Alan Summers’ Riverlight

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:

riverlight
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. 

willows-boise-river-2

– Sumi-e painting by Mark W. McGinnis

 

11 thoughts on “Alan Summers’ Riverlight

  1. Dear Margherita,

    Thank you for your kind comments! I love people to be brave, with their work, and commenting or decontructing haiku by other people. It’s how we learn, and it’s always an honour if someone goes for one of my haiku!

    Your comment about the fact you don’t have to “rationalize too much” is spot on, after all this is poetry, not a treatise. Haiku of course will cross over from creative non-fiction (CNF) and creative fiction and in both a linear and logical way and also a lateral and illogical way too! 🙂

    This is actually an experiential haiku. We know that special sparkling glinting effect of ‘riverlight’ on certain days, and certain golden hours, and seasons. It’s magical!

    Great phrase! “hypnotically catalyze the eye” and yes, light and shade or light and shadow can do that, and sometimes when the river and the bank and Summer do that, we too become Alice and slip through the rabbit hole too!

    Wow!
    “…these thin needles that sew the river with the sky, the darkness with darkness, in a single landscape.”

    Yes, it’s surprising how many types of rain there are, and how light and season play a part to create “other landscapes”.

    re:
    “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.“

    Thank you! I love how you have interpretated/re-interpretated the poem.

    “It harmonizes well with an Italian who is accustomed to the harmonious sounds of their own language. Chapeau.”

    Thank you! That’s high praise as we know how incredible the Italian language is, and we should NEVER watch a dubbed Italian film in our own language but keep the original soundtrack. I also take my hat off to you for a wonderful commentary. Commentaries never go to my head (no pun intended) and are a wonderful educational experience for me, and all poets need feedback, it’s like fuel or recharged solar panels.

    warm regards,
    Alan

    Like

  2. For me, the meaning of Alan’s haiku is not so much in its dazzling detail as in the picture conjured so deftly as a whole. And what I take from it is not an implanted meaning but rather one found for myself, with snapshots from my life, happy and sad, bubbling from the subconscious, as when listening to classical music – Grieg’s ‘Cello Concert’ maybe.

    My very best,

    Paul

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Paul, very much appreciated. I feel getting a haiku to do what you suggest is like the alchemist’s goal, and I’m delighted it happened, and took a while of close reading and revision.

      I am so happy it has done what I may have subconsciously hoped for!

      Alan

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Fractled,

    Yes, technically it looks simply visual, but for the fairly soft background of the type of rain I witnessed, which was just like multiple sewing machine needles. I’m au fait with them as both my mom had a Singer sewing machine and countless other people.

    Although it’s a daytime haiku I’m delighted you saw a night scene. I love and embrace alternate interpretations or re-interpretations.

    It is during the day, around mid-late to late afternoon. If it was at night, I think, because of scattered street type lights now and then (not too often) alongside the path and bank, and some phases of the moon, I think it would still be visible.

    Another favorite rain of mine is most types of rain streaking past street lights. There is often a lot of light at night. My only time when that wasn’t true was during my time doing landcare for a 2000 acre plot, and if I left it too late, I wouldn’t be able to see my hand, even raised up close to my eyes!

    It was a pathway walk along the River Avon at Bradford-on-Avon, not far from the train station. The canal walk, which runs parallel, can be pitch dark as I found out visiting a friend at her Narrow Boat! 🙂

    Glad you can envision both a nightscene, and alternatively a day scene, and nothing wrong with thinking it’s Manhattan or Brooklyn, although sadly I’ve not visted those parts of New York City yet! 🙂

    Fractled said:
    “Another question to ask is why would someone be in the rain to view such a sight?”

    Well, I’m a haiku poet as well as needing the exercise if I’m on the computer working for too long. Rain is just another compartment of day or night to me. Plus along with loving snow, I’m this too:
    https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Pluviophile

    Also for haiku poets, maybe just in the U.K., it can be the best time for distinctive clouds, and mood. In fact, one ginko led by the late Martin Lucas, rained suddenly so hard and would not let up, that some other haiku poets, and normal people, would have long raced to the wildlife cafe off the big Southampton park. We actually stayed out much much longer than if it had been a dry day. Even though hot drinks and food and chatting with the brilliant and much missed Martin Lucas would be very tempting. But we ended up sheltering under a big tree with Martin, rather than be wimpy, and we had wonderful conversations despite being soaked to the skin. 🙂

    In some ways, it is a shasei, maybe Shiki’s first stage to start with, and is straight observation, but as I’ve witnessed elsewhere, simple words and phrasing can surprising spark complex readings. Yes, it’s a real trick, which doesn’t always work, to avoid ‘over-telling’ or ‘directing’ and yet avoid a flat statement. I might have been influenced with ‘riverlight’ which along with the type of rain, there are many types around the world and in each country, works with its close association rather than a ‘strong’ juxtaposition effect.

    Regarding:

    riverlight
    the sewing pins
    of rainfall ripples

    Yes, agreed! River(light) and rain(fall) already indicates behind the background, that there ‘will’ be ripples. I’ve seen rain like pointillism, same stretch of the river, and very different from the sewing pins I witnessed another day. The river was not too far from my wee apartment, maybe twenty minutes, so it was no biggie to go there, and it took me to my favorite cafe by the canal (both are close to each other).

