Haiku review: a swan disappears

In this post we review this haiku by Steve Hodge:

late-stage Alzheimer’s—
a swan disappears
into the mist

Published in Frogpond 38:1

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Author’s comments
(by email to Paresh Tiwari):

I would like to give you some insight into how this poem came about but it’s an uncomplicated and straightforward story.  A woman I’ve known and loved as a dear friend since we met in college more than forty years ago was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago. Her husband called to tell me this sad news while I was riding my bike through a local park. After we talked, I saw two swans floating on the lake in front of me. It was early morning and there was a thick mist over the lake. I was thinking about the tragedy that lay ahead for my friend and her husband when one of the swans was enveloped by the mist, seeming to leave the other behind. I wasn’t in any way thinking of haiku at that moment but the poem came to me as I stood there watching the single swan floating alone in the mist.

This poem, more than any of my others, has struck a chord for many people who have contacted me to tell me how meaningful it is to them as they know or have known someone with Alzheimer’s. Different people read it from disparate points of view. Some see the swan in the poem from the point of view of someone watching a loved one with Alzheimer’s slipping away from them, as I did the day the poem came to me. Others see the swan as a person with Alzheimer’s slipping away from him or herself, becoming lost in a mist from which they will never emerge. At least one person saw the swan as the memory of an actual or metaphorical swan leaving the mind and memory of someone with Alzheimer’s. While some of these points of view never occurred to me in concrete terms, I’m more than comfortable with the knowledge that different people approach this poem from various points of view depending on what they, themselves, bring to the poem. I’d be interested to learn if anyone in your group has a different reaction or point of view regarding this poem.

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Paresh Tiwari:

There are very few haiku that I feel compelled to share with my loved ones. Friends have been ostentatiously pig-headed about the form, family is more restrained but I can often sense that I am treading over gossamer thin patience. But when I read this verse by Steve, I had to share it. With my wife.

‘I still can’t forget the absolute emptiness in his eyes’ she said.

There was a palpable pain in the way she revisited her Dad slipping away from us , waging his lone battle against a fading mind, fighting to recognize the things and people that had defined him not so long ago. Of course, by now she had made peace with the fact that he is gone, but I believe that Steve with these nine words may have given her a closure, which nothing else could.

The verse is layered with so many meanings that I read something new every time I read this haiku. Sometimes, I believe that I have probably understood everything the poet wishes to convey and then I read it again and find a new meaning lurking under the old. Is the swan an allegory about someone who is slowly but surely losing his mind, his memories, himself? Is he talking about the ones left behind? Or is he talking about the constant march of time where paradoxically, the one who is forgetting the world, is forgotten by the world too? May be all of it. May be even more.

This is one poem where I would not like to comment on the technique, for that would be a disservice to the poem, the poet and even that elusive thing we all call memory. Suffice it to say, this verse will remain with me for a long-long time.

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Brijesh Raj:

When I first read this ku, I wondered if I would have kept L1 back for the last. Kudos to Steve Hodge for writing it as it happened. Or was it simply a desire to let pain be its own author. I have always found the ku that touch me, are the ones written around real life experiences. I know a lady suffering from dementia who does not always know me anymore…

The swan, the mist, this entire haiku reminds me of the impermanence of our very being, a fact we mostly choose to ignore. And isn’t it our memories that define us?  What becomes of this consciousness? Does a forgotten experience cease to exist? Are they engulfed by life’s kaleidoscope, to make way for the next viewer?

One can stay back with the swan left behind or one can follow the one that got away!

An apparently straight forward read that forces a rethink, reminisce and aha.

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Mahrukh Bulsara:

This Haiku has the colour white written all over it. The opening line is direct, matter-of-fact and harsh. It contrasts well with this beautiful image of a swan disappearing into the mist. But what does the poet mean by connecting these two thoughts?

