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haiku commentary: Sharon Elyse Dean

family court
the lawyer’s tie lolls
against his gut


Sharon Elyse Dean

What can save a haiku from being mediocre – a strong image from the natural world – is what, by its absence, can make a senryu[1] feel like a weak gag. But the best senryu manage to focus on aspects of the human experience and encapsulate ideas that carry importance for the reader as well as the writer.

Sharon’s senryu paints an amusing picture for us to appreciate in lines 2 and 3: the image of a tubby lawyer, suggested by the word gut and the roundness and floppiness in the sound of lolls. Scenes from American court movies run through my mind: the despicable prosecutor or the self-satisfied defence attorney. But the first line sets the scene more particularly: this is a family court, a place where ordinary lives, lives like our own, are decided upon.

In fact, although the expression in the first line – family court – is very familiar, it is only when it is isolated in a piece of art like this that we ‘see’ it clearly and begin to think about the conflict it contains. Family should be about love and nurture, shouldn’t it? But a court is a place of battle and dispute. With these ideas in our minds the image of the lawyer becomes more distasteful: the lolling tie, combined with the soft consonants in lawyer, now suggests inactivity, ineffectualness, and the further idea arises that the only real winners in situations like this are the lawyers.

This is the world we live in, unfortunately, but fortunately we have poets who are prepared to act as witnesses, to record both its bathos and pathos.




[1] senryu are traditionally meant to offer an insight into human nature and often don’t include a seasonal or nature image. Some haijin still make a distinction between senryu and haiku but sometimes it’s difficult to identify which camp the little poem falls into. For me, the poem having an effect on the reader is more important that a label.

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