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
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)
Lynee Rees confesses to bringing her punctuation “baggage” with her:
As readers we bring our own baggage to a text. Our comprehension and our response, both intellectual and emotional, tend to be coloured by our own experience of language and life. And that can be very enriching — although sometimes it isn’t.
I suppose that in an ideal world we would be completely objective: we’d approach every text without preconceptions and the interference of previous knowledge and preferred practice. And I am encouraging myself to do that with this haiku because my first response is one of irritation with the exclamation mark. Other readers will be less critical of it, I’m sure. But, for me, I feel as if the writer is directing me to respond in a specific way.
I once asked my 6-year old granddaughter what she thought an exclamation mark meant and she leapt into the air with both hands spread and said: “SURPRISE.” And perhaps the ellipsis contributes to my annoyance? Another ‘flag’ that slows us down ready for the big revelation?
I really do like that second line though: “a word leaves the page” suggests a number of ideas to me. It might be something I really need to hear, or something that has given up trying to persuade. There’s loss. But strength too. And I appreciate the comic juxtaposition of realising that my brain is playing a trick: that where I might search for profundity in life there might only be the pragmatic.
Of course, there’s no right or wrong with regards to the use of punctuation in haiku. And my opinion is just that: my (very subjective) opinion.
Ajaya Mahala returns to comment of his selection from last week:
The haiku is about those enjoyable distractions. To go near an oak to read a book indicates the innate desire to run away from the monotony of the home, where the mind gets crammed up with thoughts, and gets constructively distracted by the outside ambience.
Since someone is immersed in reading, their eye contact is with the black letters and words. These black letters are mere carriers of ideas that take the reader to the realm of thoughts. A black ant, which might have fallen from the tree onto the page, runs away and affords the reader an opportunity to pause and think, saying: “There are other things to look at.”
The brain has to relish every bit of creative substance at a leisurely pace, and distractions of this nature make the process of assimilation easier. The reader can then go back to reading with much more interest.
The same author has written another “distraction” haiku, which is somewhat similar:réunion de travail — un petit nuage blanc passe à la fenêtre work meeting — a small white cloud passes in front of the window — Damien Gabriels (Marelle de lune, 2008)
In this haiku “a small white cloud” has taken the place of “a black ant.” Both these fascinating distractions appear for a short time and depart the scene of serious business quickly.
These haiku remind me of my college days. While writing my examination papers, there would be rain outside on some occasions. I would pause my pen for a while, and look at the rain outside. This eases tension and makes you refect on more important stages of life. After all, life is more than writing examination papers!
As this week’s winner, Lynne 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!
pig and i spring rain — Marlene Mountain, Frogpond 2:3-4 (1979)