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Viral 4.3

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 4.1 (Metz ➾ Mountain)
                                                                      • Viral 4.2 (Mountain ➾ Windsor)

Still Rocking  by Sheila Windsor

                                 broken bowl
                                 the pieces
                                 still rocking

                                                          — Penny Harter

I won’t attempt to define this brilliant haiku: that would be a kind of vandalism. Haiku, when it truly works, is the depiction, the encapsulation, of a moment that could not be expressed so perfectly in any other way. A moment caught in passing, overlooked by a million others and oneself, a billion times. I will though, attempt to express a little of what this particular haiku does for me: it conjures the interconnectedness of the All. We have ‘bowl’ as thing, as person, as humanity, as magnolia tree in bloom. It speaks of brokenness en route to somewhere else, a new form, new movement, next stage. It honors, in the simplest, absolutely briefest of ways, life, in all it’s marvelous manifestations and processes. My sincere thanks to Penny Harter for this haiku and many others, it was hard to select just one. My thanks to the countless other haiku writing kindred spirits, personally known to me or not, from all parts of the globe and from a variety of times: selecting one was next door to impossible, yet I have enjoyed the challenge immensely, for it has required me to immerse myself in haiku and that’s a place I love to be.

“broken bowl” was first published in In the Broken Curve (Burnt Lake Press, 1984)

As featured poet, Penny Harter will select a poem and provide commentary for Viral 4.4.

This Post Has 45 Comments

  1. To the the degree to which we can agree on the meaning of words, we create and partake of a collective power. In the arts, it is the kind of power that Robert D. Wilson describes above. The effort to achieve this in the arts and in all other human endeavors will never end as long as there are human beings but it can never succeed completely. It is human nature to both seek and resist others. Our myths and our history tell us that it has been that way and experience tells us that it goes on in that way.

    between people,
    a glimpse
    of the second tower

    So we will have our discussions about defining haiku. We will benefit and suffer from them. We will strive to define “we.”

  2. One reading I had of this ku is an archeological take. That a broken bowl from an ancient civilization has been unearthed. The wind picks up, a breeze passes, and the shards, still close to one another, move. Something that’s been immobile for perhaps a thousand years is suddenly, to the human eye, moving again.

    This is probably too fanciful, but this reading reminds me that the bowl is made of clay, and is essentially made of earth. This leads me to ponder numerous creation stories from all over the world about humans and animals having been created from earth/clay.

    And I think, perhaps, this is why the bowl is so much more profound than, say, an egg. Since the beginning of humankind, people have been making and creating bowls, thus being intricately and spiritually linked to the earth, and dependent upon t for survival. Bowls hold sacred things that sustain us (water, wine, rice, porridge, cereal, blood).

    The bowl Penny has written about is sacred. It has spirit. It is a god. Her ku is an act of worship, and she immortalized it. Whenever we come back to it, it will always be moving.

  3. First of all, I like Penny Harter’s poem.

    As for caning labels and calling all poems simply poem, that’s as anti-intellectual as anything I’ve read or studied in Literature. When we take off labels, remove genres, we in turn lose rules, identity, historical foundation, aesthetics, and metrical schemata that makes each genre what it is. On the other hand, without identity, one has carte blanche to do and write whatever they want without criteria to say if it is a good or bad poem. A haiku is a haiku, a tanka is a tanka, and they come with defined rules metrical schemata, aesthetics, conceptualizations, etc. that make them what they are. Many westerners rebel against this and many call three lined poems of any metrical schemata, a haiku, with or without a kigo with no intelligent ground to base this upon.
    A sad day when we can label Ogden Nash poems, haiku.

  4. *sorry, perhaps “philosophical” is a better term to use than “metaphysical”.

  5. Like Gene and Gabi, I also feel that there is much merit in referring to haiku, senryu, and zappai as poems and doing away with any distinction at times (particularly those times where there is significant crossover in the poem). However, whilst this serves a purpose some of the time, I do feel that there’s a reason why we want to be able to say “this is haiku” or “I write haiku” or “I prefer senryu” etc – which is that we want a name for something which we all share a passion for, interest in, and understanding of. We want to communicate with others and be able to share with them a mutual enchantment.

