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re:Virals 89

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

     fish story
     the cormorant spreads its wings
          — Lorin Ford (Stylus Poetry Journal, April 2006. 

Marion Clarke is taken in by the tale:

At first, I wondered what on earth a ‘fish story’ might be. After reading line two I pictured the wingspan of a cormorant and thought “Ah ha, it’s a tale about a dead fish.” Then, in just one word, line three deftly conjures up a fishermen with outstretched hands, exaggerating the size of his catch — a gap that will no doubt grow wider with each telling of the story.

There is an almost concrete aspect in the elongated second line, and then the poem is quickly reeled in to end with that one-word line (its size perhaps more in keeping with that of the fish).

Very clever, Lorin!

And Nathan Sidney explicates its further depths:

We have to wonder whose story the cormorant is illustrating, its own or perhaps the poets? Is it a story about “the one that got away”? We are invited to imagine the secret life of animals, as if the cormorant is talking to his compatriots, the way that fisher people talk amongst themselves, with all the pride, joviality and exaggeration that comes along with that. The subtle anthropomorphism draws a connection between the world of humanity and the world of nature, reminding us that as we are a part of the living world so the living world is really just a collection of other “peoples”, each with their own stories. We could imagine instead the story of the fish themselves, whose hidden lives continue under the water in a world of gloom above which the cormorant is sunning itself. The one fish whose life has perhaps suddenly ended inside a bird’s belly or at the end of a fisher’s line, reminds us that for all the world’s beauty there is a steep price to pay. The failure to catch a fish for a person might be a cause for a joke, but for others it is deadly serious business. Within such a simple image an abundance of lives are teeming and passing away and the connections and juxtapositions between sea and sky and land, birds, fish and people are all drawn together under the cormorant’s spreading wings.


As this week’s winner, Nathan gets to select 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!

re:Virals 89:

     they keep throwing more in the soup kitchen river
          — Dan Schwerin, (is/let, April 8, 2017 

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. What an original fragment! I really like it. The whole haiku is very good, and the aha moment really expands and makes it resonate… Much enjoyed this one, Lorin! Well done…

  2. Thanks very much for your engaged commentaries, Marion and Nathan.
    It’s lovely feedback for me as this ku is old but dear to me. It’s a memorial to a strictly real event that my father & I found very funny at the time. (out fishing at Tamboon, a bragging guest who’d been everywhere & fished everywhere, & in view of my father and I but behind the guest’s back, the cormorant on the rocks, drying its wings. Every time the guest started up again, the bird stretched its wings wider. . . truly! I was 12 or 13.)

    Does that make it a ‘realist’ ku? I’ve pondered that and decided ‘no’. When the human imagination makes connections (as my father had when he nudged me & directed his eyes at the bird, barely containing his laughter, & mouthed “don’t you dare say anything”) we’re in an expanded view of the real that’s beyond ‘realism’ or any sort of ‘ism’.

    The last word of the ku, ‘w i d e r’, didn’t work out here with the letters spaced, but it can be seen in its original form in my 2009 e-chapbook, what light there is :

    – Lorin

    1. Dear Lorin,
      Thanks for sharing your book. So beautiful! You have captured moments I have lived so exquisitely.
      Nancy Rapp

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