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re:Virals 429

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 Ann Smith, was:

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

Introducing this poem, Ann writes:

So much space for the reader and so much Ma for the pup in Suresh’s monoku. This one line contains an entire drama. Short but perfect! It made me think of the film The Incredible Journey.

Opening comment:

This elegant and detached monoku summons up many thoughts about motherhood, the emotion that comes with breast feeding; and about siblings. Whatever the reason for this pup being the last, we can sense it getting a mother’s undivided attention. Ten nipples all to itself —or all the milk it needs, and more. Generalising to our human situation, as I think the poet means us to do, the youngest or last is so often thought to be spoiled for love (and frequently gets spoiled by its elder siblings, if any).  And for the mother, the emotion of physically feeding the last of her offspring with her own milk must be at least equal to that of caring for the first, though by now she may be more accomplished.  Something over and above a man with a bottle?  You tell me.

Plain, simple observation and plain, simple words with not a single adjective, verb or adverb, nor any lyrical, subjective, personified or egoistic language, successfully convey a range of nuanced emotions. Well done.

Pamela Garry:

The pain of the empty/ emptying nest. The frisson of nurturing love.

Radhamani Sarma:

Kudos to Suresh Babu for the wonderful monoku about feeding habit / organs of dogs for their young ones. “Brevity is the soul of wit:”  this write throws more light in fewer terms about dogs and pups, highlighting the significance of nipples for the young pups, just as humans.  The necessity of God’s Creation for sustaining their young ones.  Monkeys, rodents, squirrels,  humans — Mothers.  the ‘ modus operandi’ is highlighted here.  Ten nipples for the last of her pups is a powerful visual Image focusing on the number and leaving the action of sucking milk to the imagination of readers. The writer’s keen observation of a surprising number of nipples, ten,  to be noted. We all know dogs only as faithful, wagging animals; its “ten nipples” now one ponders: can the number be even more in some cases?!  Again, how many pups has the dog fed so far? It provokes humor, thinking, and more.  To conclude, the writer’s semantic perception is clothed in short visual term, a single line, leaving more choices for readers here.   A fine, enjoyable read.

Lakshmi Iyer:
Ten nipples for the last of her pups – what an elegant way to start the poem with ‘ten nipples’ and a defining moment of motherhood for the dog.  And then when the words slowly take us to: “for the last of her pups'” is where I stop, pause and contemplate.

What is it – “for the last?”  Why “for the last of her pups?”  It takes me to a memory where we had a stray dog delivering three pups and only one survived.  Is this what the poet wants to convey about that ill-fated moment of separation from the loved ones?  I often wonder about the emotional quotient of a dog. Does it cry? Does it know about the loss? Does it become aware of the separation?  Or maybe the mother dog realises that its not going to be around for many days and wants to feed her puppies, or no more motherhood for the rest of her life, or maybe that the puppies are being taken away to be adopted or the owner just wants to keep the mother and can’t afford to keep the puppies.  Thoughts are endless, and so is motherhood!
The picture-perfect poem is an absolute truth about losses and survivals.  It applies to all, even to plants, even to the mountains, even to the seas and oceans. The universal treatment of motherhood is the same, except it changes as per the time, space and energy.  Thank you Suresh babu! Thank you Ann for selecting this.

Amoolya Kamalnath:

Ten – we think of many countable things, ten nipples brings us to a female dog, last of her pups takes me by surprise and inserts an element of poignancy. “What happened?”, one wonders. There is a lot of space for the reader to fill in with their own stories into this one line poem.

All pups but one given up for adoption by the owner of the dog, if it is a pet dog. Its too much to care for more than two or three at one time for the humans, may be… Did the batch of puppies not survive after birth? Is it an old dog and is it her last batch of puppies…. Or is it a stray dog near the poet’s house which has just littered and the pups have gone missing? Are the pups safe elsewhere or did something untoward take place? (We still have stray dogs in India and pups of stray dogs roaming around the streets, some people do adopt the stray dogs or stray pups).

This poem took me back to my childhood when we sometimes didn’t find the pups we saw everyday in front of our house, and we would wonder about what happened and wistfully, pray they were safe.

Vidya Premkumar — a profound narrative:

R. Suresh Babu’s haiku, featured in the May 2023 Issue 1 of Pan Haiku Review, is a rich and emotionally evocative piece that utilizes the brevity of the haiku form to convey a profound narrative. In this response, I will analyze the poem through the lenses of Feminist literary theory and Ecocriticism, which provide insightful perspectives on its themes and construction.

