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re:Virals 439

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 Aidan Castle, was:

     from the hollow of a redwood gospel wind
     —Victor Ortiz
     The Heron’s Nest #23.2, June 2021

Introducing this poem, Aidan writes:

I chose this poem because it exemplifies the possibilities of multiple line breaks in one-line haiku. With a potential break after both “redwood” and “gospel,” we are left with deep and varied meaning. I also think it deftly evokes the interface of humanity and nature, leaving the reader to ponder “a redwood gospel,” a “gospel wind,” “a redwood gospel wind,” and, simply, “wind.” I feel the layering effect that Ortiz achieves here is the purview of only the strongest haiku.

Opening comment:

A very pleasing haiku, out of the ordinary.  As we have frequently seen in re:Virals, an unusual word or expression can do the vital job of getting the reader’s attention. Here it’s “gospel” in “gospel wind.” How did it come about, and what meaning or associations could it have? Well, even the mighty redwood can be hollowed out with heartrot following, for example, fire damage, and this can happen at its base where enormous cavities may be formed. Not infrequently, these are in the shape of a lancet window such as might be found in a church, the apex pointing to the heavens. I can imagine (but have never heard) the wind vibrating in a tree hollow. With “gospel” wind the poet summons up a wealth of associations: “god spell” (from the Anglo-Saxon and Germanic roots: ‘good story’); the biblical gospels, and for me at least the vigorous singing of spirituals. The age and majesty of the redwood goes well with this. The “hollow of a redwood” might also suggest the inevitable weakening and fall of even the mightiest. Hot gospel. Fire and brimstone…the rot sets in… now ain’t that the truth?

hollow redwood

Radhamani Sarma:

Starting with a preposition “from”, this monoku talks about the tall, thick redwood trees known for longevity, their red color symbolizing a beauty and attraction. “From the hollow of a redwood gospel wind” conveys that wind passing through a cavity sounds musical. In general the trees have a capacity to produce musical notes. Another inference is that the redwood also is nurturing decay – two contrasting images highlight this monoku. Next question: what is the “gospel wind?” The author expects us to complete the gospel’s message.

Melissa Dennison:

To me this haiku is full of mystery, as well as history and emotion. I wonder in what time of year this is taking place. More importantly, as I am from the UK I am intrigued by the idea of a gospel wind. What could this mean? When I think of this I imagine a polyphony of voices singing. It has power. Are these the voices of living people or could this be supernatural? The hollow of a redwood suggests an old tree, which only adds to this feeling. It is eerie, but powerful. A haiku I can read and re read and still find new meanings.

Amoolya Kamalnath:

This is how I see the breaks:

from the hollow of a redwood tree/gospel/wind

The alliteration in hollow and gospel is compelling.

This verse reads in different ways. It could be that the gospel is being read or narrated and the speaker is able to hear it from near this tree. Some hermit seated in the hollow may be preaching the gospel. It could be a realisation or epiphany that the speaker attains standing before this redwood tree, the wind (along with the magnanimity of the surrounding) somehow having the effect of the word of God.

There may be a negative connotation too. The speaker sees the preacher and the preaching of the gospel as nothing more than just words. It may be that the person preaching the word of God may not be treading the path he himself preaches and so the preaching also falls on deaf ears. May be, the wind is carrying away any and all the truth that the person believed in or contained within him, for various reasons.

Redwoods often have cavities or tunnels in their trunks. These are called basal hollows, and they form when hot fires get through to the interior heartwood of the tree. Subsequent fires and pathogenic agents cause the core of the tree to decay and a hollow to form.

The hollowed-out redwoods were useful to the settlers. They called these hollow trees “goosepens” and kept their chickens and geese in them. These trees sometimes served as shelters for people as well. The Hermit Tree in Humboldt Redwoods State Park is a famous tree known to have been used as a home. The hermit built a three- story dwelling inside a hollow tree. Unfortunately, this famous tree was burned by arsonists a few years ago.

Dan Campbell—finding divine inspiration:

This poem refers to the idea of finding divine inspiration within the depths of a redwood tree, known for its majestic presence. The use of “gospel wind” adds a powerful spiritual element to the poem. The phrase suggests a connection between the wind and gospel, implying a sacred communication between nature and the divine. The wind, being intangible and invisible, becomes a metaphor for the transcendental, conveying the idea that spiritual truths can be discerned through the natural world. In just eight words Ortiz shares a profound contemplation of the relationship between nature and spirituality. He invites readers to explore the depths of the natural world, particularly the sanctuary within a redwood tree, as a source of divine inspiration and enlightenment.

Author Victor Ortiz:

I am in awe of coastal redwood trees. When I walk among them, I feel I’m on hallowed ground. Still-living redwoods whose towering trunks have been hollowed-out at their base, or nearly so, often due to fire, particularly inspire me, embodying the mystery of life’s perseverance on a grand scale. I also feel that a redwood forest seems to generate its own winds, and so evokes an ancient voice that transports me. I hope to suggest the sacred nature of the redwood wind songs through the mimetic sounds of “hollow” “wood” and “wind,” and I’ve left up to the reader how to combine or separate the last three words and even to wonder what might precede the entire line if read as one whole piece, without word separation. I am grateful to Aidan for suggesting this poem for re:Virals and to Keith for serving as host.

fireworks image

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

      memories I’ve lost especially raindrops
      —Sandi Pray, whiptail, issue 4, august 2022

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.


Victor Ortiz’s bio is available in the Foundation’s Haiku Registry along with some of his poems. I’d single out for its simplicity, scope, relatability, and warm individual humanity set humbly against a celestial backdrop:

summer stars
we pick out
our house
—The Heron’s Nest vol. VIII No. 2 (2006)

His first book Into Breath (2002) may be read in the THF Library.

I also note Victor’s Grand Prize for 2019 Haiku of the Year in The Heron’s Nest:

inside a prayer the scent of rain

Last week we had the delightful “whales breaching the inside of a wish” by Aidan Castle (which prompted a query on how to interpret the ‘inside’ aspect). Here is another inside story.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. from the hollow of a redwood gospel wind
    —Victor Ortiz
    The Heron’s Nest #23.2, June 2021

    I’m happy to read this excellent haiku as having the one break/cut between “redwood” and “gospel”, and see no sense or benefit in chopping it up any further.

    Redwoods are huge, tall and ancient trees and though I’ve seen them only in film and photos how could I not be in awe? That I’ve stood at the base of some very tall Stringybark Gums probably helps me imagine these Redwoods, which are even bigger and taller. That hollow, which happens at the base of old Stringybarks , too, is familiar.

    So what is a ‘gospel wind’? I’m taken back to Sunday school at a little, weatherboard Anglican church called St. Barnabas and later, when I was 12 and had moved to the ‘country’ a few years before , talking my father into letting me to go on a ‘holiday’ to a Baptist camp, with another kid.. (There was plenty of ‘gospel wind’, there, usually accompanied by a piano accordion ) These camps shot up in the wake of an American Evangelist, Billy Graham, who toured Victoria in the ’50s.

    The wind buffeting around inside a big hollow can make strange sounds. What can’t be denied is that, in the gospels of the New Testament, the wind represents the third aspect of the Christian God: the Holy Spirit.

    1. “….in the gospels of the New Testament, the wind represents the third aspect of the Christian God: the Holy Spirit.” —Lorin

      Ah yes! Thank you, Lorin.

  2. A beautiful, evocative, mysterious, spiritual poem all wrapped up in such few words! Thank you Victor and thank you Aidan for selecting it. Dan Campbell, you managed to express perfectly what Victor’s poem said for me.

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