Skip to content

re:Virals 441

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:

     
     am I waiting 
     for my rebirth too?
     skeleton tree
    
     —Brendon Kent 1 February 1958 — 25 February 2024
      To Live Here - a haiku anthology 
      The Wee Sparrow Poetry Press, July 2023
.

Introducing this poem, Amoolya writes:

Here, with a question, the poet compares himself to a winter tree, a bare one, waiting for spring, for its rebirth, for again becoming home to new growth and all the activity.

Winter is a time to introspect, to reflect. Likewise, old age, more so if suffering with an ailment or terminal illness gives ample time for a person to think all about their life, the happenings, the achievements and progress, the failures and disappointments. They realise they may be nearing the finish line. Hence the contemplation if this is that final wait to reach ‘home’ and then be reborn again on this earth.

A financial loss too can lead to a sort of rebirth after a period of time. Sometimes, loss of one or many family members in close succession may pull one down again waiting for that spark which one day may change the person’s life. It could be a better employment opportunity too that transforms a life.

I read also:
In this eerie poem, Brendon Kent, the British haiku poet, confronts us with our place in a degraded world
—Bruce H. Feingold, Chairperson of The Haiku Foundation Touchstone Awards

Opening comment:

“Skeleton tree” is the part of this haiku that claims the reader’s attention. It is accompanied by a question expecting the answer Yes. If that is so, you have in essence the bald statement “like a skeleton tree I am waiting for my rebirth.” The poem gains some force from our subsequent knowledge of Brendon Kent’s death, aged 66. If the poet had put the question mark at the very end, there would also be a more Issa-like way of reading it: with “skeleton tree” in the vocative (no indefinite or definite article), being addressed by the poet. And the tree would, of course, provide no answer, in the true manner of a sage. I prefer that reading.

Let us turn then to the sage. A few extracts from the Zhuangzhi (“seek what the ancients sought…”):

Quiet acquiescence in what happens at its proper time, and quietly submitting, afford no occasion for grief or for joy. What we can point to are the faggots that have been consumed; but the fire is transmitted (elsewhere), and we know not that it is over and ended. (Inner Chapters :Nourishing the Lord of Life)

There is no end or beginning… Things indeed die and are born, not reaching a perfect state which can be relied on. Now there is emptiness, and now fullness – they do not continue in one form. The years cannot be reproduced; time cannot be arrested. Decay and growth, fullness and emptiness, when they end, begin again. With every movement there is a change; with every moment there is an alteration. (Outer Chapters :The Floods of Autumn)

Therefore all things go through one and the same experience. (Life) is accounted beautiful because it is spirit-like and wonderful, and death is accounted ugly because of its foetid putridity. But the foetid and putrid is transformed again into the spirit-like and wonderful, and the spirit-like and wonderful is transformed again into the foetid and putrid. (Outer Chapters: Knowledge Rambling in the North)

When the body is decomposed, the mind will be the same along with it. (Inner Chapters: The Adjustment of Controversies)

And if you were thinking hey, there’s nothing new, then:

Ecclesiastes (one of my favourite texts) Chapter 1:
9. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

10. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.

Chapter 3.1: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die”

The two texts composed in widely differing societies on widely distant continents date from the same era: the Zhuangzhi around 350 – 250 BCE and Ecclesiastes around 450 – 180 BCE.

I wonder what the Preacher would have made of computers? The James Webb telescope? See, this is new…. although the silica and the stars are not. But I digress.

Radhamani Sarma:

Brendon Kent has given us a wonderful write, starting in the first person he questions whether he waits for his rebirth. It implies age and incapacity, suffering and physical constraints. All of us undergo the process of aging and have a lot to contemplate in this material world.

The wonderful metaphor, “skeleton tree” — what does it convey? A barrenness, a void, a tree which has withered and with loss, like the body whose contemplating soul remains strong, dynamic and questioning, as always. A powerful image: we keep wondering what would that next world be?

Lakshmi Iyer:

First my deepest condolences to Brendon’s family. We have lost another voice in the Haikai world.

