Skip to content

re:Virals 430

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 was:

     Timetravel is forbidden.
            But kids
          do it anyway.
     — Eva Eriksson
     Tom Brinck's top ten scifaiku 1996 

Tom Brinck, author of The SciFaiku Manifesto (1995) commented on this, one of his favourites selected from submissions:
“Wonderful reckless abandon. You don’t want to think it would happen, but you know it will. The phrase is so glib, so idiomatic, yet with such broader implications. This thing could be the basis of a TV series.”

Opening comment:

To the extent that it’s possible, this column fosters variety in the verses put before you. Here we have another branch of the haikai tree. There are many scifaiku of the comic strip variety with alarming aliens and so forth, but for me the best ones bring out some essentially human factor, or philosophic insight. This one, I love.  Kids will be kids always, and they are all too likely to let curiosity, temptation and mischief get the better of the authorities’ restrictions in the future, just as they always have. The verse has more meaning, too, in that “anyway,” as any parent knows and feels, kids ARE time travel. What they say and do constantly prompts you to think of your own past at that age, what you wanted to do, how you handled your parents and vice-versa.  Of how things have changed in the spacetime  between you.  And you often think of, and imagine, and fret about, their future.

Since the publication of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine in 1895, active time travel has become an endlessly speculative topic in fiction and film, beyond the real-world passive time travel that comes with the James Webb telescope. The speed of light, and mass, are the limiting factors. If some way is ever found physically to travel in time, then we could have problems. Time travel in the scifi sense will surely be forbidden, especially for kids, who might do more than just alter the course of the world by accidentally treading on a butterfly during a tourist trip to the past.  Think of the havoc if, while you assume they are quietly playing with friends in their room, they are actually visiting their Mom and Dad in the acts of courting and conceiving them, and posting the videos on Cosmic YouTube.  Discipline would collapse, utterly.  As to the future, would we really want them to go there ahead of time? Would we be able to resist the temptation ourselves?  Plenty to dwell on.

To those who take a formal view of senryu, this verse doesn’t tick all the boxes, but it ticks a few. It is short, plain and succinct; in two parts, separated by a grammatical ‘cut.’ It is a work of imagination rather than image, of abstraction rather than the concrete. What do you expect in science fiction? However, it is partly grounded in our realities, and though couched as a linked pair of statements — and there are plenty of masterly haiku precedents for ‘statements’ — these juxtaposed offer an unexpected insight and a focus for reflection and expansion in the imaginative reader. Also, haikai humour.

An observatory today on Aldebaran, the brightest star in my constellation Taurus,  would be seeing things on Earth as they were seven decades ago when I was just a rebellious kid. Maybe I still am.

Jennifer Gurney:

Gosh, I love a good haiku when the aha moment comes right away. And then on second and third reads, new meanings come each time. This is one of those poems.

As a huge sci-fi fan, this poem immediately resonated with me. As a parent of four grown children, it also touched a chord. And as an elementary school teacher, there’s yet another wrinkle in this poem.

The speed with which our children grow up is lightning fast. And our memories, decades later, of shining moments are so clear it seems like – quite literally – yesterday.

I had one of those moments last week when decorating the tree. Hanging the hand-made ornaments from my preschool-age son, I could hear his laughter. He’s 28 now and a concrete pump operator in Texas. But that day he was in the room and three.

I love the oppositional defiance of this poem, too, because it sure captures the nature of the parent-child relationship. That push-me-pull-you of “I need help” and “Go away, I can do it myself.” And it’s a payback that we all earned, really. We all did it with our parents. Expertly when we were teenagers. And our children did it with us.

Oh to have a TARDIS for just one day to go back and linger in those bright and shining moments of their childhood just a little longer. And stop complaining about how tired I was. And laugh more at all the funny bits. Now I know that laughing wouldn’t have encouraged the bad stuff … but rather would have made the hard stuff easier.

Then again, I can go there anytime through my memories. And I sure love the times with my kids now, all grown up.

Radhamani Sarma:

Our special thanks to Haiku Foundation and re-Virals for having given us a rare choice for our experimentation; to delve into a deeper thinking perspectives, drawing more and more insights into the given topic. The introductory notes tell us about Brinck who is the author of the SciFaiku Manifesto, 1995. For erudite scholars as well as those ignorant about SciFaiku, this is a somewhat tricky issue, encompassing a vast area of unique study. This is my humble presumption.

