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Viral 1.3

Virals is a section in which one person choses a haiku by another person and comments on that haiku. Then the author of that haiku is invited to select a haiku by someone else and comment on that poem, and so on. For an introduction to this section, see Virals.

Viral 1.1 (Metz ➾ Kacian)
  • Viral 1.2 (Kacian ➾ Gurga)

we too  by Lee Gurga


                        mosquito she too
                        insisting insisting she
                        is is is is is

                                       — Peter Yovu

Who hasn’t been annoyed by the sound of a mosquito buzzing around their head? The sound can be worse than the bite. Here that annoying sound has been translated into a poem that takes us deep into our selves. A poem on a seemingly trivial subject has been transformed into a meditation on existence by simply including the word “too.”

From its beginnings as a part of Japanese linked poetry more than three hundred years ago, haiku has conquered every language and culture to become the world’s most popular form of poetry. What is the secret of this conquest? Haiku uses image and line and syntax to open a portal between states of consciousness, between one reality and the next. It sometimes nudges us, sometimes jars us to explore the something that was there for us to see all along were it not for our mundane preoccupations. Here we find with Peter Yovu in the mosquito’s whine not only distraction and annoyance, but in she too our own needs to assert our little selves. No other art points with such directness and economy to the essence of our experience. No other art is so accessible to the weekend poet yet poses such a maddening (and muddling) challenge to the accomplished wordsmith.

In Yovu’s haiku, the season is both present and vital, though, as in many of the best haiku, unstated. The haiku’s message is spectacularly reinforced by the artful use of sound. The repeated “o” sounds tie the first line together. The insistence of the repeated “insisting.” The personality and ego of the repeated “she.” The third line where sound and sense are inextricably woven in the buzz of the repeated “is” that stays with us long after the poem has ended. And for those to whom an established form is vital, the poem’s seventeen-syllable form provides an invisible foundation for its content. If there has been a perfect haiku written in English, this is it.

“mosquito she too” was first published in Modern Haiku 35.1 (Winter-Spring 2004)

As featured poet, Peter Yovu will select the next poem and provide commentary for Viral 1.4.

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. It seems appropriate to have this discussion take place over a Peter Yovu haiku as he not too long ago warned in a review of the Red Moon Anthology of the dangers of having haiku presented in Mr. Giacalone’s “distinct style, form, technique or content.” That also brought with it healthy public discourse which included a sensible explanation from the publisher, Jim Kacian, as to how worthy haiku are annually judged for the title. I hope that this exchange will be as fruitful. I respect Peter Yovu’s seeking to expand this poetry through both his haiku and rather prolific commentary.

    That ‘mosquito she too’ is written in 5-7-5 adds to its allure in a tongue-in-cheek way. To not see the lightness in Peter’s humor is to miss, in my opinion, one of the foremost elements of this haiku. I take pleasure in its ironical structure and the fact it stands contrary to the old maxim that if one word were taken out of the poem the meaning might change. There are at least a few that could be and the repetition would still be effective.

    I also see at least a slight allusion to Alan Pizzarelli’s senryu in Cor van den Heuvel’s Haiku Anthology (p 150):


    …with Yovu’s version coming with more meat around the bones. When comparing the two, Yovu’s rather forced philosophic assertion will appeal to readers who little mind a dose of subjectivity with their haiku. ‘Mosquito she too’ offers as much movement and rhythm as Pizzarelli with his onomatopoeic sounding. And this all takes nothing away from Pizzarelli’s ku. It reverberates in its own right among the haiku community. Of course it is the female mosquitoes who set out on their quest for blood, but the use of “she” twice allows for a woman to be included in this moment, sharing this same assertion that “she is.” There are shades of Descartes and his infamous “I think, therefore I am” in something as minor as a mosquito’s insistence that “it is” conveying the view that it too, is thinking and conscious. It’s hardly a stretch to find Issa’s infamous fly and the plea for it not to be swatted.

    Sure, it’s not Peter Yovu’s best haiku; perhaps it’s just damn good. It’s one that speaks to Lee Gurga. It strikes me in a similar way. It’s a fine selection to share and open up this subsequent dialogue.