    Whilst we could say “I really like short poems that often connect to season or to nature whilst requiring as much work on the part of the reader as on the part of the original author…(or whatever qualities you may want to ascribe)” and so on, it is much easier for us to say “I really like haiku” and for there to immediately be a body of thought within that term that allows a quick connection and shared understanding with another.

    I think something that I find distinguishes haiku from senryu is along the lines of a metaphysical communication versus a sociological communication. Haiku tend to express something metaphysical, whereas senryu push forward something more sociological. Of course, there is crossover between the two (such as in Kacian’s poem “family album”) in which case it is for us to decide whether it responds more to the haiku tradition (metaphysical communication?) or the senryu tradition (sociological communication?) or perhaps responds equally to both in which case it seems perfectly reasonable to say that a poem is categorized as both.

    There are many ways of interpreting “broken bowl” but, for me at least, it seems that the direct suggestions it makes are metaphysical ones. Anything sociological gained from this has to have come from a ( fairly weak) inference one makes as a personal response, rather than direct implication from within the poem. Thus we could say that this is a haiku, with possible senryu resonances too.

    Just wanted to share my take on the debate.

  6. Hi, Gabi, I was wondering, ever since I read this “poem” what kind of association does the word “bowl” have in Japan? I ask his because there is a very dear reference to the “beggar’s bowl” in something from years ago…and that phrase seemed to me to have a great deal of meaning – history even as to become a topic itself in Japan.
    The word itself is loaded with as much emphasis as a kigo it seemed to me and there are kigos that are year round kigos.
    I’d be very interested in any comments. Thanks, Merrill

  7. “The bottom line is; it’s a poem.
    Does it make a difference if we tag a lable to a genre? We are not avoiding anything, a poem is called a poem.

    I agree with Gene. Call it poem, or short poem.
    The distinction of haiku/senryu/zappai in ELH is just so much more confused and based on interpretation or personal opinion, not formal criterion.
    It does not seem to serve the same purpose as it does for Japanese formal poetry.

  8. both haiku and senryu can have a kigo, seasonal reference
    humor amd stay with you for a long time. So what’s the

    I write haiku because I say so.

  9. From the back of the class, I agree with most of what has been said, so far.

    For me, the primary payoff here is in the transition from the visceral shock of the thing breaking (my god, I’m going to be in an accident) and the immediately ensuing feelings associated with seeing and hearing the pieces rocking.

    That the exact nature of those feelings will differ for individual witnesses and different bowls is true, of course, but secondary.

    I read a book, years ago, called “They Have a Word for It.” It describes words in various languages for which we have no one word English equivalent. This is where I first encountered Japanese aesthetic terms like “wabi,” “sabi,” “aware,” and “shibui,” long before I started reading or writing haiku. One of the words they described was “razbliuto,” a Russian word that they defined as meaning, “the feelings a person has for someone he or she once loved but now does not.” Clearly this could be applied to a wildly disparate set of feelings. But the Russians seem to have felt that there was a value in describing that set of feelings, whatever they are, in a single word – of giving that grouping of feelings a name.

    I would say that Penny’s poem does something of that sort with the moment after a bowl is broken.

    Where it goes from there is through each reader’s nervous system.

  10. broken bowl
    the pieces
    still rocking

    Penny Harter

    A comment from someone in back of the class:

    For me, this is a haiku because of the many interpretations possible. Taken literally, a broken bowl. One might say, “so what” until you pause and try to picture the scene. Then the possibilities materialize as others have pointed out: dime-store bowl, family heirloom, etc. and the emotions of the poet as observer or as the one who dropped the bowl. Taken metaphorically the broken bowl could be a broken relationship, drastic changes in a life, loss of someone or something held dear, etc. The distinction between haiku and senryu, that haiku remain open and senryu close, is a good way to distinguish between them.

    The absence of a kigo in a haiku has become accepted in contemporary haiku, so this doesn’t influence the definition of haiku vs senryu. I think it is the ability of the poem to become individual with the reader, to be continued by the reader make it a haiku.


