An Introduction to the Haiku of Kōno Saki
Translations, Annotations by
Profs. Richard Gilbert, Itō Yūki, David Ostman, Masahiro Hori
Kōno Saki (神野紗希, 1983 —) is a haiku poet and scholar born in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture. During high school she founded a haiku school club and won the 2001 Haiku Kōshien Grand Prize (the National High School Haiku Contest). In 2002, she won the Shiba Bukio Haiku Award (Tsubouchi Nenten Encouragment Prize), and published her first haiku collection The Starry Map [Hoshi no chizu]. From 2004, she acted as a chairperson of the NHK-TV program Haiku Kingdom [Haiku ōkoku]. In 2010, with two other female haiku poets, Noguchi Ruri and Etō Hanako, she founded the online haiku-journal Spica. In 2012, The Starry Map was revised and published as a new haiku collection with the title The Bee Absorbed in the Light [Hikari mamire no hachi], thereafter regarded as her “first” collection. In 2013, she married haiku poet Takahashi Katsuhiko. In 2014, she entered into the PhD program of Ochanomizu Women’s University and became a part-time lecturing professor at both Meiji and Tamagawa University. In 2015, she became a director of the Youth Department of the Modern Haiku Association (Gendaihaiku kyōkai).
Etō Hanako’s commentary on Kōno Saki (extract):
“In the haiku of Kōno Saki there is a kind of deformation or twisting. This deformation causes her readers to feel out of place, or creates a sense of discomfort — yet this sense forces readers to reconsider their everyday lives, providing the clarity of fresh and original viewpoints.” It can be noted that Tanaka (to be profiled in a subsequent post of this feature) and Kōno are consistently quite different in tone. In contrast to Tanaka’s frequent use of sexual imagery, Kōno repeatedly evokes nostalgic images of childhood experiences that are immediately comprehensible to anyone who has grown up in Japan. While Tanaka plays with sexual imagery, Kōno is very clearly not talking about sexual encounters. (Etō, H., “An Attractive Sense of Discomfort [Iwakan to iu miryoku],” Shinsen 21: Selection Haijin Plus, B. Tsukushi, Y. Tsushima, & R. Takayama (eds.), 2009, 90. Japan: Yûshorin.)
いなびかり象は象舎のほか知らず inabikari zō wa zōsha no hoka shirazu lightning, an elephant knows only the shed
Kigo: inabikari (いなびかり), lightning; autumn. Meter: 5-7-5. In this haiku, the freedom of lightning is contrasted with the confinement/captivity of the elephant. Evocative of a flash of lightning seen over a zoo.
ここもまただれかの故郷氷水 koko mo mata dareka no kokyō kōrimizu here too someone’s birthplace — ice water
Kigo: kōrimizu (氷水), water with ice; summer. Meter: 5-7-5. When visiting a new place (town) for the first time, one is able to project their ideas onto the buildings, geographical features, etc. However, after learning about the various historical eras (reading the placards on monuments, etc.) one realizes that this town belongs to others — a realization of which serves to reject one’s original ideas. This rejection (upon learning that the town has its own history, dominated by famous individuals) serves to cool one’s initial ardor/imagination; in this way, the town rejects your imagination, the recognition akin to the sensation of ice water. The final line might be translated as icy water rather than “ice water.” Note: Although in modern usage kōrimizu commonly refers to water with ice, in traditional kigo usage it indicates a refreshment, somewhat similar to shaved ice; thus a kigo of summer.
