April Diary 6: freedom, haiku, and Roscoe Holcomb

This entry is part 6 of 31 in the series April Diary


Dear April to read Japanese haiku is to become enmeshed in a centuries-old matrix of allusions and traditions

as a modern free-verse poet i find the reliance on stereotyped images from the natural world somewhat stifling, and am glad we don’t have any equivalent tradition

it leaves us free to invent our own traditions, though who knows how stifling that might prove for future generations, should there be any kind of poetry in the far grimmer times that lie ahead

or so at least i wrote at 4:00 in the morning after reading Ozawa Minoru for a while, his Well-Versed: Exploring Modern Japanese Haiku which does present a very broad cross-section of styles and approaches

it’s an invaluable addition to the literature on haiku in English. i like the author’s down-to-earth style of literary analysis. I’ll share a couple of examples in a moment. i have two major frustrations with the book. one is that they included a literal translation and a Romanization of the Japanese but not the original. and this would’ve been a big help because my second frustration is that the main translations while workmanlike are sprawling messes. i usually end up attempting my own which is why i’m only halfway through despite having started it months ago.

i wrote down a couple of my efforts to share here. but first the translator Janine Beichman’s versions

after pondering this for a while i came up with

bindweed flower —
surely there must be
some electric current?

how about:

‘Stand up, bow,
take a seat!’ Green leaves
stirred by the wind

or even if we follow Beichman otherwise, surely “wind blowing” would’ve been a better second line

i don’t think it sounds stilted or excessively telegraphic to imitate in English the subject and verb tense indeterminacy, even if we can’t also for example leave it open whether we mean singular or plural nearly as easily. but this is all of a piece with the brevity: leaving as much to the reader’s imagination as possible after first drawing them into a particular time, place and mood

a haiku is an engine for reverie

from this perspective books like Ozawa’s might seem superfluous but of course in many cases the brevity can only work because of a shared cultural understanding which we lack, not to mention contextualizing with relevant natural history or literary information for a contemporary urban Japanese audience

(my photos don’t include the bio of each poet at the bottom of the page which collectively paint a scene of incredible richness and complexity)

Fay Aoyagi’s blog Blue Willow Haiku World is a much better way into modern Japanese haiku though. she’s an excellent bilingual haiku poet in her own right and I almost never have any thought of improving her translations. also she always shares the original text. here’s today’s haiku

listening to Roscoe Holcomb on the way home from my big biweekly shopping trip. that high lonesome sound. i love how on tracks like “Little Birdie” he sings at dirge speed against a fast banjo with an effect familiar from black metal, slow high-pitched vocals over blast beats. it’s the hillbilly way

o bookmark traveling from book to book — with most of my collection bought second hand what pages have you lain between and with whom

in today’s mail two books i’m really excited about but i’ll tell you about them tomorrow

DaveBonta.com tagline possibilities

  • mildly experimental poet
  • crow-botherer
  • poetry wallah
  • cock-eyed pessimist
  • game changer
  • troll farmer
  • non-fungible poet
Series Navigation← April Diary 5: Dutchman’s breeches, sorcery, glutesApril Diary 7: wolfish →

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