  11. I think Paul’s right. The word “bowl” has certain connotations that identify with the human being…as such, when the bowl is broken…but still rocks – for that one moment – it’s still alive! It’s a poem intimating life and death to me. The egg takes too long to spread out… it lacks the instant surprise that’s felt when you were first sad and then all of a sudden, delighted!

  12. To ponder Peter’s question. Words are approximations that only have the meaning (and I’m thinking mostly of nouns here) that our experiences give them. So when given a generic object like ‘bowl’–not ‘my mother’s bowl’ or a ’round, blue bowl from Denmark’–we as readers grab the first ‘bowl’ that comes to mind. So it is very easy to have a first reading of this poem where perhaps we only think about a blue bowl we bought in Denmark whose rocking means little except that it cost $5. But maybe we go right for a more emotional memory (what Peter I think means when he says ‘felt sense’) and think of a bowl from childhood. Such a bowl has unfinished associations that an egg could never have. I don’t have an attachment to an egg, but I might to a bowl.

  13. “as l’fish said”– All right then. But I wonder if we could hear from someone at the back of the class as well?

  14. I’ll quote myself: “gray is an infanite line between
    black and white”

    Which happens to be incorrect, since there are more than
    one shade of both; white and black.

    The bottom line is; it’s a poem. Does it make a difference if we tag a lable to a genre? We are
    not avoiding anything, a poem is called a poem.

    Remember that Bill is also Penny’s partner in life.

  15. I come back to this: beyond the question of haiku/senryu, which will be picked up in Sailing #3 (Coming soon to blog near you!), something makes this poem compelling (or no discussion at all would have happened, one assumes)– so,

    what makes this poem compelling? Why, as l’fish said, does it still rock, in a way that something similar, like:
    broken egg/ the yolk/ still spreading could not?

    My take on this above.

  16. I also think it’s telling that Peggy’s great comment on Jim’s poem sticks with the term “poem” and avoids the labels haiku or senryu.

    As in: “Kacian’s poem is compressed, seemingly artless, and infused with expansive energy….the poem circles to its beginning.”

  17. The point I’m making is really the same that William J. Higginson made in his Haiku Handbook: “it is not always easy to place a poem in one genre or the other [haiku or senryu]. Many poems, both Japanese and Western, can be read either way…” (pg. 233).

    I think “broken bowl” is such a poem. The crucial point is how you define senryu–by closed, comical content or by structural criteria, i.e., not having a kigo and a cut. As Gabi Greve pointed out, the classic Japanese distinction is the latter.

    When I first asked whether it was haiku or senryu, I noted that the poem “seems to me to raise interesting questions about genre since it lacks seasonality, nature reference, or a real cut…and yet seems serious, resonant, mysterious, open.” So I was acknowledging both ways of looking at the issue.

    I also don’t think it’s simply obvious that “family album” is a haiku rather than a senryu. It is indeed similar to Penny Harter’s poem and in my view doesn’t resolve the issue but instead presents some of the same (interesting) difficulties. For either one you could point to features that lean in the direction of senryu and others that lean in the direction of haiku. And, again, a lot depends on the definitions you bring to the table.

    Lastly–I recommend that people interested in this issue read or reread the comment Keiji Minato, a contemporary Japanese senryu poet, posted in response to Periplum #3. It provides some great background on the subject.

  18. well Paul, all of you Nestlings do a great job!

    There is a reason why the Nest is my favorite haiku


  19. Miller brings some interesting points to the table:

    In my mind, not to consider Harter’s poem a haiku is like
    saying that Jim’s “family album,” poem is not a haiku:

    family album—
    the black and white
    of my youth

    Jim Kacian

    The Heron’s Nest 2002, sorry, I forget the volume and
    number, or even Paul’s “migrating whales,” poem, which
    is also an award winner and amongst my favorite haiku
    of all time.

    When I first read Penny’s poem, I wanted a longer pause
    at the end of line one, and an emdash would have worked,
    but, is a punctuation mark that important to the poem,
    when every case is different. Haiku is a noun genre, and
    it’s also an oral genre.