To me, the whiteness in both the images stand out. The swan is grace and beauty personified while the patient suffering from Alzeimer’s probably has the same qualities where the colour white is likened to old age.  The swan usually mates for life and this person suffering from the disease is being missed dearly and being cared for by the life partner. The mist indicates a mysterious cloud that has surrounded the patient, where he or she has lost all memory. Although, the white colour  lends a bleakness to the scenario – the life-partner, the care-giver has not lost hope.

The mist is temporary and after some time the swan will be revealed intact while late- stage Alzeimer’s and its effects are irreversible.  The poet wants to show the contrast as well as similarities between these two phenomena.

This haiku is full of pathos, of hope, longing and love.

Yet, I would have preferred the opening line to be more subtle and less revealing.  It would have helped in creating even more interpretations than what is currently fathomed.

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Raamesh Gowri Raghavan:

At the first reading, it is a very simple reading: the swan as the Alzheimer’s patient slipping into the fog that is the dementia is very telling. But little of this haiku resonates unless the illness has had a presence in your life.

Reading it a second time, in the light of a recent exposure to Alzheimer’s, makes this haiku very poignant to me. A close colleague is leaving his job to take care of his grandfather struck down by this disorder, and in his helplessness and pathos, the swan is seen again. Keeping Steve’s explanation in context, I feel suddenly like the second swan, seeing the first one slip away. The pain is suddenly striking – it isn’t just the patient, but a loved one also slipping away: who must abandon much of their life and its pleasures to devote themselves to their care, the indirect victim of the disorder.

A third reading happened after I looked up some of the medical literature of this disorder. I am still to fully grasp what amyloid bodies are, but they are terrifying nevertheless, and the thought that comes with them – the brain dying cell by cell, extinguishing memories one by one: loves, hates, joys, sorrows, hobbies, passions, politics, attitudes… reducing us not only to animals, but animalcules, mere metabolic entities.

In all this it is probably difficult to look at the haiku dispassionately, but failing to do so is a disservice. I think to myself, would stripping it further, to its very bare bones, help?

Alzheimer’s—
a swan disappears
into the mist

Was ‘late stage’ necessary? Is there a poetic nuance it brings? I don’t know. But in this reading, leaving Alzheimer’s to stand by itself does two things for me:

  • it creates the s/l/s visual balance that is beloved of classical haiku
  • it makes, in my eyes at the least, the word Alzheimer’s an unqualified terror, creating a sense of sudden onset or unexpected discovery (where ‘late stage’ might have prepared the mind a bit), and also, contrasts with itself, as a patient with the disorder can no longer stand by themselves, they need to pull someone to themselves, making not one victim but many.

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Rohini Gupta:

This is one of those rare haiku which moved me when I first read it. The power of the image works even before you think about it. I does not need much commentary because the image is so clear and apt.

It is both beautiful and depressing. A normally lovely picture, the swan vanishing into the mist becomes the symbol of that terrible disease. The next time I see a swan I won’t look at it the same way.

It is particularly fitting since Alzheimer’s works so slowly, taking the mind piece by piece, blanking it part by part. Having watched it happen I know that it deceptively gentle but actually brutal.

In Indian thought, the swan, hamsa, is a haunting symbol of the soul – “the restless swan on its journey infinite”. To me, that adds another level of meaning – the approach of death as the swan is lost in mists from which there is no returning.

Altogether a beautiful haiku which will stay with me for a long time.

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Limericks by Gautam — 1

This is the first of several illustrated limericks by Gautam Nadkarni.

image

There was an old Parsee named Pesi,
Who wore English shirts… very lacy!
He’d insist that his wife
Eat with fork and a knife…
But as for his drinks ~ they were ‘desi’!

