Alan Summers’ Juniper

juniper the tether end of larksong

© Alan Summers (UK)

(Poetry & Place anthology issue 1 ed. Ashley Capes and Brooke (Close-Up Books, April 2016)

I really love the imagery of the juniper and larksong. Larksong itself is a strong image created by fusing a visual and audible image!

The brevity of the poem makes it very direct, but I feel there is much more to it than can be seen at first glance…

…It took me a few reads to see what is going on, but I can see how the wonderful song of the bird is drawing the observer/reader in close, like the juniper berries are drawing in the lark. The song is making the observer/reader take a look at the natural scene—beyond the everyday view, deep into a wondrous microcosm, a symbiosis of the bird and tree, the bird eating the berries, spreading the juniper seeds through its faeces.

The juniper bush also reminds me of a funny scene from the movie “Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” where it is the only means of food for a recluse who has taken a vow of silence.

Brian is fleeing from an unwanted following of fanatics looking for a savior and arrives on a mountaintop. He falls into a recluse’s hole, hurting the man’s foot. The man shouts out in pain, cussing about breaking his 5-year silence. But soon, he starts singing, as he might as well. Brian is trying to keep him quiet so his following doesn’t find him, but to no avail of course.

When the mob arrives and they hear what has happened, they decide it is a miracle performed by Brian. Soon though, they wonder why there savior “led” them to the mountaintop where there is no water or food.

Then Brian points out a nearby juniper bush and its presence is declared another miracle!

The scene ends with the recluse fighting Brian’s following over the juniper bush.

I guess the point being that the recluse’s voice led the group to discover the juniper bush, like the lark’s song draws us into the haiku moment.

Michael Smeer (Netherlands)

There have been some eastern poems about drinking, but they were not corrupted. They look like saintly poems. I think that this author drank the gin “juniper” to the limit “tether” until morning when the larks were singing—but heaven’s gate closed, because the larksong ended.

Bad habits will make you lose your mind, and it will be its own tether. Maybe we think that the past drunkard poets as saintly because they stand far from power. They say Santoka was always drinking, but his haiku is popular now.He wrote many haiku, begging and drinking while he was wandering. I think there isn’t a commonality between this author’s life and Santoka’s life, but they can’t stop drinking to their dream.

– Norie Umeda (Japan)

I imagine this juniper as an old, dying, or felled tree. Lark sparrows (based on what I have read) tend to favor more open grassland. Could it be that the bird is singing a happy song?

Alternatively, the tendency in places to plant and save more juniper trees (ecotourism) means the larks in those areas are in decline. In this case, could it be that the bird(s) is singing a sad song?

Thirdly, if we define juniper as an evergreen (from the Latin, junniperus) the youthful image that arouses contrasts with “the tether end of larksong” which one could imagine meaning that the birds are getting ready to migrate, taking with them their beautiful sing-song. Does it mean winter is on the doorstep?

Lastly, in certain countries, poachers trap birds (including larks) and eat them. I can picture a bird glued (birdlime) to a branch. It’s a slow death and would surely provoke a heart-breaking song. I am not sure larks are trapped in that way (they nest near the ground) but the image jumped into my mind.

– Corine Timmer (Portugal)

The juniper has distinctly sharp shoots and often the shape of the tree itself forms to one side, and I think comparing it to the “tether end of larksong” is a fine association. Besides showing an intriguing connection, I believe the image brings the reader to a state of mental silence, watching the lark’s song in its last sound.

Juniper berries are a summer kigo, or seasonal reference. The call of the lark is reflective of summer, in my eyes, as it has an uplifting and energetic resonance. The juniper is also reflective of summer, with its sharpness matching the blaze of summer heat.

The “r” sounds in this monoku also associate with the call of the lark in its curved song.

You can easily feel the moment of the haiku when you read it, and it brings one peace and introspection.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Did you enjoy this haiku and commentary? Let us know in the comments.

