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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recommended: light packing

Elmedin Kadric, a regular contributor to is/let, has a fine new haiku collection: light packing. You can get your copy for $15 (plus shipping) through his website or from the publisher, Red Moon Press. I’ll second what Lee Gurga wrote about Kadric on the back cover: “One of the most interesting minds writing haiku today.” Here are a couple that stood for me that I hadn’t seen before:

all the seasons

sitting

by her deathbed

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hard rain

the old butcher shop

open again

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Sunrise has been updated.

Peter Yovu’s haiku collection Sunrise was published originally by Red Moon Press in 2010. Instead of expanding it for a second edition, Yovu decided to go the opposite way by changing the order of poems, and also removing seventeen of them, thus tightening the entire collection up. Other subtle, yet significant, changes: a different cover altogether (again by the author) that enwraps both the front and back covers, blurbs have been removed from the back cover, some of the section artworks have been rotated. The title now has a lowercase s, sunrise. The poems are also presented in a different font with tighter line-spacing, and because seventeen have been removed they are able to breathe even more on their pages. The paper used for the cover is now soft and velvety, not unlike a sleeping animal of some kind, or a sunrise. The changes, though many of them subtle, are collectively powerful. Not unlike haiku poetry: less is more. It all seems more focused and refined, as if time has allowed Yovu to ponder the work more deeply. The results are wonderful, making what I think was an incredible collection into something like a classic among English-language haiku collections. Once again, it’s available from Red Moon Press / Amazon.

A favorite:

that we could flower where the earth is so

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after/image by Jim Kacian

For anyone even remotely interested in English-language haiku, Jim Kacian’s latest collection, after/image ($20; Red Moon Press, 2018), is a must. Kacian is the founder of The Haiku Foundation, a past editor of the Haiku Society of America’s journal Frogpond, owner/publisher of Red Moon Press, and editor-in-chief of Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (Norton, 2013). The author of many haiku collections, this is his first substantial collection in some years, containing a decade of writing.

it won’t end and it won’t get better crow’s caw

a trick of the light either way

In parts 2 (“the social project”) and 3 (“after image”) of the collection, Kacian plays on the page with the way the poems appear to readers, juxtaposing poems with themes. Part 2 is presented as four poems per page each with its own theme, repeated: the political, the one, the others, the future.

Part 3 juxtaposes single haiku with a singular theme floating beneath them:

For some, the juxtaposition of poem and theme might startle, or provoke, taking readers into new readings, directions, or insights; for others, it could very well seem unnecessary, even a bit of a distraction.

I’ll give Richard Gilbert the last word: “This is the new world of haiku in English, a demonstration by a master of form, style and technique, who now further incorporates the visual medium to express poetic and philosophical ideas that touch upon consciousness and being. This work represents a new direction for contemporary poetry.

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book recommendation / Okinawa by Hasegawa Kai

Okinawa by Hasegawa Kai is a stirring meditation full of powerful, haunting imagery on the death and destruction left behind by war and its long-term effects on culture, people, and environment. In some of the poems he zooms out, writing critically, universally, about our home (our planet), and how our species behaves. He does this in poems that reflect not just on the past and the present, and their collisions, but also on the future. The overall effect is that a kind of consecration is being performed. The poems remind me of the following from Makoto Ueda’s Matsuo Basho, a kind of definition for haiku: “mature comments on man and his environment.”

The collection is translated by David Burleigh and available from Red Moon Press.

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human remains—

right inside the mouth

green pampas grass

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the glare

of the burning sun

saddened by the earth

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listen to

the far-the off grieving

of the summer tide

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the enormous sunset—

Okinawa has no place

                      to return

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the silence after

the earth’s destruction—

the Milky Way

 

 

 

 

 

 

murmuration / Michelle Tennison

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raindrop

hits the rose and 

remembers everything

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a crow pulls just the thread just stars

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raven shadow clinging tightly to my victim story

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just please how to forgive spring rain

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Act IV when the winter crow recognizes me

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the

quiet

alchemy

of deer

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mother the slow rhythmic pulse of swan wings

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eye of the whale

the center

is everywhere

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murmuration by Michelle Tennison

(Red Moon Press, 2016)

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