Susan King’s Riverside Rock

the deep down cool
of a riverside rock

© Susan King (UK)

(Previously published in Lacewings, 2010)

A poem that, despite the modern form in which it is presented, recalls classic haiku in its atmosphere and content … The first that comes to mind is a famous haiku by Issa:

“our house”
already in these words,

In King’s haiku, as in Issa’s, freshness and rest interpenetrate, meaning freshness reveals what suffocates the soul even more than the body. Here, the freshness is at its best: the coolness of the rock made even icier by the waters of the river and is accentuated by the fluid sounds of words.

But a rock on a river also awakens in me the image of someone motionless, meditating on the shore, wrapped in the freshness of nature, purified and new in his or her mind … It is really “resting” read as a verbal form that strengthens me in this opinion.

The last image involves me to the point that, immersed in reading, I think of nothing else. I feel a great freshness inside me and an even greater lightness. Chapeau!

Margherita Petriccione (Italy)

This haiku has a good use of visual space but to me the use of sound through vowels (“i” and “o”) reads well out loud which is an important technique in haiku and poetry in general.

The word “cool” is a seasonal word in a Japanese saijiki that refers to summer.

While there seems to be an emphasis on “riverside rock” because of the adjectives “deep down,” it can also read as a noun “the deep.” This makes this haiku quite interesting depending on how a reader reads it.

While there are many breaks in this haiku, it can be also be read as a phrase in one breath. It’s more apparent as a monoku:

resting the deep down cool of a riverside rock

…as opposed to a concrete fragment on line one followed by a phrase that is typically used in haiku, which commonly starts with a noun and not a gerund.

But in three lines as the reader, “resting” does intrigue me for an opening line in combination with the following two lines (phrase), which forces me to wonder and conjure my own images of what’s resting. While some might see this as a shashei (sketch of life) haiku, it also isn’t because of the thinking room that does not state the obvious—but that’s up for the reader to decide on this well-crafted haiku.

Fractled (USA)

This haiku gives a continuity of deep thoughts about a person who is in search of eternal peace. The starting line ‘resting’ reveals both physical and mental states of a person who really wants to get some rest. It is not simply rest that she is referring to, though. It is the state of mind of seeking for serenity and calmness.

“riverside rock” is beautifully used in this profound poem, where it reflects the metaphysical side of the elements of nature. The riverside rock remains wet and cool all the time because the flowing water of the river constantly strikes it and keeps it cold. It seems the poet has kept her head on the riverside rock, which gives her an intuition about the inner peace she felt through the first touch of the riverside rock.

Metaphorically, our head is more like a riverside rock that needs a constant flow of thoughts like river water, which keeps us calm, positive, and peaceful. It is all about absorbing those thoughts to the core so that we can experience the serenity of deeply rooted positive energy and actually feel relaxed.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

I think starting with just “resting” allows us as readers to relax. That kind of pause is necessary in our lives.

The second line soothes even further with “deep down cool.” King conveys with sound how cool the rock is. I also enjoy how we can read it as the rock resting or the cool itself resting. Coolness chilling out multiplies the effect of serenity, which is a hallmark of haiku.

The focus and simplicity of this haiku are admirable. It soothes us and brings us into a semi-mystic state by reading it. A lovely composition by King that employs that right pace, wording, and sound to bring us into meditation.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

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


– Art by Godai Katsunaga

Alan Summers’ Riverlight

the sewing pins
of rainfall

Alan Summers (UK)
Modern Haiku volume 48.3 Autumn 2017

Commenting on a master’s haiku is always a gamble, but fundamentally … fortuna adiuvat audaces. At first, I wondered what the light of the river was: the brightness of the river’s surface or the lights on its shore … then I realized that it didn’t really matter and that I didn’t have to rationalize too much. The image that reaches me is immediate: dark, a light that reflects on the river and on falling raindrops. The raindrops, if illuminated by an intense light in the dark, can highlight and hypnotically catalyze the eye. Enlightenment that reveals what would otherwise escape us. And here, they are clearly evident: these thin needles that sew the river with the sky, the darkness with darkness, in a single landscape.

This haiku, masterfully expressed in a few words, has enchanted someone like me who loves brevity very much. I also enjoy its harmonious fluidity, which cleverly breaks into a stark tone only in the second line. It harmonizes well with an Italian who is accustomed to the harmonious sounds of their own language. Chapeau.

Margherita Petriccione (Italy)

This is a very visual haiku where I can immediately see a scene of a night of rain ripples but one might ask how can there be light at night if it’s raining? To answer that, another immediate scene came to my mind, which was an urban or suburban area lit by city lights around the river. Manhattan or the other side Brooklyn is a perfect atmosphere for this haiku. This haiku also conjures images of rain needles during the day too.

Another question to ask is why would someone be in the rain to view such a sight? Perhaps an unexpected downpour occurred while someone was by the river or was inside a boat/ferry to capture this moment. There’s a lot going on in this seven-word haiku.

Although this haiku can be seen as a shasei “sketch of life” poem, one can note the juxtaposition between the fragment (riverlight) and the phrase (rain) and the space the reader has to fill in to see the ripples without it being told. Ex. If this haiku was written as:

the sewing pins
of rainfall ripples

That to me would be too telling and boring and would definitely classify as shasei.

