re:virals 3

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

where the battlefield
narrows to a cattle path:
the dew on the grass

          — Nick Virgilio, Selected Haiku (Black Moss Press 1988)

In this instance we have a commentary from the author himself, “A Journey to a Haiku,” reproduced in Nick Virgilio: A Life in Haiku from Turtle Light Press (2013).

A Journey To A Haiku
By Nicholas A. Virgilio

In a corner of an old graveyard in Camden, N.J., there is a small lot of bare, hard ground trampled by trespassers. One day while passing by on a bus, I was impressed with this lot which triggered a poetic experience that, in turn, started trains of thought concerning the destined anonymity of most human beings. One of the early attempts to express the experience was:

the grassy graveyard . . .
not a blade where children played,
near the battleground

This graveyard is not really “grassy.” And “near the battleground” is a construct of the imagination. Some months later, I imagined a poem with a plantation setting:

the plantation ruins:
a bulldozer levels
the slave quarters

Somehow, a short time thereafter, the Camden graveyard experience began to fuse with efforts to compose the “plantation” haiku. After several versions, I composed:

near the battleground
where children play in the grass:
the graveyard of slaves

Then the ‘poem,’ with one foot in Camden, N.J., and the other on a southern plantation, planted both feet south of the Mason-Dixon line:

near the battleground,
where cattle graze in the grass:
the grave mounds of slaves

After a few attempts to strengthen the weak second line with either “where cattle graze in bluegrass,” “where cattle graze in waving grass,” “where cattle graze in flowering grass,” or “where cattle graze in crab grass,” I decided it was impossible to really strengthen this line. I tried rearranging the lines. As the poem evolved, I sensed that “battleground” and “grave mounds” should be near each other. This occurred after the change from “the graveyard of slaves” to “the grave mounds of slaves.” “Battleground” and “grave mounds” is the major relationship; “cattle” and “slaves” is of secondary importance.

This, I think, is the best version; the “picture” and the poem are improved:

where cattle graze
near the grassy battleground:
the grave mounds of slaves

The second and third lines suggest what is truly important:

near the grassy battleground:
the grave mounds of slaves

“where cattle graze” justifies itself when the reader compares “cattle” to “slaves;” this line also introduces the peaceful mood of the poem.

Now consider the version that begins with “near the battleground” This line is vague, since it really doesn’t put the reader in a particular place. And it could mislead the reader into thinking the war is still going on. “where cattle graze in the grass” is trite, compounded by the unnecessary “in the grass.”

This second line acts as a barrier over which the reader must leap in order to connect “grave mounds” with “battleground.” In this version, the third line “the grave mounds of slaves” practically carries the entire load, and makes the poem. Of course, any poem should not depend for its very life on one line; the reader may lose interest before he gets to it.

Let us reexamine what I consider the best version:

where cattle graze
near the grassy battleground:
the grave mounds of slaves

We began with a real graveyard experience in Camden, N.J., and transformed it into an imagined American historical “picture” haiku with a setting somewhere in the South. Thus, the journey takes us from a small lot of bare, hard ground to “the grave mounds of slaves,” and destined anonymity.

But of course neither are poets automatically the best judges and interpreters of their own work (and some are notoriously poor), nor are we compelled to take a poet’s word in such instances as anything like final. Ultimately we must trust the words on the page, rather than any sort of agenda that might be offered in addition to these words. Raffael de Gruttola offers his insight into the poem:

Virglio’s haiku summons a brief moment of retrospect and reflection in as much as the calamity of war and destruction is so real in contemporary life today. Weather we focus on violence in its many forms or succumb to the many instances of violence on television, the streets of our cities, or the battlefields of the world today.

Here the juxtaposition of cattle paths and the dew on the grass speaks also to the common place in the history of wars on our planet from time immemorial. The prophecy here is that unless we find another planet to live on we may be the recipients of continual cataclysmic episodes which have been man-made.

Our winner this week is Dan Schwerin, who writes:

The best haiku layer and resonate like this one from St. Nick. The colon in this classic throws our attention forward to the dewy now. We who walk North American soil connect leaves of grass with the battlefield and hear the elegiac Whitman. Among humankind war is a season. This poem gently laments how we “narrow to a cattle path.” Three images move in and co-habit this small poem with plenty of room because we are kept moving from one image to the next, drawn to the honest minute particulars — the only way to view the battlefield.

Thank you, Jason, for taking us to see an old friend who told us the truth.


As this week’s winner, Dan 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:Viral 4:

birdsong editing my dream diary

          — Julie Warther, Hedgerow 47

Per Diem: Daily Haiku from Around the World—October 2015








We’ve featured a new Per Diem on our home page every day since 2012. In 2015, we’re pleased to continue this popular feature in a new layout and a new context.

Each day a new Per Diem poem will appear in the header on every page. And Per Diem is now linked directly to World of Haiku, a new project featuring poems from a different country each month. We’ll start this January and continue until we’ve exhausted the haiku cultures of the world. We hope you’ll enjoy seeing the variety and breadth of haiku as it is practiced around the world, and coming to know poets who share the same love of haiku as you do.

