Thursday, January 28, 2010

Haiku, edited by Peter Washington



Currently, it is very difficult to find a complete 4 volume set of R. H. Blyth's historic Haiku for under $200 (though you might be able to cobble together individual volumes for less @ abebooks - and at the moment there is this bargain for a set in fine condition) and this is really a shame. This seminal work is like an in-depth, life-long seminar in the essence of haiku, with arguably the most qualified teacher that has ever lived. The set includes hundreds of haiku translated by Blyth and one might say it is the most comprehensive collection of haiku translated into English. In addition, but of equal importance, this 4-volume work contains the history, context, and, Blyth's revelatory running commentary on all things haiku.

If you need schooled in old school, as we would delicately put it here in Pittsburgh, this is it.

Which is the long way round to introducing the book Haiku, edited by Peter Washington, part of the familiar Everyman Library series of Pocket Poets. Here's why.

Haiku is divided into two sections: Japanese Haiku and Western Haiku. Section one takes up over 200 pages of the nearly 250 page book. The vast majority of the pages contain 3 haiku. The Japanese haiku section, containing approximately 600 poems, is translated in its entirety by R. H. Blyth, all the translations coming from his own monumental 4-volume study cited above.

So, the good news is that a huge chunk of Blyth's translations from the Japanese haiku masters is now contained in one available volume, for the whopping price of 12.50 brand new, with copies going for as low as 99 cents on amazon. That's some savings.

The bad news is no commentary. How bad is that news, really? Well, for me the commentary is better than the translations. Sacrilegious, you might ask? But I would hasten to add that the translations are among the most valuable there are, which gives you some idea of how I feel about the commentary.

I'll leave it there, as far as good and bad news is concerned. What I would say is this: the books shouldn't be compared, they are two different animals sharing one lineage. Still, it would be criminal not to note how very important the original source of these translations is.

From the Blyth translations, I marked down an incredible 81 poems I considered strong enough for an in-depth look. The shorter Western haiku section also had over 30 very impressive pieces. Here's a sampling of very superlative haiku, indeed, from the sections on Buddha-nature and the moon:



Simply trust:
Do not also the petals flutter down
Just like that?

Issa





The puppy that knows not
That autumn has come
Is a Buddha.
Issa




Has the tail of a horse
The Buddha-nature?
The autumn wind.

Shiki





Moon-gazing:
Looking at it, it clouds over;
Not looking, it becomes clear.
Chora





The thief
Left it behind -
The moon at the window.

Ryokan





Tonight's moon -
Unthinkable
That there was only one.
Ryota




The next section is on birds, and so much more:



The voice of the pheasant;
How I longed for
My dead parents.
Bashô






In one single cry,
The pheasant has swallowed
The broad field.

Yamei




The wild geese having gone,
The rice-field before the house
Seems far away.
Buson




Now that the eyes of the hawks
Are darkened in the dusk,
The quails are chirping.

Bashô




The wren is chirruping
But it grows dusk
Just the same.
Issa



Other sections include haiku in the following categories: Happiness, Birds, Creatures, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and the New Year. The Western Haiku selection is divided into Traditional and Modern styles. Interestingly, within the traditional section Washington includes some of Blyth's "found" haiku from Western masters, such as Wordsworth, Hopkins, Shelley, Housman etc. In addition, he includes some of his own found pieces, but unfortunately does not indicate which selections are his and which are Blyth's. In my reading of the original Blyth volumes, these found pieces are among some of the most delightful moments; there is a synchronicity, a delving into the well of the collective unconscious that at once dazzles, fascinates, and astounds. Here are a few samples:



Daffodils
With the Green World
They live in

John Keats





In the broad daylight
Thou are unseen
But yet I hear thy sheer delight.
Percy Shelley





I will touch
A hundred flowers
And pick not one.

Edna St. Vincent Millay





A violet
By a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye.
William Wordsworth






The moonlight steeped
In silentness
The steady weathercock

Samuel Taylor Coleridge.





It is no coincidence that these selections favor the Romantics; along with Thoreau, Whitman and Emerson, they far out weigh all others. Nature, of course, is the connection; we flow from it and it flows back from us. The Romantics and 19th century Americans, with their tentative connections to Eastern philosophy, are as steeped in it as Coleridge's weathercock in moonlight. Though these poetic greats did not write in the form, they did write from the feeling, the essence.

If you are a casual haiku reader or if you have read haiku all your life, this is an essential volume.

Provided, of course, you don't already have Blyth's 4 volume masterpiece.


