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 Joshua Gage, was:geysers on Enceladus our last fight —Deborah P. Kolodji Tug of a Black Hole, Moth Orchid (was Title IX) Press, 2021
Introducing this poem, Joshua writes:
Using the landscape of one of Saturn’s moons puts us into scifaiku territory. Kolodji begins with an image, one of turbulent cryovolcanoes on the south pole of the moon. The geysers of Enceladus are famous not only for providing some of the material that creates Saturn’s rings, but also for their chemical make-up and violence. NASA scientists have discovered that the composition of the plumes is similar to that of comets. Kolodji is delving into that knowledge, the turbulence and explosiveness of the geysers, to explore emotions and feelings about the fight. The emotional response is found in the careful juxtaposition of these two images. The turbulence and anger of the geyser is mirrored in the fight, and the grief of the fight still lingers. However, it is important to note that at no point does the reader have any understanding of the fight or any explanation of the emotions involved. Kolodji lets the imagery of a violent, extraterrestrial volcano carry that emotional weight, and lets the emotions there — the violence and fire — inform the reader about the emotions of the fight.
In the realm of real science, this compact verse has considerable richness and depth for a reader willing to engage in a little research. A moon of Saturn, the joint space probe Cassini relayed back data to show that Enceladus is covered in ice, and at its pole the ocean beneath spurts out as plumes turning instantly to ice particles. Line 1 of the verse is simply “geysers” — which gets the earthbound reader thinking of hot springs — but “on Enceladus,” once researched, we realize that these forceful eruptions are icy cold. The words “our last fight” bring us most likely back to a personal situation on earth by way of juxtaposition. The poet’s bio shows that she divorced in 1996, and the reader might conjecture that any fiery rage at that time may now have cooled to ice. The poem is written quite a few years after that event. Looking for other potential and more current meanings of “our last fight,” the general “we” and “our” are frequently used to invite the reader into a poem, suggesting a common cause. We might picture a scenario such as humanity’s last stand on a changing planet (albeit while Earth is cooling, its atmosphere and surface is warming). Or, taking the lines from science fact into science fiction, “our last fight” could be an imagined or predicted “last fight” of the Star Wars, Battleship Galactica, or Doctor Who variety.
The moon Enceladus is named after one of the giants in Greek mythology who fought for power with the Gods; held to be responsible for earthquakes and volcanoes, he was slain in battle by Athena, the goddess of wisdom. This adds a ‘third axis’ to the verse. It still leaves open questions in the reader’s mind as to whether it is about a personal fight or a more general one: a moon tends to suggest the feminine (another of Saturn’s moons is Dione, named after a Greek goddess — coincidentally the name of my dental hygienist); the poet in “our last fight” might be suggesting that she identifies with Athena and her hostile opponent is identified with the male giant Enceladus (and his namesake planet’s icy ejaculations — how far does the identification/imagination/juxtaposition stretch?). Or it may be more generally wisdom versus brutishness in the last chance saloon for humanity. In whichever context you choose: elections, perhaps, or wars?
Plenty to speculate upon, and look forward to Deborah’s own elucidation.
I went down some sort of “rabbit hole” with Kolodji’s geysers due to the moon of Saturn, Enceladus. L1 and L2 had me googling Enceladus. It’s a wonderous world of ocean’s spraying geysers out into space. Its snow covered, highly reflective surface mirrors human behavior back at us.
Geysers happen when built-up pressure finds a release. The pressure can build up over time. People let annoyances (petty or not) rest within their souls and fester over time. These can multiply until they’re released by some unrelated event. Then, boom, a geyser of emotions spews out.
This interpretation may sound overly dramatic except for L3, “our last fight”. This suggests a broken relationship: whether amorous couple, mother/daughter, father/son, or dear old friends. Some trauma involved, whether lost relationship or even death making it impossible to ever repair the rupture.
In just six words, we have something so alien as Enceladus reflecting something so human as personal disagreements and loss.
Thanks to re:Virals 430 for having given us a purely science topic of senryu/haiku, at the same time much intriguing brain work for literature students or other than science students. Questions arise: what are geysers? What is Enceladus? “geysers on Enceladus”? Saturn’s moon Enceladus is an icy body, but the joint Cassini space probe revealed this moon to be one of the solar system’s most scientifically interesting destinations. Cassini discovered that geyser-like jets spew water vapor and ice particles from an underground ocean beneath the icy crust of Enceladus.
“Saturn’s moon Enceladus has all the ingredients for life in its icy oceans. But is life there?” (Sharmila Kuthunur, 14 June 2023). Scientists believe that there is unlikely to be life on Enceladus and the geyser-like extremely cold water spouts would not be congenial to life. Hence the last line, “our last fight” I take to mean the fight for survival but in vain. But how different observations there might be following reactions!