Feminist literary theory, which focuses on gender dynamics, power structures, and the representation of women, offers a unique interpretation of this haiku. The mention of “ten nipples” immediately draws attention to the feminine and the maternal. In the context of the “last of her pups,” these nipples symbolize not just physical nourishment but also the nurturing and protective aspects of motherhood. The haiku succinctly captures the essence of maternal sacrifice and care. It subtly raises questions about the survival of the young and the role of the mother in ensuring this survival. By focusing on the mother’s body as a source of life and sustenance, the haiku can be seen as a celebration of the strength and resilience inherent in motherhood, a theme often explored in feminist literature.

Incorporating Marxist feminist theory into the analysis of R. Suresh Babu’s haiku adds another layer of complexity to its interpretation. Marxist feminism, which combines feminist and Marxist perspectives, examines the exploitation of women’s labor, both in the traditional economic sphere and in the context of reproductive and domestic roles.

While one set of feminist critics might celebrate the depiction of the mother’s body as a source of sustenance and resilience, a Marxist feminist critique would likely offer a more critical perspective. In this view, the haiku’s portrayal of the mother – symbolized by the “ten nipples” for her pups – could be interpreted as an allegory for the way women’s bodies are often reduced to their reproductive and nurturing functions in a patriarchal society. The focus on the mother’s body as a means of providing for the “last of her pups” suggests an expectation of selfless nurturing and care, a role that is often undervalued or overlooked in economic terms.

From a Marxist feminist standpoint, the poem might be seen as highlighting the issue of women’s labor – both reproductive and caregiving – being essential yet often unrecognized in the capitalist system. The mother’s body, in this context, becomes a symbol of the unacknowledged labor that goes into producing and sustaining the next generation of laborers. This perspective challenges the romanticization of motherhood, pointing out the economic and social structures that often exploit women’s reproductive and nurturing roles without providing adequate recognition or compensation.

Thus, while the haiku can be read as a celebration of maternal strength and resilience, a Marxist feminist interpretation would prompt readers to consider the broader socio-economic implications of how women’s bodies are perceived and utilized in society. This approach not only acknowledges the beauty and strength found in the act of nurturing but also calls attention to the systemic issues surrounding the valuation and recognition of women’s labor in both the private and public spheres.

Ecocriticism, which examines the relationship between literature and the physical environment, provides another dimension to the interpretation of this haiku. The poem’s focus on the natural world and the survival of animal offspring reflects the broader ecological concerns of interdependence, survival, and continuity of life. The image of a mother feeding her pups resonates with the universal theme of nurturing and the cycle of life in the natural world. This perspective emphasizes the connection between all living beings and the mutual dependencies that define our existence within the natural world.

Babu’s haiku, through its concise and powerful imagery, touches on themes of maternal sacrifice, care, and the continuity of life as well as questions its glorification. This haiku stands as a poignant reminder of the fundamental relationships that sustain us, both in the human and natural worlds.

Author R. Suresh babu:

This poem birthed from my observation and memories of witnessing the sufferings of stray dogs and cattle. This one-line haiku is about a stray dog and her puppies on our campus. She doesn’t have a name. She has a beautiful bushy tail. Her mother has a name. We call her Babli. So, it’s the nameless daughter of Babli and her puppies that inspired me to write this one-line haiku.
My thanks to Ann Smith for selecting this poem and my humble gratitude to Alan Summers for featuring this one-line haiku in Pan Haiku Review, Issue 1.

fireworks image

Thanks to all who sent commentaries. Alas the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Vidya has not picked up messages with the news in time, so this column has chosen next week’s poem, which you’ll find below in all its lightness. 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:

     Timetravel is forbidden.
            But kids
          do it anyway.
     — Eva Eriksson
     Tom Brinck's top ten scifaiku 1996 (first publication reference awaited).  Brinck is the author of the SciFaiku Manifesto, 1995.

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.


Bio: R. Suresh Babu hails from Thiruvalla in Kerala. His Haiku, Senryu, Haiga, Cherita, Gembun, Tanka and Haibun have been published in various anthologies and journals. He is a contributing writer to the anthology, We Will Not Be Silenced of the Indie Blu(e) Publishing. He has done the art works for the Haiku anthology Bull-Headed, edited by Corine Timmer. He is the winner of the World Online Kukai, Kyoto Haiku Project 2021 and received an Honorable mention in the 75th Basho Memorial English Haiku Contest, 2021. Currently, he teaches at Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, Chikkamagaluru.