    As Scott declared, we can anticipate this platform as being somewhat of a back-patting experience here in blogtown as poets are selecting haiku that have touched a chord with them and tastes will vary much as meals put before them would. Yes, there will be disapproval expressed, questions begging answers, a range of scrutiny; the good, the bad & the ugly, which at the end of the day works toward realizing one of the Foundation’s goals-to expand possibilities for our second century of English-language haiku.

    As for some of the comments offered by David Giacalone, scaring new readership and prospective poets away, in his appeal for haiku “to have some distinct style, form, technique or content — and, therefore, that removing all such limitations on haiku in the name of being new and fresh makes it less likely that haiku will be respected outside the haijin community, not more” is not exactly a 21st Century approach to bringing in newbies or making our poetry known to the masses. Setting strict guidelines in these skeptic and hyper-realistic times would do more for provoking rebellion (perhaps only within?) than it would in terms of gaining the type of recognition that Giacalone is in search of. We’d like to be “out there” but this is hardly a feasible approach. Giacalone’s intentions are genuine but they do not speak the language of this era. I expect that I’ll be asked what this language is, as if I am ‘in the know’ to put forth such a notion. The very heart of this view may be found in the Hoshinaga Fumio interview in Richard Gilbert’s Poems of Consciousness in his shunning of formulaic haiku, the discussion of era, offering varied ways of using kigo, and his exhibiting admiral human qualities when seeking a psychologically deeper version of haiku, he admits that it is selfish and indulgent. What came out of that selfishness stands as some of the best haiku in the canon, such as:

    Twenty billion light-years of perjury: your blood type is “B”

    (Poems of Consciousness, p 172)

    And we’ve heard our fair share of comments about how we ‘Roadrunner poets’-green behind the ears, go drinking that Richard Gilbert Kool-Aid but without his work, let me ask, where might English-language haiku be in 20 years? I’d like to know.

    David Giacalone stated that “Gilding the haiku lily will probably repel more visitors than it will attract to our little frogpond.” I get that it’s an analogy, but these days what are the odds of a “haiku lily,” painted gold or laid bare, shown objectively and not told about, appealing to those outside the so-called pond? If given the choice between the two, in my estimation, in 2009, that “gilded lily” stands more of a chance, depending how it’s presented, as there is a universality about gold and it comes with personal qualities, psychosomatic entrances and exits. Let’s indulge, but not overdo it, at least not for everything we put down. If that’s what was meant by the analogy, it has some legs to stand on. It just came off sounding somewhat stuffy.

    Mr. Giacalone also mentioned that “Babe Ruth struck out more often than he hit homers; his every at bat was not an example of a technique to be followed.” I think I get the point, but I don’t see Basho’s haiku written with “subjective tendencies” as strikeouts. I see them as poetic dimensions, the ability to try new things. As long as we are on that baseball tip, and having this discussion over a Yovu haiku, I consider him to be one of English-language haiku’s big hitters. An examination of Peter Yovu’s haiku through the years would give one a sense of where he has been, where he may be going as a poet, particularly in his opening up of his technique in varied ways, adjusting his swing. I cannot remember the last time I saw a haiku from him that didn’t at least make contact, but I will not follow him or any other poet as an example of technique and how haiku should or shouldn’t be written.

    One of the most appealing features of this Haiku Foundation site is that it gets us talking about haiku and all the nuts and bolts behind how each poem is shaped. Discourse leads to possibilities of approaches being understood. We might attach postures and personalities to these short poems that wouldn’t have otherwise been there. To find commonality with Mr. Markowski in his suggestion that we seek publication in journals and magazines outside the “well-worn circuit” says much to me about the potential of these Foundation blogs to call us out of the cracks, to us get talking, scrutinizing and formulating perspectives, despite our differences. And they certainly are there.