This is an excellent example of Science Fiction Haiku. The first line introduces a subject/topic, the second line develops it, in this case moving the geysers from our default/generic notion of geysers from their normal mundane earthly manifestation to one of Saturn’s moons and the third line turns towards the poetic self’s personal experience. In addition to the obvious distances between our planet and Enceladus, and us and geysers of any kind, there is another subtle difference as well, there is a difference in kind between the geysers in the two locations—on earth they are related to heat, primarily volcanic activity involving the presence of magma or hot spots underground, so the geysers we are familiar are produced by superheated water blown into the air, while on the moon, it is associated with so-called cryo-magmatic/volcanic activity caused by powerful tidal stress operating at very low temperatures, for Enceladus it’s believed that ice is subsumed directly into vapor, rather than a gush of superheated hot water and steam, it’s more like a blast of fog. For my interpretation of the poem, that is the important difference to focus on. So, we start with hot and move to cold — this seems to suggest a movement from hot, intense obviously forceful fights, to something superficially similar, but colder, less substantial, though still the result of great forces moving beneath the surface. There are a number of ways to look at it, but I feel that the haiku is using ‘our fights’ as a barometer for the relationship, in the beginning they are the manifestation of hot and fiery passions and even though the underlying reasons for the fights the passion have gone from fire to ice-giving a reason why the last fight is not just the recent fight, but marks the end of the relationship. In another demonstration of haiku virtuosity, this poem is a pretty good example of becoming one with the object.
Joshua St. Clair —an opponent relegated to a distant place:
Kolodji’s core technique in this scifaiku is what Jane Reichhold defines as metaphor—reaching across the cut at the end of line 2 is an understood “are.” The reader equates the geysers in lines 1 and 2 with the fight in line 3. The image of the geysers becomes a powerful, complex description of “the last fight.”
First, we consider the physical image of geysers. Geysers are violent and explosive geothermal features. Their eruptions are recurrent and predictable. These features of geysers make them an intense description of a tumultuous relationship. These aren’t just any geysers, however. Kolodji takes us from a potentially terrestrial image in line 1 to Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, in line 2. The violence isn’t even here. It’s planets away in a frigid and distant alien landscape. That’s the key to the metaphor. In “our last fight,” the quarrels used to be explosive, violent, and recurring, but now the violence is relegated to an alien world. The “last fight” so distant, it’s almost gone.
Why did Kolodji choose Enceladus? Europa and Triton have geysers as well. Other heavenly bodies—Pluto, Ceres, and Titan host cryovolcanoes. Kolodji leaves nothing to chance—the myth of Enceladus informs this poem as much as his namesake moon. In the Gigantomachy, Athena, goddess of wisdom, vanquished the giant, Enceladus, and buried him under Mt. Etna where he was said to drive the activity of the volcano. In this myth, the feminine and the mind triumph over the masculine, physical energy of the giant. In the same way, the speaker of the poem triumphs over her opponent (a lover? a father?) and relegates his influence to a distant place.
Author Deborah P. Kolodji:
I have been writing speculative poetry for years and was once the President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Society. At some point in my distant poetic past, I joined a scifaiku mailing list where I met a poet who told me about a local haiku group that met in my area. So, I started attending and discovered I knew nothing about haiku. Haiku quickly became my passion, but I still love to write scifaiku. They are often inspired by scientific discoveries or astronomical photos which I tend to juxtapose with whatever is happening in my “real life.” I find that using an image like a black hole or a geyser on Enceladus can sometimes tell the truth of my experience more fully than a more pedestrian earthly image.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. Hard to choose…. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Joshua St. Clair 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:distant horizon a dragon cloud watches over the mountains —Adjei Agyei-Baah haikuNetra 1.4, December 2023 (Adjei Agyei-Baah died on December 18 and will be much missed)
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.
Two entries were received after the deadline. Ashoka Weerakoddy thought of our genes awakening in the Anthropocene to fight off an alien identity that can take many forms. And of a conventional episode in a household where a couple, their fighting done and distant, now live peacefully. Amoolya Kamalnath saw in the metaphor of the geysers on the moon of Saturn, hydrothermal and geologically active, the emotion the poet wants to address associated with her anger and the ensuing frustration of a relationship which is not working well. This is revealed in L3. There is an end to the fight, and probably to the relationship too, that is implied. “Last fight” implies many preceding fights at intervals, just like the geysers.
Deborah P. Kolodji’s impressive bio is in Wikipedia.
As a scientist by formation, I find it good to see science, preferably real science like this, used in haiku. Biology is frequently present (less often, ‘real’ biology of the unsentimental kind) in a genre that takes nature as a foundation; sociology too in senryu, often sentimental of the marginal or marginalised; and the moon, stars and meteors in their generality are about as far as astronomy is customarily represented. Other sciences and technology seem under-represented given their significance. Take Artificial Intelligence, for example. This is one of the serious, burning topics of the past year; yet, unlike cherry blossoms, butterflies, Grandma, and “letting go,” few ku have appeared in the mainstream, mostly trivial and scoffing at it (like one of my own, I confess). Which is one reason Helga Stania’s serious and intriguing ‘raindrops’ stood out — re:Virals 423. Sometimes I feel there is still an unhealthy divide between the artistic (and poetic) community and that of science, and that little progress has been made since C. P. Snow’s 1959 lecture on The Two Cultures.
Yet I find encouragement in that, from their bios, many contemporary haiku/senryu poets are scientifically literate and have a scientific or mathematical background, as does Deborah P. Kolodji (math and IT). More verses like this should be welcomed. Cross-fertilization breeds vigour, variation and adaptability, as any geneticist will tell you.
Top of page