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
beach sand shimmer — her shed clothes she doesn't fold — Michele L. Harvey, Modern Haiku 50:1
Lorin Ford orders words:
The scene is clear and familiar to me: it’s a bright summer afternoon, a woman or girl arrives at the white-sand beach, drops her towel, sheds her clothes and in a flash she’s already in the water. She’s not only shed her clothes and left them behind her, she may well have shed her work day or school day, too. Only an Irish Setter could seem more blissfully happy.
What is striking and strange about this haiku is the inverted syntax of Ls 2 & 3. I’m familiar with Michele’s haiku and as far as I know, English is her first language, so I’m pretty sure this decision to invert syntax was deliberate. What happens when we invert a normal sentence so that the object of the verb precedes the verb? Here, we see the “shed clothes” first, rather than the woman/girl they belong to, and then we are left with the lingering observation that the woman/girl (the subject) “doesn’t fold” the clothes she has shed. Thus our attention is drawn away from the woman/girl and the clothes she’s shed. It is drawn, instead, to whoever is making this observation about what the woman/girl doesn’t do.
Is a judgement being made? Is Michele writing from the p.o.v. of, for example, an indignant, obsessive-compulsive aunt? From the p.o.v. of an old-school Japanese headmistress reporting on a student’s shamefully un-Japanese behaviour? (Careful folding is part of Japanese culture.) Interpretations such as these are quite possible and certainly not invalid, but I suspect that the main authorial intention was otherwise: it’s possible to see that by inverting the normal syntax Michele may have embedded a subtle ‘Concrete’ element into this haiku by ‘folding’ her Ls 2 and 3, making a kind of visual pun.
Christina Pecoraro takes a dip:
A ‘beach sand shimmer’, it seems to me, has something dynamic as well as lovely about it. Shimmering, after all, has movement. Reading Michele L. Harvey’s haiku, I wonder if the glistening of that shimmer is worn by the sand alone or also by the beach-creature who ‘shed(s) (her) clothes.’
One imagines those clothes (perhaps some of them, perhaps all of them) strewn randomly about, since the ku pointedly tells us ‘she doesn’t fold’ them. Why, one wonders. Is she carefree? Careless? Finished with caring — especially what others may expect or think?
Or is it simply that the shimmer is caused by the setting sun, in which case she might do well to hurry into the waters for a last swim before dusk? This is the scenario I’d like to imagine. Perhaps it’s late enough for the beach population to have dwindled, the life-guards to have called it quits. Late enough for the shimmering sands actually to be seen. If that’s what’s happening, I’d love to run with her into the waiting waters for one final splash before dressing up and going home.
Pratima Balabhadrapathruni sees also shed skin:
There is a story of what you did while at the beach. What is it that you thought was decadent and indulgent and memorable?
I do not have an answer to that and all I can do is speculate. But there is a lot that reads like this in my mind:
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour”
W.Blake (Auguries of Innocence)
The innocence belongs to the reader, for the diva in there knows exactly what transpired at the beach. The poem teases the reader, allows for speculation.
The sand clings on. She realises that to move one grain of sand would be to change the world from what it is . . . and was a few moments ago.
The clothes stay with the glimmer of more than beach sand, as she is bound to something not exactly tangible but was real enough to want to keep everything she has shed . . . for the moment, and hold that eternity in an hour.
Form and melody in the poem:
There is a two beat melody followed by two rapid beats in the first line, followed by the three beats of the two line fragment, the longer first line therefore carries with it what is to follow.
About the dash:
I am questioning myself as to whether I would use the dash . . . the line break suffices I think. But, yes, the flat of the beach can be seen in the dash, I think.
Are the shed clothes like ecdysis, something left behind so that the “she” of the poem is free and refreshed enough to move on? I wonder…
As this week’s winner, Lorin 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!
one egg rattling in the pot autumn rain — Sandra Simpson, The Haiku Calendar 2009