************************************************


This week's featured broadside is entitled The Plot by Albert Huffstickler and was published as #136 of Lilliput Review. The broadside was in the hopper awaiting publication at the time of Huff's death. It is comprised of 7 brief poems (or 7 stanzas of the same poem), a loose sequence, each of which addresses the question of the plot. You know which one. Here is the cover photo by Sue Mendelsohn, taken of the "Pronto Food Mart," just down the street from where Huff lived, very shortly after his death:



The broadside is tiny, 2.75 x 4.25, yet poignant and powerful. What follows is the text in its entirety. This is a neat, teeny little booklet to have, available for a measly buck or, as an online special, a simple SASE. Even better, here it is in its entirety, sans hard copy:


The Plot
It's about how
we lose ourselves
then find ourselves again
changed


It's about finding
the hidden language
which isn't a
language at all


It's about
those moments when
everything makes itself known
then hides itself again


It's about
how all language
is misdirection
and how
without language
we are lost


It's about that
condition lurking
behind the word Love
never revealing itself

It's about loss,
about searching for
what was lost,
not knowing what it was,
finding it,
not recognizing it,
losing it again,
the search continuing

It's how the days
weave themselves
into tapestries of time,
brilliant,
fading. . . .
Albert Huffstickler



From one ancient master to another:




blades of grass--
lost among the raindrops
autumn dew
Issa
translated by David G. Lanoue




best,
Don

16 comments:

Ed Baker said...

when reading "The Master" poets/writers

whether The Ancients or The Moderns ()when their 'shortie' works)

it is as though I have written
or am writing

or am "in the moment"

right there.

each one of these.... in a few words...are an entire novel... or a painting/sumi-e/quick-sketch

even in translation the new/different lang offers so much


imagine what "it is" in/ via the original language/meanings.

am working on a new novel now, myself

so far I got:

all of the girls my age
think
that they are Veronica [Lake

Good "stuff"





(actually/physically)

Charles Gramlich said...

I get a lot of stuff through ABE books so I'll have a look around their site for these.

William A. Sigler said...

“Need schooled” – I love it, yins guys. And thanks for the classic assortment of haiku, including the “found” haiku like some sampled mix for the dance floor. There's a lot of perfection in that generous selection, but most of them don't pass what I call the Plainspeak test: would they survive being recited by Wilfred Brumley?

All in all, I think what Grant does on his website is closer to the spirit of actual Haiku.

I know it's not yet the year of the Tiger, and I'm not trying to enter a lion's lair, but where's the music, people? It just reminds me of how pained I get at the wrong turn translating Japanese Haiku into English took a long time ago. Since we're in Lilliput I won't go into all the technical issues here: line length, rhyme scheme, look on the page. My brief in short is that the translators, in the necessity of ruthless decisions, decided to emphasize image rather than sound. Haiku rhymes to the point of insanity—it makes hip hop sound like free verse. I've seen very few Haiku in English that capture that quality (my own attempts to create a sound-based haiku prompted my daughter, who studies Japanese, to conclude “one should not write haiku in English”).

English speakers may reply that the sound structures of Asian languages cannot be rendered into non-musical English whereas images can move across cultures. To which I reply, birds sing in America and they cry in China. An image is never a mere image in Asian poetry, it's a marker of the inexpressible. A mountain is a mountain, a memory of a personal event that involved a mountain, a man who is like a mountain, the history of all the uses of mountain in old poems, the qualities of a mountain as reflected in the elements of earthairfirewater, as well as the Tao, something you must not place a boundary around. The image-based haiku, when it comes into English, has a suitable Buddhist quality – open-ended, wide-eyed, and keyed in on that old objective correlative. But it also creates a cult of concrete detail that too easily becomes an end in itself (the form containing the content as no other form in English does). It also influences the flat-sounding excuses for poem that have infiltrated every corner of modern American verse. Imagine an alternate reality where English-language poets, instead of cultivating the quiet of their images, cultivate the number of vowel repetitions—the inexpressible music.

Ooops. I've stepped too far over from truth into words. Maybe a better way of saying this is: “If you read a haiku, unwrite it.”

Don't shoot me, Don, I'm only the piano player.

Ed Baker said...

well, Bill:

now
that I am a famous
Minor Amwearican Poet
I can,
and just might,
speak
to
this

as
regards

rhythm/breathing:

between
breathing in

and
breathing out

everything else happens.

I think that it is more easier to translate from another lang
than to write in wons' ow (voice)

so

I never ever write, or call my poems

"haiku"

I jus' call 'em

"shorties"

then
move on..


I like/appreciate
what you say

now...
spontaneity is an whole
'nother matter...

it ain't so easy (either)

so:

full moon
devoid of words
just another dumb rock!