    I will flurt within those gray areas of haiku vs senryu,
    but, I will argue that I’ve only written 3 senryu within
    the past decade.

    Haiku is a state of mind, a way of life, a beginning, an
    ending. It’s an awareness. Knowing how to read haiku is
    as important to the genre as writing it is.

    To “sailing 3”


  20. I was reading Gabi’s topic re: haiku/senryu/zappai and this note made sense to me: “Haiku developed from the court poetry and later the haikai movement of the old capital of Edo, whereas senryu have their origin in the rich merchants of Osaka,who always enjoyed a good joke and made fun of politics.”
    Now it seems to me that would give haiku a more “reverent” attitude whereas the senryu would be characterized by a more “irreverent” attitude.
    I don’t expect that we shall come to a complete understanding here in this discussion but the comments have helped me to broaden my understanding a tiny bit. Thanks

  21. There are certainly a number of ways of slicing the pie. I agree that if the test is “open” vs. “closed”, then “broken bowl” is haiku. That’s a common standard in elh. But it does seem pretty clear that the Japanese themselves have a different way of sorting things out, based more on structure and responding to a particular tradition.

    Note: Even though I started this conversation, I don’t take labels too seriously. What does Shakespeare (actually, Polonius) say about genres: “tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited.” That’s the tangle we get into!

    But it’s probably good just to be aware of different approaches to definitions, both within our homegrown tradition and within J practice. So I wouldn’t necessarily say Harter’s poem *is* this or that in some essentialist way, but rather is this or that if we apply *these* particular criteria.

    Well, with these thoughts behind us, happy to sail into a new discussion of the matter that might be framed in an interesting way…

  22. Sounds like sailing #3 will be getting pretty full-on then! Looking forwards to it!

  23. Last thought: I’ve always liked the distinction between haiku and senryu as: haiku are poems that remain open, and unresolved in some way. Senryu often close like a joke, once you get it, repeated tellings don’t add anything new. Simplistic, but a guideline I use.

  24. What I like about this poem is the cut between the broken bowl and the memory of the unbroken bowl. I find the ‘rocking’ to refer to the memory and all that the piece of crockery stood for in its unbroken life. It could have been a parent’s bowl originally, so had all that baggage. It could have been a wedding gift for a marriage that is now over. Each meaning could add a lot. That Penny didn’t say allows the reader to insert any similar object of the reader’s choosing, and its meaning.

    Such structures are also interesting because you can often write such poems as:

    (some other first line)–
    pieces of the old bowl
    still rocking

    Often in these kinds of poems a true first line adds a lot. But in this case, an added first line would distract from what is really the core of this poem: the tension between the here and now, and the past.

    A really wonderful poem.

  25. What Paul Miller writes definitely seems to be the case. We heard recently from a contemporary Japanese senryu poet, Keiji Minato, in response to the latest Periplum. He wrote: “Definitions of senryu and haiku, and their distinction, are real conundrums for Japanese senryu and haiku writers too.” And I believe he meant contemporary poets in particular. I’m curious, though, Gabi, why when applying trad J standards to Penny Harter’s poem you’re tempted to call it a zappai rather than a senryu–if you’d care to comment on that subject, I think it would be interesting. (And we can set aside the negative connotations of “zappai” in English.) To me it does seem like a poem that derives from hiraku (i.e., the linking verses of a renku rather than the opening hokku, from which haiku derives). I say that because of the lack of seasonal reference and the fact that it is uncut or at most very lightly cut after the first line (no shift to another object or scene). If we follow this system of classification–not necessarily inevitable in English but at least worth entertaining–then the poem seems to be a serious senryu, which is apparently not at all a contradiction for the Japanese. But you might be thinking of some other criterion or criteria that I’m not, Gabi–and I’m just curious. As an English poem, the fact that it’s not written in 5-7-5 or 7-7 form really shouldn’t be a consideration; at 9 syllables, it approximates the duration of a J haiku or the length of an accurate translation of a J haiku into English.

