Hasegawa Kai is a recipient of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Honorable Mention for 2018 for his volume Okinawa, translated by David Burleigh and Tanaka Kimiyo (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press. 104 pages, 5″ x 7½″. Four-color card covers, perfectbound. ISBN 978-1-947271-22-7. $15.00.).
Commentary from the Panel:
In this edition, directed primarily to English readers, translators David Burleigh and Tanaka Kimiyo present Hasegawa Kai’s Okinawa in language fully tuned to convey emotional landscapes and large ideas in concrete imagery. The fifty paired poems of the main sequence, appearing on facing pages, are a format that compels the kind of slow, thoughtful reading that induces immersion in the elegiac vision the poetry conveys.
Without intruding, Burleigh’s notes and afterword supply additional information and background that contribute substantially to the whole, including material descriptive of Kai’s debt to Basho. He writes with grace and intelligence, revealing a poet’s soul. The meticulous scholarship of Burleigh and Kimiyo, working in unison, is capable of focusing on what matters to Hasegawa Kai, and what should matter to the English reader. The Japanese originals and transliterations in romaji are provided.
Poems that exemplify and reflect how the sequence unfolds —
the early summer rains
falling on the island
falling on the sea (page 18)
from far-off memory
faintly calls (25)
they may have supped upon
the flesh of corpses:
great summer trees (32)
human remains —
right inside the mouth
green pampas grass (33)
the water-soaked corpse
turning into water —
the coolness (35)
These are representative, key components of what Hasegawa and his translators inscribe so indelibly about Okinawa, as physical place and waypoint in the shared history of WWII in the Pacific: Given the context, the beauty of these verses may at first seem strange, even faintly surreal, until one realizes this is beauty of another order, without artifice, distortion, or hyperbole,
grounded in the ceaseless natural processes of change. The world is a graveyard out of which the grass blade, human being, and all living things emerge anew. The healing implicit in such processes would seem to be a reason for hope and a positive, even realistic, bulwark against existential despair.
Our panel thinks this book has historical importance to the haiku community, the Japanese people generally, and the people of Okinawa in particular. Hasegawa’s use of intertextual allusion, coupled with the translators’ handling of this technique, make the work worthy of further analysis within the fine arts of translation, linguistic studies, and comparative literature. Incorporating
elements of threnody and requiem, the book stands as an important contemporary contribution to the world’s elegiac literature.”
See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.