William A. Sigler said...

wow back Ed-

it's like Olsen
taking the rains
from Pound

Ed Baker said...

I "dumped" Pound in 1971

Olson I skimmed the surface of..

then I dropped out

was afeared that I would be/come just like (either one of ) them.

now that I am back? well:

sometimes
it s not so easy
being myself

or to put it in an-other term:

didn't/don't want to pretend
and
run the risk of
becoming what I was pretending to be...

or join one of them 10,000 Clubs....
the annual dues
would cost my ass

to say nothing of the rules and writes (rites) of
passage seemingly required and endless..


besides

I am getting older:

all of the girls my age
are thinking
that they are Veronica Lake

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Ed, the experience of "writing them yourself," that thread of universality, is probably the pinnacle of accomplishment for the poem/poet - Blyth's economy, as you point out is the strength of these renderings - and the inaugural appearance of Veronica Lake in Issa's Hut!

Charles, I tend to go to abebooks 1st, too ...

William, thank you for your insightful, cogent, and gracious comment - I immediately thought of Hermann Hesse's famous quote: "Poetry is what is lost in translation."

Your reference to music as an essential element very often missing from translations is a very important point that I don't believe has been made in all the postings on this topic I've done over the years. It seems that it is something of a trade off; since it is nearly impossible to replicate all the subtleties of sound in English, to say nothing of the untranslatable cultural references, translators go after the essence, the philosophy, attempting to capture what is admittedly uncapturable, which is the sweetest irony of all.

I, too, am a great admirer of what Grant Hackett does.

One of the first great translators of Asian poetry, Arthur Waley, often tried to capture the music and was immensely popular but now seems to have fallen out of favor. Perhaps, somewhere there is a balance between music and essence (I type this as Glenn Gould pounds Brahmsian keys, humming along as one transported).

One of your important points - "The image-based haiku, when it comes into English, has a suitable Buddhist quality – open-ended, wide-eyed, and keyed in on that old objective correlative. But it also creates a cult of concrete detail that too easily becomes an end in itself ..." - is, I believe, spot-on and is a critique that should be somewhere in the back of all translator/poet minds. In the best of translations, as in the best of English-language haiku (D. T. Suzuki agreed 100% with your daughter about English language haiku, by the way - quiet, Glenn), there is a point where a kind of commensurate lyricism may stand in for the music.

But, as an amateur, I'm in way over my head here. Ed's point about "I call 'em shorties" is really an essential corrective for those caught in the miasma of this particular dilemma. We no more have to call English translations of Asian poems haikus than we should, perhaps, call original English language poems that mimic the length, philosophy and feel of Japanese Haiku haikus.

The name, perhaps, is the least important element of all. Let us take each poem, each translator, each poet one at a time and move on from there.

Which is not my attempt to blithely sidestep your championing of music. This, too, must be taken on its own terms - the beauty of translation is that each artist (i.e. translator) can have a go and I'm as game to read these attempts as I am those decidedly flatter if philosophically fatter. The ideal should always be to capture some sort of balance or go your own way in either direction.

William, it is very nice, indeed, to have a piano player on board. I really loved your: “If you read a haiku, unwrite it.”

Ed, Veronica Lake twice in one day! And William, Pound and Olsen, too. Let's all step up to the bar.

I'm buying.

Ed Baker said...

before we get to "drunk" on all of this
and the sake..

let me jus "thicken the stew"

am just introducing myself to P.K. Page via her

The Filled Pen and here is a quote from chapter titled

Traveller, Conjuror, Journeyman:

"(...)
What is art anyway? What am I trying to do?
Play perhaps. Not as opposed to work. But spontaneous involvement which is its own reward; done for the sheer joy of doing it; for the discovery, invention, sensuous pleasure. 'Taking the line for a walk' manipulating sounds, rhythms. (...)"

(Paul Klee said this ... about the walking a line" neat)

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Amen, Ed.

William A. Sigler said...

In case no one noticed the synchronicity:

"you can call me anything you want but my name is..."

My daughter's name is Veronica

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

William, I did, indeed - and I know Ed did, he so often composes spontaneously like this, riffing off your mention ... in fact, it may be the only way he writes but I'll leave it to him to let us know ...

Thanks again for the insight ....

Ed Baker said...

well

it s not so easy to be or to appear to be
spontaneous ..

you gotta have in mind
and
on paper
yers and years and years and years

of notes, part-way pieces, etcs..

especially these little "shorties" they seem "spontaneous" however
EVERY ONE OF THEM my "me"
has been working since April 19, 1941!