“skeleton tree” — though skeleton is the crux of the human body on which we rest and which helps in the movement of every human or animal, the tree also has a skeletal part which enforces the life of it. I would define the skeleton tree as being ‘autumn’ in this context. Autumn is loaded with philosophy as the trees shed their leaves and almost leave the trees bare and lifeless, until winter captures the remaining sadness, a new dawn / beginning with spring.

The narrator has already had indications of his final journey in lines 1 & 2 in talking of rebirths, which is highly philosophical and practical. It requires lot of strength to confront and undergo: ‘am I waiting for my rebirth too?’ with an affirmative question mark stresses his strong intuitive powers and makes readers also think and contemplate on rebirth. A whole cycle of birth and death continues. So there’s no surprise when the narrator asks for rebirth as he wants to enjoy the fullness of his life even after death.

According to me, line 3 is the physical plane which bears the weight of lines 1 & 2 which are the mental access of a soul. A very solid and hard core poem.

Thank you Brendon for this lovely poem and hopefully your wish comes true.

Harrison Lightwater—contemplating mortality:

With the utmost respect for the poet, I cannot honestly say that this particular haiku offers any ‘aha’ moment. The theme of death, transmutation and rebirth in the perceived endless cycle of the earth is way too well-worn. The poem treads heavily. There is little new insight here except that yet another individual, the poet, is thinking about his own case, as we all do when contemplating mortality, and sharing his awareness and concern. This is basically what I vaguely remember being described as a “psyku” where there is a single image and the poet tells us what they think, rather than showing us another image with a subtle or covert link that we may discover for ourselves. Brendon has perhaps tried to mitigate this by posing his in-person thought as a question rather than as a statement. A rhetorical device. I expect that other readers can find many precedents in the literature for the “will/am I too” formula!

I am left with the appropriate image of the skeleton tree to think about. Is it a deciduous tree in winter that will bud again in spring? I don’t think that’s what the poet intended. A skeleton is what remains after the living parts have died; not the full being in a temporary state of hibernation. The word connects the tree to ourselves: bones for us, the structures of lignin for the tree: any tree. The last things to decompose.

Appreciation of this poem is however heightened by its genuine-ness in the context of Brendan Kent’s approaching death of which he was surely aware after the diagnosis. Hats off. Brendon is no more, yet his physical constituents are being recycled, some perhaps into other life forms, while his poetic self is embodied in his many works.


fireworks image

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

     
     no questions asked
     an immigrant
     donates blood
     — Ravi Kiran
       Haiku Foundation Haiku Dialogue, February 28, 2024

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.


Footnote:

From Haikupedia:
Brendon Kent (born February 1, 1958, Southampton, England; died February 24, 2024, Southampton), British haiku and haiga poet who worked at a variety of jobs, including the production of wind turbines. He was a member of the British Haiku Society and the World Haiku Association and served as Assistant Editor of the Facebook page My Haiku Pond. He garnered success in international haiku competitions, notably the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival Contest, International Section (Best International Haiku (2015), Sakura Award (2017, 2019), and Honourable Mention (2018, 2019); the Golden Haiku Contest in Washington, D.C. (Honorable Mentions in 2018, 2019, 2020, and twice in 2021). Kent was also listed in The European Top 100 most creative haiku authors in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019. His work appeared in two Red Moon anthologies: A Hole in the Light (2018) and Wind Flowers (2019), Yanty’s Butterfly: Haiku Nook: An Anthology (2016), Ekphrasis: The British Haiku Society Members’ Anthology (2017), and All the Way Home: Aging in Haiku (2019). In 2018 Kent published his haiku collection Moon on Water. He resided in Southampton, U.K.

Some of Brendon’s other verses may be sampled in the Haiku Registry here.

—–

Thank you, Harrison, for introducing the word “psyku.” I have tracked it down, I think. The term when googled seems to refer mostly to haiku about crime/forensics/ the justice system and also mental illness, some of which fit into the speculative or horroku categories, but in the light of your comment “where there is a single image and the poet tells us what they think” I wonder whether you meant something like the 2007 article archived at Harvard University by David Gialcone, “too many tell-ems: ‘psyku’ lower haiku quality”? “Each tell-em presents one sensory image…and then appends an explanation or mental observation.

