Friday, April 15, 2011

Hyakunin Isshu: 100 Poems by 100 Poets (Unicorn Press)

The term of "print on demand" has radically changed in recent years (or should I say months) and the idea that it has revolutionized publishing has been proudly touted and summarily decried from cubicles and garrets all over the world.  Not surprisingly, what might be thought of as the original idea of print on demand has taken something of a backseat.

Looking back at that original idea might just be instructive for the future of publishing, particularly poetry publishing.

All of this is by way of an intro to a new translation of the Japanese classic waka anthology, Hyakunin Isshu: 100 Poems by 100 Poets, by Dennis Maloney and Hide Oshiro, published by Unicorn Press. In the introduction, Dennis mentions that through the years there have been a dozen or so English translations, most of them being woefully out of date.  He also notes that, along with this new translation, there are also two others of recent vintage to compare and enjoy.

The story of this truly classic anthology is well-known.  It was compiled by Fujiwara no Teika and consists of one hundred waka by one hundred different poets.  The poems are in a rough chronological order, from the 8th to the 12th century, and as such represent something of a snapshot of Japanese court poetry.  It is one of the most famous anthologies of poetry of all time and Maloney and Hideo Oshiro have brought their considerable skills to task in this slim volume.

As you may see from the illustrations above and below, each copy of this title is handmade, handmade as in the original print on demand handmade, and Dennis Maloney tells me that they are produced a few at a time and no two are exactly the same.  If you look closely at the back cover, you'll see the backing used in the "production" of this copy is the cover of an Amy's vegetarian meal.

Unicorn Press recycles.

In fact, Unicorn Press is famous in American small press history.  Longhouse  has a catalogue of many of their famed items for sale, some of them now quite pricey.  This is a catalogue of Unicorn titles through the years via a ISBN finder website.  The following is a brief interview with Alan Brilliant of Unicorn Press:

For a wonderful, in-depth interview with Brilliant, which will fill in some of the history of the small press in America, check out Farrago's Wainscot.

I have a serious bias when it comes to this book and I'll state it plainly: two of the volumes in the Modest Proposal Chapbook series are thematic selections that Dennis made from the manuscript before publishing the collection in its entirety with Unicorn: Unending Night: Japanese Love Poems & The Turning Year: Japanese Nature Poems.   

That being said, it was real pleasure to receive this wonderful little item in the mail and to sit down with all 100 poems in a new translation for the first time.  Here is a small selection of a few of my favorites .

The mountain pheasant's tail
trails long behind
- longer still
my loneliness 
in the endless night.
Kakinomoto no Hitomaro

Like the wild swirling patterns
dyed into cloth from the north, 
my love thoughts
are becoming tangled
because of you.
Kawara no Sadaijin

My heart is torn
since I've not seen you.
Like the tidemark in Osaka Bay
I measure my life
waiting to meet you again.
Prince Motoyoshi

The people of my native village
have changed after many years,
but at the gate
the fragrance
of plum blossoms remains.
Ki no Tsurayuki

My sleeves never dry,
like the rocks
beneath the sea
never seen,
even at low tide.
Lady Nijo

If you'd like to get a unique copy of your very own, here is the info you need.  The price is $12.50 (+ 2.50 shipping) to be mailed to: 

Unicorn Press, Inc.
1206 Grove Street
Greensboro, NC 27403-3410

The poetry is timeless and the craftsmanship unique.  I'm sure you'll enjoy it.


This week's selection from the archives comes from Lilliput Review, #148 and is by the very fine poet of the short form Dorothy McLaughlin, whose work has graced the pages of Lillie many times over the years.  Here is one of her little beauties:

leaving home
leaving the shadow
of home
Dorothy McLaughlin

at your house
the sparrow, too
makes a home
translated by David G. Lanoue


Send a single haiku for the Wednesday Haiku feature.  Here's how.

Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 98 songs
Hear 'em all at once on the the LitRock Jukebox


Ed Baker said...

also many many wood-block prints illustrating the
poems. here is one:

the problem that I have with "print on demand" books
is that the books all look and feel & smell alike...
all produced on the same cheap paper and with the same basically graydayded black ink not even close to say a sumi-e or any color added to the black

facsimiles of apartcular work as it was done on the page seems to
sort-of work via 'print on demand'

but most "printers" use computer formulated machine-driven production methods that are fast/cheap/boring


Alan Brilliant goes wayyyyyy back. I can't quite recall who it was who told me to send him something of mine... or when maybe in late 70's.
Or, did I send it? or what it was?

just sent a check off for this book ... now,
if only I could find the deck of cards to play the game

Anonymous said...

Found a set of the cards....


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Ed, ah the cards based on "100 Poems ..." - I read about these somewhere ... very nice.

Hope your copy to come is a joy to be, hold ...

Found a photo of the 100 poems as a walkway ...

And here, of course, the inevitable: flip cards for the iphone:

Lyle Daggett said...

I remember reading about the card game too once, years and years ago, I'm thinking it may have been in something Rexroth wrote, either in an endnote in one of his translation collections, or maybe one of his essays.

I generally agree with Ed's comment about the cheap production of a lot of print-on-demand books, maybe not 100% across the board, but a strong tendency. Besides the low grade paper and ink, I've also noticed a kind of generic character to the typesetting (if you can call it that), no thought given to type fonts, irregular letterspacing, etc.

No news flash in this, I guess...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Yes, Lyle, Ed's right about the generic quality of pod ...

I would say this doesn't have to be, there are some very controllable elements in pod - such as font, cover, layout ...

However, it needs to be utilized correctly. Nothing will ever approach old school, handset type, quality paper etc.

What's missing in the generics is the love - obviously the work comes first, but it wouldn't be there with out the dedication and the love, first of the creator and then the artisan that sees into "mass produced" reality.