WHCschools – Hibiscus Petals Lessons
Ferris Gilli, Instructor
Peggy Willis Lyles, Guest Speaker
In September 2001, Peggy Willis Lyles gave a special lesson for WHCschools Hibiscus Petals. Here, we share the students’ responses to Mrs. Lyles’ invitation to “kansho” the following haiku by Mrs. Ferris Gilli:
the small serrated song
of a frog
The Heron’s Nest
Vol. II, No. 1
I love this brilliant haiku and it’s simple imagery of a frog croaking or peeping on a rainy night. The “small serrated song” depicts perfectly for me, a sharp, piercing sound of many projections. I think it is excellent word economy. The word “serrated” used out of its normal context could mean different things to different people, but, I believe the writer has delivered her exact intended meaning, very effectively in this pleasing poem.
This is true delight. With ‘song’ and ‘frog’ I am drawn back into childhood nighttimes, listening to a soft steady rain before sleeping. It is difficult to define exactly why ‘serrated’ is such a perfect word choice–but it is. The frog’s song, what we call a peeper here in Maine, is a high-pitched vibration almost flute-like. It cuts into the background noise, stopping and starting, back and forth, in and out, on and off …breathing…as a small hacksaw might, cutting, perhaps, a metal pipe.
Why does it have to be explained in words? This ku touches an inner chord which resonates. Can we just let it be, like that? Enjoying it repeatedly because it stimulates delicious feelings?
One of the reasons this ku works so well is the utter simplicity…it doesn’t even need a verb!
|Maleti (Mary Lee McClure):|
This, as with most of Ferris’ haiku, is so utterly evocative. Instantly on reading it, it draws forth a loving, gentle, indulgent even, picture of one small froglet, piping his little song, in the face of night and rain. For me it even hints at the old timey “A Frog He Would a-Wooing Go.” she has managed to convey, at least for me, the thought of a gently falling rain and not the proverbial Southern “frog strangler”, so we may assume, I think, the little guy is certainly in no danger. There is a certain loneliness, as well, in the tiny solo voice, lifted in hope of sparking a response. Maybe another frog didn’t respond, but anyone reading this haiku would have to be cursed with the hardest of hearts not to feel a tug at the heartstrings (so he’s not Caruso with his serrated song!) and unabashed admiration for the haijin who so perfectly caught this tiny and affecting moment. Such a lovely treasure to hold in one’s heart!
|semi (Terrie Relf)|
What immediately strikes me about this haiku is the sensation of a rainy night. Cool, perhaps a light breeze as well. A reflective mood is inspired. It is one of my favorite phenomenon, whether it’s a light drizzle or a downpour. I often relate frogs to rain, although I don’t have any here in my current neighborhood. When I was a child, I lived by a hill which had many ponds. We would go “pollywogging” many weekend afternoons (as well as after school), and occasionally it would begin to rain. We would take cover under a tree or rocky outcropping, mesmerized by the steady plop of rain on the pond, the steady plop of frogs jumping from rock to rock–then back into the water. Sometimes we would just allow the rain to soak us, and then we’d get scolded by our mothers! When I think of “serrated song,” I have the sense of the frog’s song, although “small” or faint, perhaps, cutting through the rain. It is a jagged cut, so like the “croak” or “ribbit” that my neighborhood frogs made. I also have the sense of the “serrated song” cutting through my thoughts, drawing me in, following the symphony of frog and rain. Delightful. It carries me back. Thank you. How I long for a frog pond near my house again!
This haiku grabbed me from its first line. I love rain and poems about rain. And there is something especially powerful about night rain. It stirs up so many rich and sensuous emotions and memories (anyone else remember the old Mystic Moods album “One Stormy Night” she digresses?).
Then, already grabbed, I’m riveted by “serrated song” — and I applaud this poet’s courage to take what some might consider a “haiku risk” by coming up with an original way to describe the sound of the frog through the rain. I hope with all my heart that there will always be room on the haiku pathway for such poets!!
|Debra Woolard Bender:|
Living in the same town as Ferris, I can well relate to the elements and atmosphere of her haiku, especially since we are currently having rain. As I read the words, I feel the rain in the heat of a semi-tropical evening. It might be humid, perhaps slightly cooled by rain and sundown, and thus a contrast of heat and cool. While “frog” is a kigo symbolizing spring in Japan, I am sensing this poem in the warmer weather of perhaps later Florida spring or summer – more in the latter for the element of rain in these recent drought ridden years!
When I read aloud, “serrated,” in relationship to the frog’s voice, I also envision palm trees and even the barbs along the stems of the Chinese Fan Palm at my front window, its jagged green “blades” glistening and bouncing under porch light to a rat-a-tat of rain. A very wet haiku. These are “Florida-feelings” for me, part of my environment which color my personal reading of her haiku to make it mine also in experience. Ferris ties the elements together seamlessly — 1) “where?”: [in] rain 2) “what?”: the small, serrated song of a frog 3.) “when?”: night — so that they are a related unity, creating ambience and a living image.
