This selection of haiku by Issa Kobayashi (1763-1827)
is translated by contemporary, and legendary, Japanese poet Nanao Sakaki.
Widely regarded as one of the four greatest haiku poets of Japan, Issa
is much loved for his inherent compassion and humorous sense of equality
with the natural world.
Dont swat the fly
who begs your
his hands and legs
Each poem is rendered in Sakakis handwriting in both English and
Kanji and includes Romanji text as well. Other translations of Issa
are often labored or misguided, here are some of the freshest and concise,
if not most accurate, versions of his haiku around. Also included in
the book is a delightful and extensive interview with Sakaki about the
life, wanderings, and work of Issa as well as the ongoing tradition
embodied by his poems. Beautifully designed, this book is a treasure
for admirers of both Issa and Nanao Sakaki.
Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) was born in Kashiwabara village, Shinano,
Japan. His family members were middle class farmers and serious Buddhists
of the Pure Land Sect. Most of the time living in Edo (old-time Tokyo),
occasionally traveling as a vagabond poet, he lived a rather sad life.
Not gifted with genius, but honestly holding his experience deep in
his heart, he kept his simplicity and humanity. Very skeptical of authorities,
either political or religious, he (after Bashos revolutionary
break-through) opened the democratic trail for common people.
Born in a small village near Kagoshima, at
the southern tip of Japan's Kyushu Island, Nanao ("Seventh Son")
Sakaki has lived a remarkable life. He was drafted into the navy during
WWII and observed farewell parties for young Kamikaze pilots leaving
at dawn for their deaths. After he was spared a military mass suicide
order when Japan surrendered, he became a wandering scholar and poet,
walking the length and breadth of Japan. An early leader of Japan's
counterculture, he befriended American poets Allen Ginsberg and Gary
Snyder in 1964, an association which continued for decades. His work
has been described as bringing the classical zen tradition of Basho
and Ryokan into the 20th century.
(Whole Earth, Summer 1997)
Inch by Inch (La Alameda
Press) is translations of Issa's haiku. Very invertebrate (snails, cicadas,
crickets) and contraposed to those many other very serious academic
haiku translators. Nanao's special sport: a disarming hayseed humor.
Let's Eat Stars (Blackberry Books)is his second compilation of poems
and plays, after Break the Mirror. Nanao or Never (Blackberry
Books) is a backpack full of stories by friends who love him.
Once a Buddhist monk lathered
Nanao with the monk's long, honorable lineage. Nanao answered: "I
have no lineage. I am desert rat." Nanao's poetics cut through
the clutter, chatter, and the misplaced concreteness of modernity. He
is Japan's ninja Earth walker, tripster, spirit warrior, and elder poetic
voice; haunted by Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Disarming poetics, deceptively
"simple" subversions and word carvings crafted from Ainu,
"primitive," and other ancients' merriment. (Think of the
best breeze at the best dawn of your life).
Upon the blooming plum twig
his muddy feet
torn paper window
the Milky Way
Grasshopper, good singer!
Take care of
LET'S EAT STARS
Believe me, children!
Sky for airplanes
Coral reefs for tourists
Farms for agrichemicals
Rivers for dams
Forests for golf courses
Mountains for ski resorts
Wild animals for zoos
Trucks and cars for traffic tragedies
Nuclear power plants for ghost dance.
Don't worry, children!
The well never dries up.
Look at the evening glow!
Sunflowers in the garden.
Red dragonflies in the air.
A small child starts singing:
"Let's eat stars?"
"Let's eat stars!"
2000 Point Foundation