(that's pre-Atom Bomb
when the Full Moon was
actually
green cheese

hand still had a Jules Verne rocket
that took Buster Crabbe

"POW! To the MOON!"

now,

this recent Veronica Lake
piece went through, so far, 12 or so "changes"

and dig this...

the first pieces out of Restoration Poems done about 1974 ANDTHE FINAL BOOK of
published 20)9!


that's a lot of time between to appear "spontaneous" some 37 or so years... to "finish" a piece? geeze.

on back of Rest Poems (Country Valley) in a letter to me from Cid, 1975 or so:

"No hurry with the book : it won't improve with haste. And no one riding you. Lwet it acrete and shape it with care as it comers. And then mull it with even more care when it seems 'done'. The way you're working makes heavy demands on each word ..."

so:

full moon
suddenly here
requires my attention

anyway...

another poet friend replied:

"Here is the dwelling of past in present. The craft of abiding and an abiding craft. Here is our home to be."


so

fill 'er up Joe
what is in mind
in memory,
in heart

is The Gas
that drives one to
far places near enough to
"pin down"


full moon
exploring everything
simultaneously

so

this is much like a letter to (..) eh?

kind of
free wheeeling ...

might take 20 years for the "dust" to settle

and a poem/piece/image "gotten"


full moon
star dust.
Got chuh, sukkuh!


(punctuation is an whole 'nother story. One first must learn the rules...

than d r o p them!

(am I still "in the box"?)

now
to "check out" a few things via RS's site/blog role...


and just see if I am Pre-voked to
comment on some "thing"...

willy- nilly.

etc.

Ed Baker said...

well

it s not so easy to be or to appear to be
spontaneous ..

you gotta have in mind
and
on paper
yers and years and years and years

of notes, part-way pieces, etcs..

especially these little "shorties" they seem "spontaneous" however
EVERY ONE OF THEM my "me"
has been working since April 19, 1941!

(that's pre-Atom Bomb
when the Full Moon was
actually
green cheese

hand still had a Jules Verne rocket
that took Buster Crabbe

"POW! To the MOON!"

now,

this recent Veronica Lake
piece went through, so far, 12 or so "changes"

and dig this...

the first pieces out of Restoration Poems done about 1974 ANDTHE FINAL BOOK of
published 20)9!


that's a lot of time between to appear "spontaneous" some 37 or so years... to "finish" a piece? geeze.

on back of Rest Poems (Country Valley) in a letter to me from Cid, 1975 or so:

"No hurry with the book : it won't improve with haste. And no one riding you. Lwet it acrete and shape it with care as it comers. And then mull it with even more care when it seems 'done'. The way you're working makes heavy demands on each word ..."

so:

full moon
suddenly here
requires my attention

anyway...

another poet friend replied:

"Here is the dwelling of past in present. The craft of abiding and an abiding craft. Here is our home to be."


so

fill 'er up Joe
what is in mind
in memory,
in heart

is The Gas
that drives one to
far places near enough to
"pin down"


full moon
exploring everything
simultaneously

so

this is much like a letter to (..) eh?

kind of
free wheeeling ...

might take 20 years for the "dust" to settle

and a poem/piece/image "gotten"


full moon
star dust.
Got chuh, sukkuh!


(punctuation is an whole 'nother story. One first must learn the rules...

than d r o p them!

(am I still "in the box"?)

now
to "check out" a few things via RS's site/blog role...


and just see if I am Pre-voked to
comment on some "thing"...

willy- nilly.

etc.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, Ed ... the eternal spontaneous ... on and on - of course, the craft of a life, of a lifetime - I may not learn before I'm gone, but won't stop for failing ... your lessons mean a lot to me.

womanimal said...

Maybe it's because they are two of my favorite subjects, but many of the moon and bird haiku you chose to hilight really struck me as having that "ah" moment, and beyond even that, conveyed to me an instant of clarity, release--enlightenment, maybe?

"The Plot" is so gorgeous, it moved me to tears. Wow, just wow.

Thanks for this, looks like i'll be hunting down both the book and Huffstickler's work.

-né

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

né, ah, glad these connected - 81 out of 600 + poems had this effect on me, like continuous fireworks. I ordered the book for the library, so should be in soon.

Glad, too, you liked the Huff. I probably put too much in the one post cause it kind of got overlooked. I'm currently reading a book of his longer poems - really his medium - and poem after poem are at once crystal clear and deep, deep. I was so very sad after publishing "The Plot" knowing it was the last of his little sequences I would be doing. "The Fairytales of Hermann Hesse," which I just finished reading (future "Eleventh Stack" post) were exactly like this in short story/fable form. And I realized, really this is what all of Hesse is about.

When you find it, the well is bottomless.