This particular SciFaiku begins with a statement – “Time travel is forbidden”. It ends with a full stop. Questions arise: what is time travel? Is it abstract?  Which are the related fields where it prevails?  “Time Travel is forbidden” is a categorical statement ruling many a theory and principle as if beyond our reach and care. “Time travel is the hypothetical activity of traveling into the past or future. Time travel is a widely recognized concept in philosophy and fiction …” Some theories also hold the concept that travelling into the future is achievable, but travelling into the past is either wildly difficult or absolutely impossible.

Commenting on this scifaiku is not that easy for one needs to know more of science and theory and knowledge. It is not simply one image or one metaphor that one can interpret by way of imagination, but more of statement with wider perspective. “Timetravel is forbidden. But kids do it anyway.”  Kids take up this challenge, can make sport of it. What might be a difficult for grown-ups seems easily accessible to kids, within their more limited perspectives.

Since last week’s introductory notes highlighted a point of view, we are guided to know more about “The SciFaiku Manifesto,” a declaration of the principles of SciFaiku established in July 1995. “Traditional haiku is about nature. SciFaiku is about science fiction. It need not contain elements of nature, though it may. Traditional haiku contain a season word. SciFaiku often contain a “science” word that evokes a technology or science-fiction setting: words like space, genetics, robot, or laser. Every poem needs to clearly evoke a science-fiction premise as well as express its own observation of that premise, and this is perhaps the most challenging aspect of writing SciFaiku.”

We can read the statement across to the week’s scifaiku where these guiding principles are embodied.

Dan Campbell:

This poem made me realize the importance of imagination in a child’s life.

Imagination plays a pivotal role in shaping a child’s life, fostering creativity, and nurturing crucial developmental skills. In my boyhood days, my rickety treehouse was a spaceship that traveled in time. For some reason I only traveled to the past. Sometimes I was a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, paddling a canoe in raging rivers with no name and powwowing with Native Americans. I remember fighting by the side of David Crockett at the battle of the Alamo and as a knight at King Arthur’s Round Table I rode a black stallion and won all of my sword fights. How sad that a boy’s imagination withers over the decades. As an old man, I daydream of winning lotteries and a cozy retirement.

Lakshmi Iyer:

The word ‘ time travel’ shifts me to H.G.Wells ‘Time Machine’ which really, really took me to that past and future gem of my childhood days. I still remember my daughter taking down points from us as though she was the MD of a company. She was only ten. Kids’ imagination runs wild and wildest. They have that skill and ability to transport themselves to any levels or stages of time. They act so well. It’s the grownups who don’t much think about these childlike perspectives; few parents participate in their children’s homebound dramas.

We need to respect and respond to kids, only then their communication skills bloom well. Time and space has its own advantages and limitations. As long as we understand this truth, it becomes very easy to surpass all boundaries of ignorance. Loved the poet’s affirmation in “kids do it anyway”! Science fiction or stranger than fiction are the two methodologies which children love to play. But as they grow up, it becomes a foregone page of their fairy tales.

Sébastien Revon:

In my opinion, a haiku leans more towards the poetic experience than the poem itself.  By that I mean that haiku is more than a poem and less in the same time.  A haiku, if really well crafted, is a revelation for the writer and the reader.  A realisation of the poetic dimension of life.  In this tercet, presented as a “scifaiku,” one can note that time travel does not exist, which is the case in the reality we live in. Therefore, I don’t see the science fiction aspect in it.  And yes, children do play at time travel… Is this the only poetic proposition of this tercet?

Does it qualify as a haiku according to the criteria I’ve outlined? I don’t experience a poetic moment when I read this tercet. Where is the haiku moment? Where is the juxtaposition? Is it in the contrast between the first line and the other two lines? Aren’t we rather reading an observation, a statement in this tercet?

Call it a haiku if it suits you; it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t see any way to “travel” in it neither does it trigger my imagination.  Most of all, it is not arresting because it says too much for my liking.

A haiku is like a room that the writer has slightly opened for the reader to enter.  It’s the fact that the door is ajar that arouses the reader’s curiosity, the desire to discover the room the writer has carefully crafted. For me, here, the door is wide open; I see everything, so I don’t need to enter… My journey hasn’t even begun; it’s already over. Maybe it is because I need to reconnect with my inner child, maybe not…

Anyways, I may seem very harsh and demanding. I hope Eva Eriksson will forgive me but I felt here that I owed it to my heart to speak out.  I don’t know her work and I am sure I will appreciate some other works she has written.  I’ll go find them in the near future.

Amoolya Kamalnath:

This type of verse with ‘is’ as verb, its capitals and full stops, is found rarely these days.

