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
finding a home on her naked skin - the kingfisher — Eva Limbach, failed haiku Volume 2, Issue 20, (2018)
Garry Eaton imagines:
As with any good haiku, this one requires an act of imagination to make it complete. The wording suggests the impossible, that a kingfisher flies in and transforms itself into a tattoo on a woman’s naked skin. We know it’s impossible in reality, but there is something satisfying in imaging it happen anyway, in seeing life imitate art and transcend, to some degree, its usual limitations.
Willie Bongcaron steps out of his comfort zone:
“Everyone has his/her own comfort zone…” is what comes to mind in this ku. Even a kingfisher, which is ever alert perched on a branch, does have its own comfort zone. The kingfisher though could also be construed as “the threat” vis-a-vis our comfort zone. Thus, picture an alert kingfisher on a branch with threatening attitude. This ku is deep and with a story to tell that definitely applies to everyone.
Jacob Salzer thinks critically:
When looking up “kingfisher” on Google, we find: “any of numerous fish or insect-eating birds of the family Alcedinidae that have a large head and a long, stout bill and are usually crested and brilliantly colored.”
I see the image of a kingfisher as a tattoo on a woman. I also see the kingfisher as a symbol of freedom in terms of flight, and enjoy the paradox of a seemingly permanent image of our human impermanence. Also, the emphasis on “naked” emphasizes a stark contrast. It brings a feeling of an empty drawing board, innocence, and vulnerability, where bold mental impressions (in Sanskrit, these are called samskaras) seem to appear. Also, this haiku brings a feeling of unity with something not human, in this case, a bird. In the digital age, I think it’s critical for more humans to develop a real sense of connection with our natural environment.
Marilyn Ward keeps it brief:
This Haiku made me think of a young woman flashing her new tattoo.
Clayton Beach goes down to the river:
There’s a delicate sensuality to this ku, with my first reading delivering the image of a kingfisher, tattooed perhaps, on a woman’s skin. Her nudity and the bird suggest a riverside scene, a young lovely basking unabashed in the peaceful tranquility of the halcyon days, with an underlayer of eternal glory suggested through spiritual symbolism. The kingfisher is a bird that is rich in associations in western poetry, thus it taps into the vertical axis in a way many shasei inspired English-language haiku fail to do.
If we take a step back, and split the poem at the cut, the base section can be read to contain a sense of self-discovery, “finding a home” and then, with a slight change, “[in] her naked skin,” this section openly serves to place the image on the woman’s body, but an undercurrent also suggests a level of self-acceptance, of reveling in one’s own body and an open sensuality reminiscent of haiku by poets like Enomoto Seifu,
umi ni sumu / like a fish
uo no goto mi wo / in the sea, this body of mine
tsuki suzushi / cool in the moonlight
trans. Ueda (Far Beyond the Field)
In the superposed section, the simple image of the kingfisher comes to mind, in its natural setting—brilliant oriental blue and cutting into the water without a splash, it has the power of raw nature, and if contrasted to the feminine sensuality of the previous section, also contains a masculine energy in the bird as it swiftly enters the water.
This short poem is at once sensual, ecstatic and serene, with several layers of meaning and image to explore, a well-crafted and traditional poem that feels perfectly natural and appropriate to our contemporary world. Oddly enough it was published as senyru in “Failed Haiku,” but this only serves to show that our finest English-language “senryu” read very much like modern, humanistic haiku, and are certainly the furthest thing from failure.
As this week’s winner, Clayton 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!
crow's inner circle the dark part of my eye — Stephen Toft, Is/let