Lost in translation

I thought I’d share with you my first dream of the year – a tradition in Japan. But although I knew I had been dreaming on the night of December 31, I couldn’t remember what on earth it was when I woke! So I’ve been scratching my head ever since, trying to come up with something momentous, portentous or just plain interesting for my first post of 2016 …

Why do we treat one day (January 1) as being different from the day before or the day after? As being a day of significance? For those of us in the southern hemisphere the undercurrents of the pagan celebration to mark ‘the light coming back’ are lost in translation – we’re in the middle of summer.

This year I have promised myself, quietly and out loud, to focus more on my writing. What I have learned from the past couple of years is that I need a certain amount of calm in my life to do that and at times in 2015 I couldn’t write a single decent line, let alone a complete haiku.

To help re-immerse me in the world of haiku, I bought two books before Christmas – A Vast Sky, an anthology of contemporary world haiku (all published between 2000 and 2014), edited by Bruce Ross, Koko Kato, Dietmar Tauchner and Patricia Prime; and John Carley’s Renku Reckoner, the distillation of his writing and thinking on this ancient verse form.

I’m dipping in and out of them both so don’t have much to report yet, except that as I already know several of Carley’s essays, I know he is a delight to read. A Vast Sky includes a good selection from Japan, so that’s interesting, while the other ‘interesting’ thing is that the editors have more haiku included – 3 each – than most other writers. Only Richard von Sturmer of New Zealand is accorded equal status. Most poets are represented by a single haiku, while a few have 2. There is no information in the General Introduction by Bruce Ross as to how the selections were made.

The anthology is ambitious in scope but, sadly, there is no mention of who has translated the various haiku from their original languages (presumably Kato for the Japanese section, but only one translator is acknowledged for one haiku in the Europe section). So let me give my personal thanks to the translators for allowing me to read haiku from such diverse sources.

tussen regenschermen
wandelt een natte hoed
eenzam door de straat

between umbrellas
a wet hat walks the street
all by itself

– Willy Cuvelier, Belgium

itanoma ni cho no utsureru gokusho kana

on the wooden floor
a butterfly reflected –
so terribly hot

– Masako Yamanishi, Japan

av gamle argumenter

winter solstice
the weight
of old arguments

– O. G. Aksnes, Norway

year’s end
her skipping rope
too short

– Maria Steyn, South Africa

Happy Haiku Christmas

Merry Christmas – or happy holidays – to my readers near and far. I hope you find some happiness in this season of goodwill and festive cheer. A stranger gave me a ‘Merry Christmas’ this morning as we passed one another crossing the road. Easy to do but worth a lot.

A summer-theme Christmas star. Photo: Sandra Simpson

We attended a family funeral this week and arrived early enough that we had to wait at for a group of children to finish practising their Christmas songs ready for a performance. It was an odd juxtaposition.

Sonia’s loss is felt keenly by all her extended family, she was a very warm and loving person, but in reality we had started grieving her some time ago as continuing strokes steadily eroded her physical capabilities until she was unable to speak, write or move.

terminally ill –
and her nails beautiful
by the wooden heater

– Sanro (Dokotsu Iida, 1885-1962), from haiku mind

When I was cleaning out a room at my mother’s I found a dance card from a debutant’s ball of about 1955. My father, who was Sonia’s cousin, had accompanied her and his best friend was there too with his name also on the card. I brought it back and gave it to Sonia who was thrilled to see it after all this time. (My mother was apparently a natural archivist as she’d stored away all sorts of interesting bits of paper.)

heat lightning –
Christmas beetles
spangle the fly screen

– Lorin Ford, The Heron’s Nest 13.1 (2014)

There are about 35 species of glossy Christmas beetles (Anoplognathus genus) in Australia, so named because the adults emerge close to Christmas period. They are attracted to bright lights. Read more here.

afternoon heat
there is nothing to do
and I’m doing it

– Michael Ketchek, from a vast sky anthology (2015)

Christmas week weather has been hot, hot, hot with Victoria’s heatwave blowing over to New Zealand, although that is starting to ease back a little. No rain in sight though and with the strong winds that have come with the heat the ground is drying out fast.