Children love the game of time travel. They invent their own time machines and play their own games depicting pre-historic times or more commonly, especially with the boys, the future era of robots and other higher ‘beings’ of artificial intelligence.

We’re all children, or at least the inner child in us is always alive. Our minds are like kids. We are unable to stop our minds from racing to the future or wallowing in the past. We travel in time all the time, without a time machine!

I wonder too if the verse is about babies and their dreams. Also, this verse reminds about the reincarnation stories of themselves some kids narrate or are said to have narrated.

Joshua Gage — championing rebellion:

Brinck attempted to codify scifaiku in his 1995 manifesto, offering science fiction poets an opportunity to use haiku techniques to create speculative poetry. Brinck’s key innovation, of course, was to replace the kigo in haiku with a speculative element; keeping all the other elements of haiku the same, this would create a speculative haiku. This poem by Eriksson seems to be from a year later, submitted to the page itself, and chosen by Brinck himself as a fun example.

The speculative element—time travel—is clear. This opening line sets up the speculative situation or moment, and the rest of the poem delivers the punch line. And this very much reads like a speculative senryu with a punch line, exploring the silly human reaction to the speculative.

This is a poem that champions rebellion and fun, exploring the innate human need to push against boundaries and restriction. As such, it could very well be seen as a metaphor for scifaiku itself. Scifaiku, by their very nature, rebel against haiku. If haiku are to be relegated to authentic moments, clearly the speculative will rebel against that restriction. Furthermore, many in the speculative poetry community are adamant that scifaiku have plots and narratives, because that’s the “fiction” part of “science fiction.” While I disagree, that’s clearly the case here, with two verbs and a narrative. Nothing here would be a successful “haiku”–no fragment/phrase, no pivot, etc.–nor would they be considered good “haiku techniques”–no clear imagery, no juxtaposition, no traditional Japanese aesthetics, etc.

This is commentary, a mere description of a scene, which captures the essential underlying message in this poem. So this haiku reads very much Eriksson knowing traditional techniques, and choosing to abandon them, which is replicated in the content of the poem. These things are “forbidden,” so here comes that one kid, willing to test it out and see what happens. The poem may work, or it may blow up in her face, but she was told not to do it, so now she must.

fireworks image

Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary picked out as best this week, Joshua has chosen next week’s poem, also a scifaiku, 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. During the festive season, the hamster wheel will be paused for a couple of weeks, but there will be a housekeeping post next Friday. Meanwhile, simply use the re:Virals commentary form below to enter your commentary on the new poem (“Your text”) by midnight on January 2, 2024, 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:

     on Enceladus
     our last fight  
     —Deborah P. Kolodji
    Tug of a Black Hole, Moth Orchid (was Title IX) Press, 2021

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.


Thanks to Joshua for his cogent commentary.

Eva Eriksson (I’m pretty sure I have the right one but the email address from 1996 is nondelivery, alas) was born in Halmstad in 1949 and is a graduate of Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design. She is one of Europe’s best-loved children’s illustrators, especially well-known in Sweden. Eva Eriksson’s artistry has been recognised with many awards, and in 2001 she was the recipient of the Astrid Lindgren Prize.

I cannot find any other haiku or senryu by Eva.

Scifaiku: Julie Bloss Kelsey of the Haiku Foundation gave us A Brief Introduction to Scifaiku on December 26, 2021, and went on to be guest editor for a month of scifaiku submissions to Failed Haiku, issue 74.

Ramblings: On the fairly common scifaiku theme of alien love, tentacles and all, I recall visiting LA, summer of ’85.  Switching on the hire car radio as I left the airport, the opening item of local news was about an outdoor convention of people who had had sex with aliens (and they didn’t mean with non-US citizens). Some 3,000 of them! Welcome to California, Englishman. The theme is not that far removed from Japanese fantasies. The current Editors’ Choice in The Heron’s Nest, Vol XX5, no. 4, December 2023, (…lipstick prints on the octopus tank) caught my attention: it immediately summoned up the vision of Hokusai’s famous/notorious erotic shunga print, The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife. Look it up, and you’ll see what I mean. Coincidence?

Top of page

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Time is relative, especially with Einstein and kids. Watching them play in the backyard slows down time. But they grow over years goes so fast and then they’re grown and gone. They never grow up and then they’ve grown up and you don’t know where the time went. According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, traveling at a speed close to the speed of light will slow the time, reaching the speed of light will stop time, and if you pass the speed of light, time will reverse (Google). Einstein didn’t write this haiku but any parent understands it.

