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re:Virals 45

Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was

     cowlick
     some part of me
     still wild

          Annette Makino, tinywords 13.2 (2013)

This neat piece of self-reflection lightened the day for Marion Clarke:

This haiku is one of those that really makes me smile.

Right after reading, I remembered I’d commented on it on tinywords at the time. I said it was cute . . .

And struck a spark of recognition with Peter Newton:

The uncontrolled and uncontrollable element of ourselves that we carry with us throughout our lives. Sometimes they are outgrown — as cowlicks are on occasion. But not always. This poem seems to suggest a gratitude for the unnameable wildness that endures.

As well as Mary Stevens:

My mother used to say my hair had a will of its own. When I told a hairdresser years later, she asked if my mother meant my hair or me. My mother even used the new Detangler — that unrelenting, mechanized brush yanking at my hair.

So much of our upbringing is to become “presentable” to society. We become enculturated into appropriate behavior, language, mannerisms. The first-noticed piece of that is correct grooming, particularly the hair.

The speaker of this poem has a cowlick — not a straight part in the right place but a whorl in the wrong place. Makino’s use of the word “part,” here, is truly clever.

“Cowlick” is also a great word. I imagine curling up with a cow (and isn’t being close to nature one of those things frowned upon by the civilized?). She grooms you as her young. Her big tongue gives your head a good going over in large, circular licks. She’s concerned with general cleanliness and is possibly expressing affection. The cow mother doesn’t even notice the tangles.

And Jo McInerney explores its linguistic and human origins:

Most human beings are poets. The common names given common things often show wit, feeling and remarkable sharp-sightedness. Part of the delight of Makino’s haiku comes from being forced to recognise that a word whose impact has been blunted by use can have its intrinsic spark reignited.

The haiku opens with ‘cowlick’, an unruly lock of hair that will not be plastered down, no matter what the wearer tries. Its metaphorical implications are spelt out in the next two lines. It represents all those idiosyncrasies that we try or are required to suppress. The wildness in L3 is attractively open. Is this the wildness of a child, his loose curl falling forward into his eyes as he plays, or the wildness of a rocker from the 50s and 60s with his dark Elvis locks sweeping seductively from his brooding brow?

The haiku suggests the animal in us all. L1 is a reminder of the power of language to hold onto the origins of an accepted term. ‘Cowlick’ derives from cows’ habit of licking their young, which results in a swirling pattern in the hair. Much of human behaviour too is based on instinct whose rebellious roots rise from our DNA.

Makino hints at those aspects of ourselves, often most freely revealed when young, that we have since had to rein in and shows their encouraging persistence. Despite our best (or worst) efforts, those quirks of eccentricity that were born in us refuse to be restrained.

virus2

As this week’s winner, Jo gets to choose 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. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.

Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!

re:Virals 45:

     mosquito
     a stranger’s blood
     on my hand

          Quendryth Young, Wollumbin Haiku Workshop NSW (2007)

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. I like the mood of faltering hope you sense in this, Lorin; a yearning to find the residue of a wildness already lost to man, woman and cow.

    Oddly, when I was writing about this I thought of your

    the calf’s fur
    licked into curls –
    woodstove smoke

    which is sad in another way, treating that brief period of contact allowed cow and calf.

    Jo

  2. There is a book by Robert Bringhurst called ‘The Tree of Meaning’ which takes a good look at language and what it means to be ‘wild’….

    -Patrick

  3. Since my first trade was hairdressing, I can vouch that any woman or girl with a cowlick who wanted to look like Cilla Black , with her flat fringe (or ‘bangs’ in US English) was asking too much, no matter how much lacquer used to try to keep that cowlick down.

    While I agree with everything Mary and Jo have said, for me Annette’s haiku has sadder overtones. Yes, that cowlick will spring up & not be ‘tamed’. But the term does come from what your hair would look like if a cow licked your forehead hair, or what a new calf’s fur looks like when mother cow cleans it up. But a cow is a cow, one of the earliest and probably the most domesticated and bred of farm animals, and not at all wild. There are no cows in the wild. Dairy cows, we use them for their milk, and even milking is done by machines in huge dairies these days. We slaughter cows for meat.

    So I read a sad sort of wishful thinking into Annette’s haiku, the sort of wishful thinking that might apply to many of us. The very thing that seems to be a sign of “some of me still wild” is named after an animal whose wild origins are so very long ago they’ve been forgotten, an animal that humans tamed & domesticated & bred, for use.

    The wild has shrunk and still is shrinking: I find this implied in the “cowlick”. We still search for signs of it in ourselves. Even the small sign of a cowlick, pounced on with delight & hope , is negated because “is there anything of me still wild?” immediately echoes (for me) after “some of me still wild”, because of “cow” and all the word means. (No woman likes to be called a cow, either.)

    Whether or not this was the author’s intention or not, I have no way of knowing. But “cow” within “cowlick” immediately undermines the proposition that “some of me (is) still wild”. Without this undermining, this haiku would strike me as (as Marion says) merely “cute”. With it, I find a kind of desperation and sadness.

    – Lorin

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