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Archive for the ‘Translations’ Category

On the cover: The Story of Issa, Japanese Haiku Poet (technically, this is not a subtitle, as it does not appear on the title page, but I think it should, and if it had . . . well, read on).

San Carolos, CA: Golden Gate Junior Books, 1970. Illustrated by Lydia Cooley; written “with the editorial assistance of Mark Taylor. Haiku translations by Hanako Fukuda”.

1970! Gosh, if I’d not come to Chatham Middle School and had some free time to roam their school library, I might never have seen this book.

Thank you, Chatham Middle School!

This is a gently illustrated prose narrative of Issa’s life, appropriate to elementary and middle school readers. In the course of the text, Ms. Fukuda includes numerous haiku that arose from some of the more personal aspects of Issa’s life, set in a frame story of the time Issa returned to his family home after establishing himself as a major haikai master. At the outset, old man Issa approaches a mountain village, and engages in conversation with a group of children who are singing a song he rememvers from his childhood. I do not now have time to read through the engaginly told story, but I notice that in this book, published in 1970, the haiku translations are not in 5-7-5. Rather, they use only the words the translator feels are needed to convey the poems’ meanings. For example, one of his more famous poems is offered as:

Come and play with me,
Motherless, fatherless
Little sparrow.

Unfortunately, because this book is a biography, no one scanning the poetry shelves in a library is likely to spot it. But the gentle telling of the story, the softly pastel or gray-scale spot and occasional full-page illustrations, and the simple, straightforward haiku translations make this a winner. I’ll be looking to find a copy for myself. If you’re the parent of a reader, or a teacher, or just enjoy children’s books yourself, you might like to get a copy of this one for yourself.

Bill

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Full title:

Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era—Poetry, Drama, Criticism. (Note that there is another volume with the same title, only differing at the end, where “Fiction” replaces “Poetry, Drama, Criticism”; that other volume is over 1300 pages long, and is not for sale here.)

New York: Henry Holt, 1984. Paperback, 6×9.25″ (15.5×23.5 mm), 685+xiv pp.

Original price: $19.95; this copy: $10 + shipping. Click for ordering info.

Condition: Solid binding, cover good, faint (pale green) remainder mark on top edge near spine, a few pages dog-eared, a few marginal notes in ink. A good “reader’s copy”. (Note that the notes are mine, mainly in the section “Poetry in Traditional Forms”, and are not terribly intrusive.)

Here one can get a good overview of “haiku”—the word Shiki coined to separate the independent hokku from the linked poetry it originally belonged to. (The separation actually goes back to old renga masters such as Sôgi and Sôchô, and was reinforced by Bashô and many poets of his day in haikai.) Keene’s grasp of the overall situation of Japanese literature and his special affection for the haiku in all its guises inform his writing. He also translates many haiku and tanka by many poets, some well known in the West, others less so.

Keene includes comments on and translations of tanka by poets from Shigene Suzuki (1814–1898 ) to Takashi Okai (b. 1928), touching on many others including such figures as Akiko Yosano (1876–1942), Hakushû Kitahara (1885–1942), Takuboku Ishikawa (1886–1912), Shiki Masaoka (1867–1902), and Mokichi Saitô (1882–1953). He also sets out the major groups of tanka poets and their differing philosophies of tanka composition, including a number whose approach to tanka form was quite radical. (Note that I list the names here in Western order, which accords with the style sheet I’m following here on the Pub generally, but that Keene gives Japanese names in Japanese order, as do most scholars of Japanese literature writing in English.)

Keene then takes up haiku; poets from Eiki Hozumi (1823–1904) to Kin’ichi Sawaki and Tohta Kaneko (both born 1919) are covered, including those well known to us such as Shiki, Santôka Taneda (1882–1940), Hôsai Ozaki (1885–1926), Shûôshi Mizuhara (1892–1981), and Seishi Yamaguchi (b. 1901). Among these poets, he also writes of many others, less well known to the West, such as Raboku Ohashi (1890–1933), citing one of his oft-quoted minimalist haiku, hi e yamu (“I am sick with the sun.”—Keene’s tr., in which “I am” expresses ideas included in the original, but not its words), the essentially deaf poet Kijô Murakami (1865–1938), Sekitei Hara (1886–1951), and Hisajo Sugita (1890–1946), who led many women and men away from Shiki’s dominant and arch-conservative disciple Kyoshi Takahama (1874–1959), and the “Humanist” haiku poets Kusatao Nakamura (1901–1983) and Shûson Katô (b. 1905). The whole passage on haiku is a fine expansion and continuation of the similar treatment given of fewer of these poets in R. H. Blyth’s History of Haiku, volume 2 (1964) and Makoto Ueda’s Modern Japanese Haiku (1976).