    Blackbird singing
       
    and a long long walk to be brain-tired out to avoid the internal black dog and survive each footfall at a time

    boys fishing 
    a pointillism of raindrops
    dotting the river

    Alan Summers
    Publication Credit: Haibun, Blithe Spirit Vol. 25 issue 2 (2015)

    Yes, it would be a neologism or rather when two words are put together, and there be more than one term, but I think this is a portmanteau?

    I probably internet checked then, and now, and no London property, but the search engine can act odd for each person, and we know they don’t give us the first thing we are looking for anymore, sadly.

    Thank you for your kind words!

    warm regards,
    Alan

    Like

    1. Dear Hifsa,

      “Riverlight, with its great mystery, is used as the starting note of this beautiful orchestral haiku, where the subtly of life lies in the light that makes no difference to the flowing water but to the falling rain.”

      Wow! That’s it! There is ‘riverlight’ with the water’s relation to the sun of course, but rain is an intriguing phenomena in itself, because… The BBC Cloud Lab suggested that regardless of how rain-heavy a cloud might be, or not be, it’s down to sentient bacteria deciding when and if they want to come down via the vehicle of rain:
      https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2014/28/operation-cloud-lab

      Yes, “intangible”, do we really not know anything, and when children educate us, we tell them to stay in school and learn nothing, very Handmaiden for all the various genders maybe.

      “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.”

      There is something amazing about a river, partly because water is such a religious and spiritual icon, and experience, and way of life in many other ways to us, and our co-species from insects to birds, our fellow mammals, and even the plants and trees. The effect of light from the sun onto water, and science seems to have proved that water is still alien to this planet and doesn’t even want to be liquid is extrordinary. The struggle to shrug off one identity to be what it, and what we want and need to be, despite the ever increasing constraints of ‘peer pressure’ even moreso than the backbreaking might of authority as institutions, corporations (hidden or openly hostile) and dark billionaires.

      But amidst that set of chaos is the life-affirming chaos of water meeting water via river and those sewing pins’ of rain, as if they are not just renewing the cycle, but making everything whole as pieces of a garment. It was an amazing experience, there was nothing threatening, it was light to medium rainfall appearing as thousands of single sewing needles putting something together.

      Thank you for your comments.

      Alan

      Like

  4. priscampbell

    This was an enjoyable conversation about a haiku I like very much. How versatile are those sewing pins here!

    Alan, your writing always takes that step out of a mundane observation into a far more creative imagining of the world. I’m sighing with envy at your talent 🙂

    Pris

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Pris,

      It’s great when there can be dialogue, and many thanks for entering the conversation! 🙂

      Ever since leaving an Austrian train station, many years ago, as Italy’s hotels were booked up due to their big motorcar expo, and finding horizontal rain, yes horizontal rain that went around corners, I found out there were far more types of rain than I could envision.

      Back in the U.K. having walked along a particular stretch of the River Avon (in Wiltshire, England) for many years, I’d witnessed a few types of rain too, including pointillist rain, but never the sight as if thousands of Singer sewing machines, rank upon rank, fulfilling the need to have a country clothed. 🙂

      Thank you for your kind words. I guess I can’t shrug off the child inside me, who walks alongside the person still trying to be a grown up in a challenging people-world. It’s been years of struggle to be a writer, and I feel that the struggle, that is still inside, reminds me that without the ongoing internal and external struggle, I wouldn’t be able to claw myself out now and then, and attempt just a few words of communication.

      Many thanks for your wonderful comments!!! 🙂

      warmest regards,

      Alan

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Nick,

    “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.”

    Thank you!

    I think that certainly captures what has become my voice, or style, through most of my work. That’s a great statement! Could I quote you on that possibly?

    I’m often at odds with what I am as a haikai poet, and people’s insights are incredibly helpful if they help to solve my conumdrum. 🙂

    Nick said:
    “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.

    Nick continued:
    “Though sewing pins can be seen as something sharp, they can also be perceived as something that mends the broken.”

    Exactly! This was not intended to be the human-viewed destructive element of sharp blades, but two things joining for each other’s benefit. A meeting of two entities in a cycle of creative purpose.

    Nick said:
    “This may be why “riverlight” is used: the rain has merged the river and sunlight/moonlight.”

    Yes, the river is reflective and refractive and rain also carries light, be it sunlight or moonlight (which is the sun’s reflected light), and any human-made light will also be caught up in this interaction.

    Nick said:
    “Also, Alan might be saying that riverlight is akin to the magic of rain appearing as sewing pins.”

    Yes! I feel and see nature often through the lens of HC Andersen (I was involved in the Bicentennial) and that of folklore and many tale-creators in children’s fiction.

    Nick said:
    “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.”

    Thank you! This is very much a haiku about “riverness” and “rainness” and the endless cycle of coming and going, of leaving and reuniting, that nature has, and for good or for bad, in our human relationships with each other, and with others, and the rest of life on the planet.

    Nick said:
    “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.”

    That could be a regular aspect of my writing that the surprise line is not always presented just as a last line enterprise. I notice that is one of a few six word haiku I’ve written, and it’s interesting that even “more brevity” can sometimes carry so much.

    Thank you so much for your incredible insights, Nick, deeply appreciated.

    warm regards,
    Alan

    Liked by 1 person

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