  26. Well… to jump in briefly. I believe even some Japanese poets question the boundary between haiku and senryu, and refuse to designate which side they fall on, so it isn’t wholey and ELH issue

  27. “Zappai still has a derogatory connotation in English that seems unfair (to me) to apply to so skillful a poem.”

    You are right, in ELH, things are much different from Japan.
    In Japan, the classification – Haiku, Senryu, Zappai – is a classification based on formal criterion, not content or individual interpretation,
    and does not imply any kind of judgement about the quality of the poem.

    Gabi (from the Japanese viewpoint, your advocatus diaboli ) :o)


  28. I agree. To try to classify poetry is really impossible when you really get to the ones that “break the rules” – which for me is probably the essence of poetry. It’s that leap that can not be expressed. Of course classification helps to “teach” the rules, but great poetry so often knows when to break the rules.

  29. I’ll just summarize by saying you all have helped me find at least three overlapping levels of interpretation, which taken together are all part of the poem’s meaning–at least for this reader:

    1) existential – the poem is “about” the rocking pieces

    2) psychological – the poem is “about” what the bowl meant to the poet

    3) philosophical – the poem is “about” the fact that all things break eventually

    I don’t feel like the poem asks me to choose among these interpretations. The genre, though, still seems problematic; an ex. like this one perhaps helps demonstrate why a journal such as Frogpond no longer attempts to segregate haiku and senryu.

    But I’m also feeling that part of the problem is that we (in elh) still have too limited a conception of senryu and the way it derives, as Keiji Minato pointed out, from hiraku. Certainly for me this poem feels closer to hiraku than to hokku, if that’s the defining distinction. Zappai still has a derogatory connotation in English that seems unfair (to me) to apply to so skillful a poem.

    Definitely agree with Gene & others that the poem, regardless of what we call it, resonates.

  30. Once again I have to thank Gabi for some wonderful info. I just took down the article regarding “Haiku, Senryu, Zappai” and expect to have many profitable hours contemplating the information in it. One thing I see right away that comes to mind: Traditional haiku are about the many changes during the seasons. ABOUT THE SEASONAL CHANGES OF NATURE.
    Since my reading of the present poem is that the poet identifies with the bowl – is not the poet as much a part of nature as say a frog? The way I read the poem in the first place seemed to me to be saying something about the poet – about the seasonal changes of the poet’s life.. of how the way the body breaks down – and yet this poet still rocks.
    Perhaps my mistake is to take the word bowl for anything other than bowl…but the way it resonates with poets seems to cry out for it to be part of her nature.
    I’d really appreciate some illumination on these thoughts?

  31. I have to say that after reading the comments, this bowl is taking on the equivalent of “The Red Wheelbarrow” of William Carlos Williams…

  32. I am not sure why, but Penny’s poem feels like a spring
    poem to me, but at the same time, this could have hap-
    pened during a holiday. It’s not important to me who, or
    how the bowl got broken, but it’s obvious that the bowl
    was important to Penny, since the pieces are still rock-
    ing. . .

    The poem resonates.

  33. I agree that “how” it fell it not much a part of this poem. If she wished to blame the cat, Penny would have said so, and it is an entirely different poem. While I concentrated my comments on the flash of experience and the movement of the pieces, as Allan says:

    “If the bowl is just any old bowl, say one from the dollar store, doesn’t that seem to make the breaking rather trivial? What invests the poem with greater meaning, I think, is the implication I am finding that the bowl meant something to the observer.”

    I had thought, but was already over-long in my comments, to mention the emotional affect of poet for _that_ bowl. Even IF of humble origin, the bowl may have inherent “wabi.” Could be . . . one of a set of three glazed earthen mixing bowls; this, a favorite of just the right size. Also might be one of the last surviving soup bowls of a wedding-present set of fine English china. Was it a bowl bequeathed by Great Aunt Tillie? Whatever.

