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:
the way words change everything falling snow — Victor Ortiz, The Heron's Nest, Volume XXI, No. 2: (2019)
Radhamani Sarma finds magic in words:
Thanks to Haiku Foundation for giving us a senryu this week weaving around the theme of words and how they impact on the listeners and surroundings. Starting straight off with a declarative tone, the first line “the way words” gives us a sense of anticipation of what will come next.
In the second line, “change everything” possibly also means the meaning and various connotations implied by the writer. For instance, ambiguity, irony, and other types of figurative language.
For instance, with the phrase “In front of my computer a magical wizard.” The reader’s interpretation varies: it may be a figure, or magic, or various implications, or even wall paper. Whether in print, visual media or speech, the impact of words is like “falling snow,” an image of blurred vision, spoiling clarity or obstructing clear vision.
The juxtaposition in the weaving of “the way words/ falling snow” takes the readers far beyond into a realm of imagination. It is a word-play into the field of the word’s play.
Clayton Beach enjoys the silence:
This is a quiet and delicate haiku with a gentle and soft-spoken tone. It draws the reader in with some suspense, the first two lines posing a slight “riddle” that requires the final line to give us meaning. “The way words change everything” is an open-ended truism; it could perhaps hint at relationship woes or something along those lines, but it is ambiguous enough to have us start wondering what the larger point is and requires further elucidation.
In fact, this ku reminds me of a recurrent theme from Depeche Mode’s 1990 album Violator—with lines like “words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm” or “you’ll see your problems multiplied if you continually decide to faithfully pursue the policy of truth,” Martin L. Gore repeatedly explores the idea that words can break fragile moments of human connection and that “telling all” can sometimes do more damage in the long-run than keeping a few important secrets. Indeed, little white lies can be a crucial part of pro-social behavior and avoiding coming across as completely boorish, and nothing ruins a pleasant moment of forest bathing like the noise of some rowdy hikers whooping and hollering. Sometimes it is better to simply “enjoy the silence.”
In The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster writes:
“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.”
The final line of Victor’s haiku delivers us into the location of the poem, somewhere where snow is falling. I imagine looking out the window at new snow, or standing in a field while snow blankets the surrounding land. And with this view comes the magical sound of silence, the perfect stillness of a gentle snow: the way a few feet can make an entire city eerily mute. Even a few words shouted or spoken in such a moment of utter silence can be quite jarring and break the spell of introspection that the sound of snow invites.
In contextualizing the first two lines with the almost spiritual silence of new snow falling from the sky, Victor plays a clever trick on the reader, making the poem more about solitude and silence than anything that words do, and when we go back to the first part, new connections can be made, for falling snow also “changes everything,” making the poem work on a few levels as we connect the ways both snow and words can “change things.”
While one can imagine the poet ruminating over an argument while watching the flurries begin, or extrapolate the ways in which words are like snow, the takeaway that lingers with me after reading this poem is an encouragement to embrace the quiet moments of life with silent attention, soaking up the beautiful solitude of utter silence, lest some inane chatter erase the beauty around us the way snow obscures all contour of the land.
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!
celebrate the day pay no attention to the years — Susan Le Roberts, Haiku Foundation Per Diem, (August 2019)