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
last night’s rain cupped in the banana leaf a small green frog Ferris Gilli, The Heron’s Nest II:4 (2000)
Mojde Marvast is succinct:
A whole divides in parts.
Parts, which are as important as the whole.
And Scott Mason theorizes how this poem came to fruition:
As I see it, haiku poets are explorers first and “artists” (or, less grandly but perhaps more accurately, wordsmiths and reporters) second. In this worldview haiku are vessels for the sharing of personal discoveries rather than crucibles of original creation or purely aesthetic expression. An effective haiku will produce an emotional resonance and even the occasional sense of revelation, but the original source of any such resonance or revelation lies outside and mostly beyond the poem’s ostensible author.
Ferris Gilli’s haiku serves as a splendid example: it’s not only a clear product of discovery but also a virtual reenactment of that discovery, allowing readers to share in the poet’s firsthand experience for themselves. Just notice how the poem unfolds on first encounter. Line one reads like the sort of self-contained fragment used in so many contemporary haiku to establish time or place or both. But by the time we’ve read line two it now seems as though the first two lines form an entire phrase (“last night’s rain cupped in a banana leaf”), just waiting to be juxtaposed by a third line fragment containing something from a different context or vantage. So what we actually get in line three surprises us with the startle of discovery. Instead of “cutting away” from the scene as we might have anticipated, the poet “zooms in” to reveal something that we—as she—had not quite expected to find (“a small green frog”). And only after we’ve read the entire haiku are we conscious of the fact that its second line works as a pivot, permitting the last two lines to function as a complete phrase (“cupped in a banana leaf a small green frog”), subtly underscoring our realization that the tiny amphibian was right there in our midst all along.
Gilli’s poetic choreography here exhibits the skill and even the — dare I say it? — artistry of a master. Her poem reminds me of a favorite haiku by another master, Buson, which in Bill Higginson’s translation reads as follows:
evening wind —
the heron’s legs
Again we have the surprise and delight of some small miracle that was “there all along.” Like many if not most human discoveries, these are not ones of new existence but of new awareness. Marcel Proust put it better: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”
As this week’s winner, Scott 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!
morning fog . . . when my embryo had gills Tyrone McDonald, Nest Feathers: Selected Haiku from the First 15 Years of The Heron's Nest (2015)