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re:Virals 91

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 space
     between the deer
     and the shot
          — Raymond Roseliep, Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (W. W. Norton, 2013) 

Marion Clarke has a lot of questions:

Wow, what a powerful and thought-provoking haiku. It places us in a precise moment between the hunter and hunted once it’s too late to turn back. Does time stand still for the deer in the face of imminent death? Does it wonder if it has time to flee or does it just freeze? Does the hunter feel any pity or regret in the nano-second after pulling the trigger?

Frightening, if we apply this to humans.

And Nancy Rapp knows the space between:

I love the pregnant three words “the space between”. My first connection to these words is the Dave Matthews song by that name. “the space between your heart and mine . . . filled with time.” I’m not a hunter and I love animals but even with a camera I realize there’s a space between a deer and myself which the deer will tolerate. Trying to get as close as possible to get a great photo, if misjudged, will cause the deer to flee. I imagine a hunter and the space between the deer and the shot. A space between his heart and the life he will take and the reasons and the space is filled with time to contemplate if it is necessary looking into the soft doe eyes filled with dread. The space is filled with the tension of life and death. It’s something and it’s nothing and I’ve experienced it after an accident or a near-miss and that space becomes so profound.

Marina Bellini fills that space:

A poem where the empty space encloses lots of meanings. Hunting season has begun. There is that particular moment when predator and prey see each other; the stillness of the moment, just that instant before the bullet is shot. The space between the hunter and the prey is not empty anymore; is filled instead with bewilderment and fear. If I close my eyes I can see the deer’s eyes. They say that you can see fear, touch it, and smell it. What I find great of this poem is that the moment described by the author can refer to a broader background: the predator can be a soldier and the deer a human being; the predator can be a pervert and the prey his target victim. And ultimately this space can be the moment in which we are facing our own fears.

And Danny Blackwell defines it:

The end of the first line in this poem creates the first space, with the word “space” itself. We pause like patient hunters of poems, waiting for our prey to come into the line of fire — except we are not yet aware that that this is a hunt, and that we are part of it. We are, as readers, unsuspecting deer — momentarily suspended. Now, at the end of the second line, we become deer. Then we reach the climax in the last line, which artfully falls (like many great Japanese haiku) on the very final word, “shot,” which sends us now back to relive the moment, to watch the story unfold with a new objectivity. We have become the hunter. And the deer.

And we become everything in between.

We can observe the space — both physical and temporal — that separates the hunter and the animal.

The tendency of Japanese haiku to hinge on the last word is partly linguistic, as Japanese can easily form sentences where all the elements that come before the final word are modifiers. (It is noteworthy that many great translations of haiku invert the line order, so that what typically appears in the last line of a Japanese haiku, is generally moved to the front in the English translation.) This poem is not an example of that linguistic piling-up, but it does, however, take up that structural feature — so frequent in haiku — of saving the key element until the very end, and in this way makes us active participants in the unfolding of a drama.

Great haiku are like world-activating devices, giving birth to the so-called 10,000 things of the Tao Te Ching, usually by focusing on very specific moments, fragments, which nevertheless give us a sense that we are glimpsing a mere part of some unified whole. And so every time we read this seemingly unsentimental poem, set in what may be an indifferent universe, we are giving birth to the 10,000 things, and we can imagine the myriad sights, sounds, and sensations that go unnamed — in the space between the deer and the shot.


As this week’s winner, Danny 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 91:

     boy smashing dandelions
     with a stick.
 (American Haikus, 1959)
          — Jack Kerouac, American Haikus (1959) 

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. I loved the three interpretations of the “space”. All of them ring true to me because the space between any object or being is open to endless possibilities.

  2. Thank you all for the diverse comments on my chosen poem, by Raymond Roseliep. There were many works within the book that had resonance for me, but the one I chose has stayed in my mind. Being very new to the genre of haiku (about four months) I read this as a personal aim, a target one wishes to archive in life.
    Anyone with ambition or indeed a particular goal in life has a target in their sight, the pro’s and con’s are weighed up, doubts and fears dispelled, we enter the space, a place of self belief, and focus, no turning back. And the target we aim at is surely, a means of survival.

  3. Thank you for the generous and perceptive words in virals 90 for a poem close to my heart. I am late in replying, I know, but Raymond Roseliep would have been 100 this summer. His haiku continue to be deft and fresh. It is fascinating to me that the nature of the space between the shot and the deer is explored by a clergy person, one whose work called us to look at the spaces between us, their fullness, and their associations. (I commend Donna Bauerly’s biography of Roseliep–a book published by The Haiku Foundation.) One of his poems that has been on my mind for several weeks was on his bed stand at the end:

    of berry
    you dissolve

    Thanks for this conversation.

  4. Though Nancy Rapp refers to the ambiguity in the word ‘shot’, which could of course refer to either a photograph or a bullet, none of these readers elaborates on this deliberate distinction on the part of the writer. But to me it is the heart of the meaning. Likewise, none of them notices the ambiguity in the word ‘space’, which as used here could be either a distance, a measure of time, or a difference in meaning, and is also deliberate on the author’s part. Despite the ambiguity, the correct interpretation of ‘space’ is the latter, a difference or separation in meaning. To elaborate on it, the difference or separation is that between the two possible meanings of ‘shot’, one of which refers to a deliberate act of destruction and the other to a compassionate act of creation. It is for us, as readers, to see to the root of this ambiguity and respond in favour of the creative, compassionate act.

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