opinion is now).

And then, on yet a third reading, I see a completely different picture – a person walking on a wintry day and there, lying on the muddy path ahead, a sheet of paper. The person stoops to pick it up. Nothing is written on the side facing the sky but when the page is turned over there is a beautiful love poem….like the love letter written by my grandfather, when he was a young man, to my grandmother. The letter that my father discovered years later after my grandfather’s death.

I am probably completely off track but Connie has left a lot of space for the reader, and I am enjoying wallowing in the ma.

Thanks Connie and thanks Amoolya for suggesting it

Author Connie Pittman-Ramsey:

Thank you, Amoolya, for nominating this verse. Asking for my comments, Keith wondered whether this is real or imagined. Well, it’s both. I keep letters from my first real love in a little old Lane chest. He was a soldier, and our relationship was full of wounds. He survived Vietnam, but we both lost our innocence in different ways. He returned deadened, and a big piece of me died over here. We both needed something that neither could express after he came back. It was the end of an illusion. That’s the real part. The frozen slushy muck is the metaphorical part. That’s how I feel it. ‘Frozen’ in time. ‘slushy-muck’ is all the ups and downs left over from a troubled love affair.

On the wording, I didn’t use the hyphens in first writing, but added them in revision because I felt they gave more emphasis. And, well, ‘old love poem’ is self-explanatory.

fireworks image

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

     ten nipples for the last of her pups
     — R. Suresh Babu
     Pan Haiku Review issue 1 May 2023

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Professional songwriter and singer Connie Pittman-Ramsey came late to haiku, in retirement. She has a fine grasp of the lyrical, and this has lately found expression particularly in her published and awarded cherita works. You may like to listen to one or two of her songs, including the first one that also relates to ‘the old love poem’ and to her heartfelt author’s comment, on soundcloud, here.

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