Tag Archives: commentary

Fight on! (in re:Virals 80)

What does it mean to wake up facing a fist pressing hard against your window?
How does one cope with such a threat, day in, day out?

The morning presses
its hot fist against the window:
the fight starts.

— Bart Mesotten, Haikoe-boek (self-published, 1986; translation by Max Verhart)

Pleased to share that my take on Bart Mesotten’s excellent poem is featured in this week’s re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s haiku commentary feature.
Take a look here 

And try your hand at writing a commentary on the poem I chose (as this week’s winner) to be discussed next: LeRoy Gorman’s “the good soldier.”

Revisiting re:Virals 49

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)

my haplogroup
shows the sponge gene —
distant lightning

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.

re:Virals 49

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

my haplogroup
shows the sponge gene —
distant lightning

(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

The Haiku Foundation re:Virals 31 and my Commentary

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:
.
Melissa’s poem:

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.