    Putting ourselves out there is one way of addressing at least part of David Giacalone’s stating that “without a distinct form, technique or content, haiku will continue to be seen by the rest of the poetry establishment as taking far too little effort to be taken seriously.” Aside from an objection to any well-defined form, technique and content rules in haiku, it seems we are all on the same page in terms of our seeking acceptance in the poetry community. As poets we are at liberty to dictate our own stylistic leanings and whether they appeal to mainstream editors remains to be seen. Why not test the waters? Look back on your introduction to haiku and recognize how much your views on it have been changed by poems that you’ve taken in. It would hardly be a surprise to find that scores of editors out there still think that the 5-7-5er is something of the norm, and it’s highly likely that they still think we are all going about this business of shaving adjectives and showing-not-telling. Regular submissions that say otherwise might reshape their beliefs. We share with them an array of poetic devices and something tells me that if a haiku applied, say, personification, it might catch an editor’s eye, might question any notions they’d had about this long-standing poetry. Something like the following from Tai Kakimoto in the Haiku Universe Anthology (p 89):

    Spring melancholy-
    bones are touching each other
    while dancing

    allows for various readings and any editor worth his or her salt would comprehend that this is genuine poetry. I chose this one as an example as it is somewhat conventional, yet it possesses in itself daring qualities, that is to say, the call for us to submit to poetry journals outside the haiku community is not a call for us all to throw on our avant-garde shoes and dance to that song to the point we disassociate from this place where we learned how to walk. I’m looking forward to seeing more of us in that coliseum that is the poetry community at large. Expect it to be somewhat of a gory affair for a while but my optimism sees us standing there among them in end.

  2. Thoughts following ed markowski—
    First, it is very good to hear your voice in Troutswirl, ed. I may get a sense of someone’s “haiku voice”, but don’t often get to hear their prose or conversational voice. So, a treat. And only a beginning, I hope.

    You bring up something important. Readers may know of Philip Rowland’s similar concerns around breaking out of the confines of the “well worn circuit” of haiku publications can be found here:

    I have a lot of thoughts about this, but I’ll limit myself to a few here. First, a suggestion. For anyone wishing to send their haiku out beyond the circuit, it is important to do what the editors typically request in their guidelines: study some issues of the magazine first. If the editor and the poems he/she publishes indicate a preference for work which has some affinity with what you do, okay. In the Poet’s Market there are a number of listings which stipulate “no haiku”. These listings are for “literary” magazines and many editors likely do not consider haiku as literature, which is understandable if one considers what they have probably been exposed to. I doubt that the editors of these publications read even one word of these haiku before reaching for the rejection slip. But I could ask this question: do you think of haiku as a literary pursuit?

    The appreciation of haiku requires a certain mindspace, a kind of listening and engagement which is often different than that required for other kinds of poetry. Even a poem by Billy Collins (who has written and seems to value haiku) which has the qualities of affability, attention to detail, of being plain spoken and entertaining, requires a different approach and to follow a poem of his with a haiku would require a shift that some might find difficult. There are poets, of course, whose work might be enhanced by juxtaposition with haiku: WS Merwin, Jane Hirshfield, Lorine Niedecker, some of Linda Gregg, Robert Bly, Robert Hass…

    I think it would be helpful, and challenging no doubt, for many of us to read poets out of our zone. I would say that prior even to the challenge of *submitting* outside the circuit is the importance of the challenge of *reading* outside the circuit, and allowing a larger field of influence.

    I can foresee a day when Poetry, which since its huge endowment several years ago has, through its own foundation and magazine expanded into the, shall I say, people’s poetry source, will recognize the significance of Elh and devote some space to it. I have thought about writing to them to ask if they might consider this—what would they require, what would it take. Well, I guess I *will* do this when my plate is a little clearer. I would also like to ask a number of “established” poets who have shown some interest in haiku what there current thoughts are—do they read Modern Haiku, Roadrunner, etc When I have something to report, I will.

    Another approach could be inaugurating a publication which solicits a wide range of poetry and in which short poems including haiku would be accepted and mutually enhancing. It would be wonderful to see some of the poets mentioned above and others alongside the best haiku and tanka poets. Even 2 or 3 haiku per issue.

    A quick word on something else you mention ed—the “praise, analysis, criticism and_intellectualization that haiku practitioners may afford each other”—my sense is that while Elh haiku itself is no longer in its infancy, criticism of it is. We may be a ways off from the time when someone outside the community recognizes that there is at least a trickle of very clean water coming from it which may benefit the broader community of poetry, but what you and Philip Rowland and others are proposing may bring us closer to that day. Until then, we have to do our best to write clear, honest criticism which is both discriminating and broad-minded. To do this may call into question what we mean by “community” and even to risk feeling alienated. But that’s another discussion.

