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.
What we have here is a timeless, universal ku that plays effortlessly and intriguingly with language, images, memory, distance, and the nature of our world, if not the entire universe. This ku is expertly sculpted, and not a word is wasted or needed.
The one line format is perfect for this ku and allows the poem to open up and achieve its greatest impact and resonance. By leaving out punctuation and not forcing line breaks upon it, the words are allowed to play off of one another, unfolding and building meaning as it moves along. If, for example, the ku were broken up or split into, say, three lines, it would impede in many ways on the way in which one would read it—or, even more, how the words and images would build in the reader’s mind and imagination. Punctuation or line breaks would also ruin the playfulness of the language and syntax Robinson has created and lose a great amount of its edginess. By leaving out clear and definitive breaks and punctuation (inviting the reader, instead, to decide where they may or may not be), the language is allowed to be non-sensical, and surreal in that the sum surpasses the parts as well as ordinary life.
For example, as I read the words “soldier unfolding,” and softly, naturally, pause, my mind goes in many directions. The soldier might be unfolding: a uniform, a flag, a sheet, a map, a rifle, a bodybag, a manual—what will it be? What we come to learn, of course, is that it is the actual soldier (neither man or woman, but universal and timeless in this poem) who is unfolding: her or his heart, mind, soul, memories, imagination, etc. But this we learn only with the last word of the poem, “letter” (which I am pricked, in one reading, to imagine possibly being a play on “let her”), and is what we are left to contemplate and imagine ourselves.
Because there is no break or punctuation though we are taken smoothly and directly into (what we think will be) something more concrete: “the scent”—perhaps our strongest source for triggering memories. This undoubtedly, yet pleasantly, confuses the reader. How can someone unfold a scent? A kind of creative misreading takes place (did I miss something? Was there supposed to be a break/cut somewhere?). And again, if we were to softly pause after “solider unfolding the scent” I am sure our minds would go in many directions concerning what that scent might be: dust, sweat, blood, cloth, rain, smoke, plastic, earth, metal, oil, etc. There is also, I might add, the possible homophone reading of “the scent” as “the sent.” Knowing that it is the scent of the letter, we are then left to ponder the scent itself from the sender. Could it be perfume? Cologne? Incense? Or that unique smell every home in the world and family seems to have.
Ultimately then, the one line format allows the ku to become a visual poem: not only has the letter been unfolded and flattened out but also the soldier. Whatever was inside the letter, which certainly must have traveled some distance, moved the soldier in such a way that their mind-soul-imagination-memories-reality was opened up and spread out. The toughness and resolution of the soldier is transformed by the letter’s contents and where those contents take their consciousness. The ku becomes a spear struck into the heart of things.
And, though the poem is about a soldier, and one might naturally think of a military soldier of war (personally, my mind leaps to a scene from Terrence Malick’s film The Thin Red Line), I am reminded of a quote by William Butler Yeats: “Why should we honour those that die upon the field of battle? A man may show as reckless a courage in entering into the abyss of himself.” And so, in this ku, in being taken into the abyss of this soldier, we are also hurtled into the abysses of war, hate, peace, the soul, mind/consciousness (imagination, memories, reality), life, death, destruction, violence, loneliness, distance, beauty and love, and, ultimately, into ourselves.
“soldier” was first published in Modern Haiku 37.1 (Winter-Spring 2006)
As featured poet, Chad Lee Robinson will select and provide commentary for Viral 6.2.