Maya Lyubenova’s Wishing Well

wishing well —
the words I whisper
back in my face

© Maya Lyubenova (Bulgaria) (1956 – 2016)

This is a powerful haiku. It reminds us to be careful of what we wish for, and also implies how attaching to even a single thought can significantly impact someone’s life. The act of whispering amplifies the silence surrounding the wish, creating more depth, which is also signified by the depth of the wishing well. The “w” sounds in the first two lines seem to create a calming effect. By contrast, the third line hits the reader in their own face, allowing him or her to reevaluate their own wishes/desires or perhaps discard them.

– Jacob Salzer (USA)

Did she drop the words in the well? This haiku has a strong kire at the end of the first line, but the middle of the second line has a kire with “the words.”

I feel words fell in the well like a coin. So, in the second line “I” …this viewpoint starts inside the “well,” and this “I” whispers back in my face. Its viewpoint is turned upside down again. It looks like the wishing well keeps whispering endlessly.

In our country, a well is a sacred place. We think that there is a god in the well. It seems that it is a common understanding among people in the world. Often, folktales are told as a moral story involving a well.

But this haiku is lovely and mysterious. Maybe the repetition of the “w” sounds make us proceed to the third line.

The first line’s kire and the middle of the second line’s kire creates a strong separation. The enjambment of the second line creates discomfort, but becomes a gentle slope by the “w” sounds.

– Norie Umeda (Japan)

Bulgaria is such a beautiful country with a rich culture. Line one is very strong in this haiku. It sets the perfect scene. Very mysterious, and also feminine, because it is more likely for a woman to follow the gypsy teaching to visit a wishing well at night during a full moon to bring a silver or gold coin to make a wish. In line 2 and line 3, the rest of the story is built. I believe this girl wished for something very special and even she had a doubt if her wish would ever come true. I enjoy this haiku very much. Here is an inspired haiku:

two silver coins
spin in night air—
first golden leaves

– Laughing Waters (USA)

A simple ku with deep layers of meaning… for one, in a wishing well, we normally toss a coin or two and whisper a wish. But a wish could just be a wish. It is an inkling of what we want to become a reality, whether it is about love, attention we want from another person, a windfall, or what have you. But we know that a wish just comprises words that needs more than an act of wishing… it will only go “back in my face.” Perhaps more actions are needed for the wish to come true… this brings us to the sweat that we apply in order to achieve the wish. As they say: “action speaks louder than words.” This is how I interpret and see this ku.

– Willie Bongcaron (Philippines)

If you enjoy this poem and the commentary, please let us know in the comment section.

Gabriel Bates’ Dead End Street

dead end street
I walk away
from my mind

Otata 27, March, 2018

© Gabriel Bates (USA)

For me, this is quite a dark haiku.

dead end street I am thinking of a tall wall standing in front of me, then I can’t go further. Anybody might have experienced a problem he or she thought couldn’t be solved.

I walk away Walking away is like giving up on something. I think the writer walked away from his problems, or from some realities, or anything else….

from my mind I guess this is what he chose. To be drunk at the corner bar, or somewhere else, to find some temporary peaceful state from his bad memories or his unsolved problems….

– Fei Zhan (Indonesia)

The first line, dead end street, indicates no solution to a problem or nothing out of the box. I could see the disappointment and demotivation that the poet expressed here cleverly. Sometimes, if we don’t get solutions to certain problems, we leave them, stop thinking about them, deny them, or buy time to find out the best solution. This is a strategy to deal with certain problems. I can feel the burnout the situation creates as well where a person simply finds an escape from bitter realities that keep on engaging his or her mind and thoughts. Walking away may be a temporary break that gives us space to do certain other things in life and to get some ideas. Sometimes, people give up and completely forget about a situation; sometimes, they come back with a peace of mind that gives them more insights and maybe effective problem-solving ideas.

– Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

This haiku has a Zen quality to me. The mind itself can be likened to a dead end street due to its limitations. We are restricted and contained within the boundaries of our ego. To free ourselves of these limitations, to be in a state of mindlessness is to become much more conscious and present—a state which is conducive to becoming aware of haiku moments, and a state of enlightenment. In meditation, one can visualize walking away from the ego-mind which traps us in behaviours and prevents us from being who we really are. We turn away from thoughts, because they are only the mind chattering to itself.