Some of his verses may be read here.

See Maternal behaviour in domestic dogs, Lezama-García et. al, Int J Vet Sci Med. 2019; 7(1): pp20–30 for the full unexpurgated story.

In this vein of suckling, I recall Ruth Yarrow’s well-known haiku:

warm rain before dawn
my milk flows into her

Cicada 5:1, 1981
(several image elements, arranged in two parts, harmonious toriawase: mother/baby daughter, warm rain/milk, before dawn/unseen)

An excellent, thoughtful and well-written commentary by Vidya, if I may say so.

As far as can be ascertained, dogs and indeed all mammals other than humans go with their natural, instinctive feelings where reproduction and parenting are concerned. In their Eden they appear untroubled by philosophy, politics, and all the -isms. By contrast, how complicated we humans make things! Consider, for example, the tortuous evolution of meaning in the word “bitch” … What would the mother of pups think on’t?

Great indeed is the disorder produced in the world by the love of knowledge.” — Zhuangzhi (Outer Chapters, 350-250 BC). The question is whether acceptance of the state of things or challenge to it leads to greater contentment. Hamlet’s choice. But I am straying too far into the long grass, here.
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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. The Pan Haiku Review inaugural issue (1st issue)
    2023 Touchstone Award for Individual Poems Nominations

    In no particular order:


    ten nipples for the last of her pups

    R. Suresh Babu


    the artist’s assembly of leaves falling

    Keith A. Simmonds

    cold moon—
                        light the gravel road home

    Beverly Acuff Momoi


    a child and a puddle exchange places

    Yvonne Waern

    a dream bookmarked

    after Langston Hughes

    Norma Bradley

    eel dinner her long and winding story

    Keiko Izawa

    imagination playing anytime friends

    Margaret Walker


    haystack moon when every pain is a needle

    Susan Burch

    another Monday
    Prufrock’s coffee spoons clatter

    Marcie Wessels

    raindrops polka dot my solid-color dress

    L. Teresa Church


    The Pan Haiku Review issue one
    ed. Alan Summers (Spring 2023)
    1-line & 2-line haiku special

    PHR1 essay extract:
    First published:
    British Haiku Society journal Blithe Spirit vol.33 no.1 February 2023 ed. Iliyana Stoyanova

    Articulation of the Single Line Haiku
    The expanded edition
    A style-agnostic approach
    by Alan Summers
    The Pan Haiku Review inaugural issue (May 2023)

    Is haiku as one poetic line in English—rather than over three lines (tercet)—where we could capture more of the original Japanese essence?

    “In adopting the tercet, those who write haiku in English are doing the exact opposite of those who write haiku in Japanese: practically all Japanese haiku writers use a monolinear form.”
    “On Haiku” Hiroaki Sato (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2018)

    Let’s see if the solo line of haiku in English reveals its inner landscape of negative space, and “untold story,” with its own poetic tension. We might not be able to obtain the concept with the practice of ma—間, which has been essential across most of Japan, though we can attempt our own versions.

    “Ma is a fundamental Japanese principle of interval, or pause, that applies to both space and time.”
    Ken Rodgers “Ma a measure of infinity” Kyoto Journal issue 98: Ma (2020)

    . . . Ma refers to any practice where absence is intentional, allowing one to further appreciate what is present. Within Japanese culture, it can be found in several disciplines including architecture, gardening, music, poetry, shodo (calligraphy), and ikebana (flower arrangement).

    Ma (間) and Food: Making Time and Space for Thoughtful Consumption
    Kokoro Care Packages 2018 article by Britney Budiman

    Essay Conclusion
    I feel it’s impossible to pin down exactly why a single line haiku works even if a three line version might appear as good, as effective, even to apparently better serve us: It’s often a decision between presenting a line of poetry in one horizontal ‘strike’ or as a series of enjambments (duostich, tercets, or quatrains). Perhaps it’s up to the reader as the “end game” in our poem, or as “final arbiter.”

    Finally . . .
    don’t be held back from any views given about haiku, be it your own or by others, because you may end up creating your own unique way of writing haiku across a single line. Don’t let anyone, including yourself, stop you from doing that.