December already –
        the clock
has scissors for hands

– Sandra Simpson, A Hundred Gourds 2.1 (2012)

This time last year I spent an early morning at A&E (hospital emergency department) in great pain wondering what on earth was wrong with me. My GP had been unable, at that stage, to pinpoint what was causing the repeated stomach pain I’d been having since about August … turned out to be a kidney stone … and my early morning dash to the hospital was when I passed it. Still had to have a couple more tests to rule out things as we had no proof it was a kidney stone. But all has been quiet on the western front since.

Enjoy your season of giving, stay safe and see you back here next year!

Recent haiku

L’escargot by Henri Matisse, 1953. Image: Wikipedia

mid-spring under my boot matisse’s snail

– Sandra Simpson, A Hundred Gourds 5.1

Photo: Sandra Simpson

white wisteria –
honeybees queue
at the hive

– Sandra Simpson, The Heron’s Nest 18.4

And a nice surprise recently – a haiku selected for inclusion in the 2014 Capoliveri Haiku Contest anthology (Italy), which has been made available this month. Nice to see the poem translated into Italian too (I rather like that ‘a flock’ of swallows is ‘uno stormo’). The contest is for 5-7-5 haiku.

the tin-tin of bells
restless in a clear blue sky
a flock of swallows

il tintinnio delle campane
agita in un limpido cielo azzurro
uno stormo di rondini

– Sandra Simpson

Acorn Foundation Fiction Book of the Year Award

Last night I attended a local do at Books A Plenty to announce the longlist for the brand-new Acorn Foundation Book of the Year Award – Fiction.

Why was it being held in Tauranga? Because the Acorn Foundation is a local initiative that is having a big impact. The organisation, which has charitable status, receives legacies and donations which are then put to work for the community. During her speech, Acorn general manager Nicky Wilkins revealed that Acorn now holds $14 million (!) and from that has distributed about $550,000 in 12 months.

The money for the new literary award has come from an anonymous donor who was prompted to act, Nicky said, after wondering why someone at a cricket match could win $1 million for catching a ball one-handed while the country’s premier book awards were about to collapse because sponsor NZ Post had withdrawn.

Not only did this donor offer to help continue one of the awards but upped the fiction prize from $10,000 to $50,000 to encourage and support New Zealand authors. Nicky said that this is now one of the biggest awards for fiction in the world! And it’s a donation in perpetuity!!

The shortlist will be announced in March and the winners of all the NZ Book Awards on May 10 at the Auckland Writers Festival with the authors then appearing over the weekend at the festival.

Besides the Acorn fiction prize, other categories in the Ockham Book Awards are non-fiction (split into two awards) and poetry. Four ‘best first book’ awards will also be presented, one from each category.

The recently formed New Zealand Book Awards Trust is running the awards and trust chairwoman Nicola Legat, publisher at the newly established Massey University Press, was at last night’s function, along with Harriet Allan, fiction publisher at Penguin Random House New Zealand.

Harriet said that 25% of book sales in New Zealand are fiction – but only 3% of that is New Zealand fiction, and described the new prize as a ‘gold-plated acorn’ for Kiwi writers.

Celebrating the new literary prize last night were, from left, Harriet Allan of Penguin Random House, Bill Holland, past chairman of the Acorn Foundation, and Nicola Legat, chairwoman of the NZ Book Awards Trust.

In previous years, Nicola told me later, the prizes were judged by a panel of five who did all the categories (amid numerous complaints, apparently, from the poets!). This year each category has its own set of three judges. The Acorn prize is being judged by award-winning author Owen Marshall CNZM; Wellington bookseller and reviewer Tilly Lloyd, and former director of the Auckland Writers Festival and former Creative New Zealand senior literature adviser Jill Rawnsley.

Long-listed books in the Acorn prize are: The Antipodeans by Greg McGee (Upstart Press); Astonished Dice: Collected Short Stories by Geoff Cochrane (Victoria University Press); The Back of His Head by Patrick Evans (Victoria University Press); Chappy by Patricia Grace (Penguin Random House); The Chimes by Anna Smaill (Hodder & Stoughton); Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley (Text Publishing); The Invisible Mile by David Coventry (Victoria University Press); The Legend of Winstone Blackhat by Tanya Moir (Penguin Random House); The Pale North by Hamish Clayton (Penguin Random House); Reach by Laurence Fearnley (Penguin Random House).

Books A-Plenty co-owner Chris Baskett gave a useful run-down on each book (she’s read almost all of them and is in the process of completing the set) and offered the occasional opinion on her preferences. Many books were sold.