    As I said in my first post: ” . . . the moment suspended, the pieces of the pot [I meant bowl] which fell on its bottom, reflect the curves — still — of the whole.” This, as others have commented, is the crux of it, the kernel, for me.
    – Paul

  34. broken bowl
    the pieces
    still rocking

    This poem involves the senses, of course: sight and sound, and by implication the feeling of coolness, let’s say, to curled hands; the feeling of sharpness to fingers. But I wonder, how does one experience this poem? Or perhaps I could ask, where? I find that I can explore this question (explore feels overly intellectual here but let it stand) if I resist the temptation to locate myself too quickly in a story, and go directly to my most present response, my “felt sense” of the poem. What I find is that my body and my being “know” this poem, have had this experience. For the sake of discussion, it may be the experience of childhood innocence lost—childhood, the fullness and trembling potential of an empty bowl…. Is this not a universal experience? Could I say those pieces are still rocking in my soul? Yes.

  35. Coming entirely from the traditional Japanese experience, the most basic distinction between haiku and senryu is rather on the formal side …

    three short lines, 5 7 5
    one season word and
    a cut marker


    three short lines, 5 7 5
    no season word
    no cut marker

    and the other poems that do not fit either of these, are called ZAPPAI … miscellaneous.

    For me the poem in question would be in my zappai 雑俳department !
    (now this will rise a few eyebrows, I am sure … )

    (click on my name to find my page with more details on haiku and senryu in Japan )

  36. My thanks for the responses so far.

    I guess I do as a reader of haiku and senryu often tend to do what Peter claims not to–that is, look for a narrative thread, a before and after implied by the poem, a larger context the reader logically and/or intuitively reconstructs. I do imagine a scene like what Paul in his colorful manner, senses fully engaged, depicts even if Chris White is perhaps right that the precise “way the bowl got broken seems entirely non-essential to the focal point: the pieces still moving”. What does still seem essential, though, at least to me, as a reader of this poem, is less the front end (how it got broken) than the back end (what the breaking might mean to the poet/observer).

    If the bowl is just any old bowl, say one from the dollar store, doesn’t that seem to make the breaking rather trivial? What invests the poem with greater meaning, I think, is the implication I am finding that the bowl meant something to the observer. In that respect the poem seems, to me, to direct us in some sense back to the observer and to a human context of meaning, memories, emotional investment. We seem to contemplate here the breaking of something of personal value, perhaps an heirloom or keepsake, now in shards. What was just a moment before whole and perhaps loved for its history and wholeness is now irrevocably shattered. To me, there’s something poignant here.

    And it just feels to me that this reading–which dovetails with Paul’s own, essentially–may point more toward senryu than haiku. Merrill Ann brings up the “lightness” that we tend to associate with senryu–and I definitely agree this is not a “light” poem (rather, one about gravity!)–but let’s recall the seriousness of Koike’s senryu (presented recently by David Lanoue), such as:

    from a strap
    the king of dusky thrushes
    is dangled

    This poem even has a prominent natural element, though wrenched from its original context and demeaned as a kind of human toy, so that it speaks to what humans cruelly make of beautiful natural things, out of short-sighted desire, mastery, vanity. And maybe those human tendencies are the ultimate focus of the poem and why, though serious, it responds to the tradition of senryu?

    It’s partially through the context provided by this kind of poem that I’m seeking to understand the genre of “broken bowl”.

    I’m not denying the validity of anything said so far, just exploring what might be another way of seeing the poem. One can focus, as Chris White does, only on the wholly literal, existential fact of the rocking shards themselves. But I find my mind moving from that point to something beyond, to a human context of memory and disappointment. Maybe, though, one could move even further to a more abstract theme such as transience (which I explored in an earlier Montage)–i.e., impermanence. If the philosophical implication is large enough–“Why do things break? Because they exist.”–then perhaps we are back to haiku? This seems to be Merrill Ann’s take. And the genre is then, essentially, in the reading?

    I’ll stop there and see whether these longer-than-intended comments provoke any further thoughts, from those who have contributed already or from others.