Haiga sequence — fragile hopes

Members of the group were asked to write a haiku triggered by the picture below. Here are the entries.

image

A-bomb—
the night mushrooms
into a star / Gautam

cloudy light
… the evening decays
in halogen lumens / Raamesh

into the light
the fragile hopes
of city moths / Brijesh

graveyard shift —-
the streetlight reflects
an aura / Mahrukh

haiku review: rickety bridge

In this post we review the haiku by Arvinder Kaur below.

rickety bridge —
the langoor’s leap
from fog to fog

—published in A Hundred Gourds, December 2014 Issue.

Dr Brijesh Raj:

An interesting ku with movement in all three lines and yet an element of surprise. The usage of ‘fog’ in L3 sounds forced but does not detract too much from the beauty of the crystal clear visual. Reading this ku is like watching a video-grab from an incursion into mother nature’s space.

The Langur is a powerful and fiercely free-spirited being. It will not easily share space with us. Ironically it appears to be more sure of itself in the air than the observer on ground.

Gautam Nadkarni:

Obviously here, there are two distinct and disparate images: the rickety bridge – in the fragment – and the seemingly unconnected image of a langoor leaping from fog to fog, in the phrase. Here, how does the rickety bridge, in the fragment, connect with the langoor’s leap, in the phrase? When the langoor leaps from one fog covered limb to another, it bridges the gap between the limbs or branches of a tree, doesn’t it? That’s it! The key is ‘bridge’. And this leap between limbs, covered as they are with fog, is as dangerous as traversing the rickety bridge. The technique employed here, is one of Comparison, drawing a likeness between the two images.

Raamesh Gowri Raghavan:

Between ‘rickety bridge’ and ‘leap’ you see the first contrast: you’re made to think of an image in which you’d rather leap over a chasm than risking stepping on the bridge. ‘fog to fog’ adds to that uncertainty: visibility is low on both sides of the chasm, so how do you know how deep it is? The ‘langur’ is the third visual element and very strong at that: a powerful and resourceful animal much celebrated in Indian traditions.

Taken together, these three images work at two levels. At the literal level one looks at a langur taking a leap in a foggy situation, and one wonders whether s/he’s trying to avoid the bridge and trust her/his own limbs (Langurs are good leapers).

At the figurative level though, picture the mind as the langur (an image often used in Hindu & Buddhist philosophy), leaping from blurry idea to blurry idea, lacking faith in the rickety bridge of actual study and enlightenment; the mind is happier to by lulled by comforting falsehoods than traverse the difficult path of truth.

Mahrukh Bulsara:

The image in the haiku is beautiful.  The juxta positioning of the rickety bridge with the langur leaping is perfect, creating the right bit of tension in the reader’s mind. Although there is a liberal use of alliteration, the ambience and the aspiration created is fantastic. This haiku grows on you.  Makes me want to write a story on it.

Paresh Tiwari:

spring breeze review

Haiku Review

This will be a regular feature. In this post we review the haiku by Kala Ramesh below.

spring breeze
the sari slides down
her shoulder

— Kala Ramesh

(Golden Haiku contest 1st prize)

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Raamesh Gowri Raghavan:

‘Spring breeze’ is in India an expression weighted with many meanings. From the innocence of the first leaves on trees at one end to sexual innuendo at the other, it occupies several layers of interpretation. Nevertheless the phrase leaves little to ambiguity, the sari sliding down shoulders is an unhindered cliché for sexual awakening. The Indian spring, vasanta, had long been a season for love and weddings; from the time of Dushyant and Shakuntala to modern Bollywood potboilers!

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Paresh Tiwari:

It’s always a tricky business attempting to deconstruct a poem and none more so than a haiku, especially one that has been adjudged as an award winner.

What makes these seemingly simple eight words poetry and good poetry at that?

What does this haiku have in store that made it stand head over heels above other works?

In my quest for an answer let me start by rewriting the verse after changing a single word. In this experiment, I am replacing spring with gentle . . .

gentle breeze
the sari slides down
her shoulder

And suddenly the haiku becomes completely insipid. It is still a haiku mind you. There is fragment – gentle breeze, and a phrase – the sari slides down her shoulder. But it is a cause and effect verse . . . because there is a breeze, the sari slides down.