Worth mentioning is that The Chimes was long-listed for this year’s Mann Booker Prize and that Stephen Daisley, while born in New Zealand, lives in Perth in Australia and won the 2011 (Australian) Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction for his first novel Traitor.

Read the other long lists and judging panels here.

Miss Saké

I’m not much of a drinker so when the list came round on a dinner boat on Tokyo Harbour I opted for umeshu, a plum liqueur, with soda, which turned out to be delightful and not to contain much alcohol (read how to make it here). Haiku Husband however, said ‘yes, please’ to warm saké and thereafter ordered it whenever he could.

We arrived back to our hotel in Tokyo after dark and after a long train journey from Hiroshima to find a saké-tasting market set up in a plaza area. So after getting settled in we went back and HH tried a few of the wares on offer. We also got to say hello to Miss Saké who looked gorgeous and happily posed for photos for us.

Miss Saké (2014) at the tasting market in Tokyo. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Santoka (1882-1940) was, among other things, a Zen monk and a haiku poet who seems to have spent his life either drunk, figuring out how to get drunk or drying out! Needless to say his attempts earlier in life to help his father run a saké brewery ended in disaster. However, according to information on the World Kigo Database the rights to the business were purchased by another family and the brewery continues, including making a brand called Santoka. It is in Hofu, in Yamaguchi Prefecture (Santoka’s home town). Read more about his life, and many of his haiku, here.

the sound of swallowing saké
seems very lonely

  • Santoka, tr. Stephen Addiss

This entry comes from Santoka’s diary (translated by Burton Watson): July 20, 1932

People view all things, all events in terms of what they value in life, with that as their standard. I look at everything through the eyes of saké. Gazing far off at a mountain, I think how I’d like a little drink; I see some nice vegetables and think how well they’d go with the saké. If I had such-and-such sum, I could polish off a flask; if I had this much, I could buy a bottle.

You may laugh, but that’s just the way I am – nothing I can do about it.

Read more of his diary and more of Santoka’s haiku here.

samukeredo sake mo ari  yu mo aru tokoro

it is cold, but
we have saké
and the hot spring

  • Shiki (1867-1902)

Shiki is seen as the fourth of the Great Pillars of haiku in Japan (after Basho, Buson and Issa). Read more about his life here.

Haiku Husband pours his warm saké from a nifty box arrangement, known as a masu. Photo: Sandra Simpson

In his Haiku NewZ selection of Favourite Haiku, Richard von Sturmer included this haiku and comment:

we drink from tiny cups
as we wander
through the chrysanthemums

– Issa

Japanese cups, in particular saké cups, are tiny. Issa and his friends wander among the large flowers, taking small sips. Life passes, all is unknown, and yet we have haiku, this small verse form, to help us appreciate the mystery and the beauty of this fleeting world.

Not drinking from tiny cups, but pouring her saké into water glasses for the tourists from New Zealand is the proprietor of an okonomiyaki (savoury pancake) joint in Hiroshima. She said she was 87 – looked about 65 – and the secret was plenty of sleep and 2 glasses of saké at bedtime! Photo: Sandra Simpson

There is a great deal of information about the history of saké (from time immemorial) on the World Kigo Database site. And this Japan Times article on the history of saké reveals that it was originally fermented rice that was eaten the addition of pure water came later.

A wall of saké drums was neatly stacked in the Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island, just off the coast off Hiroshima. Apparently the brewers were saying ‘thanks’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

leaning this way
and that –
saké drums

  • Sandra Simpson (Modern Haiku 46.3)

The traditional symbol of a saké brewery – sugidama, a ball of cedar needles. It’s said that when the green needles turn brown the saké is aged enough for drinking. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about sugidama here.

passing the jug
the warmth
of many hands

  • Jim Kacian, Mann Library’s Daily Haiku (December 16, 2008)

Postcard from Japan

It was a hot day in Kanazawa on Japan’s west coast on November 11 – the coloured leaves were telling us that it was autumn, but …

Following a tour guide around the famous Kenrokuen (literally: Combining (ken) six (roku) garden (en) – it combines the six main themes in a Chinese-style stroll garden), rated as one of Japan’s best three gardens, Haiku Husband noticed a ‘Basho Memorial’ on the map. Fujio-san was more than willing to lead us there. And here’s what we found.