It is a very entertaining (and punchy) article, with subcategories of wryku, sighku and cryku, byku and whyku, and many penetrating comments and quotations. I have now saved it to file in case it disappears like a butterfly in an anthill, and commend it to serious readers: I’d love to see discussion of the points in it, which have been troubling me, too, for a while. Including the quote: “(haiku) are not about the poet, what the poet feels about or how he interprets the content of his poem. …” (Jim Kacian, Haiku Primer)

There’s a place for such poems, but are there now far too many of them?
Top of page

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. “Harrison Lightwater—contemplating mortality:
    .
    “With the utmost respect for the poet, I cannot honestly say that this particular haiku offers any ‘aha’ moment.”

    ( AHA moment: “a point in time, event, or experience when one has a sudden insight or realization”. )
    Have people forgotten the perhaps most important essay on EL haiku that appeared at the turn of the century (2000), Haruo Shirane’s’ nicely titled essay, ‘Beyond the Haiku Moment’ ?
    “… if haiku is to rise to the level of serious poetry, literature that is widely respected and admired, that is taught and studied, commentated on, that can have impact on other non-haiku poets, then it must have a complexity that gives it depth and that allows it to both focus on and rise above the specific moment or time. ”
    https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/omeka/items/show/518
    .
    am I waiting
    for my rebirth too?
    skeleton tree
    .
    Brendon Kent

    Anyway, to me this question itself may be considered to arise from a “haiku moment”. Having a ‘haiku moment’ doesn’t mean one suddenly knows everything.

  2. .
    am I waiting
    for my rebirth too?
    skeleton tree

    .
    Brendon Kent (Died, Sunday 24th February 2024)
    Publication credit:
    To Live Here—a haiku anthology
    curated by Giorgia Di Pancrazio & Katherine E Winnick
    (The Wee Sparrow Poetry Press, July 2023)

    .
    re:

    Harrison Lightwater—contemplating mortality:
    .
    “With the utmost respect for the poet, I cannot honestly say that this particular haiku offers any ‘aha’ moment.”
    .
    This ‘aha moment’ was possibly invented by American-Japanese critic/poet Kenneth Yasuda as far back as from his book “A Pepper-Pod” (1947). Yasuda, born in California USA is perhaps best known for his later book:

    “The Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English, with Selected Examples” (1957).

    “ . . .the intent of the haiku is contained in the concept of a “haiku moment,” ‘that moment of absolute intensity when the poet’s grasp of his intuition is complete so that the image lives its own life’…”

    .
    Yasuda is also well-known for having said:
    .
    Basho says of great poetry,
    “The haiku [sic] that reveals seventy to eighty percent of its subject is good. Those that reveal fifty to sixty percent, we never tire of.”
    Kenneth Yasuda, Haiku. Tuttle, 1957 p6

    .

    am I waiting
    for my rebirth too?
    skeleton tree

    .
    Brendon Kent

    He knew he had weeks to live, and that I guess that he would be dead before Spring. These are trees that became ‘skeletons’ in Autumn, and Winter, and early Spring.

    Do we need an AHA! moment in every single haiku, or can the tension throughout the entire haiku be its “aha” surprise, or better, a deeper effect, than this para-punchline that is too often expected. The insight, philosophy, and introspection of many haikai verses, with a strong last line are typical rather than atypical of haikai verses.

    I see the cycle of life, and hope and regeneration here, and the effect of the strong last line gives me this effect:

    .

    (skeleton tree)
    am I waiting
    for my rebirth too?
    skeleton tree
    am I waiting
    for my rebirth too?
    skeleton tree

    .
    It’s an unending 360 degree programme of life, by dictat, by ‘nature’ not ‘man’ which is particularly apt as it’s International Women’s Day (Friday, March 8th 2024).
    .
    I did appreciate Harrison Lightwater ending on this note:

    “Hats off. Brendon is no more, yet his physical constituents are being recycled, some perhaps into other life forms, while his poetic self is embodied in his many works.”

    .

Comments are closed.

Back To Top