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
first warm day the ground gives a little —John Stevenson, requiet enough (Red Moon Press 2004)
Danny Blackwell shares in the joy:
There is a long tradition of writing about the “first” in Japanese haiku—first snow; first sky, or dream, of the new year; first whatever, of this and that . . . and so on. Usually this is done with compound nouns using the word for first—“hatsu” (初)—followed by the object to which it refers. This haiku by John Stevenson seems to fit in well with this tradition. There is a sense that the first warm day (one might suppose in transition from winter to spring) alters our perception of the world—in this case giving the impression that the ground “gives a little.” That is to say, the world seems softer, easier—more receptive. It could be more literal, however, and refer to the ground actually becoming softer due to the phenomenological changes from one season to another—the ground being more grassy and soft, for example (instead of cold, hard mud).
I like this poem for its subtlety. It can be read in the most Japanese tradition and fulfill some of the essential requisites purists tend to clamour for: the syntax creates a natural break (kire), separating line one from line two and three. And the line “first warm day” functions as a seasonal reference. But, more importantly, it says something. It is not a mere, lifeless, ascetic, sketch. It is not some cold, objective observation. It speaks to the joy of spring, without being explicit or having any strong authorial voice to tell us what to think or feel, and the poem allows us, therefore, to share in that joy as if it were our own. And who among us has not, at one time or another, lived this experience?
As this week’s winner, Danny 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!
PECES VOLADORES Al golpe del oro solar estalla en astillas el vidrio del mar. FLYING FISH The solar gold clash smashes into splinters the sea’s glass. — José Juan Tablada, El jarro de flores (1922) (Translation from the Spanish by Danny Blackwell)