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
they keep throwing more in the soup kitchen river — Dan Schwerin, (is/let, April 8, 2017
Julie Warther parses how the poem works:
This poem carries the reader along gently until the last two words which instantly upset the complacency cart. There’s a rush back to the beginning to see what was missed the first time through. All of a sudden, words like “they” and “keep” and “throwing” are no longer innocuous descriptions of too many cooks tossing more and more ingredients in a soup pot. Now those words have weight: the corporate “they”, the repetitive “keep”, the harsh “throwing” which we now realize refers not just to food, but people. And while “soup kitchen” may be a familiar term, what is a “soup kitchen river”? Intuitively there’s a link between the long winding nature of a river and the line that forms outside a soup kitchen, reinforced by the one-line format of the poem. Stronger still, is a reference to the current of poverty that drags along and threatens to pull under those in its grasp. The success of this poem lies in the uneasiness it instills in its reader.
And Nathan Sidney finds an early analog:
A slightly humorous image but for its serious content. Deeply visceral, we are brought to mind of rivers of excrement or rivers of saliva. Often soup kitchens create their dishes from unwanted food, so we also need to consider the mountains of waste from which the soup kitchen river has its source. I’m reminded of the woodcuts of Pieter Bruegel the Elder with all their crowding and confusion, some dealing in fantastical images of food and feasting. There is perhaps also a hidden political comment; is it ingredients that are being thrown into the river or is it in fact the homeless, the vulnerable, the abused who have been cast off and left to drown in an ocean of poverty? I’ll leave the question of whether or not this snippet actually qualifies as a haiku to other readers, but certainly we are invited into a specific moment by the poet, who has frozen a frenzy of activity into just one line and 12 syllables.
While Carol Jones queries the economic circumstances at work:
The first thing that springs to mind when I read this poem is the mix of detritus that seems to be ever present in, and on, the river banks.
Not far from my first thought, could ‘they’ be the unseen work force behind the never-ending conveyor belt of gadgetry being produced, the latest must have, in whatever colour, size or shape you want.
Not wanting to be seen with ‘yesterday’s’ items, ‘they’ (the purchaser) not only cast a still-useful product into an ever-flowing river of appliances, but are swiftly caught up in the “spend, spend” mentality, to shore up flagging economies, and could then, maybe, find themselves in the eclectic mix of a real soup kitchen.
As this week’s winner, Carol 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!
the space between the deer and the shot — Raymond Roseliep, Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (W. W. Norton, 2013)