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re:Virals 443

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:

  
     one fly everywhere the heat
     —Marlene Mountain  
     Cicada 2:1 (1978); 
     cited in:
     van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology 2 (1986); 
     Global Haiku: Twenty-five Poets World-wide (George Swede/Randy Brooks, Mosaic Press, Canada, 2000); 
     van den Heuvel, The Haiku Anthology 3 (1999); 
     Blithe Spirit 10:4 (2000)

Introducing this poem, Joshua writes:

What I enjoy about this poem is the way that Mountain creates a mid-haiku pivot with “everywhere” that taps into the oppressiveness of both the fly and the heat. We know the fly is everywhere, so we assume it is buzzing and zipping around and generally being a nuisance. We also know that the heat is everywhere, creating a very sticky and stagnant context for the action of the fly. While the “context/action” formula often puts the context first, here Mountain has flipped that formula and allowed the pivot to create dual meanings across the one-line haiku. What’s further fascinating and something worth studying and learning from is the way that she was able to do this without using a verb. Careful word choice in this five word haiku creates an understated and subtle effect that’s worthy of praise and further examination. I’m very curious to know how others read this poem and what techniques they glean from it.

Opening comment:

In the heady 1970s and 1980s, anglophones, particularly in America, were still coming to grips with the relatively new form and variations of haiku in the English language. Marlene Morelock k/a Marlene Mountain was a very significant explorer and innovator in the form, notably in its reduction to a brief single line, and in experimentation with ‘concrete’ ways of arranging text to add to, and complement, the images in words.

This one-line haiku is exemplary. Unlike some monoku in recent years, it is instantly intelligible. There’s no obfuscation, no poetic contrivance, no need to overthink it.  It’s detached: the poet but not the poet’s ego is present.  It’s universal.  We’ve surely all experienced the burden of summer heat indoors or outdoors, the restless irritation. Here the irritation is intensified by a fly, its metabolism increased by the heat, unable to regulate its temperature, buzzing around feverishly either against a window or attracted by our sweat. Seasonal, concise, stripped down to the essentials, a single image haiku (ichibutsujitate) but nevertheless with two elements; no marked cut but making effective dual use of the word “everywhere” — a sense of the fly spreading the heat.  It has visuals, sound, motion and sensory heat. Not bad for five words!

A few comments on Marlene in the Footnote.

Radhamani Sarma:

Thanks to Marlene Mountain for this monoku. The line “one fly everywhere the heat” beats around us repeatedly. Where is the fly? Which is the fly? Which is the center? Is it the heat around us?

Just one fly is enough to radiate the heat everywhere. I picture the fly as the human thought, the idea, the soul that resonates with the cosmos, the tune to which the Gods dance.

Lakshmi Iyer:

Let’s break the line:

one
one fly
one fly everywhere
everywhere the heat

Isn’t this an action—reaction type forecast directed at the so-called negative thoughts reflecting our own challenges we face?

So there’s this one fly, let’s think of it as the ‘ego’…it’s everywhere and the heat generating in ourselves is just the ultimate of anything we owe and we realise that we gradually bend naturally towards that which we shouldn’t.

This monuku can be seasonal but more than that I take it as a typical senryu especially when we are talking of the heat. This heat is the repercussions of our own traits and the only solution is either we just allow that fly to fly off or allow it to stay and rot.

An irony is how I relate to this. Imagine flies of hate, ego, jealousy, anger, lust buzzing around us and the heat generated negates our journey! Either protect yourself from that fly or create attractive things that the fly sits on ratherthan you.

Amoolya Kamalnath:

Rich imagery with a summer kigo (fly) and the word heat indicating both summer and the irritation. The first word ‘one’ shows how just a single thing (and also fly – a small thing) can affect a person. One can see and also hear this. A universal experience almost everyone can relate to.