As the title of the book suggests, there are also substantial sections given over to poetry in new forms (i.e., “modern poetry”), modern drama, and modern criticism—all reflecting the opening of Japan to Western influence in the late 19th century through well past the middle of the 20th.

To Order: If you are interested in purchasing this copy of Dawn to the West, e-mail me with name, postal address, and phone number.

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Subtitle: Contemporary Japanese & English-Language Haiku in Cross-Cultural Perspective.

Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2008. More details coming later . . .

With thanks to the author and publisher.

I’m really pressed for time, just now, so I’ll offer here the blurb I wrote on this as it was in press:

In Poems of Consciousness, Richard Gilbert investigates Japanese haiku in the flesh. He not only reports on what he has gleaned from books about haiku, but includes interviews with and writings by living Japanese haiku masters. Here you will meet some of today’s most widely respected poets. Kiyoko Uda has been at the forefront of haiku’s growing popularity among younger poets for the past several decades. She recently became president of the Modern Haiku Association–the most avant-garde of Japan’s major haiku organizations. Hasegawa Kai leads the contemporary reexamination of all our assumptions about the haiku of the past and points the way ahead for this new century. These and others provide striking poems–in Gilbert’s insightful translations–that will, along with his own provocative essays, make anyone familiar with the haiku genre rethink their understanding of this brand new poetry.

You’ll see a more fulsome review here in a few weeks. This is not a fast-food book, but one that requires careful attention, as one moves through its stages. One of these is a DVD-ROM containing extensive materials in the book and from his Gendai Haiku web site. The DVD is worth the price of admission, but there’s plenty more in the book, too.

See the publisher’s web page here.

Bill

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Subtitle: A bilingual anthology of Haiku by 105 Poets from India.

Chandigarh, India: privately printed, 2008; 70+5 pp., 4.5×7″ (115×177 mm), US$2.5 + s&h from the editor, 1224, Sector 42-B, Chandigarh, 160 036 India.

With thanks to the editor.

With this modest collection, the initial attempts of Indian poets to grasp Japanese haiku and make something of their own from that understanding appear outside the realm of single-sheet newsletters and the like. The majority of these poems originally appeared in Hindi, and have been presented here in two-page spreads with an English translation on the left and Hindi on the right, with each opening showing three poems in the two languages. (And, confusingly, both pages bearing the same number, though one’s in what we call “Arabic” and the other in Hindi.) Toward the end of the book, some haiku written originally in English are included, along with Hindi translations. As I have no competence in Hindi, I cannot vouch for the translations, but knowing Angelee, I imagine that they are fairly accurate to their originals, going either way.

Here are some selected from random openings:

thundering, again
it breaks the burden of silence
—the downpour

Dr. Satyapal Chugh (3)

This strikes me as interesting on a couple of levels. The “burden of silence” may seem a little hyperbolic, but brings across the notion of human relationship and the ways nature can be found as T. S. Eliot’s objective correlative for the “thunder” of human feelings. And, we might suppose, the “downpour” may also refigure some crying that preceded or went along with that silence. A poem more interesting than I thought at first glance.

mountains weep
a thousand tears
a stream flows

—Dr. Manoj Sonkar (14)

This seems just a rather trite metaphor. Unfortunately, several of the poems in this collection exhibit similar triteness and failures of imagination, or, perhaps more accurately, failure to find fresh language for their perceptions.

The next poem has the virtue of genuine simplicity, as do a number of the poems in Indian Haiku:

waves came
and went back again
with the sand

—Ajay Charmam (21)

These are three of the poems apparently translated from Hindi. Indian Haiku also contains a representative of Gujarati and one from Marathi. As India has many native languages, we may hope for more haiku from these and other languages in the near future.

The next two I believe are English originals:

moonbeams—
on the veena strings
her fingers

—Dr. Vidur Jyoti (34)

The veena is a stringed musical instrument featuring a round sound box or bowl and fretted neck, usually four feet or more long. In this poem the moonbeams and playing of the veena echo each other in a not-uncommon haiku manner, effectively becoming mutually metaphorical while, of course, also carrying their literal meanings as primary. A similar technique occurs in the following, last poem, by the book’s editor:

stars adrift
in the chill of night
the last diary entry

—Angelee Deodhar (35)

While it seems to me that the last dozen or more poems—those apparently written originally in English—do the best job of fulfilling my personal sense of the haiku genre, the overall effect of the collection will hopefully encourage existing and new Indian poets to take up the haiku and make it their own. As we’ve noted here before, Angelee Deodhar will undoubtedly be one of the main reasons this happens.

Bill

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