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re:Virals 9

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

     as soon as
     the last pear falls —
     another one

          — Djurdja Vukelic Rozic, Silent Music (2015)

Jim Kacian took up the challenge of this seeming counterfactual poem. He writes:

The merit of this poem would seem to hinge on the interpretation of the single word “last.”

It is possible that this poem’s interest lies within a simple misjudgement of translation. Perhaps the poet’s “last” means “previous” — in which case this poem is no more than an example of shasei in the broadest definition, reportage of an actual event in a straightforward manner. Though it might be noticeable that one pear’s landing is followed hard on by another, it is hardly notable. However, I believe there is more to recommend it than this.

A second way to approach this poem is by way of yugen, a Japanese term that includes, among its various translations, mystery. To be literal: if the last pear has fallen, but there is something that compels us to think there is another that follows — the sound of its landing, say — then we are in a different reality. Are we noting an echo? Is something else landing that simulates the sound? The poem doesn’t supply the answer, it only offers the mystery.

This, by itself, would simply make for an unsatisfactory poem. However, we need not read it so literally: we might see this as a commentary on the endless vegetative cycle, that no sooner than one year’s fruit has dropped than the gathering of resources, to bloom to flowers and culminate in pears that drop, commences. The reading of “last” in this case would be “final.” Seen this way, the small mystery of the sound of fruit falling actually invokes the larger mystery of the seasons.

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As this week’s winner, Jim 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 9:

     Arrival
     & the
     Place
     Is gone

          — Amiri Baraka, Un Poco Low Coup (Ishmael Reed Publishing Company, 2004)

P.S. After comments for this poem had closed, Tzetzka Ilieva wrote to add the following:

There is a big pear tree in front of my grandparents’ house. The branches spread above the porch, and when the pears are ready, each one of them falls with a bang on the roof of the porch.

This haiku reminded me of the many windy nights I’ve stayed there as a child, wide awake and hoping that each fruit is indeed the last one. Sometimes we shared a room with my mom and my little brother, and I remember my mom assuring us, “That’s the last one!” And then again, and again.
There is another thing, in Bulgaria, the corresponding saying of “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” is actually “the pear doesn’t fall far from the tree,” which adds an additional layer to the meaning (for me).

Thanks to Tzetzka for sharing her personal response to this interesting poem.

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