  3. on the topics of broadening the audience & haiku gaining
    more recognition & respect as a “poetry” i have two suggestions…

    1. despite the praise, analysis, criticism and
    intellectualization that haiku practitioners may
    afford each other, the perception of haiku beyond
    haiku is that the “genre” (all schools and styles)
    is a kind of paint by number poetry.

    one way to counter that perception (if indeed
    there’s a genuine interest in doing so)is by
    submitting haiku to journals and magazines that lie
    beyond the well worn circuit. english language haiku
    practitioners need to challenge themselves by
    exporting the product, yes, even at the risk of
    rejection. r. beary’s success last year &
    cor v’s success in having a major publishing house
    publish several anthologies of haiku,are great
    examples of haiku practitioners challenging
    themselves and by their success, that misperception.

    2. drop haiku off at literary blogs. you know, visit,
    smash the glass, and leave your calling card…

    dense fog
    the revolution has to start

    first light
    crows shatter the confines
    of their color

    ed markowski

  4. Just a few follow-up responses, David:

    Peter’s haiku needn’t be read as genuinely anthropomorphizing the mosquito. I read it less literally, more as a revelation on the part of the poet/observer of the mosquito’s will to live, something it does indeed share with us all. It’s this existential quality (born out of what otherwise might be simply a trivially annoying moment) that makes it compelling, I think. I’m really just restating Lee’s original insight, and he also makes some terrific points about indirection, repetition, and sound in the haiku, so I won’t repeat those–just direct readers back to the original analysis.

    You’ve defined a difference between our conception of haiku. I think flexibility is a strength here. I’ve claimed before that rules are for games whereas haiku is an artform. We can speak of norms, conventions, tendencies, practices–but probably no absolute requirements (unless we are willing to ditch lots of classics from both J & E-l haiku) beyond construction from words and brevity.

    So much modern art has broken what were regarded as “rules” in the past in genuinely liberating ways–the music of Debussy and those who followed in his wake; the paintings of the impressionists and then the cubists and abstractionists; the free verse of the modern French school and of Pound, Eliot, WCW, et al. Breaking the “rules” almost became a prerequisite for being taken seriously. And in some sense this liberation paradoxically makes things harder. Putting it another way–the number of individuals who have genuinely distinguished themselves in “modern art” is pretty small because the burden of creative invention is heavy.

    Likewise, much modern J haiku has broken with the conventions of the past–the free-form (or jiyuritsu) haiku of Santoka and others that discarded the 5-7-5 metrical count; season-less (or muki) haiku; and all the various experiments of gendai (modern) haiku, including surrealism and many other techniques.

    As for the Basho haiku I cited, I don’t think they’re usually regarded as strikeouts; they’re among his most celebrated and most frequently translated. The last one is usually regarded as his jisei (death poem).

    Just continuing the conversation…

    1. David,

      Thank you for your comments. I enjoy strong opinions and con-tro-vers-y (as the Prince song goes), disagreements, and the knowledge and growth that can come out of them.

      On the one hand, i find your quoting of Lee’s text to be valuable, interesting, and legitimate territory to bring up. The quotes you extracted do certainly seem to contradict his selection of Peter’s ku (“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” – Whitman). I sincerely hope Lee will respond to the differences between his feelings and opinion in that specific quote (*at that time*) and his current thoughts. It seems kinda clear though that his views have in many ways expanded.

      It seems, however, that you’d like Lee’s views on haiku to remain fixed and frozen, for him to not change his thoughts or ideas on haiku—especially since, perhaps, it seems your own views are strongly connected to and backed-up by what he once wrote, or that they are perfectly in line with what *you* want haiku to be and what *you* think haiku should be; and for him to select something that deviates from that is just not acceptable. This seems to say more about you and your views than it does about him.