    1. I see time as a succession of events, however tiny. Theoretically, if you apply enough energy, you can put things back how they were. Then again, there are the consequences of the second law of thermodynamics, the accumulation of entropy etc. so that the universe reaches a point where nothing happens. If nothing happens, there’s no time.

      But mostly I try not to think about it.

  2. Timetravel is forbidden.
    But kids
    do it anyway.
    — Eva Eriksson
    Tom Brinck’s top ten scifaiku 1996

    . . . and perhaps the kid who came closest to doing it anyway was Albert Einstein, who certainly did not forbid time travel, but did his best to find out how it might work. And his work and speculations were never called ‘Scifaik’ (or ‘fake science’), were they?

    I find this ku (senryu) amusing because be it ‘time travel’ , skateboarding into the library foyer or simply peeping over the fence to spy on the neighbours, if something is forbidden you can bet kids will do it. (I recall, perhaps from my own childhood, the adage:
    “Curiosity killed the cat” and the time-honoured retort “Satisfaction brought it back.” )

    1. Lorin: yes.

      I just love the line ‘skateboarding into the library foyer’

      Maybe a good way to get kids to read fine old books is to forbid them…

  3. PS
    Does it matter who’s doing the forbidding? Most obvious is the author means it’s against the law some time in the future when this is supposed to take place Do we need to make the reading more difficult than that, V. ?

  4. Well, my confusion as what a haiku is continues. Is it what the author says is a haiku? It’s okay, I can live with my confusion, I have
    for 33 years.

    But one thing perhaps an astuter than me reader can speak of: who is doing the forbidding? Forbidden by the laws of nature.?Though now it occurs that the story here takes place where time travel is possible, but forbidden. Is this how I should read it? I think it would not occur to me if the writing was not designated as scifaiku. Would it occur to a commuter seeing it on the subway? I guess I’m still down there.

    I do time travelling all the time, at least in my mind. I guess I’m a kid.

    1. I guess the postmodern position is yes, there’s no such thing as a absolute true haiku and your haiku’s a haiku for you and my haiku’s a haiku for me.

      If you can’t get satisfaction from that, V., then you know there’s a whole long list of things elite people think that help a little to nail this question down, though it’s kind of hard to find any little verse that contains all of ’em. Easy enough, though, to find little verses that contain some of them. As this entertaining blog brings out well.

      Happy Christmas and New Year, Keith!

      1. “your haiku’s a haiku for you and my haiku’s a haiku for me.”

        A haiku is what the writer says is a haiku.

        I do sincerely wonder if others see it this way. Just curious.

        Thank you–


      2. Harrison: Thank you and cordial greetings for the season to you too.

        Your para 2: and if a little verse contains none of them? Does that mean we can agree it’s not a haiku, at least?

        So far, Chat GPT may be the closest with: “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.” Which, as far as it goes, doesn’t attempt to define a haiku by focusing on what it “looks like,” but by what it does.

        1. V. Patel Jenkins,

          You’re asking some very important questions that a lot of commentators seem to want to ignore.

          You’re right–this probably isn’t a good haiku or senryu, and probably not the best choice for a scifaiku to analyze. Also, you’re right: if this wasn’t presented as scifi, would we know? Do we have the context necessary to understand this scene? Who is doing the forbidding–is the parents themselves? The government? Societal norms and expecations (it’s not “forbidden,” but certainly taboo.)

          Maybe, maybe not, but it certainly could be stronger if it followed the guidelines of successful haiku and successful poetry.

          As for what a haiku is, well, it would be interesting to see a poet defend something like a sonnet as a haiku. The idea that “your haiku’s a haiku for you and my haiku’s a haiku for me” is possibly the egotistical height of arrogance, as it tends to ignore history, facts, etc. As far as Harrison’s “rules” go, I know very few knowledgeable, experienced editors that have “rules” for what make a good haiku, only tools and guidelines. If the tools are used properly and effectively and it follows the guidelines set forth by scholars and history, then trust it.

          This poem does none of that, which possibly explains your confusion. I hope the actual scifaiku from the award-winning poet Deborah P Kolodji, who has blurbed my own personal scifaiku collection and was, at one time, the president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. She also single-handedly started the Dwarf Star Awards for the SFPA, so she’s got clout. I can’t wait to see what your thoughts are on this next poem. Good luck. 🙂

          1. Thanks, Joshua. Yes, I think “tools and guidelines” are useful, not “rules” (though I didn’t see Harrison writing about “rules” but about a postmodernist approach versus a “list of things” that can help). And also helpful are masterly precedents.