And I am forced to ask so what? If this was an ad film, it may have still sold for the titillation, but as poetry, well it is definitely not a very good one!

So, Kala Ramesh’s greatest contribution (in my opinion, to this haiku) comes in from of the simple act of choosing one very apt word. Spring.

Spring as we all know is a season of possibilities. Of the earth blossoming. Of the first leaves peeping with their translucent greens. Of the first flowers budding anew.

The fact that it is the spring breeze and none else layers this otherwise cause and effect haiku with a story that I want to know. Is the girl blossoming like the earth in the spring breeze waiting? What does her bare shoulder look like? What’s she like? How much of the slide of sari, incidental? How much of it, is intentional? Was the poet an unintended intruder in this scene loaded with sexuality or was she the intended consumer? (The fact that the poet is female, makes the last two questions even more delicious).

With spring breeze there exists a juxtaposition of images an opening of possibilities and that’s how this first line is absolutely essential to the haiku.

Coming to the phrase, Kala shows great restraint by simply stating an event. Going almost for ‘shasei’ or painting from life. We haven’t been told about anything else. No unnecessary or distracting details like the texture of the sari, or the sound of the slip. It’s up to the reader to supply these and the rest of the details and for me it opens up a tantalising array of possibilities.

A very satisfying haiku indeed.  Eight words (ten syllables) can be poetry.

But one that I would hesitate from including in my list of great haiku, simply because I cannot shake away the feeling of cause and effect that permeates the work.

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Rohini Gupta:

The first thing which came to my mind when I read this lovely haiku, was a sense of youthfulness. Spring, in any case, is a season of birth and childhood. In old Sanskrit literature like Kalidasa, spring is a season of freshness and young love and full of slippery silks.

Saris are not as slippery as they seem. I remember when I first wore a sari all I could do was hang on to every loosening part. But once you get used to wearing one the slippage is either carefree or deliberate.

In this haiku it seems more carefree. It comes from forgetting yourself in the lovely spring breeze. To me, it seems like a young woman at the threshold of life. The slipping of the sari is that moment when she allows herself to be lost in the spring breeze thereby opening herself to the larger world.

The moment of seeming inattention is actually a deep involvement in life itself and that is always beautiful.

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Brijesh Raj:

An evocative ku that many Indian readers would connect with. Kala leaves the plot open to the reader’s imagination or to a reliving of an old experience. Was it a tease , happenstance or perhaps the beginning of a romance? To me the breeze and sari fabric convey a lightness of spirit. Nice.

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Mahrukh Bulsara:

It’s a naughty one. Brings an instant smile. Spring creates a picture of flowering trees, romance, colour all around. Spring breeze adds a lightness in the ambience and a sense of playfulness.

The woman hasn’t pinned her sari, intentionally or unintentionally. It creates an image of a person who is open, carefree and uninhibited. Yet it leaves you open to various possibilities (was she embarrassed, was she alone, did she enjoy the moment).  It’s fun to imagine what happens next…

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Sandra Martyres:

An interesting write – on the face of it very simple, yet replete with innuendo!

bittersweet the mogras

bittersweet the mogras

a freestyle renku sequence

coffee shop –
the flavour of her voice
in every sip       / Gautam

 

bittersweet the mogras
sold by the schoolgirl      / Brijesh

 

lingering over
the evening rush hour –
summer sun        / Raamesh

 

bleeding from the barbed wire
the coat you wore last winter     /Paresh

 

nothing left behind
except that last
goodbye      / Rohini

 

I step into the morrow
of my dreams     / Gautam

 

from the tulip garden
stolen petals
and kisses      / Brijesh

 

bridal veil the colour
of magic on her lips      / Raamesh

 

with cross stitches
we add a full moon
to the night sky      / Paresh

 

sketched in pen and ink
the group all smiles     / Rohini

 

 

Published originally at Whispers