Another interesting thing about this haiku is that riverlight on the spellchecker sees it as a typo. I’m not sure if it was intended or not and I could not find a direct definition of the word but found that’s it’s a name of a property in London. Perhaps leaving the word not in caps made it personal to the author yet open to the reader. Either way, it doesn’t hurt the essence of this haiku, which to me is quite masterfully written.

Fractled (USA)

Riverlight, with its great mystery, is used as the starting note of this beautiful orchestral haiku, where the subtlety of life lies in the light that makes no difference to the flowing water but to the falling rain. It’s a deep expression of having everything but still nothing in life. The riverlight may be soft, subtle, mysterious, and vague for the rhythmic movement of water but it has a great impact on the things that are intangible.

Sewing pins not only help in setting clothes but also fixing mending issues by providing adherence. The analogy of sewing pins with rainfall makes this haiku poignant and profound. Again, the riverlight gives a great colour to the rain but metaphorically doesn’t change the vagueness and purposeless life of it.

In life, we may experience a lot of things that look different when uncovered or unveiled by rational thinking. We may find them piercing our life and wish to not face them or encounter them again. Glimpses of adversity in life may be painful but it brings ease with them.

The synthesis of sight, touch, and feel in this haiku makes it more profound and mystical in nature, where the light turns rain into painful experiences or trials of life that eventually lead to eternal peace.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

One of the great qualities of Alan’s work is that it is always unique and often imaginative/abstract. However, this imagination is grounded in the perception of reality. “riverlight” is a good example of this. The invented word in the first line and the image of rainfall being like sewing pins can be easily understood. In some instances, rain does appear to be sharp and could be mistaken for sewing pins.

Though sewing pins can be seen as something sharp, they can also be perceived as something that mends the broken. This may be why “riverlight” is used: the rain has merged the river and sunlight/moonlight. Also, Alan might be saying that riverlight is akin to the magic of rain appearing as sewing pins.

In terms of sound, the “i” jumps out in almost every word in this haiku. They are in the shape of sharp rain and even have a sonic comparison to them. I also like the format, with the second line setting up a surprise in the third line.

Overall, I believe this poem is unique, fascinating, and economically written.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

Did you enjoy the haiku and commentary? If so, please leave us a comment. 


– Sumi-e painting by Mark W. McGinnis


Tia Nicole Haynes’ Starlight

my baby’s last day
within me

© Tia Nicole Haynes (USA)
Incense Dreams 2.2, 2018

When I read this haiku, I could not understand it completely. I felt it was missing something. However, I saw that it has two possible interpretations for me:

1. The first scenario is of a mother who has decided upon getting an abortion. In spiritual traditions, the soul can neither be created nor destroyed. Physical bodies are merely vessels to contain it. Maybe the mother thinks after the abortion, though her baby ceases to exist within her, her soul will still exist as eternal as starlight. It may be a consolation to her—a way to assuage her guilt over the decision.

The second scenario is something like this: it is the day of her child’s birth but the mother is fearful of bringing her child into the brutal, unforgiving world. But there is nothing she can do except surrender. She believes conscious intelligence, which is responsible for starlight, will take care of her baby too.

This haiku is haunting. It lingers in the mind long after you’ve read it.

Pragya Vishnoi (India)

A haiku of extreme simplicity, where every superfluous word has
been eliminated, until reaching the harmony of a well-calibrated synthesis. A scene of great silence and contemplation, in which a mother deeply feels the completeness of having within herself an essential part to which she will have to give up. Ephemeral completeness of which the cold light of the stars, in their apparent immutability, acts as a counterpoint.

I am not here to ask myself why this mother already knows that tomorrow her child will no longer be with her. Perhaps she will have a planned birth. Perhaps she has decided not to let him or her be born—a very painful hypothesis that cannot be excluded.

I want to see it as a programmed birth and read this mother as a person that from one thing that is now forming a creature that is about to divide with a psychologically and physically important laceration. Many years have passed since the birth of my daughters, but I remember the sense of emptiness and above all the physical experiences in the following days … I had to let go of a part of my body in a certain sense.

I sometimes try to remember that feeling of total well-being that gave me the feeling of having a moving creature inside me, and I try to remember it with the sensations of the body, not with the reminiscences of the mind.
The key of this haiku is in the “within me” that closes the poem: so important, so well chosen, so firm even in its sound.

Margherita Petriccione (Italy)

A beautiful haiku that shows a deep connection between a mother and her child. The vast imagery of the universe and its deep connection with a womb is profoundly depicted in this exquisite poem where both outer and inner universes connect through subtle feelings and the imaginative portrayal of motherhood.

The starlight beautifies the space with its soft and gentle light that spreads all over the universe. It looks more like a blanket of sparkling dots that tickles one’s imagination. The mother imagines the same starlight inside her as her baby is close to her and he or she signifies the whole universe that glorifies her motherhood and the inner world. The last day is the celebration of the most beautiful creation of the world: a child. Only a mother can feel and see the whole universe celebrating it with her. The starlight may symbolize the firework that sparkles in her thoughts and feelings due to this jubilant arrival of her baby.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

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

Starry_Night_Over_the_Rhone– Painting by Vincent van Gogh