This is a haiku image written “as it is” but yet with an insight couched within a skilful use of poetic language. When the world has quieted and is become dark after evenfall, rain or other water sounds, road sounds and the voices of night creatures seem amplified. Rain has a staccato sound which can be likened to the word, “serrated” also – I’ve used the word in at least one poem, that I remember, to describe rain. Some local frog voices do sound serrated to me — the regular chirped repeat in a sharp, up and down “hiccupped” pattern. These two voices of nature in duet are a similitude compared by likeness of sound (without the use of the words, “like” or “as”).
Ferris has used poetic technique here, either purposefully or by intuition, and used them very well: The alliteration of “s” sounds in the second line give the semblance of serrated sounds, rhythmically capturing a small song of music within the poem itself: The frog’s small but insistent “melody” is heard within, but above the harmony of the larger bodied rainfall. The poem would not be as rhythmic, nor would it sound out the cadence of frog song without the inclusion of the adjective, “serrated”. Without that word, as Peggy Lyles indicated, it would still be a good haiku — a little gentler and less “primal” feeling to me (which is also the immediacy of the frog’s mating call), but at a loss of its music. I’m glad this haiku does not go completely into pruned minimalization simply for sake of brevity, or lose all simile in adherence to strict “suchness.” I believe that the idea of juxtaposition is comparative, which is another form of simile and sometimes creates underlying metaphor by which we come to understand something of ourselves.
This haiku has me “singing in the rain,” feeling glad for the replenishing rain, for the song of the frog and its rhythmic call to continue life, for the restorative powers of night – its activities, rest and darkness and the refreshing powers of water, natural and musical sounds, nature and haiku.
I have thought about this and have wondered if I should write an appreciation for this haiku. I like it but I would like it more if serrated wasn’t in it. Yet, I know that serrated is the figurative word we are considering. Could there be some other word?
I sense what Ferris is saying but serrated doesn’t work that well for me. It has a negative connotation and brings strongly to mind a knife and cutting. Images which don’t go well with the idea of a frog. I know it is figurative and maybe with more time I could establish a less threatened feeling for it.
What is serrated saying? Periodic, recurring cutting piercing? I am not exactly sure and so I am left with an uneasy feeling that I may not be getting it. I agree with Peggy and would like the haiku very much as
the small song
of a frog
I have enjoyed the experience of pondering this and can see that the success of a haiku for any given reader depends to a large degree on what the reader brings to the haiku.
those who listen
to the edges
can hear the smooth round rim
of heart beat drum…
just by listening to it’s voice…
on the other side of the night fire
or recognize the ragtime call
of the amphibian
doin’ the gene kelly thing
singin’ in the rain
there is so much more to sound
then just what we hear…
as there is always more
then just what we read
|Jeanne Marie Booth:|
Taking this in visually several times, that is, appreciation of the symmetry of its form before entering into the reading of it, I could not help but begin to whisper it over and again. What struck me first (okay, second if I consider the visual coup) was the physical dynamic of it spoken: “night rain.” I truly have to work at this, it is all aspiration, and as it is the threshold, I am unprepared, that is, I’ve not enough air to sustain a smooth and even flow of the words. “Night rain” leaves me literally breathless. “Night rain” . . . the aspiration is heavy without being short/harsh. It occurs to me that there is a natural punctuation a the end of “night rain” caused by the complete aspiration of the two words, a nice discovery for this reader, a fine “hai.” Next, the lovely long line, after the breathless state of two long aspirated words, I am literally led on to read/speak the second line in almost a whisper. What a lovely whisper it becomes with a susurration of three “s” words in a row. The “sss” refers me back to the sound of rain in the night. Night sounds are more keenly experienced. The same experience here of heightened sense (hearing is engaged) when the others are dormant). For me (and I should caveat any further comments with the fact that what I know about poetry could fill a thimble and still fit it on a finger snug enough to sew quite easily through leather) there is juxtaposition in the physicality of pronouncing the susurration and the single jaw action in “small”, double jaw action of “serrated”, and again “song.” In one line of four words and six syllables, there are five different jaw actions involved to enunciate the whisper of sinewy susurration. The last line, seems (again from this green haijin) another type of juxtaposition. After two lines of quite involved breath and jaw work, three words, three syllables, as small and simple as “of a frog.” After the physical workout of the first two lines I am literally propelled into the last line and land softly on plain turf (or tree if it is a tree frog…ah, YES! a tree frog).
How can a song be serrated? Ah, but it is not just any song, it is the song of a frog. Because of my physical experience of the softness of a whispered second line “the small serrated song,” I hear the “serrated song” of a frog and know that the serrated sound is not that of a saw. The serration sound gives the susurration “sss” a distinct contrapuntal texture.
Last observation. Though this is a nine word “ku”, it is an eleven syllable one. Just recently I’ve noticed that many of my personal preferences in English haiku are eleven syllables. These eleven syllables, 2-6-3 have a lyric symmetry which greatly appeals to me. I’m no musician, and certainly no theoretician, but I’ve a sense there’s much spatial mathematics going on here. Without being anywhere close to minimalist, in nine words, a treatise, an ode, “the blues in the night.” Such stillness, all around the sounds, all susurration and serration, small and punctuating the stillness in the night.
