Saturday, September 20, 2008

Basho: The Complete Haiku and Giveaway

It seems hard to believe that a little less than one year ago, I had never heard of Basho. The Basho, touted as the most famous Japanese writer of all time.

In November of 2007 I went on a walk while the colors in Illinois were changing, took photographs of them, and then searched for poetry to express their beauty. I found haiku by Basho, and the post ended up looking like this.

Again this summer, I posed a few beautiful photographs with Basho's haiku accompanying them, and then I received a delightful surprise.I was contacted by Kodansha America, Inc. to review an anthology of Basho which was released this July.

The minute I opened the book I was entranced. It is a beautiful hard cover book of approximately 400 pages of the creamiest paper you ever saw. They are illustrated with original sumi-e ink drawings by Shiro Ysujimura; each poem suspended on the page as an entity of itself.

Basho: The Complete Haiku is the first ever complete collection of the poet's work in English. It was translated with an introduction, biography and notes by renowned American haiku poet and translator Jane Reichhold, and includes Basho's 1,012 haiku as well as a detailed study of his methods.

I found this paragraph in the introduction particularly infomative: "Long before Gertrude Stein was espousing the importance of using the exact word in poetry or any writing, the Japanese had based their writing on creating images of actual things. Instead of telling the reader what to think or feel, words describing images were used as signposts. The placement of these signposts moved from one image to another, with one word and then another, the reader created the journey to the unspoken conclusion of the poem. This process of making the reader see or imagine parts of the poem has, on one hand, made it harder for people to learn to read haiku. Still this miracle of involving the reader in the creation of the poem has expanded our own definition and concept of poetry. No longer is poetry what someone tells us. It is the mental and emotional journey the author gives the reader.

This technique of juxtaposing images so the reader's mind must find a way from one image to another has greatly influenced how we perceive simile and metaphor. Metaphors were and are one of the cornerstones of poetry, and for years scholars told us that Japanese poets did not use them. They did. They simply made their metaphor in a different way. Instead of saying "autumn dusk settles around us like a crow landing on a bare branch," Basho would write:

on a bare branch
a crow settled down
autumn evening

The simplicity and economy of the words demand that the reader goes into his mind and experiences to explore the darkness of bird and night, autumn and bareness, and even how a branch could move as the dark weight of a crow pressed it down. The reader is writing the rest of the verse and making it poetry."

Understanding poetry does not come naturally to me. I must read these haiku, ponder them, and not be tricked by their simplicity into missing an important concept the poet is trying to convey. I like their brevity. I like the mental imagery. I like reading the works from a masterful poet who lived three hundred years before I was born.

I leave you with a few of my favorites for Fall...

as autumn draws near
our hearts feel closer
to this small tearoom

how pleasurable
sleeping late in autumn
as if master of the house

already autumn
even sprinkles of rain
in the moon's shape

and this promise of a prize:

Write a haiku for us (five syllables, seven syllables, five again) in the comments, and your name will be entered to win a copy of this book for your own shelf. Or, if you'd prefer, email me with your entry.

Contest ends September 30, 2008.


Terri B. said...

violent downpour
quickly replaced by the sun
rain in the desert

haiku humbly submitted by terri b.

The Holistic Knitter said...

I must get hold of this book ;0)

3M said...

leaves gently falling
a crisp coolness to the air
fall is here again

Please enter me for the book!

Also, I'm participating in the challenge. My original post is here.

Please add me to the blog as well.

3m.michelle attttt

Bellezza said...

Terri, I'm glad you were the first (and not too long after I posted either)! Thanks for your support and enthusiasm.

The holistic knitter, you won't be disappointed when you read it.

3M, first: I'm so sorry you weren't in the list of participants! Goodness sakes, I'm glad you told me. Secondly, please send me your email address (I couldn't find it on your blog) so that I can invite you to post on the review site if you'd like. Thirdly, I love your fall haiku. I'm so glad you're participating in all of it!

3M said...

Thanks, Bellezza, for adding me; I'm really looking forward to doing this challenge again!

My email is in the last line of the previous comment.

Bellezza said...

Hello, Bellezza...duh. I'm sending you the invitation to post Right Now.

tanabata said...

This book sounds wonderful. I have an illustrated book with some of Basho's haiku but no where near all of them.

Here's my attempt..

the nights are cooler
the leaves have lost their lustre
autumn is coming

Bellezza said...

Tanabata, isn't it wonderful to find an edition with ALL of them! Woo hoo~ (How would the Japanese express that? :)

tanabata said...

Bellezza- Well you could say "yatta" just like Hiro in Heroes! :P

And even though I'm not very good at this, here's another haiku attempt that popped into my head while walking home tonight.

chilly autumn rain
curled up with a good book
adventure beckons

Terri B. said...

Hey Tanabata, I like that second haiku you submitted!

Robin said...

Okay, Bellezza...I tried one! It won't make much sense, though, unless you read it and then look at the photograph at the top of my post today -- I wrote it to go with the photo. Here's the poem, followed by the link to that post:

Letters on a door...
Two hearts forever entwined
By cobwebs and dust.

Bellezza said...

Tanabata, thanks for submitting two!

Terri B, thanks for your encouragement to us all!

Robin, I'm glad I received one from you!

Alan Summers said...

What a lovely selection of haiku, and I'm pleased that Jane's book of Basho and his haiku was a prize!

Congratulations to everyone.

all my best,

With Words