The Big Banana

The Big Banana

 Posted by Susan Shand on January 5, 2013 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (6)

Who is Basho, what is he, that all the swains commend him?

You CAN write haiku without ever reading another haiku poet, just as you could write a sonnet without ever reading Shakespeare. However, no serious student of English Literature will NOT have read at least some of the English classics. Reading the work of classical haiku poets will immeasurably improve your own work, both in the breadth and scope, and in the craft. In addition, reading good modern poets, both Japanese and western, should give you a good balance of perspective.

We would be diminished as modern poets if we only ever read Shakespeare, and poetry.com is teeming with people who have never read any poets at all. The idea is not to glorify these writers, but to recognise their part in the canon of literature upon which we hope to build.

A note of caution, The translation of Japanese haiku into English is difficult, it often says more about the translator than it does about the original work. Check out a few different versions of anything that interests you.

So here are a few of my favourites…

Basho

Basho is the Big Banana of haiku, the cultural equivalent of Shakespeare. His work is varied and easily available in translation. It spans everything from the immediacy of a sudden exclamation; to the complicated interweaving of inference, literary references, dual readings, and puns.

“…he wrote about any subject that came along his daily experience, from the pissing horse (when sleeping at a pass called “pissing”) to .. you name it, daily life in Edo Japan comes to live.

It is not all about the bees and the butterflies, far from it.

For Basho, all expressions of the human experience seemed to be fodder for his poetry.” — Gabi Greve

There is a fairly comprehensive and informative history here    http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Basho.aspx

and some comparative transations here   http://www.haikupoetshut.com/basho1.html

Issa

If you don’t ever read anyone else, read Issa. He is a total one-off with no pretentions and an earthy and self-depreciating sense of humour which comes over in his work quite a lot. This is the definitive site for Issa’s prodigious work translated into English.http://haikuguy.com/issa/

Chiyo-ni

Kaga no Chiyo was a woman, and a haiku Master. We all know how women get left out of the cannon of literature don’t we? People still call her a “woman haiku master” and miss her off the list of the greats, but there is an excellent book available by Patricia Donegan and Yoshie Ishibashi. http://www.amazon.com/Chiyo-ni-Woman-Master-Patricia-Donegan/dp/0804820538

Some of her work here    http://thegreenleaf.co.uk/hp/women/c/chiyo/00haiku.htm

and here   http://www.earlywomenmasters.net/chiyo/index.html

Anyone who would like to add a comment with links to their favourite poets is welcome and invited to do so.

Susan

(20130105)

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7 thoughts on “The Big Banana

  1. geaneditor 01:14 AM on January 06, 2013
    I am surprised you never mentioned Buson. He is my favourite for his subtle and laconic humour.

  2. Brendan Slater 04:46 AM on January 06, 2013
    Yes, Susan, I totally agree about translators’ work. I’ve read some awful translations, I judge this by what I’m reading in English, unfortunately I don’t speak Japanese so can’t make any in depth judgements, but I think you can tell if a translator writes poetry or not, and some of it is pretty formal and uninspired.

  3. Reply
    S.M. Abeles 12:36 PM on January 06, 2013
    Of the many peculiarities endemic to “haiku-land” still another is the veneration of the old masters to the diminshment of the current (note: I do not believe this post is guilty of that). In many art forms, or performance spaces, no one blinks twice at contending a more modern master — like Eric Clapton or LeBron James — is superior at the craft versus the innovator master, like Robert Johnson or Bob Cousy (pardon my USA-centric references aside from Clapton, freely substitute your own). But as far as I’ve seen, no one is willing to include any working writer into the haiku pantheon. Is Jim Kacian as good as Basho, or Issa? Is Alexis Rotella as good as Chiyo? Will the newbie or even experienced haiku writer learn more from a current issue of Frogpond than from anthologies of the old timers? These are opinion questions of course, but I’d personally answer each one of them “yes.” The point here is not to denigrate the accomplishments of anyone. Rather, there is an overhang above haiku-land suggesting that what came before was great, and what is now is perpetually “stale,” in need of “reform,” at a “crossroads,” or what-have-you. In fact, truly beautiful haiku is being written daily and distributed widely. In every journal I read there are several, at least, poems that blow me away. These are excellent times for haiku, and I suppose I just wanted to see that in print, if only in a blog comment.

  4. Susan Shand 03:03 PM on January 06, 2013
    S.M. Abeles says…
    Of the many peculiarities endemic to “haiku-land” still another is the veneration of the old masters to the diminshment of the current (note: I do not believe this post is guilty of that). In many art forms, or performance spaces, no one blinks twice at contending a more modern master — like Eric Clapton or LeBron James — is superior at the craft versus the innovator master, like Robert Johnson or Bob Cousy (pardon my USA-centric references aside from Clapton, freely substitute your own). But as far as I’ve seen, no one is willing to include any working writer into the haiku pantheon. Is Jim Kacian as good as Basho, or Issa? Is Alexis Rotella as good as Chiyo? Will the newbie or even experienced haiku writer learn more from a current issue of Frogpond than from anthologies of the old timers? These are opinion questions of course, but I’d personally answer each one of them “yes.” The point here is not to denigrate the accomplishments of anyone. Rather, there is an overhang above haiku-land suggesting that what came before was great, and what is now is perpetually “stale,” in need of “reform,” at a “crossroads,” or what-have-you. In fact, truly beautiful haiku is being written daily and distributed widely. In every journal I read there are several, at least, poems that blow me away. These are excellent times for haiku, and I suppose I just wanted to see that in print, if only in a blog comment.

    Excellent points and thank you for making them! I agree that there is a tendency to venerate the old masters at the detriment of the new and I think a balance is needed in seeing everything as an essential part of the greater canon of literature in this genre. Which modern poets would be considered a new Master is though a question of taste and time. Mostly because we really have no definitive codified classification for excellence against which we could judge any work. Also, we have no social structure in the west for the declarative appointment of haiku Masters. As for most western writers I think they will have to stand the test of time. One of my favourites is H Gene Murtha, who’s work I think will endure simply because it touches something universal in the human condition. What is popular is not always enduring. I do think that many of the haiku published in journals is not of a high standard and will not endure, but there are gems to be found and you mention some of them. Thank you for your interesting post.

  5. Susan Shand 03:05 PM on January 06, 2013
    geaneditor says…
    I am surprised you never mentioned Buson. He is my favourite for his subtle and laconic humour.

    Can you give us a link to a decent site for Buson Colin? I don’t mean to judge him negatively by not mentioning him, but if I had included him there would have been no reason for you to post

  6. Susan Shand 03:10 PM on January 06, 2013
    Brendan Slater says…
    Yes, Susan, I totally agree about translators’ work. I’ve read some awful translations, I judge this by what I’m reading in English, unfortunately I don’t speak Japanese so can’t make any in depth judgements, but I think you can tell if a translator writes poetry or not, and some of it is pretty formal and uninspired.

    Yes Brendan it is, unfortunately. I find that a literal word-for-word translation helps me to get a better flavour of the original but we are reliant on the translator seeing the nuances and reproducing the dual meanings and cultural inferences in many cases. I think some of the early translators missed a lot of that.

  7. Interesting. I am not sure how you can translate another language without the author present along with a translator if need be. Shakespeare’s sonnets had some humor if I remember correctly. As for me, life is enduring enough, but thanks for the compliment.

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