India is the featured country in October 2015. For more information about haiku in this part of the world, see A History of Indian Haiku.


The Renku Sessions: Triparshva—Call for verse 16


Welcome to the third Renku Session. I’m Linda Papanicolaou, and I’ll be leading this journey in collaborative poetry. Triparshva is a 22-verse form developed by Norman Darlington in 2005. It’s a good form for composing online because it moves more quickly than the 36-verse kasen, while also following the jo-ha-kyu (beginning-development-rapid closure) pattern of traditional renku. So whether you’re new to renku, or simply want to keep your skills honed, you’re especially encouraged to join us.

Selection of Verse 15:

Back when we began this renku, I did not count ahead and had no idea that we would wind up writing our major moon verse on Supermoon Viewing night, and with an eclipse to boot!  I did enjoy the “no moon” submissions. One thing I have learned in this renku is to listen to you when there are a number of great minds running in the same channel. Although once again there were several verses that would have been fine additions to the renku, the verse to which I kept coming back was Gabriel’s setting moon, and this is the one I would like to place.  Here it is, with maeku and uchikoshi:

after a while
the life boat for refugees
floating hardly
~Vasile Moldovan

the first paulownia leaf
to touch the soil
~Maureen Virchau

setting moon
fills the garden
with the darkness
~Gabriel Sawicki

I’m fascinated with how it links to the maeku. From a close-up of the paulownia —remember, this kigo centers on the sound of a falling leaf—our view zooms out to the darkness of a garden at moonset.

My sense is that at this point we probably need some variation such as an exclamation, but that doesn’t overly concern me because this verse could easily be tweaked with a construction like Beth’s “scents” offer, something like “how the setting moon / fills the garden / with darkness!”  But we can think about that later when we can consider the whole renku. . I’ve left time for fine-tuning at the end.

So thank you very much for this beautiful verse, Gabriel. The image I have in my head is my own garden, plunged into shadow as the moon sinks behind the trees, and in the darkness a thunk! as a large leaf hits the ground.  Nice linking.

Specifications for verse 16:

With this verse we will complete our ha!  Here are its maeku and uchikoshi:

the first paulownia leaf
to touch the soil

setting moon
fills the garden
with the darkness

Please write this verse with the following:

  • two lines
  • autumn
  • your choice, person or non-person
  • link to the maeku, shift from the uchikoshi
  • avoid leaves, flowers or indeed anything to do with plants; falling things, boats, travel, water
  • nota bene: topics we don’t have yet include mammals, fish, clothing, beverage, alcoholic beverage, study and learning, compass direction, work, dreams, sickness, accident, birth, death, natural disaster. . .


The Renku so far:

Side 1: jo

a bowl of cherries
sitting on each white plate
someone’s name
~Lynne Rees /su

under a canvas tent
the snap of a breeze
~Barbara Kaufmann /su

passersby stop
to applaud a subway
saxophone player
~Karen Cesar / ns

sweet reminiscences
of our bygone days
~Barbara A. Taylor / ns

yet again
the moon lights the loggerhead
as she digs
~Paul MacNeil / sp mn

with the twittering
morning mist clears away
~Maria Tomczak

Side 2: Ha

from the mountain top
Puyallup natives trace
their lands below
~Carmen Sterba / ns

who left the doors open
to Valhalla?
~Polona Oblak/ ns

rusty roofing iron
as a letterbox
~Sandra Simpson / ns

#smitten #diamond #yes
~Christopher Patchel / wi lv

at the Marquise
a clandestine romp
in neon flicker
~Judt Shrode / ns lv

his better half chambers
another round just because
~Betty Shropshire / ns lv

after a while
the life boat for refugees
floating hardly
~Vasile Moldovan / ns

the first pawlonia leaf
to touch the soil
~Maureen Virchau / au

setting moon
fills the garden
with the darkness
~Gabriel Sawicki

Book of the Week: Winter Touch

ower_wintertouchcoverJohn Ower came to haiku late in his writing career, one in which he published long poems and literary articles, along with teaching English at the university level. As with many such writers, he was attracted to haiku by its sensibility, its (seemingly unironic) acceptance of the world as it is, its association with austerity and beauty. These are the characteristics he strove to place in these, his most straightforward poems (Hub Editions, 2001).

You can read the entire book in the THF Digital Library.

Do you have a chapbook published 2009 or earlier you would like featured as a Book of the Week? Contact us for details.

Haiku featured in the Book of the Week Archive are selected by Jim Kacian, following a concept first explored by Tom Clausen, and are used with permission.

cancer scare— my garden beds with weeds as tall as me
on the bagel— crimson poppies lost
April blue— a crow serrates its wing
sanity— this dripping, this rippled stalagmite
our spindly shadows on the snow— shortest winter day
flashback to blossoms as I taste an acid plum