Here is my contribution to re:Virals 49 (re:Virals is the weekly haiku commentary over at The Haiku Foundation).
Robert Mainone’s poem originally published in Modern Haiku 40.3 (2009)
shows the sponge gene —
was featured and commented upon by a number of poets, yours truly included. Take a look here for the whole post.
Here I reproduce my own contribution, with a couple of minor clarifications/amendments.
Haplogroup, I understand, is the term, in genetics, describing the exact common ancestry of a group of humans, the genetic family tree down to its roots. In this poem’s case, the sponge.
At first, identifying with the narrator, I felt hurt to be classified as a sponge; then I reconsidered. After all, I’d read that sponges share a remarkable amount of genetic material with humans — so not to be taken personally. But did I want to be reminded on a Sunday morning, over coffee, that I have a lot in common with sponges?
It is of course science that gives me this information. Is science the bringer of uncomfortable news? Is it the culprit that clips the angel’s wings (Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,/ Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,/; Poe, “To Science”)? Or am I shooting the messenger? After all, Dawkins and others before him have argued that, rather than “Unweaving the Rainbow”, science reveals the worlds’s hidden beauty.
But here, in this context, it is the poet who reminds me of my humble beginnings. Of course, to their credit, sponges thrived for over 600 million years while I have struggled with fewer than 100. And recent research uncovered clues pointing to sponges descending from a more advanced ancestor than previously thought.
Still, how far am I reducible to bits of genetic information translated into proteins, labellable, traceable, ultimately replaceable? A mere cog in the cosmic machine? I, Stella, poet, writer, and sponge.
Be that as it may, what I find interesting, and welcome, is that the poet feels at ease with bringing a scientific fact into the poem. After all, objective scientific facts are as much part of our world as subjective experiences.
In earlier centuries (as far back as the ancient Greek thinkers), it had been common practice for poets to describe scientific discoveries in their poems; poets popularised scientific ideas – think of Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution and how they resonated with many poets and novelists – and scientists popularised poetry. In the nineteenth century, Dickens, and others, went further than mutual facilitation, exploring poetically, for instance, ideas of energy conservation and dissipation (cf. Barri J. Gold, “ThermoPoetics”). Literature and science have been inspiring and influencing each other in Victorian times, before, and since, as well as competing for access to truth.
In this poem, Robert Mainone’s narrator sounds both surprised and humbled at being reminded that he, we, are all branches of the same evolutionary tree, part of the same cosmos. The penny drops. The distant comes closer and light is thrown on the matter — aha! How humbling! How reassuring! We are all one.
A haiku is worth a thousand words: paraphrasing this well-known English idiom, I wish to point to this week’s re:Virals, the weekly haiku commentary over at The Haiku Foundation.
Robert Mainone’s poem
shows the sponge gene —
(Modern Haiku 40.3, 2009)
was featured on re:Virals 49 and commented upon by a number of poets, yours truly included. So interesting to see how much is packed in this haiku! Take a look here
thin walls one step at a time
Modern Haiku 47.2, Summer 2016
a sail scratching
how was I
In my presentation ‘Arrivals‘, a HaikuLife format reading of some of my recent poems, I weave responses to the refugee arrival crisis in the Mediterranean, and the conflicting reception refugees received so far, with the more general human challenge of ‘arriving’ anywhere…
The film, edited by Rob Ward, After Effects artist and animator, was presented during HaikuLife 2016, part of International Haiku Poetry Day, an initiative of The Haiku Foundation, held 17 April 2016.
A few years ago, in a paper titled ‘Machine Phenomena’, I explored situations in which the metaphor of the machine is understood and used concretely to express positive or negative, idealised or denigrated experiences — ranging from, for example, the use of innocuous expressions like ‘I need to charge my batteries’ to experiencing being controlled by an influencing machine. This article became a chapter in the book ‘Even Paranoids Have Enemies: New Perspectives on Paranoia and Persecution’ (ed. Berke, Pierides, Sabbadini, Schneider), published in 1998 initially by what was then Routledge.
Since then, from time to time, I check whether, and where the concept of ‘machine phenomena’ is being used and to what effect. So it was with pleasure I came across an interesting article, by Grace Halden, titled ‘Incandescent: Light Bulbs and Conspiracies’, in Dandelion: postgraduate arts journal and research network, v.5, no 2, Spring 2015.