    Alan Summers

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

    One can’t rely on the “4th line” at all anymore. We can’t just assume she is a street dog in India. She may be a bitch put to breed, over and over, in the UK, the USA, Australia, anywhere . How much longer will this poor mother have this last pup before it is taken away by something or someone?
    The essence of this haiku (short piece, observation, whatever each of us want to call it ) is pathos. It evokes empathy.

    I agree with Keith that Peter Yovu’s article on the Haiku New Zealand website is excellent.

    “. . . and so much Ma for the pup …” Ann Smith
    I find it hard to believe anyone would even consider making a pun like this, in relation to this haiku.

  3. An interesting text, but I will ask the late-comers question,
    in earnest, please:

    what makes this a haiku?

    I am picturing an unlikely situation, that this line of text should appear
    in a subway or underground car somewhere (I think this has been done with poems
    in New York where I now live).

    Do you suppose that readers will say: oh that is a haiku.

    Thank you.

    1. V. Patel Jenkins: A perennial question in both English and Japanese haikai verses, never successfully defined in answer. It may be that more words have been used in argument than were ever written in haiku and senryu. The last time it was discussed here was September 22: see the footnote to re:Virals 417 and comments.

      You might also like to read the attempts by several haikuists to define it at:

      Lastly, during 2023 ChatGPT has made great strides in its logic concerning haiku, and comments:
      “While the traditional Japanese haiku follows a 5-7-5 syllable structure, many contemporary English-language haiku poets use a shorter form. This is because the English language and Japanese language syllables are not directly equivalent, and the focus in English-language haiku is often on capturing the essence of a moment rather than strictly adhering to a specific syllable count.

      Many modern English haiku are written with fewer syllables, often aiming for brevity and simplicity. Common variations include 3-5-3, 2-3-2, or even completely free-form structures. The key essence of a haiku lies in its ability to convey a vivid image, evoke emotions, or capture a fleeting moment in a concise and impactful manner.”

      That last sentence, my bolding, applies to this week’s verse, don’t you think?

      1. Addendum: Masoka Shiki (1867–1902) who is often credited with defining the haiku (although the word was used earlier than Shiki), took as his starting point point the hokku of Bashō, the by then traditional opening verse of a renga.

        For Shiki, haiku took a 5-7-5 pattern, contained a seasonal reference, were associated with nature, and had a kire or ‘cut’ to provide pause or emphasis (often rendered as a punctuation mark in English translations). He believed that a haiku should not be a work of imagination, but a “sketch from life” that was detached from subjectivity.

        Thanks to Shiki’s advocacy, these ideas have pervaded the thinking of many, although challenges to each of those points were soon made, with some weight, following his death.

        For consideration: whether Shiki’s:

        a sparrow hops along the verandah with wet feet

        would go well in the New York subway.

        1. Thank you Keith, though I remain confused not by your response but putting it together with other definitions though I see that definitions is a tricky word. I will look farther but do wonder if this question comes up in others.

          1. Yes, others also fret (as do I). Perhaps they will comment.

            But if a normative definition of ‘haiku’ was to be agreed, a task that has proved even more difficult than global agreement on world peace, or indeed the definition of ‘poetry’ itself, would that not become a straitjacket constraining further development of the art?

            You might be interested in this excellent article by Peter Yovu, who occasionally comments constructively in this feature:

            Peter (if you are reading this): how would you answer V Patel Jenkins’ question?

          2. Who said it? Something like: a haiku is what its author says is a haiku.

            A variation: if a dedicated haiku journal publishes it, it’s a haiku. Someone probably said that too.

            If it appears in a more general poetry journal, it stands a better chance of being “whatever each of us want to call it.”
            as Lorin says. Or maybe not being called anything at all.

            Which probably is not very helpful. I do feel overcome now and then by the spirit of haiku and write things that to me look
            like and act like haiku and I also write things (in that same spirit, I believe) that don’t.

          3. I do think it can be very helpful for a writer influenced by haiku to explore the question “what is a haiku?” or, is a particular piece a haiku, not to come up with a definitive or fixed response, but more just to see where it leads. I also think it is helpful to risk writing pieces that may not be haiku, but which live as poems nonetheless. Why deny yourself?

            While I have never really thought of a haiku as anything other than a poem, many people disagree, and perhaps would say that while a haiku is infused with poetry, it is not, in and of itself, a poem. There could be many reasons for this view, and I have come to consider that this question too– is a haiku a poem?– is worth exploring. Again, not to take a position, necessarily, but to keep things open, to “dwell in possibility.”

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