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:
a blue coffin one nail escapes the solar system Peter Yovu, Roadrunner 13.1
Rich Schilling enjoys the challenge:
For some reason when I think of a space, I always think of David Bowie. If anyone could live there, escape from here permanently, it would be him. In his song space oddity the line “far above the world planet earth is blue” reminds me of the blue in this poem. A blue coffin, to me, refers to the earth, blue when seen from space and a coffin because a coffin is something you never leave. But one nail escapes the solar system? Nails are used to hold things together but the nail in this poem seems to be floating away in space. Is that a metaphor for the earth falling apart, its eventual decline? Initially I thought escapes meant the nail broke free which would make sense but it could be the other meaning of escapes, as in failing to be noticed by anyone. As with many modern ku this one is a mystery open for interpretation. These are the kind of poems that get my attention. I want poems to be challenging, to make me forget where I am or what I was doing before I started reading it. I think what Peter does best is create small worlds with a few words that we can wander around in.
Hansha Teki connects the dots:
The images of the first line and the last lines of Yovu’s poem images progresses Carl Sagan’s “blue dot” image, referencing the famous 1990 Voyager 1 photograph of the earth in 1990, to one of our blue coffin. The poem appeared near the time that the same Voyager 1 space probe escaped the solar system to continue into interstellar space. Aboard the probe is a gold-plated audio-visual disc packed with images, sounds, speeches, music etc. to convey something of the intelligent life living on the planet of its origin as a message to any who may at some future time and place encounter the probe.
The idiomatic “final nail in the coffin” is that one factor that causes the failure of something that had already started to fail; the one additional event that serves to seal one’s fate. Upturning the image, Yovu breathtakingly imagines Voyager 1 as a symbol of hope for a future as it races out into interstellar space bearing mute testimony to the unknown out there of what the best of us aspired to even as a species we continue to actively turn our blue dot into a blue coffin.
I love Yovu’s masterful poem.
Dave Read finds fresh insight:
The power of a good haiku is derivative of its “aha” impact; its ability to make us see and understand things in a new way. Often, that insight is lost as practitioners of the form fall into a rut, collectively writing structurally similar poems on common themes. In such instances, rather than creating new insight, the poets are treading familiar waters with only mild eddies stirred by the effort.
Peter Yovu’s “a blue coffin” does not fall into the trap of familiarity. With unusual images and a broad scope, Yovu creates a powerfully insightful haiku. On a first reading, one is drawn in by his seemingly surrealistic imagery. However, subsequent readings reveal how specific Yovu is being. Within “the solar system” setting, the “blue coffin” refers to our planet and the increasingly destructive behaviours of its human inhabitants. The urgency of climate change is embedded in our news cycle. Yet as humanity continues on its stubborn path, the prediction of Earth becoming “a blue coffin” becomes even more harrowing and real. The “one nail” of Yovu’s poem can, on the surface, be interpreted as space junk. However, there is a depth to the selection of a nail as a central item in the poem. The purpose of a nail is to hold or to bind together. Yet, ironically, it is exactly this object that “escapes / the solar system.” That a nail drifts away into space is symbolic of our inability to bind ourselves to the need to change behaviours lest our inactivity leads to our very planet’s death.
Chris Patchel follows the nail:
“No metaphors” used to be, and maybe still is, an oft-repeated precept in haiku circles. With some valid reasons. For one thing, haiku is traditionally already a kind of “absolute metaphor” (Bruce Ross) whereby actual, sensory things undergo a symbolic transformation and take on greater significance as “objective correlatives.” (T.S. Elliot).
But to each poet his own approach. This poem by Peter Yovu revels in overt metaphor, and does so to great effect. The “blue coffin,” which surely refers to Earth, brings to mind Pale Blue Dot, a photograph of our pixel-size planet amidst the vastness of space. That image was taken from a distance of 3.7 billion miles by Voyager 1, the probe which eventually exited the solar system in 2012 after completing its 42-year mission. Aboard that probe is the Golden Record, a sort of time capsule which President Jimmy Carter summed up with: “This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.”
Quite an expansive haiku. And though pessimistic about humankind’s chances of survival (understandably so) it does leave open the possibility of a different outcome. And/or that perhaps the Golden Record time capsule, and Earth herself, might someday be discovered by some spacefaring civilization.
As this week’s winner, Chris 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!
only a drawing of a labyrinth, only the moon’s pull –Mark Harris, Noon 8