In my reading, Grace Halden (2015) illustrates how light, in the form of a lightbulb, became what can be seen as a machine phenomenon (Pierides, 1998), becoming entrenched in concrete fantasies of benevolence and evil. She points out
through examining general technology (such as machines), anxieties surrounding ‘modification, transformation and replacement’ emerge despite the technology being traditionally associated with protection and assistance.
Halden uses the texts of The Light Bulb Conspiracy (2010), The X-Files (1993-2002), and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) to explore how this innocuous, commonplace object, with an enormous beneficial impact in the modern world,
has been used to symbolise the malevolence of individuals and groups, and the very essence of technological development itself.
Interesting stuff. Check it out!
washing my hands of spring rain
Keramikmarkt, Diessen am Ammersee. Boats come and go, people, seasons…
The pithoi too, all the way from Crete, every year. Only this time, the tireless Nikos Kavgalakis didn’t turn up to build his pots right on the promenade. He had to keep the appointment with his own maker. Rest in peace, Nikos.
Luckily, Nikos’ grandson, Giorgos, is continuing the tradition.
the old house yields
moongarlic E-zine, issue 6, 2016
Walking around the old city in Augsburg, I came across wonderful images revealed by peeling plaster.
crowding the city memory lanes
Fresh from the fridge, where she hibernated for 5 months…
April 17, International Haiku Poetry Day, IHPD for short, is the day of celebration of all things haiku. The Haiku Foundation encourages public events on local, national and global levels, including readings, exhibitions, excursions, collaborative projects and competitions. Since 2015, the event is listed in the World Kigo Database, a great source of advice and information. (see Kigo Calendar).
While waiting for next April 17 to come round, don’t miss the opportunity to watch the wonderful haiku films that were presented at this year’s HaikuLife, the Foundation’s Film Festival 2016. And scroll through the longest haiku collaborative poem, EarthRise Rolling Haiku Collaboration 2016. This year, in acknowledgement of the United Nations Year of Pulses, the theme of the project was Foodcrop Haiku.
Here are my own offerings to EarthRise:
the seed in the child’s
picking over lentils—
of the evening hour
edging closer to
at the back
of the late night bus
whiff of wild garlic
all seeds accounted for dawn chorus
This week, a terrific haiku by Melissa Allen was up for discussion at The Haiku Foundation re:Virals. Interesting commentaries looking at the poem from different perspectives. You can read the whole post with the poem and all the commentaries here. I am pleased to say mine was this week’s winner. I copy it below:
radiation leak moonlight on the fuel rods — Melissa Allen, Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (2013)
And my take:
In current usage, the word leak refers to a variety of situations: from leaking a document and bringing into the light a secret, to taking a leak, to a wasteful dripping of water, to seepage of radiation. This poem, with its radiation leak, immediately opens up a danger zone. Step in at your peril into an image that gives rise to paralyzing fears, to the dead zones of Chernobyl, Fukushima; to the forbidden zones. Anything could happen here.
From a leak to a fireball, from the atom to the apocalyptic mushroom cloud, you could be walking into a minefield of the results of unbridled ambition and unscrupulous greed, a Faustian deal . . . Whether the leak is from a technological or scientific project, where man sees himself tirelessly bent on expanding knowledge and power over nature, finding solutions to the human problems of illness, poverty, and environmental degradation; whether hubris or dedication to the common good, here is a consequence: the spewing of poisonous material, the fall into a dark, man-made Hell.
But now the poet brings moonlight on the scene. Like a benevolent, all-seeing Eye of God, moonlight bathes the fuel rods in light we associate with understanding, with cool logic, in forgiveness. I am reminded of the Greek poet Yiannis Ritsos’ Moonlight Sonata, where moonlight hides smaller-scale follies such as showing white hair as golden, at the same time relentlessly intensifying shadows. In Allen’s poem too, moonlight is both kind and cooling, as well as relentless and permanent, not allowing the fuel rods to hide in the shadows. An image burned into the mind.
Note that the fuel rods are not spent. The young man in Ritsos’ poem too, is present all through the poem, at the end leaving full of energy, bursting into laughter as he walks away. Life continues in its boundless energy, in its perpetual flow, beyond leaks, beyond the night, beyond our human follies, beyond life itself.
The book of the Fifth Haiku Contest, Sharpening the Green Pencil, is out. An awe-inspiring two hundred and fifty poets from forty five countries took part. Great contributions. Congratulations to the winners!
I am honoured that my own haiku, translated into Romanian by Ana Drobot, was featured in the book (p.191).
reed ears —
not hearing what the doctor
sleepless night formatting loneliness
In Bones – journal for contemporary haiku no. 9 March 15th 2016 p.22