– Martha Magenta (UK)

I see escapism in this ku. When we are faced with a “dead end road,” we sometimes panic and forget what is the best thing to do given the circumstances. But the will to survive soon takes over and in time we are back to where we were—our old, sane world with all the dramas therein.

– Willie Bongcaron (Philippines)

Sometimes my phone’s map shows me the past of streets and houses. This “existence” has completely disappeared. However, not much of a difference can be seen, so it is not much of problem for others. Maybe the poet bumped into a dead end street in a virtual town. A “dead end” reminds of a closed mind or a closed society.

In the third line, maybe the poet finds a metaphorical key, and he walks away from his “mind.” This mind is his “preconception” or “imprint.” We are thinking a large amount of information every day. This process looks like fog. While walking in fog, our clothes get wet without us noticing. In essence, the poet walks away from his environment.

– Norie Umeda (Japan)

For me, the main message of this senryu (I believe it leans more towards senryu than haiku) is about how we can get into a meditative state, despite physical obstacles, and that surrendering to the moment is more valuable than frustration. But, I want to focus on sound since people have commented enough on the content of the poem.

The hard “d” sounds in the first and last line indicate the wall, and the soft “w” sounds in the second line show the peace of surrender. This is only my interpretation, so other readers can feel differently about what the sound in the poem represents. However, the musicality of this senryu can be easily felt.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Did you like this poem and commentary? Let us know in the comment section.

Peggy Willis Lyles’ Shimmering Pines

shimmering pines
a taste of the mountain
from your cupped hands

(Mayfly #31, 2001)
© Peggy Willis Lyles (1939 – 2010) (USA)

shimmering pines It is probably in the morning or after a rainfall, or a site with water, because we can see the reflecting lights from the dew on the leaves.

a taste of the mountain Maybe this could resemble water that comes out from a mountain, or fruits, or something else edible from a mountain.

from your cupped hands Aha, the writer is not alone. Somebody is with her to take water, maybe a creek with some waterfalls, to give water to the writer to be tasted. Or maybe there is a statue of some Goddess with water flowing through her cupped hands, and the writer tastes it. It is a beautiful scene.

– Fei Zhan (Indonesia)

The image this haiku shows to me is of two people drinking from a mountain spring. The spring swells into a pool and one person offers the other a drink of spring water from cupped hands. The surrounding pines are reflected on the surface of the water, shimmering.

The cupped hands are a powerful universal symbol. I am reminded of the Burmese struggle for freedom and the poem, by San Suu Kyi:

As water in cupped hands
But of that we might be
As splinters of glass
In cupped hands.

Cupped hands are universally symbolic—of friendship and the act of giving, of making an offering at a temple altar, of an openness and willingness to receive, or sometimes in asking for help.

A mountain spring always has something powerful, a force of nature, of life, of giving and nurturing. It is also magical how this delicious and refreshing substance can come out of a mountain in a state of purity. It is something to be shared and revered.

A beautiful and memorable haiku.

– Martha Magenta (UK)

It reminds me of a childhood experience when my part of the world was a lot cleaner. On a scouting trip to a place north of the city, we filled our water containers from a flowing spring water source up from the mountain. The water was a lot cooler and all natural. The experience was definitely a communion with Mother Nature. This is what comes to mind with this beautiful haiku.

– Willie Bongcaron (Philippines)

There is a sense of what it is like to give yourself to another person, and the beauty of that action. The image of the shimmering pines illustrates the magic of moments when one gets to share in someone else’s life or gift.

I thought the sound of the haiku was powerful. With “s” sounds strewn through the poem, the sharpness of shimmering is presented well. Also, the haiku is additionally musical through “m” sounds, and the “p” sounds could be reflective of the noise water makes when being dropped from a small mountain waterfall or downward stream.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Did you enjoy this haiku and the commentary. Let us know in the comments section.