The following commentary was first published on 25 June 2019 on Nicholas Klacsanzky’s Haiku Commentary blog. My poem originally appeared in Nesting Dolls, the 2018 Yuki Teikei Haiku Society annual membership anthology. I also used this haiku as the title poem of my “Nearing the Sea” trifold.
a floating Frisbee—
the river widens
as it nears the sea
—Michael Dylan Welch
A floating Frisbee . . . in water or in the air? The image of this Frisbee remains mysteriously suspended, as the power of the river appears suspended when reaching the limit of its course, spreading beyond the banks dividing into a thousand rivulets, almost reluctantly. . . . The river and the sea are made of the same substance at the bottom, even though each has its own identity—yet in the culminating moment of total unification, it seems the river draws back.
I can’t penetrate the emotion that pushed the haijin to write this verse, but I have had the same feeling when, during a form of meditation, I feel that something is blocking the overcoming of my mental conditioning and hindering my awareness. The poem engaged me with its melodious rhythm and aroused feelings from heart to heart as with the best haiku.
—Margherita Petriccione (Italy)
While some may scoff at the double article word “the,” how this rhymes, the use of two verbs, and what reads as “matter of fact” in the phrase of this ku, one must combine the three lines and loosen their grip on the rules to see that content matters more, which this haiku has plenty of.
Starting with the first line, note that the word “Frisbee” is capitalized, which to me instantly conjures an image of a concave disk that’s used as a pastime or for sport (ultimate) with an emphasis especially with the em dash after the word.
In combination with the phrase where the magic begins, I wonder if the Frisbee as defined exists at all in the haiku. The Frisbee could also be a whirlpool, hurricane, or a tornado where all have concave disk shapes that spin as a Frisbee does, widening the river as it floats to the sea. Perhaps the Frisbee does exist but I asked myself, “can it widen a river or is it the writer’s intention to juxtapose an object with the unsaid images not written in the haiku for the reader to fill in?” If so, it’s a masterful technique the author used very well.
Lastly, I believe the technique of “narrowing focus” was used in this haiku but in reverse. Rather viewing it from the top down, in this case, the sea is the wide lens, the river is the normal one, and the Frisbee’s focal point is the narrow one, which makes this write all the more interesting.
—Fractled (United States)
It takes a lot of time to understand the depth of a haiku that is written by a haiku master. This well-constructed haiku reflects the depth of creativity and imagination. One aspect of it gives me the image of a gliding Frisbee that floats freely like our happy feelings and cheers us up both by our recreational and aesthetic senses. When someone is carefree, calm, and relaxed, he or she loves to enjoy the bounties of life and imagine life as free as a flying Frisbee.
The other two lines of this haiku show the depth of our feelings that may initiate with a small action but it has a ripple effect. The river may look like a wide smiling face with profound effects that can bring great inner satisfaction.
The other side of this haiku could be a kind of cyclone that may look like a Frisbee and bring turbulence in the river’s waters before it ends up in the sea.
Also, the capital letter “F” in Frisbee is intriguing, which may reflect the association of the writer with a particular type of Frisbee.
Overall, this haiku is a combination of our cheerful feelings or childhood memories that bring its deep effects on our mind and heart.
—Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)
Although I am an editor, I did not know before reading this haiku that “Frisbee” is sometimes capitalized. Since it is a registered trademark of the Wham-O company, it is indeed capitalized. Knowing that Welch is an editor, I admire him for sticking to the original.
Anyway, the first line is meditative. The reader takes in the movement and floating of the Frisbee more with the em dash, acting as a pause marker. The musicality of two “f”s in succession makes me think about the sound of the Frisbee tearing through the air.
The second line opens up with the juxtaposition. We come from a Frisbee perhaps in a park to a river. The river could be next to the park, but it could also be miles away. Regardless, I like the image. The intuitive feeling between a Frisbee floating and a river widening is definite. The shape and spin of the Frisbee give rise to the connection. Note also the musicality of the “i” sounds that bring a sense of sharpness.
The third line changes the scene and resolves the second line. When a Frisbee reaches the catcher, it starts to slow down and drag more. This is akin to the widening of the river before it reaches the sea. However, there is more to this image than the facts. I think this is a metaphor about how we act and feel when meeting our death or a goal. We open our hearts and minds more. Luckily, when coming to our end or when obtaining a goal, we approach it with open arms. On a side note, I enjoy the “ea” sounds in “nears” and “sea,” which to my mind brings a calming effect.
This haiku looks simple at first glance, but with its underlying metaphors, meditativeness, and musicality, it is an excellently crafted poem.
—Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)
Two additional comments were added to the blog:
This haiku does reveal hidden depths over time. For me, the Frisbee’s smooth and silent rotation, which causes it to float by a mechanism I don’t understand, mimics the swirls and eddy currents in the margins of the river’s flow. So the three lines move from close-up to medium to macro views, perhaps resonating with human interconnectedness.
Is this Frisbee right side up as when it’s floating through the air as it’s designed to do or is it on its back without any control? [And thus] finished as a Frisbee? Helpless and lost, floating down a widening river out to the eternal ocean. Too much? :-)
I’m grateful for all these comments, and for any nuances readers might see in the poem even if I might not have intended them. If I may respond to one of the commentaries, though, I’m not sure why anyone might “scoff” at using articles in haiku, as they are completely common and normal in English-language haiku—and in fact it’s very often a problem to omit them rather than to include them. Nor is there any rule against rhyme in haiku, provided it comes across naturally and is not too heavy-handed (and in my poem, many readers might not even notice it at all). Nor is there any rule against two verbs, especially when one is clearly less emphasized than the other, as I believe is the case here. And again, nothing is wrong with presenting “matter of fact” descriptions in haiku. Indeed, description is where haiku should always start—and where they often end (think of Bashō’s famous “old pond” poem and thousands of other haiku by Japanese masters and poets writing in English). All that’s necessary is that those descriptions also generate sufficient implication or reverberation, which I believe happens here, as the preceding commentaries suggest. While one may wonder if the Frisbee actually exists, I would say that’s a secondary possibility at best. Of course it exists. I say so in the poem. Words in haiku should always work on the denotative level first (so yes, I expect readers to see a real Frisbee). It’s fine to also wonder if the Frisbee represents something else, but again, I hope that’s secondary. In any case, it’s pleasing that this extra (unintended) meaning was received not just by Fractled but also Hifsa Ashraf. In that sense, the entire poem can enlarge to be a sort of metaphor, as Nicholas Klacsanzky says, for receiving the completion of any goal or even death “with open arms.”
Finally, I didn’t use the technique of narrowing focus “but in reverse.” I used the technique (if one wants call it that) of widening focus. Another example of the same choice, among my poems, is “a few pines / tagged with ribbons . . . / winter stillness,” where ending on the broader and more general image adds a greater feeling of melancholy to the poem than if it were the other way around, creating a sort of withdrawal, an increasing distance from the primary image. For me, this makes the poem more lonely. And in the Frisbee poem, I think the widening focus emphasizes the vastness of the ocean compared with the size of the river, made even more vast in comparison to the very personal, small, and even intimate artifact of the Frisbee itself. An object that fit one’s hand is now lost to a river, irretrievably, and the Frisbee and even the river will soon be lost to an even vaster fate—the entire ocean ahead of it—and metaphorically, also death.
Whatever the case, I remain grateful for all perspectives in response to this poem and other haiku I’ve written. I appreciate that this poem was able to take these generous commentators in different and often similar directions with their observations.
—15, 16 October 2019