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
梅雨深し本の表紙の草木染 deep in plum rain– the cover of the book tinted with herbs — Akito Arima, Einstein's Century: Akito Arima's Haiku (trans. Emiko Miyashita & Lee Gurga)
Mark Gilbert goes by the book:
I am just commenting on this particular translation which is the only one I have to hand and I do not read Japanese.
I feel that ‘plum’ is the key word here. Although I do not normally approve of using a noun in place of an adjective, which is often a cliché, here I feel it works well. ‘Plum’ brings up a dark colour, an earthy smell, coolness and a smooth yet organic texture all of which enhance the perception of ‘rain’. I feel that these qualities of ‘plum’ also apply to ‘book’ in line 2 and perhaps the adjective ‘plum’ has been transferred from ‘book’ to ‘rain’, which is a common technique in contemporary haiku. So ‘plum’ — its dark purple shade, its musty aroma and its leathery feel — makes me think that the book is an ancient, perhaps much-loved textbook. Line 3, as well as adding to the accumulation of senses, perhaps suggests the gold leaf decorations on the covers of traditional leather-bound books. So the haiku establishes a dark, dense tone more through the interaction of colour, texture and smell than the words themselves. I did wonder whether it is ‘about’ depression on some level (judging a book by more than its cover) but I feel this is too literal. It is more likely to be about revisiting a comfortable old textbook, still full of dark secrets and insights.
As this week’s winner, Mark 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!
Carnival balloon still filled with a dead child’s breath — James Kirkup, First Fireworks (1992)