Nairithi Konduru (aged 9) —super hot:

This poem could mean that now that summer is here, it is quite hot and it is not easy to stay cool and we become frustrated just because of one small thing. It could also mean that the words ‘one fly everywhere ‘ indicates that the heat is everywhere and it is annoying. It’s super hot, there is just that one fly and we are annoyed with exactly that one fly. Everyone is also annoyed due to the heat. Fly and the heat are summer kigo.


fireworks image

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

     
     police siren 
     a squirrel freezes 
     halfway up a pole
     — Bob Lucky 
     Failed Haiku Issue 94, October 2023

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:

I was a little surprised that there were so few contributions from readers on this fine haiku: perhaps because it is frequently cited?  But subsequent to this post appearing, it transpires that some entries were not forwarded to my email inbox. Note to self: check on server. Please accept my apologies, Melissa, Amanda, Jennifer, and Richard. Here they are: and thank you.

Melissa Dennison:

When I read this poem I see a middle aged woman with dark hair sitting in a diner, in a booth seeking respite from the heat of the day. Outside is arid, with remorseless sun beating down. Even inside there is no escape from the environment outside, as a single fly has managed to find its way in to the diner. I imagine her trying to swat it with a copy of the menu, but failing. It’s fair to say that just a few words, five in this case can convey so much. That is an impressive feat. I particularly like the way that something so small like a fly is juxtaposed with the enormity of everywhere. one fly everywhere the heat. I can almost feel the oppressive, unrelenting heat. It isn’t a comfortable poem for me, as I wilt in the sun, but it is accomplished and evocative. I thought it was great.

Amanda White:

A sensory monoku that immediately draws you in. Yes we feel all pervading heat. Yes we see the one fly and perhaps want to bat it away. There is a filmic quality to this scene. The close-up of the fly. The wide shot and pan of a landscape and people enveloped in heat. This is not my familiar cold, damp surroundings in Cornwall but elsewhere. My body yearns for that heat but of course in getting it ‘everywhere’ it may feel too much. Us humans never satisfied – ever Goldilocks, drawn to the glass half empty… But that focus on one fly is the same everywhere hot or cold, that desire not to see the bigger picture. And of that one fly do we identify? Are we too just one dot in the universe? How this monoku of seeming simplicity begins to unravel. The clarity of one and everywhere. The vivid image of a fly. The feeling, taste, sound of heat. Insect and human. Are we so different from one another?

Jennifer Gurney:

I think this poem works best as a monoku because it offers the reader multiple ways to connect to it. one fly everywhere the heat or one fly everywhere the heat or one fly everywhere the heat This is my reading of it and my connection. You’re in a relentless heat spell that surrounds you. You escape to the shade of the patio to try to cool down, perhaps with an iced lemonade. There’s that one pesky fly that just won’t leave you alone. It buzzes around your ears and lands on your sticky skin. The sheer effort of fanning it away increases the heat. After it flies away for a moment, it returns to land on you again. Perhaps the fly itself is trying to escape the heat, too. The cycle continues until one of you eventually departs. This was a challenging poem to consider, given that there is a winter snowstorm outside my Colorado door. Today is our second snow day off from school and it will be a high of 33 degrees F. My space heaters are on, my cats are snuggling me and I have several layers to ward the chill. My imagination needed to fast-forward several months to the heat of summer in order to connect with this poem. But I’m warmer now for the mental workout.

Richard Straw:

Marlene Mountain’s one-lined haiku, published in Eric Amann’s haiku journal Cicada (Volume 2, Issue 1, 1978), may be a “honkadori” poem, which is concisely defined at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honkadori. To my ear, her poem echoes and pays homage to one of Issa’s classic haiku:

one man, one fly
one large
sitting room

This translation of Issa’s 1819 haiku is taken from David G. Lanoue’s impressively large collection of Issa translations. In an accompanying comment, he calls Issa’s poem “a slice-of-life haiku,” which in turn is a nod to Shiki’s later-used phrase, “shasei,” or “sketch from life.” Marlene Mountain’s haiku is also a brief slice of life, nothing more or less.

