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
half autumn color. Come take my hand in the ghost land and — David Boyer, Bones 14
Danny Blackwell takes his time:
An enigmatic haiku. While a lot of the more experimental haiku may be criticized for not being haikooey enough, this poem references season, has a clear cut, and is written in one line: all of which are the hallmarks of a Japanese haiku. It defies an easy reading, but the complications placed on the reader are inviting. Autumn colors are easy to imagine, but “half autumn color”? I particularly like the use of “and” at the end, giving us a sense of interruption—a sense that a lot of what a haiku often points to is outside the poem itself. I have seen this technique used before, but with the last word circling around and being completed by the first half that precedes the full stop. (Period.) In this case our saccadic eye movements find no easy conclusion in sight, no matter how many times we scan back and forth. In doing so, however, one cannot help notice the rhyme of “hand,” “land,” and “and.” A thought-provoking poem that warrants time.
Clayton Beach walks the line:
This ku is rife with a sense of the liminal; it is not full autumn color that greets us, but half. This sense of the in-between, unfinished and incomplete carries through to the end. The speaker says “come take my hand,” a warm, intimate invitation, but then the latter half gives us the location, “the ghost land” and the invitation breaks off into an unfinished fragment. Is the speaker meant to be a spirit from the past, their invitation coming in fragments, is this ghost land a literal place? Or is it merely a dramatic hyperbole of the desolation we feel in Autumn as summer slips away and the life seems to be leaching from the landscape around us?
I chose this ku for discussion this week because it is a great example of the sense of play with kire (cutting) that I advocated in last week’s commentary on Chiyo-ni. Even though it is presented in a single line, this ku provides us with two clear indications of cutting.
The first, a period, is perhaps the most severe method of cutting we have available to us in the English language. This provides a full stop, and we are left pondering the kigo, “half autumn color.” The period prevents us from any temptation to elide the cut and fuse the two parts of the ku, for a comma, semi-colon, ellipsis or even nothing at all might imply that the speaker was addressing the autumn color:
half autumn color, come take my hand in the ghost land and
Here, personifying autumn takes away the literal implication of an actual ghost land, making the landscape a more metaphorical journey of seasonal desolation. But the period separates the concepts, inviting juxtaposition but refusing a blending of disparate parts.
The second cut is an unfinished sentence. As I mentioned regarding the kireji “kana,” leaving an implication of an unfinished, longer poem is a haiku technique that is seldom used in the English language. Here, it is quite effective, we are left to supply our own activity or conclusion to the invitation. Is it “Come take my hand in the ghost land and we will gather asphodel?” or “Come take my hand in the ghost land and we will hold each other once again,” whatever it is that most resonates with the reader will become the heart of the poem. Here, the unsaid is the most important part of the ku, the most personal, a hushed secret between a literary specter and the reader.
Whose ghost does it bring to mind, what unfinished business might they have with us? This is a haiku of negative space, of the unseen, unsaid and demonstrates the strength of indeterminacy in poetry. It is a wonderful demonstration of the use of punctuation in English language haiku to provide a sense of cutting, and of haiku moving beyond a simple juxtaposition into a poetry of multiple cuts and negative space.
Alan Summer’s lets the genie out of the bottle:
The intriguing haikai “piece” makes more sense syntactically if you read the other three lines in the Bones journal issue.Arthur C. Clarke after six thousand years cicada half autumn color. Come take my hand in the ghost land and those selves abandoned walk the dry shores of Mars the game where we break each others fingers in spring
True the overall syntax is not as natural as that of a straight piece of prose, creative fiction or non-fiction, and it is most definitely poetry, beguiling and beautiful.
Haiku could be said to be a middle of a spoken sentence where the eavesdropper has just a few words to guess the beginning and ending of a conversation. I would love to be witness to someone attempting to decipher this as an eavesdropper or a poet.
The piece as prose is fascinating, and the opening line whether intended as a standalone contemporary haiku, or the first line of the sequence, continues to enrapture me in its use of consonance and assonance and other poetic devices. We seem to have two sentences in an attempt at a normal grammar construction except for the deliberate omission of a period after ‘spring’.
I feel it neatly defies a definition of haikai poetry or rather which genre or ‘sub-genre’. The fact of the matter, perhaps, is that once Masaoka Shiki (1867 – 1902) used the hardly known or used term of ‘haiku’ to forge something, around the 1870s, that might last hopefully into the 20th Century, it was always going to be the genie in the bottle. First of all the bottle, plus genie, would drift the sea currents just as a message in a bottle is surmised to do, be it urban myth or no. Secondly, once that bottle hit land, and many ‘lands’ at that, the genie was always going to finally escape. Two world wars, and numerous other global conflicts forcing social change, and the genie has skipped around both Japan and almost every other country in the world. Many poets, along with that genie, have taken what Matsuo Basho (1644–1694) said about the earlier ‘hokku’ and various haikai verses, and followed his entreaty to heart, that of (paraphrasing)
“do not copy me like two halves of a melon.”
As the Japanese love their folklore, myths, and science fiction, and this often appears in contemporary Japanese haiku, it feels fitting that Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles is perhaps alluded to by David Boyer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Martian_Chronicles
David Boyer has done this with aplomb, and I’m proud to be a co-founding editor of Bones Journal, and that it continues to bring forward challenging and non-generic work such as this.
Peter Newton finds solace:
The construction of this one-liner is sentence-like. Yet it is also spliced as if to short-circuit our usual way of reading from left to right. Quite inventive. The poem is an invitation to join the poet in his quest across the “ghost land.” The reference to autumn captures a certain natural ending to things, an ennui, but we soon realize that there are no endings or beginnings in this poem. The structure tells us so. Change is all there is. All we can do in the face of change is hold hands and move on toward whatever comes next.
I could also be reading into this poem what I want to feel in the current state of U.S. affairs– which is hope.
We find solace where we need to.
As this week’s winner, Alan Summers 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!
turning crows the distance smokes a yellow tractor — Brendon Kent , Sonic Boom #3 (2015)