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
not loss but lost a handful of clear water — Mark Harris, burl (Red Moon Press, 2012)
Radhamani Sarma explores how clear perception is gained along with loss:
Very much delighted to read and comment upon this week’s senryu, by Mark Harris, from burl, upon the theme of water, essential for our day-to-day living. In a way, this write could also be interpreted on loss and gain, gain of clear perception of water on hand.
During house construction, in the process of soil testing, landlords and buyers decide as to the purity of water. Holding some running water in the cupped hand, analysis is done on how much clear water is lost.
The first line says “not loss but.” Possibly the speaker, while holding a glass of drinking water, inadvertently drops it causing double loss: loss of water and the glass.
Another vital inference is that a water image is always associated with a hand, or cupped palm: obviously water runs down. Related images of pebbles and small stones stay behind, pushing water down.
One may also come to the conclusion, from a habit developed by some, that while drinking one is throwing away some water, from the bottom, thereby incurring loss. An image is envisioned, an aura of experience gained, stemming from water, a handful of clear water, etc.
Linguistically also there is the distinct pun and play upon the words ‘loss’ and ‘lost’; ‘loss’ implying heavy or natural, ‘lost’ giving us a hint of our carelessness and a sort of letting go as a possible inference.
Rich Schilling ferrets out both helplessness and catharsis:
Before we get lost, let’s start with something we are sure of. Clear water is a summer kigo. This haiku does not have a summery feel to me, but being lost has no season and that’s where we start off in Mark Harris‘s haiku. The sentiment is clear. It’s a feeling of helplessness. It’s an effective first line and something everyone can relate to. It’s as if he is tired of metaphors and wants to be direct. It has the weight of sadness but at the same time realizing there is always something worse. So he may be lost, but he has not lost hope.
That leads us to L3. In the journal Roadrunner 12.3, Jack Galmitz mentions a clarity in this poem, the clear water. If you are literally lost, the one thing you would need would be water, and there is a clarity but it is fleeting, only a handful. As in life, we spend years trying to acquire things we want but along the way we also lose some of what we gain.
The book this haiku comes from, burl, seems to be about catharsis. Mark is working through something with his poems. You don’t need the back story of why Mark is writing. This haiku stands on its own. I’d like to think Mark or whoever he was writing about found their way back. Maybe to where there was more than a handful of clear water and someone with whom he could share it.
As this week’s winner, Radhamani 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!
old map the whole country one color — Jim Kacian Cranach City Anthology; Border Lands (2007)