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
red plums her steady hand slips between the bees — Ferris Gilli, Heron's Nest Volume 2, Number 11 (2000)
Ajaya Mahala talks of intrusion in the natural world:
The haiku is characterized by movement. A human hand moves steadily towards the red plum surrounded by bees. The bees too are in a constant state of alertness and motion. However, there is great contrast between the movement of bees and that of a human hand. The movement of bees is instinctive. They respond instinctively to any kind of intrusion. But the movement of the human hand is a calculated move and can be considered as predatorial. It brings to my mind the steady movement of a snake towards the nest of a bird for the eggs.
Human beings sit on the top of the food pyramid and probably are the biggest predators. Humans are encroachers in the natural world and have to show modesty when their interests come into conflict with that of other members of the animal world. While bees are considered to be a rightful claimant for the wild plums, the steady advance of a human hand is a vivid visual image depicting the sense of criminality in reaching out for the bounty of Nature.
Garry Eaton sees red:
There are many points in its favour, but mainly I would notice the choice of colour for the plums: red instead of blue. Red is the colour of energy, of fire, and of the sun. It is also the colour of those two most contrary currents in our being, desire and fear. Red fruits indicate ripeness, a quality that makes them desirable. But that quality is nicely balanced in the poem under discussion by the wariness and experience, the steadiness in the gesture of the hand reaching for them, hoping with an act of daring to transfer their energy without penalty to itself. The redness of the plums, swollen with goodness, is desirable. However, these red plums also evoke fear by suggesting sub-verbally how the hand reaching for them might look, red and swollen, after the bees have attacked. Exploiting these aspects of the plums’ redness is the result of deliberate word choices by the artist and contributes perfectly to the dynamic tension between fear and desire in the moment being portrayed in the poem.
Vaguely like the hand of a midwife making a delivery? A thief in the orchard? Several possible surrounding contexts that are not directly relevant but that are evoked through connections with very common experiences make this a poem anyone can intuitively understand and identify with.
As this week’s winner, Ajaya 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!
lisant sous les chênes un mot quitte la page . . . une fourmi noire! reading under the oaks a word leaves the page . . . a black ant! — Damien Gabriels, Sur la pointe des pieds, Editions L'Iroli (2008)