For Shiki’s adoption of the term “shasei” from Japanese Western-style painters, read Charles Trumbull’s entertaining and informative long essay, “Masaoka Shiki and the Origins of Shasei.” It is available at https://thehaikufoundation.org/juxta/juxta-2-1/masaoka-shiki-and-the-origins-of-shasei/.

Both Issa’s haiku and Marlene Mountain’s haiku imply that, despite a fly’s tiny physical size, its visible and audible presence fills the entirety of the space the fly inhabits just as heat (although invisible and silent) is omnipresent to those who suffer from its unrelenting effects. Based on one’s perspective, a fly can be either a constant irritant (like an interminably long and meandering sentence) or an object of endless fascination, surprise, and even pleasure.

For both Issa and Marlene Mountain, a fly’s acrobatics would appear to be a welcome distraction from life’s other, more oppressive exasperations. Otherwise, neither poet would have taken the time to memorialize a moment from a fly’s short, busy life. A fly indeed is part of our own brief life’s mystery and beauty.

A fly can also be a part of death for some, as Emily Dickinson states in her famous poem I heard a fly buzz when I died….

As one prepares for hot weather and, inevitably, mortality, it may be consoling to recall how Issa, Marlene Mountain, and Emily Dickinson each faced their seasons of adversity—with an open gaze, if not open arms.

Marlene Mountain (December 11, 1939, to March 15, 2018) was married to and later divorced from John Wills (July 4, 1921, to September 24, 1993). John Wills, of course, is an icon among English-language haiku poets whose focus is on Nature subjects. Marlene Mountain is also a past haiku master, as well as a visual artist, whose influence is felt among those who study early innovative English-language haiku poets. Her “mountainous” website, which includes many of her one-lined poems, is at https://www.marlenemountain.org. Perhaps Marlene Mountain’s “one fly” haiku may have been chosen by Joshua Gage for this forum to commemorate the recent anniversary of her passing?

Another past haiku master and innovator, Janice M. Bostok (April 9, 1942, to September 4, 2011), commented on the craft of Marlene Mountain’s one-lined haiku in her essay, “Hands up who Likes One Liners?” Here are Janice’s comments on Marlene’s poem:

one fly everywhere the heat

is a classic “Japanese” haiku.

What do we have? Three sections: “one fly” “everywhere” “the heat” with “everywhere” the classic pivot (line). It turns your thoughts from one fly to the heat. One trick which I learned a long time ago was if you wanted to test the pivot line, merely read the sections in reverse: “the heat” “everywhere” “one fly”. Makes perfect sense.

One of the traps into which one might fall when writing one-lined poems seems to be that they end up as epigrams. This doesn’t have to be so, and many now write one-lined haiku with the pure essence of haiku.

(Janice Bostok’s essay is available in The Haiku Foundation’s Digital Library here.

———————–

Marlene Mountain’s bio and several of her verses may be read at the Living Haiku Anthology legacy pages. Her personal website is preserved here.

Marlene contributed a great deal of stimulating thinking to the world of English Language haiku. Her essays appear on her personal site. A particularly good one on single-image haiku is downloadable from the THF Library here.

To try to define haiku is to clutch at water. Like many before and since, Marlene had a go:

a word or small gathering of words which attempts to express an individual’s evolving consciousness of self, of others, and of the universe.” 5/20/88

a relatively short poem/non-poem expressible if shared with others in a variety of visual configurations if written and in a variety of tones if spoken or sung which flows or is contrived in response to what one sees, hears, touches, smells,etc, and in particular to what one thinks and feels at a given time within any aspect of one’s personal development.” 8/26/98

Note that there is no mention of form, conventions, or ‘rules’… Marlene was concerned with the essence.

She also commented:

old haiku along with several other japanese disciplines seek to reduce content to code words, stylized gestures and the like stemming from an unique cultural identification with cleanliness, orderliness, asymmetry and brevity.

western ‘japaneasy’ (sic) haiku is often the result of an inclusion of only certain surface ‘rules’ from the highly-regulated and complex old japanese haiku and is often written in the style of translations.