            Sonnets… Just for the hell of it, let’s see… Well, the sonnet has fourteen lines (contrast with seventeen syllables), a regular rhyme scheme, two parts , and a turn (link and shift). Ah, wait: there are sonnets with four quatrains and a couplet, sonnets in one block, sonnets in two asymmetric parts, sonnets where the turn section is two lines, sonnets where it’s in six, Meredith sonnets with 16 lines and curtal sonnets with nine and a half, sonnets with a different meter than iambic pentameter, sonnets in free verse with no rhyme scheme…. So what is “the” sonnet and are these developments to be welcomed or rejected? Is a sonnet not a sonnet unless it has fourteen lines? Is a haiku not a haiku unless it has seventeen syllables? If its two parts are completely unrelated, is it still a haiku or a sonnet because of their respective form? (Does it matter? To whom?)

            One or two features are not dissimilar (brevity, digestibility, two parts, a turn?) . Also, in that trying to define them or indeed poetry itself, is to throw a hunk of fresh tuna into a shark tank. I don’t think anyone would try to argue that a sonnet is a haiku, certainly not me, but isn’t that very possibility part of the miserable, inexorable, postmodernist logic? It means what you want it to mean? And the reductio ad absurdum a refutation of that logic?

            Amusing thoughts in this season of goodwill. Time travel… Are we further forward? Or have we gone backwards?

          2. Thank you Joshua, this is helpful, especially as I was a little discouraged in my questioning.

            I may not be as adept as some here in commenting, but we shall see.

            All the best to all for the holidays.


          3. Keith,

            As post-modernists, we are to reject the stable identity of “sonnet” and “haiku;” doing this, I certainly see no reason a 14-line poem wouldn’t be considered a haiku. If, as post-modernism asserts, there is no certainty of knowledge and stability of meaning, then we can never be certain that what we’re writing isn’t one or the other, or both at the same time. Furthermore, we couldn’t claim to objectively know what a “haiku” or “sonnet” are, because knowledge is conditional, and to assert that we understand things as they are simply by observing them is but naïve realism; therefore, “masterly precedents” are meaningless, as observing them cannot possibly inform us of the objective truth, as “truth” is a conceptual construct rooted in Aristotelian dualities and has no actual existence.

            Therefore, because the meaning of “haiku” or “sonnet” are not static, but rather a range of contrasts and differences between the meanings of other words, the idea that a “poem” in “fourteen” “lines” of “iambic” “pentameter” could be a “haiku” is completely valid within a cultural context in which the meaning of those words functions in relation to other meanings of those words; in essence, if I say a thing is a haiku, it is a haiku, and if an editor or publisher publish it, they have created a cultural context in which it is a haiku, independent of historical understanding.

            This is exampled by your question: “It is a work of imagination rather than image, of abstraction rather than the concrete. What do you expect in science fiction?”

            Well, most people would expect scifaiku and scifi poetry in general to have concrete imagery, as it’s generally considered a tool in poetry and haiku. However, in accepting this as a scifaiku and (re-)publishing it as such, you have created a new cultural context in which we must address this as a “scifaiku” because you and others said so, even if it ignores all previous understandings of “scifaiku”.

            As such, I see no reason we couldn’t say “Leda and the Swan,” by Yeats, isn’t a haiku: Absolute minimalist language (covers the whole of the Trojan War in fourteen lines), vibrant imagery, two clear uneven parts (8 lines and 6 lines), visible cut/kire, seasonal kigo, historic/mythic/vertical axis, “captures a fleeting moment in a concise and impactful manner,” (your ChatGPT definition), etc. And as for whether or not folks will ever consider a sonnet “haiku,” I don’t see why they wouldn’t consider it a haiku or haiku-sequence, especially when awards are being won for similar free-verse experiments: see the most recent Trailblazer awards for examples by Schwerin and Piko that clearly are grounded in haiku technique, but present as modernist poetry.

            Only no.
            Because again, that’s insultingly dismissive and rudely egotistical for experienced and published poets such as you, me, and even the widely-published and erudite Harrison (Lightwater, we presume?) to say, especially to newbies trying to learn.

            So, V. Patel Jenkins, please let me apologize on behalf of the haiku community for the arrogance and discouraging dismissiveness in these comments. If you’d like to learn about haiku, I’ve got some vids I’ll send you for free, as well as some free resources. Please contact me directly, and I’ll help you with what I can.

    2. I think “Timetravel is forbidden. But kids do it anyway.” would make a great subwayku on the MTA Line 2. Better than cherry blossoms?

Comments are closed.

Back To Top