      I sincerely do not follow your rationale though that opening haiku up (as if it were ever closed) will make it less likely that haiku will be respected “outside the haijin community”—a rather romanticized notion of those who enjoy and compose haiku, sounding overly self-gratifying, as if those who write haiku are more special in some way than anyone else who tries to bare themselves through words. Are we haiku poets or are we poets/artists? At the end of the day, are these ultimately poems, or something else? Why, necessarily, would the general public be more accepting of or interested in something that is contained inside a tight lidded box, with narrow limitations, and thrown into the back of the freezer than something that can grow, broaden, and evolve? Is not haiku alive? A living and breathing form of art? I was stuck recently by Martin Lucas’ definition of haiku in an article in Modern Haiku (38.2, p 55) that: “Haiku is only defined by each haiku that is written, and, in a sense, each new haiku redefines haiku. . . . ” I find that enlightening. And I think artists and poets in general would find that quite welcoming and tasty. I certainly don’t speak for “the poetry establishment” though. But I am wondering what you know or see that I don’t. Could you explain this aspect of your comment?

      I value anyone’s thoughts and opinions on how this blog can help broaden the audience of haiku and gain more recognition in different places and improve overall. What are some of your ideas, David, on how to improve this blog? Could you explicate and share some of your ideas?

      As for the “over-praise” and “hyper-praise.” I think I see what you mean. I’ve asked poets to select and comment on a poem they greatly admire though. Passions come out. And why shouldn’t they? What do you suggest? Your comments are always welcome for any posting, especially the Virals, and it would be helpful to many readers, I’m sure, for them to know your reactions to both the poems and the commentaries and how they might better address style, form, technique and content—though I thought the contributors so far were doing a pretty good job at that. Perhaps they are not the style, form, techniques and content you approve of? I think it’s great though that you enjoy (approve of?) haiku that employ surrealism (as you say, “sensory images [while leaving open other interpretations]).”

      Your analysis and interpretation of Bashō and his work mystifies me though, and seems to be only through the modern lenses of 20th & 21st century realism (a Western method far removed from 17th c Japan), extremely dogmatic, with little regard to his own uses of poetic techniques, wordplay, alliteration, inferences (through language), and references, or what Haruo Shirane calls “the vertical axis” of haiku (“leading back into the past, to history, to other poems” [Beyond the Haiku Moment, MH 31:1]—methods, perhaps, that don’t fit nicely with your own personal definition. Same goes for composing from the imaginary or subjective, or more language based methods (“is is is is is”). It’s interesting to recall that Shiki didn’t like Bashō’s work. Yet now many use Shiki’s ideas (which he never always applied to his own work) to praise and interpret Bashō’s work.

      What does it matter what *he* thought of his own work, subjective or otherwise? My goodness, what if you were to find out tomorrow that the haiku of his you hold in the highest esteem and feel everyone should follow and promote were ones that he thought were drivel? I think it’s dangerous to make Bashō into a cultish figure (though he was made an official god by the Shinto religion) and simply go along with the idea that if Bashō liked it, well then, I must like it too, if he approves/i approve—that seems rather follow the leader-ish and antithetical to the idea that “haikai is for freedom,” to quote Bashō, or to, again quoting his own words (unless it is an interesting myth): “‘Never content yourself with the drivel of the ancients. Just as the four seasons change, all things become new. Everything is that way’ (translated by David Landis Barnhill). Or, better yet, this, also from the mouth of Bashō: “Haikai is nothing but lying proficiently” (translated by Shinjuku Rollingstone).

      Last thing. I don’t understand the comparison of Bashō to Ruth. Haiku can only be a home run or a strike out? One or the other? Does this mean that if one follows all of the “haiku rules” you would like to see promoted that, therefore, one has a home run haiku on their hands, no questions asked? There might not be both good and poor elements in a haiku/poem, some to improve upon, or elements one might like and appreciate, while other elements might simply be thrown out? Personally, I would rather see a baseball player (if there aren’t any on steroids anymore) who can hit the ball where the defense isn’t, advancing runners and winning games, than occasionally hitting one out of the ballpark. And, as Allan mentioned, the ones he gave as examples are some of his most cherished and translated. Is it always only 0 or 10? Or, like in Spinal Tap, an 11?

      Personally, i love and support all methodologies and techniques for haiku composition and welcome both the new, experimental and unchartered, as well as the objective and image-based (what has become the norm/traditional). Nothing is limited or capable of being exhausted: just endless possibilities. I love it all and see potential in all. I just happen to take issue with quality and repetitiveness/mimickry and tend to get more excited by new possibilities that stimulate my imagination and soul.

