recommended / HAIKU AS LIFE

Haiku as Life: A Kaneko Tohta Omnibus

-Essays, an Interview, Commentary and Selected Haiku in Translation-

translated by Richard Gilbert, Ito Yuki, David Ostman, Masahiro Hori, Koun Franz, Tracy Franz, Kanamitsu Takeyoshi

Red Moon Press, 2019 / $35

This omnibus contains Kaneko Tohta’s poems starting in 1937, when he was 18, up to his passing in 2018 at age 98. Born in 1919, it seems fair to say that his work in many ways reflects what haiku was in Japan in its first century as “haiku,” a stand alone poem (named and conceptualized by Masaoka Shiki in 1894).

Besides the lifetime of poems (many of which, at least in translation, display a range of confessional rawness, beauty, evocativeness, and surrealism), the book offers illuminating essays, an interview, and commentary.

In their original Japanese, which the book includes, all the haiku are written in a single line. In English, the translation group presents them with a deep knowledge and appreciation of 20th and 21st century poetry in English as well as the range with which haiku (or ku, or minimalist poems) have, and are, being written in English: one line (monoku), 2 lines, the traditional English-language 3 lines aligned-left, 4 and 5 lines—each, at times, also playfully, spatially experimented with. As Hiroaki Sato notes in a review of an earlier, partial version of this omnibus for Modern Haiku, Gilbert’s justification of “this variegated approach” is the West’s “history of short-form poetics (Imagism, Objectivism, Language Poetry, etc.).” Sato importantly points out that “Kaneko apparently has not followed any of them,” however, and “never stepped outside the monolinear form and used no interlinear space, no punctuation, before or since.” So the group’s approach to presenting the poems is novel and refreshing in a sense, but also entirely inaccurate in another. An interesting conundrum. Since the poems are there in their original, untouched forms, and Gilbert’s open and purposeful about their choices, the approach, to me, seems original and thought-provoking.

One of my favorite things about the book was how Tohta’s comments inspired me to reread (and therefore have a new appreciation and understanding of) the poetry of Issa—in particular Makoto Ueda’s book Dew on the Grass: The Life and Poetry of Kobayashi Issa, as well as David G. Lanoue’s extensive translations of Issa’s poems. This quote did it:

“. . . [Issa] possessed a raw perception of living beings. And it is in coming to recognize this perception that I have come to realize Issa’s sensitivity as something tremendous: the raw, living appearance of a genuine human being.”

And also this, following it:

“There are those who accumulate desires, who seize markets and even wage wars—I would like to force them to read Issa’s haiku. If they could understand this gentleness, this world of sensitivity in which living beings feel as living beings, then perhaps their lust for power might diminish, might be made to decrease. This is my small wish.”

If you are at all interested in Japanese haiku, I would think this book is a must have.

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blue-bear—

in the chilled ocean

a human song

—Kaneko Tohta (1971)

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“The extent of the annotations might make Bashō appear derivative, but as I have pointed out elsewhere (and as everyone knows), the “cult of originality” is something new to our literary experience. A rich fabric of reference—in good hands, such as Shakespeare’s, Eliot’s, or Bashō’s—is an incomparable resource and a source of wonderment.”

—Hiroaki Sato / Bashō’s Narrow Road (1996)

Two Wings The Butterfly

Along the river

Following a path in the snow:

Marked by a cane.

—Gerald Vizenor (1962)

The Haiku Foundation recently added to it’s already voluminous and ever-expanding online library an important addition: Gerald Vizenor’s 1962 haiku collection, Two Wings The Butterfly. This was Vizenor’s first of seven haiku collections (the last, Cranes Arise: Haiku Scenes, from 1999, until his most recent 2014 collected haiku volume, favor of crows: new and collected haiku). Two Wings The Butterfly shows us that Vizenor was discovering, exploring, and writing haiku during the same time as Jack Kerouac, Paul Reps, Richard Wright, Cor van den Heuvel, J. W. Hackett, and Nick Virgilio (just to name a few of the poets whose haiku have gained notoriety and weight over the years). Vizenor is a citizen of the White Earth Nation of the Anishinaabeg in Minnesota, and Pressor Emeritus of American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He discovered haiku when he was eighteen while in the military in Japan and notes that “My first literary creations were haiku scenes, and since then, that imagistic sense of nature has always been present in my writing” (favor of crows XV). Elsewhere, he writes that “Haiku was my first sense of totemic survivance in poetry, the visual and imagistic associations of nature, and of perception and experience” (X); “Haiku, in a sense, inspired me on the road as a soldier in another culture and gently turned me back to the seasons, back to the traces of nature and the tease of native season and memories” (XI). It’s especially interesting and profound that he notes the following: “Haiku scenes are similar, in a sense, to the original dream songs and visionary images of the anishinaabe, the Chippewa or Ojibwe, on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. . . . Once, words and worlds apart in time and place, these poetic images of haiku and dream songs came together more by chance than fate, and later by intuition and consideration” (XI). For more reading on dream songs, check out Songs of the Chippewa and “Stories, Dreams, and Ceremonies: Anishinaabe ways of learning” by Leanne Simpson.

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Rattlecast #6 Richard Gilbert”

Between living and dreaming

there is a third thing.

Guess it.

—Antonio Machado (1983)

Poetry as Consciousness: Haiku Forests, Space of Mind, and an Ethics of Freedom by Richard Gilbert (Keibunsha Press, 2018). Order in English.

Also, check out Richard Gilbert’s other conversation with Tim Green from 2015 in Rattle #47

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sing

“Reduced to its simplest and most essential form, the poem is song. Song is neither discourse nor explanation. In the short poem—jarcha, haiku, epigram, chueh-chu, copla—the background and most of the circumstances that are the cause or object of the songs are omitted. . . . Is there such a thing as a purely earthly epic, one uncontaminated by supernatural intervention and divine genealogy? It is said that the Cantar de mio Cid is a realistic poem. No, Realism is a modern concept . . . “

 —Octavio Paz

from The Other Voice (1990)

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