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re:Virals 71

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

     the b-flat 
     fades from her piano . . .
     autumn wind
          — Maya Lyubenova, Under the Basho (2014)

Robert Kingston weaves a small tale from this open-ended poem:

Summer end, the student refreshed, leaves for the next semester. Her words dissipates with each step after the parting kiss.

And Mojde Marvast speaks to inner music:

As the b-flat fades away from the piano, a feeling may abate, hurting the wholesome ability of our inner instrument to create harmony.
Repairs or renovations are surely possible, as the last line refers to autumn wind! The autumn wind is for taking away the tired leaves.

Maybe a piece of music is alive and faithful to its name while being recreated and not just listened to!

A beautiful haiku!

Alan Summers takes us deep within the music:

A haiku does not require a significant opening line, and I see that approach a technique or device that is optional and not a prerequisite. Haiku, as does any other form or genre of writing, has a duty to start somewhere, and so why not consider one that pins our flag to our map, both the author’s and readers’? Maya’s opening line immediately makes me think of two things, firstly music, orchestral or jazz, and secondly of Mayuzumi Madoka’s first haiku collection, entitled B-men no natsu (Summer on the B-side or B-side Summer), which earned her the Kadokawa Haiku Encouragement Award in 1994.

Here I will focus on the musical aspect that I read into this, as I wonder if the poem came from Maya so often on the verge of death over the years? Yet from the date of her haiku, she led a brave fight that gave her, and so many of us, those last few vital and extra years.

A note from Wikipedia says:

“While orchestras tune to an A provided by the oboist, wind ensembles usually tune to a B-flat provided by a tuba, horn, or clarinet. B-flat minor is traditionally a ‘dark’ key. Important oboe solos in this key in the orchestral literature include the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, which depicts “the feeling that you get when you are all alone”, in Tchaikovsky’s words.

Here, I would consider listening to Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 1 in B-flat Minor while you read my notes.

The choice of the B-flat musical note is significant in my proposal that this may be a deliberately chosen death poem, traditional in East Asian literature, from Chinese poetry to Japanese waka and also including tanka and haiku. Its practice has its origins in Buddhism and of the three views, which I will list from my perspective, that is that the material world is a short-lived experience, everything passes; that too much attachment causes suffering; and that reality can be empty in and of itself alone. [Paraphased from Wikipedia]

Some consider B-flat minor, endlessly repeating, to be in the key of death and is allegedly used in movies for death scenes. The colour of the note, and practice and performance of it is instrument dependent. It’s also called the dark note as it leads to a “darker” sound on strings re orchestral music. That it evokes a “dark” sensation, that brighter instruments tend to be more comfortable with sharper keys. This may lead to a perception that passages in flat keys sound darker: because they feature dark instruments more prominently. [Note: Paraphrased from the Music Stack Exchange website.]

Did Maya assume that she would die, and is so often, from Matsuo Basho’s time onwards, the death poem became part of the tradition to compose what could be, in literary terms, as her last or at least penultimate goodbye poem?

So much intonation and reverberation from an opening line, even before I reach the second line of the opening phrase in her haiku. The use of the word ‘fades’ although used often in haiku is never better and most poignantly chosen. It is as if the orchestral instruments become taken over by the autumn wind itself. In fact, autumn wind suggests to me both a feeling of loss, and the realisation of becoming one with the cycle of nature. A suitable final destination perhaps for a haiku poet, and certainly one who had such great artistry as Maya Lyubenova.

And Jan Benson takes us into the musician’s mind:

— This haiku is approachable even to the non-musician. Line 3 (“autumn wind”) is apt enough to allow any reader to enter into the melancholy of end-of-life thoughts.

— There is so much more depth in this haiku that resonates with a classically-trained musician, and even the science-minded reader, that must be acknowledged.

— All musical notes are mathematically noted with both:
A. Frequency (Hz) and
B. Wave length (cm)

— In practice, an orchestra is tuned from either an oboe, or the piano (a fixed-pitch instrument) using the common setting of “A above middle C” (A4) at f0 = 440 Hz as the “concert pitch” where all transposing instruments (whose pitch is different from the pitch that actually sounds) may be “tuned”.

— In other words, the pitch of “A” above “C” rules the universe of tuning for classical music.

— For practical purposes, we should know that B-flat above middle C is approximately 466 Hz and is enharmonic to C. (The musician, or scientist, has to wonder, with this choice, if the poet is facing or contemplating the transposition one’s body takes in deterioration/entropy).

— For a musician reading this poem, the dissonance created in the discord of a piano sounding “B-flat” is readily supporting melancholy, (if not chaos) even before the clinch in line 3 (“autumn wind”).

— For the musician who may actually play one of the transposing instruments, the subtlety of a “wind” element in the poem as a transporter of sound (wind instruments) is doubly complicit in the sadness of the drifting.

— For this reader, B-flat as a choice in this haiku levels the weakness sensed as one passes into the universe at large.

Finally, and simply, Danny Blackwell invokes the modes:

“the b-flat fades . . .”

Maybe a gust of wind caught the musician’s attention and the music faded as they switched their focus to the outside world, or maybe it was the last note, and as it fades they notice the sound of autumn wind — the two sounds blending to create a third “thing”, much in the same way haiku juxtapositions often work, or Brian Wilson orchestrations, where his unique blend created new “instruments”. The Greeks left behind interpretations of the way in which musical modes affected listeners, and many people nowadays would say that certain keys make them feel certain ways; the key of this piece, however, is not defined — we simply have one note in isolation, but that in itself can provoke a certain melancholy, and while it may seem like petty semantics, there is no doubt something subtly more sad about a flattened note than a sharpened one . . .


As this week’s winner, Danny chooses 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 71:

     trial separation . . .
     spacing out
     my hangers 
          — Ken Olson, Frogpond 38.2 (2015)
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