Randy Brooks’ row

digging potatoes
her story reaches the end
of the row

Randy Brooks (USA)


I appreciate how this haiku transports me to a farm, where digging potatoes is both a source of sustenance and a way to earn a living. I also appreciate how this haiku transports me back in time before we had cellphones and were more connected with the Earth. While this haiku may seem simple at first, I see deep implications. 

This haiku reminds me that words travel fast, but not always accurately. If the original story is heard by someone who tries to retell the story to someone else, the story can change subtly or more drastically from person to person. As a result, this haiku shows us the dangers of mistranslations and misunderstandings when stories are told and retold, especially by word of mouth. By the end of the row, the person may have heard a story that is much different from the original version. If this happens, there can be dissonance and profound consequences.

On the other hand, this haiku could have a positive connotation if her story is passed down accurately from person to person. Sharing stories was (and still is) a way to bond with each other and can help make the day more enjoyable too.

In Indigenous families, they have a remarkable way of preserving ancient stories by word of mouth from generation to generation. Storytelling is a deep and integral part of their culture and has continued over thousands of years. Many of their stories have also been recorded in English through books and transcripts. A good example is a book titled Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest compiled by Ella E. Clark. I admire how Indigenous myths and legends contain important lessons that can be applied today, even though they are very old. 

I want to thank Randy Brooks for writing and sharing this haiku with us. This is an important philosophical and social haiku with depth and meaning.

 — Jacob D. Salzer 

It’s the ambience that makes this haiku concrete, digging into one’s life and seeing its harvest. This haiku also shows the hardship of a farmer’s life who expects something good in the end. Digging potatoes can relate to garnering a reward after the toil of work—a prize in the form of energy, taste, sustenance, and memories.

‘her story’ is a turning point in this haiku. It may tell us about the life of a farmer, a housewife, a worker, or a mother who has to feed her family. Digging potatoes may be correlated to planting dreams, wishes, or memories, and waiting for the harvest season for fruitful results. In this metaphorical harvesting, support (tools) aid her in gathering what she has worked towards.

This haiku is crafted very well. The words that are used let us wander through the various stories of her life. Her story reaching the end may reflect her ageing, fatigue, departure, failure, or success. The word ‘row’ in this haiku is carefully employed. From it, we can see the multi folds of this story that may indicate a poor family relationship, hardship without reward or encouragement, certain expectations from others of the harvest, or a dispute. The other side may be the row as a path that has taken her to her destiny, which may be both good and bad. I see here the chances we are given when we work hard. It depends on the path we have taken, the decisions or choices we have made, and the resilience or patience we have shown.

With no well-defined kigo, no punctuation, and an interesting line break in the second line, this haiku is worth reading again and again. It gives much for the reader to ponder.

Hifsa Ashraf

As Hifsa mentioned, there is no particular kigo, or seasonal reference, implied in this haiku. However, with the best times to harvest potatoes being in August to September in Illinois (where the poet lives), we could place the poem in those months. With the melancholy mood of this haiku, I feel it could be September.

There is no kireji or cut marker, but there is a grammatical shift starting in the second line. In the interaction between the two parts of the haiku, it seems the potatoes could be a metaphor for the story of the person being referenced. Perhaps, her history is hearty and rich, yet relatable.

The use of the word “row” and “end” intrigues me. I see different levels for each word to be read into. The person in question could be narrating a story until she reaches the end of the row of potatoes. Or, it could be that the woman or girl could have planted the potatoes and they are her story. This could imply her passing. While digging out the potatoes, the poet could be taking out her story, one by one.

In terms of sound, the letter “o” attracts me the most. The elongated syllables make the haiku more plaintive, matching the mood. I feel the letter “r” accentuates the seriousness of the imagery,

Looking at the pacing, the lines follow the standard for English-language haiku of a short first line, a longer second line, and a short third line. This approximates the rhythm of traditional Japanese haiku.

Ultimately, it seems the most potent quality of this haiku is its white space and double meanings in its imagery. With these, the haiku resonates in unexpected ways.

Nicholas Klacsanzky

“Woman Digging Up Potatoes,” Vincent van Gogh


3 thoughts on “Randy Brooks’ row

  1. priscampbell

    I’m a Randy Brooks fan and really can relate to this, in my thirties I took on the job of recording the oral history of my family. Stories, even more than photos, are the spark thar keeps memories alive. I know that great grandma Dickson always wore her second best black dress (floor length, of course) to the doctor so he wouldn’t try to ‘overcharge’ her. That brings life to the few grim faced photos I have. Thank you Randy for a great haiku and those of you who wrote commentaries, expanding it even further.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ingridbaluchi

    Comments already made here give this lovely poem great depth, and as such, are very much appreciated. The story she relates could well be a ‘ploy’ by the teller to distract the farmers, workers or family away from their labour,

    Perhaps I’m being too simplistic here, but there seems to be a missing element, taking us away from the activity itself. Maybe we are influenced by van Gogh’s accompanying painting, but there is much joy that comes from digging out potatoes. Like finding treasure. The soil is usually quite friable and before long, one can pull out most of the yield by tugging gently at the plant itself, something very satisfying. Any others detached from the roots come as a surprise bonus. With my children, it was always a pleasurable competition to see who could dig out the most or the biggest potato.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Randy Brooks’ row – Haiku Commentary | word pond

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