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I wish I understand
Failed Haiku, December 2016
© Christina Sng
Though this senryu is cute at first glance (and many more glances) it has something deeper to it.
Cats are often good friends, and the writer wants to know more of the inner world of one of her best friends. Also, cats are often associated with mysticism and otherworldliness. By being able to understand the language of cats, maybe we can have a greater comprehension of what is readily unknown to humans and maybe glimpse divinity, or the magic behind mundane existence.
This is juxtaposed with the sun in winter. Though it burns, it hardly gives warmth, and almost teases us with its appearance. Though the cat meows we cannot understand may appear cute or “warm,” there is the coldness of being left out of their world, and maybe out of a secret dimension to the human experience.
Now let’s get a bit more technical. Though this senryu was published in a senryu journal, some poets might say this poem fits into the haiku genre as well… and they would not be exactly wrong. We got a kigo (seasonal reference) and a juxtaposition, but does it have a haiku aesthetic? What the great poet and teacher Michael Dylan Welch wrote in his essay Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Haiku and Senryu But Were Too Busy Writing to Ask applies to this poem:
“Senryu aims more at the head than the heart, more at the intellect than the soul (and in this sense, many so-called avant-garde gendai haiku may be more akin to senryu than haiku). Where haiku are subtle, senryu are blunt. Where haiku are shaded, senryu are lurid.”
By using “understand,” you can say that the poem aims at the mind rather than the heart; but on the other hand, if the reader focuses on “wish,” you can say the poem leans more to haiku. And to give more emphasis to this, Mr. Welch wrote a comment below this post:
“When the poem says “I wish I understand,” to me the emphasis is on wishing, thus an emotion of longing. Consequently, that points to feeling rather than the intellect, which I think makes the poem lean more towards haiku than senryu. The fact that there’s more to the poem than just a cute veneer also points to it being a haiku rather than a senryu. Nor does the poem have a victim or make fun of anything, which is common with senryu. Definitely a haiku!”
In terms of sound, the letter “w” features strongly, giving an impression of yearning. Also, the letter “s” makes a prominent showing. This sound gives it a more musical reading.
This senryu is at once serious and lighthearted, which supplies it with more dimension. The reader does not know if the poet is serious or playful about what she wrote, but this adds to the white space of the senryu and makes it all that more enjoyable to read.
– Nicholas Klacsanzky
the root of the sky
© Lucia Fontana
Akitsu Quarterly, winter issue, 2016
What I enjoy most about this haiku is its connection to spirituality, or abstract thinking even though it is not directly stated. “Root of the sky” makes sense intuitively, though we have to think, as a reader, what that is exactly. The reader figuring that out, or searching for the meaning of it provides white space. White space is essential in haiku to supply depth and a larger quantity of interpretations.
White space also provides more chances for resonance. By having the two parts interact—the first line, and the last two lines—resonance is made in this haiku. Though the connection between “fog” and “so invisible” is clear, what is foggy is the meaning of “root” and how the two parts emotionally connect.
For me, when I read this haiku, I feel the writer is reflecting on the invisibility of a divine force or God. The emotional phrasing of this haiku gives me a reason to perceive it that way. If “so” was left out, the reading of the haiku would have been drastically different. Equally, “winter” has a mood of bitterness and suffering, and adds emotional content to the haiku. If it was taken away from the haiku, the reading of it would also change considerably.
But then again, the poet could be pondering the formation of the sky in physical terms, from the beginning of Earth’s existence. We are still not clear, scientifically, how Earth formed life.
In terms of sound, the letter “o” features most prominently: “fog,” “root,” and “so.” Sometimes as haiku writers, we forget how sound can carry or add meaning, like in other styles of poetry. In this haiku, the letter “o” gives a sense of pining for knowledge, in my view.
Also, the last line is five syllables, the same as the second line. Though the last line looks shorter, it carries as much content syllable-wise, and is in a sense, elongated. This gives readers the impression of a weighty line despite being short.
A great combination of resonance, white space, sound, and syllables, this haiku delivers much more than is seen.
– Nicholas Klacsanzky
This is what A Hundred Gourds editor Lorin Ford wrote about this pivotal poet:
Janice M. Bostok will go down in history as the haiku pioneer of Australia. Though there was a general interest in all things Eastern in Australian poetry from the 1960’s and a few Australian poets included haiku or haiku-like poems in their published collections, as far as a haiku movement goes Australia was terra nullius. Any sense of a haiku movement in Australia begins with the extraordinary story of the young Janice Bostok, a countrywoman with a flair for correspondence.
As a result of the chance mention of haiku by a pen-pal in the USA and Jan’s query in return, “What is haiku?” a small volume of translated Japanese haiku arrived in the mail and Jan began writing haiku. For over forty years, Jan worked to encourage the writing of haiku and related poetry. She edited and published Australia’s first haiku journal, Tweed, was haiku editor at various times for the journals Hobo, Paper Wasp, Yellow Moon and Stylus and for five years she was South Pacific Editor for the annual Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku. She taught haiku whenever and wherever she could, taking pride in being known as ‘the haiku missionary’ and she judged many haiku competitions. She joined John Bird in his project of the First Australian Haiku Anthology and the creation of HaikuOz.
Jan’s haiku were first published in America, in 1971. Her collection, Walking Into The Sun, was a runner-up in the 1974 Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards. Her haiku were included in Cor van den Heuvel’s 1986 edition of The Haiku Anthology and her work featured in numerous Australian and overseas journals and anthologies. Jan’s poems have been translated into seven languages.
day lily petals fold
Janice’s biographer, Sharon Dean, wrote this about this haiku:
…I was fascinated with the intimate connection between her life and haiku, a connection that would become movingly apparent to me following a 2008 trip to Japan, where I occasionally bought bottles of chilled green tea from vending machines. One day in Kyoto, I was surprised when a machine dispensed to me a bottle featuring one of Jan’s haiku. The poem was printed in Japanese characters, and the accompanying translation read:
day lily petals fold
Aware that the flowers of most day lily species have a relatively brief lifespan – in that they open at sunrise and wither at sunset – I admired the ephemeral quality of the image. Months later, however, on hearing Jan explain that she’d written the haiku in memory of her first child, a son who had died at birth, I gained a greater appreciation for the poignancy of her art. People often told Jan they adored her work because she wrote of experiences they themselves had had, but hadn’t been able to put into words – especially words that spoke so concisely and resonantly, and also with such lingering depth, warmth … and often, humour. [Source: http://ahundredgourds.com/ahg11/bostok.html%5D
To add to Sharon Dean’s commentary, I believe this haiku also allows the reader to put their attention on what is unknown to us, and to consider its suffering. Many times, authors have written that the essence of haiku is compassion, and this haiku is a fine example.
Summer indicates a relaxed, fun time. But like all seasons, summer has its misfortunes as well: the heat often withers plants, causes animals and people to die of heat exhaustion, summer love is often fickle, and unsuspected deaths happen.
The word “dusk” paints the mood of the poem, along with “fold.” Also, the pacing of the lines leaves a solemn mood behind when read out loud. Though the atmosphere of the haiku can easily be said to be of sadness, it can also be said to be of acceptance. The day lily only does what it does—no more, no less. The loss of her son is shown through this lens in this haiku.
In regard to sound, one immediately picks up on the “d” sound in “dusk,” “day, ” and “fold.” The solemness of its sound reflects the mood of the haiku well.
In both a technical and intuitive sense, this haiku calls us to join the poet in her feelings of loss and acceptance of loss.
– Nicholas Klacsanzky