Discuss!…
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This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. Keith,
    Do you print every commentary submitted or just some? I ask because of the “lost” ones this week. I don’t often submit to the column, but I did on the “no questions asked” haiku of the previous week. My thought then was that my comments must have been irrelevant.

    1. Nancy: This one didn’t appear in my mailbox either: I’ve just checked and it is in the database. A problem has now been identified with the server’s mail forwarding routine, which intermittently fails to forward, but not yet why (the intermittent nature must make it difficult to determine the exact circumstances and cause). I’m going to check the db as well, henceforth.

      Your contribution would certainly have been included at least in part. I sometimes edit or reduce if appropriate, and occasionally discard (e.g when a comment is used as a vehicle to exhibit the commenter’s own verses or is irrelevant). Other factors include how many contributions are received, and whether they contribute different things. My preference is to include and not to interfere, ideally.

      1. Thanks, Keith, for answering my question, alleviating my concern that it was something inappropriate on my end.

  2. Keith, it’s great that you were able to find the ‘missing’ commentaries, especially Richard Straw’s inclusive essay. Many thanks, Keith, and kudos, Richard for a very informative piece.

    One correction though, to: “Marlene Mountain (December 11, 1939, to March 15, 2018) was married to and later divorced from John Wills (July 4, 1921, to September 24, 1993). ” – Richard S.
    Actually, it seems that John Wills died on July 4th 1993. Their marriage lasted 7 years and they divorced in 1978, according to Haikupedia.

    “one fly everywhere . . .” I’ve experienced this often, from childhood on. Recently, though it is supposed to be autumn in my part of the world, temperatures were up to 39 degrees Celsius. That fly, to me, is a blowfly, buzzing and droning and hitting the walls inside as it attempts to escape the heat, which is as bad inside as it is outside.

    https://haikupedia.org/article-haikupedia/john-wills/

    https://livinghaikuanthology.com/index-of-poets/livinglegacies/6411-mountain,-marlene.html

    1. Thanks, Lorin. It was another day of my life!

      A born optimist, I expect tech to work, forgetting that, until very lately, it’s produced by humans…

    2. Thanks, Lorin, for the kudos and for the correction. Haikupedia, however, provides the following birth and death dates for John Wills:

      “John Wills (born John Howard Wills, July 4, 1921, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.; died September 24, 1993, Naples, Florida), American educator, essayist, and pioneering haiku poet.”

      1. Sorry about that, Richard. Obviously, I got his birth – death dates mixed up with their divorce date, somehow! Anyway, 7 years of marriage might be a stretch for an American born on the 4th of July. 🙂

  3. i am likely to undergo eye operation, hence i will be missing you all]
    with regards
    Radhamani sarma

  4. Keith,

    Please post mine, too, which I just re-sent, but make sure its paragraph breaks are retained, if possible.

    Thanks,

    Richard Straw

    1. Richard, there’s no trace of your entry in the server’s forms database. It is a very substantive contribution, for which many thanks. I have transplanted it from your comment in the thread below to the Footnote, then will delete your comment to avoid the duplication.

  5. Keith,

    Alas, I submitted the following long comment on the poem on March 16, 2024. It, too, must have not been forwarded on for your consideration.

    Richard Straw
    Cary, North Carolina

    +++
    [[ extensive comment now transplanted to the Footnote]]

    1. Thank you Richard. It is baffling that some commentaries, of varying lengths and at varying times during the week, were successfully forwarded while others were not. We’re trying to see what happened! Your extensive commentary is now added to the Footnote.

  6. Aha! Some of your submissions were seemingly not forwarded to my inbox. I have found them on the server’s forms database. Please accept my apologies, Melissa and Amanda: I am adding them in the footnote.

    1. Hi – Mine was not included either. If it could be added to the comments that would be great! Thanks, Jennifer Gurney

      1. Jennifer: thank you. Found it. Added to Footnote, with apologies for this embarrassing situation. I wondered why there were so few commentaries for this haiku. I will ask the web team what might have happened to the forwarding, and will try to remember in future to check the database entries as well.

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