Oh yeah! My books!

I forgot to show you the haiku books I bought at Foundry Books over the weekend. I’m very excited about them…

Issa: Cup of Tea Poems

by Issa, translated by David Lanoue

The fascinating preface of this book begins, “…Issa … is at once the most profoundly devout and down-in-the-mud silly of all the great masters of Japanese haiku. … [He] approaches the natural miracles of this world evenly, showing the same reverent awe and artistic excitement for plum trees in full bloom and dog crap covered by a light snow.” True that…that’s what I love about Issa.

Lanoue goes on to discuss Issa’s “liberating, iconoclastic, democratic” vision and thoroughly dissects what he sees as the critical influence of Issa’s Pure Land Buddhist beliefs on his poetry.

These are quite literal translations, written in one vertical line, one word to a line, reflecting, of course, the original format of the haiku in Japanese. Lanoue’s rationale for this format is that this allows the reader to follow the revelation of images in the haiku in the same order as the original poem. Issa’s haiku are often set up to have punch lines or surprises at the end, and less literal translations can ruin this effect. An example:







I am having so much fun reading this. I highly recommend it if you don’t read Japanese but want to get some sense of how haiku might read in the original. Or if you just love Issa and can’t get enough of him, like me.

The Master Haiku Poet: Matsuo Basho

by Makoto Ueda

I haven’t read this yet, but I’m very excited to because Basho is the seminal haiku poet (as well as a great renku poet) and I don’t know nearly enough about him.

This is a 1970 biography and critical appraisal by a Stanford professor which contains tons of the haiku and excerpts from the renku. Here’s one of my favorites that I just came across while browsing:

Will you start a fire?

I’ll show you something nice —

A huge snowball.

The book looks information-packed but very readable. Thre’s even a map at the beginning (love maps!) of Basho’s various journeys, which he famously wrote about at length.

When I actually get around to reading this (I hope soon) I will give you a more thorough rundown.

The Haiku Apprentice: Memoirs of Writing Poetry in Japan

by Abigail Freedman

Another one I’m really excited to read. It’s the memoir of an American diplomat in Japan who joins a haiku group and gets a thoroughly Japanese grounding in the writing of haiku and, in the process, learns quite a bit about Japanese culture.

Just paging through, I see lots and lots of really wonderful haiku (given in both English and Japanese) — some classical and some contemporary. Here’s a great one (by an elderly man being tested for cancer):

into my kidney

a tube pierces

ah, the summer heat!

I’m really looking forward to finding out more about the haiku scene in Japan — even though we are developing our own strong traditions, I think we English-language haiku poets have a lot to learn from the Japanese still. So many of their haiku seem so much fresher and more imaginative than most English-language haiku.

Again, I will give you a more thorough report on this book once I’ve actually read it. It’s on the top of the pile on my nightstand, so with any luck you won’t have long to wait.

11 thoughts on “Oh yeah! My books!

  1. Nice buys, Melissa. I ogled the haiku section for quite a while and walked away with some pretty amazing finds.

    I’ve not read The Haiku Apprentice (though I’ve looked now and again at it on Amazon); I look forward to seeing what you think of it and see if it’s worth the buy. I’m pretty familiar with Lanoue’s translations through Daily Issa via David’s Kobayashi Issa database. Issa’s a good read, and the underdog out of the haiku masters.

    We use the Ueda book in Global Haiku Traditions. It’s very readable and accessible, while still having a good rundown of Basho’s life, aesthetics, and poetics. I often go back to it looking stuff up for research, so I’d say it’s an essential for your collection. As you’re reading, best to keep in mind though Ueda is a scholar, and not a poet. I don’t know how familiar you are with reading translations of work, but it certainly makes a difference. So it depends on how you like it. I for one, am more fond of the scholarly translations to poetic translations, and I feel Ueda gets what the poem is saying, but sometimes can be wordy; however, I’m still pretty fond of his translations in general. Particularly for Far Beyond the Field, a collection of Japanese women’s haiku.

    • Oh, I am all about my man David Lanoue. In fact one of his translations provided the name of this blog. Click on the picture of the red dragonfly in the sidebar to read what I wrote about him a few months ago …

      Good to know that the Ueda book is a standard. And yeah, I tend to like translations that preserve as much of the original meaning over translations that impose the voice of another poet.

      • I saw that along the sidebar. I’ll have to go back and see the additional text. David’s a great guy; I’m particularly fond of his haiku novels, which inspired me to look even closer at “haiku novels,” haiku fiction, and other playing with prose and haiku that don’t necessarily fall into the category of haibun. I’ve grown in appreciation of Issa over the years, though I tend to learn toward Basho out of the four ‘great masters.’ Though I wrote a little bit to him for celebration of the tenth anniversity of the Issa database about halfway down here. Though I find Michael Dylan Welch’s tribute poem just beneath my note to be far superior, so check that out instead.

        I always appreciate Ueda’s historical introductions to collections, such as the Japanese women’s one and the modern tanka collection he did. Though when you go to read Basho’s Oku no Hosomichi, I strongly recommend Donald Keene’s translation.

        • I am an Issa devotee myself. (Someone pointed out that his name is in my name. It must be a sign. 🙂 ) I love the humor and humanism. I can sit around and read David’s database for hours.

          I looked a bit at David’s haiku novels at Foundry but wasn’t quite ready to go there yet. He was extremely kind and gracious when I was first getting started and in fact I think he was the first person to link to my site (because I wrote to him asking permission to use his translation on the blog).

          Michael Dylan Welch — huge fan. His website is amazing.

          • I’ve grown an appreciation for Issa’s… well, appreciation of small things. More in the Pure Land Buddhist sense than humanism (though I know that’s a seriously grey area). I tend to lean toward Basho for the rawness of his haiku. It’s not as polished, nor does it sound as nice as Buson’s, who paints beautiful images (with a brush and with words), but it has such raw emotion.

            You might be more ready for them than you realize. I pushed for it, then Randy and I developed a lesson plan using Haiku Guy last semester. We had some great discussions out of the book, and afterward, I noticed a significant change in their writing.

            If I had to make a single statement each about Haiku Guy and Laughing Buddha, I’d be inclined to say the former is more about writing haiku (with some mechanics), whereas the latter is about the spirit of haiku. I felt Haiku Guy was an eye opener when I read it. The main character is learning haiku, and so the chapters are somewhat divided into lessons. In a way, teaching through showing, as opposed to a how-to book (like Lee’s A Poet’s Guide) that says word for word how something works. Laughing Buddha is just simply one of my favorite books of all time. If nothing else, then for this line: “I felt like a secret agent setting off on a mission under deep cover, on my way to an exotic land filled with sex, violence, and haiku: the Old Japan world of geisha, samurai, and mad, moonstruck poets.”

  2. Pingback: November 15: Basho and me « Red Dragonfly

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