      Please let us know how we can improve with specific suggestions and advice, David. And please do comment anywhere and whenever and also address some of the questions I had above. Your voice and point of view are important, as is everyones, and I look forward to seeing more of it on troutswirl.


  5. Thanks for a thoughtful response to my comment, Allen. I agree that Peter has written some fine haiku. I’m not saying that this poem is not haiku, but I am questioning the conclusion that it is a fine example of haiku, much less perfect haiku. It ascribes to a mosquito a most unlikely thought, while demonstrating just how artificial and awkward a strict 5 – 7 – 5 syllable count can be.

    Put me in the category of those who believe 1) that a genre needs to have some distinct style, form, technique or content — and, therefore, that removing all such limitations on haiku in the name of being new and fresh makes it less likely that haiku will be respected outside the haijin community, not more; 2) without a distinct form, technique or content, haiku will continue to be seen by the rest of the poetry establishment as taking far too little effort to be taken seriously; and 3) that the best haiku try to invoke the poet’s insight from the reader with sensory images (while leaving open other interpretations), rather than merely stating the insight — no matter how important that insight might be or who the poet is.

    Basho wrote some poems with “subjective tendencies,” but we have no idea what he thought of the purpose or quality of those poems. Babe Ruth struck out more often than he hit homers; his every at bat was not an example of a technique to be followed.

  6. All artforms advance through dialectic, such as we witness in this exchange. Objectivity is a target that can become a method, something easily taught and replicated and excluding other tendencies of J haiku. So a reaction has set in in some quarters, and now some go so far as to dismiss products of the objective method as “junk haiku”. The value of subjective coloration (which Basho, etc. had not excluded) is being explored by many both in practice & theory–and it’s no doubt a healthy development that will help keep the art fresh, unpredictable, *and* an art, not a mere formula. But the last word in favor of the merits of an objective approach, skillfully handled, has not yet been spoken, you can be sure. Every reaction breeds a counter-reaction.

    We all advance individually through dialectic as well, which is what Emerson had in mind when he termed consistency a hobgoblin.

    Peter’s haiku is daring, interesting, memorable. I was happy to see it spotlighted in this valuable series. And we should expect praise, as each poster is selecting a personal favorite. Myself, I like the enthusiasm, even a little provocative overreaching.

    The idea of a “perfect haiku”, though, is probably a feu follet. No haiku can show us everything the art is capable of; each is just an instance, embodying certain possibilities and excluding others.

    My 2c for the nonce.

    P.S. A few classics by Basho, demonstrating subjective tendencies, to keep in mind:

    amusing, then sad: the cormorant boats

    even in Kyoto, I yearn for Kyoto–the cuckoo’s song

    autumn deepens…my neighbor, how does he live?

    sick on a journey–my dreams wander desolate moors

    (my own “versions”)

  7. The “perfect haiku written in English”? This must be a different Lee Gurga than the haiku teacher who told us in “Haiku: A Poet’s Guide,” in 2003,
    “Think in images rather than evaluations. Show, don’t tell, is the haiku way. Haiku approach the subjective through the objective.”

    In this post, the transformative effect of “simply including the word ‘too'” is praised. What its inclusion actually does is simply anthropomorphize the mosquito (who is in fact far more likely to be insisting “I’m hungry” than “I am”). As the 2003 Lee Gurga pointed out, “We must distinguish between finding things in nature and projecting our feelings onto the world.”

    The indulgent over-analysis and hyper-praise found at this weblog seem highly unlikely to broaden the audience of haiku, or to gain the respect of the broader poetry establishment for the genre. Gilding the haiku lily will probably repel more visitors than it will attract to our little frogpond.

  8. What a wonderful haiku. The last line reminds me of a line in one of Galway Kinnell’s poems “When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone” where he uses “is is is is is” also as a form of acceptance for what is and coming to terms with it. It made such an impression on me that it has become one of those literary guide posts for me in my life. Of course,
    Galway Kinnell took a lot longer and used a great deal more words to convey that truth.

  9. Thanks for this exceptionally valuable posting, Lee. Your comments expand my already considerable appreciation of Peter’s superb haiku and reaffirm much of what I believe about the astonishing power of haiku.

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