A question — I am wondering if it occurred to anyone else that “night rain” very much sounds out “night train”. If this was intentional then I am deeply impressed, as “night train” is for me fraught with sensory experience, not the least of which is serpentine, thus more susurration. All in all, this one goes into the cachepot treasures for me. Unique combination, a writer who “can” equal to her mastery to model and “teach,” so much for Mark Twain truisms!
|Victor P. Gendrano:|
It is night time and raining and the croak of a frog is heard, except that the frog’s song is small but sharp like a scythe with serrated blade. Without the adjective “serrated,” the poem becomes a simple straightforward description of a factual event and nothing more. With the qualifier, however, the haiku becomes multi-layered and invites deeper involvement by the reader.
Because of the noise of the rain, the frog’s song sounds small but has the quality of rough sharpness wanting to be heard above the din of falling water. The sound can also be likened to the rain, a juxtaposition. The view is from big to small (night rain to frog) and back to big again with the sharpness of the song that doesn’t want to be drowned by other noises.
On a deeper personal level, rather than be overwhelmed by hardship or outnumbered by hostile forces exemplified by the night rain, the writer has the tenacity and toughness to grab the bull by the horns so to speak and let her voice be heard, tiny perhaps, but sharp and persistent enough that it cannot be ignored. She stands for her rights against all odds!
I have always enjoyed the multi-sensual nature of Ferris’s haiku. She does, indeed, have a way of inviting the reader into her poetry–and, yes, I do consider haiku poetry. This haiku is brief but it also says so much in so many connotative, emotive ways. There is a collection of senses here. Also, there is a collection of dualities unified by the haiku itself: stillness & sound, large & small, loud & soft, universal & individual, light & dark, depth & simplicity. First of all: “night rain” is a simple and yet profound experience, especially if you are lying awake in bed with your windows open to it. Not only is it soothing and refreshing, the sound of it is like the comforting sound of your mother lying next to you breathing…or your lover or child. You depend upon it for your sustenance.
Counterpoint to this steady night rain is the sound of a frog…”small serrated song”; how I love this absolutely! Not only does serrated describe the sound of the song but small qualifies the brave, endearing quality that frog makes in the midst of the great, night rain. I love this tender image and feel very close to it as, I am sure, all of us do. If you take the time to listen to haiku and imagine the scene, a good haiku poet opens the door for you to enter; the door is not locked but has been unlatched all this time. All you have to do is make the effort to walk through the threshold–understand the essence of it, the “suchness” of it–then, you are admitted into the truth of it.
This parallel universe of sounds is in harmony, too, with the universe of the haiku poet; we are stimulated by the senses quickened by nature. The pull of the moon moves us; the smell of night rain makes us feel alive, the sound of it all is in time and yet out of time as well. The haiku also exists on two levels: one literal and the other symbolic in an entirely Japanese way (may I say this? But I think you know what I mean). The poet and her quest for harmony (writing haiku) is, in a way, symbolic of the harmony that exists between the night rain and the song of a frog. The reader’s appreciation of the haiku (and the poet) is the third and necessary part of this harmony–a trilogy that rings as sweet and as clear as a triangle.
It is raining…in the woods, near a lake or pond. The night is dark and the air is filled with sounds of rain falling on trees and underbrush without let up.
A frog’s song, faintly heard, arises over the steady sound of the rain. The song is tentative, stopping and starting. A frog is calling out to others. No answer.
A sense of loneliness pervades the poem. A question arises: what is meant by the word “serrated”? This is where the reader may catch a glimpse of the poet, who has used this unusual and mysterious word. The reader reads the poem again, and again. At last the heart is touched, and a feeling of compassion is evoked.
In that rainy night, the reader follows the writer’s signature word, “serrated.” Of course there is something heartbreaking about the image of a small creature, alone in the night rain, calling to others who do not respond. A fine true haiku.
|The author’s response to the kansho|
My deep sense of gratification goes beyond the joy that one of my haiku has inspired commentary from a group of esteemed fellow poets. I am awed by the depth, detail, insight, and keen intelligence of your commentaries. Thank you for your sensitivity and generous willingness to explore “night rain.” Your commentaries have reversed my role from teacher to avid student! I am immensely humbled, and made incredulous by the very notion that I sometimes have the title of “teacher” for you, my wonderful fellow poets.
Peggy’s idea to invite kansho was a splendid one. What a wonderful way to increase our learning and understanding of haiku! I know that all of us, commentators and readers alike, have learned from this exercise and we have become better poets because of it. I’m sure that the results of learning and discovery would have been the same with a different author, a different haiku. That it was my own haiku under scrutiny is a priceless gift for me. Through explaining why or why not certain aspects of the poem worked for you, every one of the kansho have brought me further insight and deeper appreciation for the study of haiku and the haiku spirit. – Ferris Gilli