  37. You know, I just read a comment on another post about the ‘”soul” if you will’ retaining its sharpness. Many years ago I knocked over a clay flower pot with a prize plant in it. It shattered into pieces. It became paintings that I seemed to have painted over and over again in various lights and poses. It seemed to speak to me of my brokenness (I’ve been disabled since I was ten) but in a strange way it seemed to heal others who saw it and that juxtaposition stayed with me many years. Our brokenness healing others????
    When I read this haiku, and I do believe it is a haiku it resonates with it’s own season word. For me it was a summer of a broken clay pot…for another reader it may be a winter of a broken soup bowl…
    As l’fish comments…the haiku still rocks.
    I don’t really think I’d put it with senryu since it does not really have the lightness required of senryu. It is of a profound nature…and I usually put those in the haiku section if I have sections. Anyway that’s just my take on it…

  38. Instigation well put, Alan. I’ll play as Chris has.

    I come down on the haiku side of the ledger. Penny’s work may be arguably be said to be a single-image haiku. I believe they exist (unjuxtaposed), but it takes skill to pull off. Agreeing w/ Allan, it is not seasonal. Not all haiku done in the spirit of haiku need disparate but related images. I do think it is cut at least in the manner I sometimes use to appeal to my renku partners (about an inner verse not generally supposed to be cut) that it is just a “soft cut.” Hey, it works sometimes. After line one is at least a pause from the very flow of the English. And that space is what gives this reader/partner a place at the poet/observer’s side. A cat, a child, or most likely the poet elbows the pot from the counter. What Penny Harter captures is that instant. It has fallen, perhaps seen and not gotten to in time to catch. More likely, it is the sound that draws the poet/observer’s attention. Half turned, she (and I) are shocked — and frozen. Eyes wide, some adrenaline flowed for the instant, it is all about the keenness of senses. Sound and sight, and sound again. In the dead quiet, the moment suspended, the pieces of the pot which fell on its bottom, reflect the curves — still — of the whole. They rock. And, the motion is loud for an instant. This is the stuff of keen perception, often mentioned in the indistinct search to define haiku. This is at least an example. Only time I have ever heard a “strong word” from my mother was when she dropped a glass half gallon of milk in the kitchen. The floor was very impracticably made of terrazzo (colorful little stones set in concrete, and ground down to a perfect smooth, level finish). Hard. “Damn!” She said. I was witness at a distance and very happy to be blameless, but she froze, arms akimbo, the milk in a slow motion wave rolled in all directions. To underneath the refrigerator and to the dining room, the room with a brand new wool rug. After this Long Second, she sprang into action . . . running the other way to the laundry room, grabbing an armful of laundry, clean or dirty, and damming the flow toward the rug. My, she was fast in those days! She is 89 and a half now, not as spry — but I’ll bet she remembers the incident from 50 plus years ago. Will she smile at the “word” as I read this haiku for her when next we meet?

    Penny has shared her experience and with so few well implemented words (just six).

    – Paul (MacNeil)

  39. I take this to be haiku – yes you can infer that a person dropped it, but it doesn’t seem to direct itself toward human error. The direction seems toward the moment, the transitory state of the bowl and then the pieces. In fact, it could have been a bird that knocked the bowl off an open window’s ledge, or a meteorite crashing into it by chance from outer space, or even a poltergeist throwing it acroos the room – the way the bowl got broken seems entirely non-essential to the focal point: the pieces still moving. Thus I find it responds to the haiku tradition rather than the senryu.

    It will be interesting to see what others say. I’m with the article’s writer though – wonderful haiku here.

  40. I’m wondering, particularly in light of the last “Periplum” and the discussion it occasioned–haiku or senryu? Both (depending on how it’s read)? Neither (i.e., “just” a short poem)? Hybrid? How do we know? Does it even matter?


    I’d be quite interested to see opinions. It’s certainly a very fine poem, but it seems to me to raise interesting questions about genre since it lacks seasonality, nature reference, or a real cut (at least to my eyes; I’m finding an implied colon after the first line) and yet seems serious, resonant, mysterious, open.

    Would we feel at all differently about it if it were a translation of a Japanese poem rather than an English original? I.e., might it have been a senryu had it been written in Japanese yet still be an English haiku? Do we get anywhere (within the context of English haikai) by asking which tradition–haiku or senryu–it responds to? If not, what does that tell us?

    Like the poem, I’m open to your thoughts.

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