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
starfish . . . to feel so much of what we touch — Peter Newton, What We Find (Imaginary Press, 2011)
I am reminded a bit of Eliot’s despairing exclamation:
I wish I were a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
— “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
Apart from that, there is an interesting and arresting inversion of the usual at play in this haiku. Where stars usually evoke associations with the ideal, little of that remains in the starfish. However, the starfish, apart from being star-shaped, is also like the star in being a denizen of an alien environment that is remote from our everyday lives, and that is what makes the starfish’s interactions with its environment a fit subject for poetic rumination.
What Peter Newton observes is how much more earthy and tactile the starfish’s existence is than that of the star. It senses its world in a variety of ways, but its most prominent feature is its arms, or tentacles, which it uses to orient itself on the sea floor, to move itself along, and to grasp and manipulate its prey. It is virtually a moving mouth surrounded by fingers and what Peter wishes, for here he is wishing upon a starfish, is to be able to feel what he feels with as much urgency, immediacy and depth as the starfish feels when it touches what it touches as it moves around on the seafloor.
Getting back to Prufrock, what I would ask readers is whether the wish for a more purely instinctual life that these two poetic statements share and explore is better framed through the lens of Prufrock’s neurotic suffering, or through the lens of Newton’s relatively bland, cautiously nuanced image?
As this week’s winner, Garry selects the next 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!
The morning presses its hot fist against the window: the fight starts. — Bart Mesotten, Haikoe-boek (self-published, 1986; translation by Max Verhart)