A rock inscribed with a Basho poem in the Kenrokuen. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The neighbouring signboard reveals the haiku was written by Basho in Kanazawa in 1689 but doesn’t include an English translation. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Fujio-san came to the rescue with a translation, shortly afterwards offering the RH Blyth version:

brightly red is the sun
still heartlessly hot
but autumn is in the breeze

The haiku is from Basho’s classic travelogue Oku no hosomichi (Narrow Road to the Interior/ Narrow Road to the Deep North).

The following is translated by Donald Keene from The Narrow Road to Oku (Kodansha, 1996, with illustrations by Miyata Masayuki):

After crossing Verbena Mountain and the Valley of Kurikara, we reached Kanazawa on the fifteenth of the seventh month [old calendar]. We shared lodgings with a merchant names Kasho from Ozaka …

redly, redly
the sun shines heartlessly, but
the wind is autumnal

Nobuyuki Yuasa provides the following version. His entire translation of Narrow Road to the Deep North may be read at the Terebess Asia Online website.

Red, red is the sun,
Heartlessly indifferent to time,
The wind knows, however,
The promise of early chill.

I found the following uncredited translation on a website that sells Japanese calligraphy and rather like its more spare, modern feel:

bright red,
the sun shining without mercy –
wind of the autumn

although would make this edit to the last line: wind of the autumn

Another uncredited translation from Haiku of the Forest website:

bright red
the pitiless sun
autumn winds

And, finally, a translation by Dorothy Britton from A Haiku Journey (Kodansha, 1980), her version of Oku no hosomichi:

How hot the sun glows
Pretending not to notice
An autumn wind blows!

Her translations of haiku, by the way, always rhyme. In her Introduction she writes: “Rhyme is a device unsuited to the Japanese language, but in English it helps to suggest the formal elegance achieved in the original by those elements impossible to translate, which the poet James Kirkup so aptly calls ‘the subtle play of sound and meaning’.”

As a side note, Dorothy Britton (Lady Bouchier) died in February of this year, aged 93. Her life story is fascinating. She was born in Yokohama to an English father and American mother and from the age of 13 was educated in the US and Britain, returning to Japan after the American occupation began and meeting her English husband, Sir ‘Boy’ Bouchier. Her memoir – Rhythms, Rites and Rituals: my life in Japan in two-step and waltz time – was launched in London just a few days after her death (she had been planning to attend).

“She led a life of extraordinary variety, working as a composer, musician, writer, poet, radio and television presenter, postal censor and translator. Bilingual from birth, she found the immense joy of blending in with people of different cultures, and this is the remarkable and remarkably frank story of a life lived to the full by the doyenne of British residents in Japan,” the Japan Society of the UK writes.

Read more detail about her life in this obituary.

Latest publications

The Heron’s Nest is marking its birthday with a beautiful hardback book, Nest Feathers, a selection of 248 haiku from its first 15 years of publication. Founding editor Christopher Herold has written an interesting foreword, including these statistics:

  • 102 issues published (THN was monthly in the beginning)
  • Some 100,000 haiku submitted for consideration
  • Fewer than 8,500 haiku published.

September sun –
a bubble wavers
between salmon bones

  • Cindy Zackowitz (1965-2012), The Heron’s Nest, 4:12 (2002)

So being published in THN means you’re hitting the high notes with your work. I have 2 haiku in Nest Feathers, here’s one:

one egg
rattling in the pot
autumn rain

  • Sandra Simpson, The Heron’s Nest 9:2, 2007

Cover artwork is by Ron C. Moss

spring sky
one twirl before the girl
settles in line

  • Alison Woolpert, The Heron’s Nest 15:2, 2015

Click on the book’s title at the top to read ordering information.

A new issue of UK haiku journal Presence has also landed in my letterbox. Now being published three times a year, the journal is always a great read.

stirring the neighbour’s bull
to midnight bellows,
a petal-coloured moon

  • Sandra Simpson, Presence 53, 2015

her cotton skirt
falls softly to the ground
steady rain

  • Greg Piko, Presence 53

Presence has also rejigged its annual contest which is now the Martin Lucas Haiku Award, named in honour of its editor who died last year.

Don’t forget that there is an up-to-date listing of haiku, tanka and haibun contests at Haiku NewZ. You’re welcome.