January 18 (A Fly Buzzing)

a fly buzzing
in the room where he died —
did he hear it?


With apologies, of course, to Emily Dickinson.

The Japanese aren’t shy about including literary references in their haiku; there is a long tradition in Japan of poets carrying on a poetic dialogue with their predecessors, echoing each other’s lines, paying tribute to them or making fun of them, enlarging on them or playing with them. I think it’s much more difficult for Westerners to feel comfortable doing this. We want to be original, we want to come up with our own words. We want to be individuals.

I’ve been trying lately to take poems (not other haiku) that are important to me and use them as source material for haiku — not “found haiku” as I’ve done sometimes in the past, but my own haiku, building on or responding to the original poem. Mostly I haven’t been very successful, maybe because although I believe in this endeavor in theory, I am enough of a Westerner that it makes me very uncomfortable. I feel like I’m cheating. I feel like I might be trivializing the source material or creating trivial haiku.

I’m still not sure what I think about this one but I like it better than any of my other efforts. You can definitely read and appreciate it without any knowledge of Emily or her fly, but if you do have that knowledge, I think your understanding of it deepens.

And just as an aside, I am pretty sure that the last stanza of Dickinson’s poem might be the best description of what it’s like to die written by someone who hadn’t actually done so yet (but I hope I won’t have any occasion to find out if I’m right anytime soon):

With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

– Emily Dickinson


(Oh — and sorry if this post was a little bit of a downer for you. I am the kind of person who often gets very cheerful when I read sad poems or books or see sad movies, especially when they are amazing works of art. But I know not everyone feels the same way. Maybe you would feel better if I told you about the parody of Emily’s poem that my eleventh-grade English class (American Literature, natch) wrote to entertain one of our classmates who was home ill for a while. It began:

I heard a fly buzz – when I had mono –

Yeah — that was a great class. Thanks, Ms. Bryan, if you’re out there anywhere.)


(in memoriam bradford allen reynolds 1/18/1964 – 7/1984)

10 thoughts on “January 18 (A Fly Buzzing)

  1. What a novel idea to ‘haibun’ a poem?

    No, I think you would not be trivializing the poem if you write it like a haibun, hence, your haiku would be an interaction with the poem that either turns as a departure of thought or an expansion of it or whatever else you feel. I think it would be a great idea, even a fun exercise.

    I love your ‘restless’ mind, Melissa, restless with ways to do haiku! Perhaps you could give some phrases or stanzas of the poems you like and see among your followers who would respond with a haiku, or aha, ‘ku a poem’… as I, a faithful follower of Red Dragonfly, writes…

    at twilight
    to buzz no more–
    the life of a fly

    (is this a ku?) Or maybe they too, could do the same.

    By the way, I finally received your extravagant gifts!!!! What a flight it took–almost a month, isn’t it? I am totally overwhelmed! I can never thank you enough for such a shower of your talent and boundless joyful heart.

    Hear ye, all red dragonfly readers, my prize was not just ‘Snow Country’, the book, but more that I will write about in jornales in a day or two.

    Thank you so much again, Melissa!

    • So glad you received and enjoyed the gifts … saw your lovely post about them this morning. Thanks so much for all those lovely photographs!

      I’m always looking for ways to interact more with my readers so I will take your interesting suggestions into consideration. πŸ™‚ Thanks, Alegria!

  2. I like the idea of using poems as a source material for haiku, I’ve done it with my own failed longer poems (just to salvage something from the wreck!) and it has worked but a good idea to use other people’s poems too, even if only as writing practice!

    Crafty Green Poet

    • Oh yes, I’ve done that too with my failed longer poems (which encompasses pretty much all the longer poems I write πŸ™‚ ). Usually there is at least the germ of a haiku in there somewhere …

  3. I’m glad you liked my post on your exquisite gifts!

    Speaking of a ‘germ of a haiku’ in longer poems, I seem to be doing better the other way around. It turns out that I maybe more succesful with my longer poems than with my free verses and lyric poems (two have just been accepted each for two different anothologies, and one will be featured as one of the poems from subscribers at winningwriters, my second). And so, I’ve been composing out of my haiku batches that’s been rejected–and that has been a lot–poems or sequences that make it! I’ve labeled one or two ‘haiku-strays’ or as in my last poem, ‘first kiss’ for One Shoot Sunday prompt at One Stop Poetry blog, ‘haiku-like’.

    Again, Melissa, aside from ‘ku this poem’ or something, perhaps this could be another exercise. I feel that it makes me less dejected about my haiku rejects; it might work for others.

    Thanks again for the rabbits!!!

    • Yes … I’ve been noticing that you have been writing these wonderful poems that read somewhat like haiku sequences — I think they are extremely successful (although I also like your individual haiku)! You really have a unique vision as a poet, Alegria — treasure it, and go with your instincts about what form best suits what you have to say.

  4. Yikes…fourth line should read ” than with my haiku. Like of my free verses…” no parentheses should follow. Why am I doing this?

    I’m in the middle of finishing up the minutes of the Marpole Oakridge Area Council Society’s (of my neighborhood) last meeting for another board meeting of which I’m director/vice pres and a recorder for the secretary who is on leave. I must get on with it but here I am seesaw-ing in thought and structure between poetry and motions voted on!

    rabbit stalling
    between snow patches–
    squirrel darts ahead

    Thanks again, Melissa!

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