寂しいと言い私を蔦にせよ sabishii to ii watashi wo tsuta ni seyo please say “lonely” — and i bid you let me twine around you as vines of ivy
Kigo: tsuta (蔦), ivy; autumn. Meter: 7-4-5. The phrase ni seyo (～にせよ) has a commanding tone, a bit lofty (or demanding). The protagonist might be a young woman expressing her desire to a young man for him to let down his guard and interact naturally with her. Instead of putting on airs, be as you are: don’t hesitate to show your vulnerabilities. The final seyo is more demanding than commanding, or haughty. The speaker seems to be telling her partner: “tell me when you feel alone; we are lovers.” In this manner, her words are more of a strong request than a command; she is speaking to someone as an equal in the relationship. As a further thought, “haughty” may be not appropriate, however this is not typical speech. Here, the speaker does not say “shite kudasai” or “shite” (with the intimation of “please” or “if you would please”) that is usual in feminine speech. sabishii to ii watashi wo tsuta ni shite is feminine, sabishii to ii watashi wo tsuta ni shiro is masculine, perhaps in a “wild” sense. The wording of this haiku is however neutral in gender; the wording lacking gender seems polite and formal, but also strong. From this aspect, there arises a kind of “haughty” presence or posture.
起立礼着席青葉風過ぎた kiritsu rei chakuseki aobakaze sugita stand up! bow! sit down! a breeze has passed with the scent of green
Kigo: aobakaze (青葉風), a breeze with the scent of green; summer. Meter: 5-9-3. The act of kiritsu rei chakuseki is well known to all Japanese school-students, as it is something that they do multiple times a day. The directions are given by the 級長 (kyūchō; similar to a group-leader), which it is a great honor to be chosen to be. To be chosen is a recognition of one’s ability, as well as the confidence that others have in you. In this way, the haiku expresses the positive emotion of being the kyūchō, and it is significant that the poet composed this haiku while in high school. There may be a cultural gap between Western countries and Japan in the association of “stand up! bow! sit down!” as these orders may come across as a military command to westerners. The word aobakaze (a breeze with the scent of green) is a kigo of summer, which suggests days of youth.
ひきだしに海を映さぬサングラス hikidashi ni umi wo utsusanu sangurasu in a drawer lacking reflections of the sea — sunglasses
Kigo: sangurasu (サングラス), sunglasses; summer. Meter: 5-7-5. The image is of a young woman opening a drawer at night to see the sunglasses that she had worn on the beach with her former lover. Their time together was good, but now the relationship is over — the sunglasses are in the drawer, instead of being worn on the beach.
水澄むや宇宙の底にいる私 mizu sumu ya uchuu no soko ni iru watashi transparent water at the bottom of the universe: me
Kigo: mizu sumu (水澄む), transparent/limpid water; autumn. Meter: 5-7-5.
右左左右右秋の鳩 migi hidari hidari migi migi aki no hato right left left right right autumn dove
Kigo: aki no hato (秋の鳩), autumn dove; autumn Meter: 5-7-5. Straightforward imagery: what doves look like.
As longterm members of the Kon Nichi Translation Group, Kumamoto University, founded in 2006, these four denizens of Japan with joy, patience and determination, have continued to devote spare months, hours and days co-translating gendaihaiku. Presently, Dr. Itō Yūki, a Yeats scholar, is an assistant professor at Josei University, Saitama; Dr. David Ostman, who researches the role of empathy in intercultural competence, holds a similar position at Kumamoto Gakuen University; Dr. Masahiro Hori, a world-class linguist is a senior professor also at Kumamoto Gakuen University; Dr. Richard Gilbert is professor emeritus, Kumamoto University.
Creative Blooms will appear every other Tuesday. Three poems will be provided with commentary, and an additional three offered for creative interaction by our readership. With every third installment, Gilbert will introduce a largely unknown Japanese poet, translated into English with annotations, for the first time. We look forward to a lively discussion of these fascinating and challenging poems.
Richard Gilbert, professor of English Literature at Kumamoto University in Japan, is the author of Poetry as Consciousness: Haiku Forests, Space of Mind, and an Ethics of Freedom (illustrated by Sabine Miller, Kebunsha Co. Ltd., 2018, ISBN 978-4-86330-189-4), The Disjunctive Dragonfly (Red Moon Press, 2008, rev. 2013), and Poems of Consciousness (Red Moon Press, 2008), among others. He is also director of the Kon Nichi Translation Group, whose most recent book is the tour de force Haiku as Life: A Tohta Kaneko Omnnibus (Red Moon Press, 2019). In January 2020, he announced the creation of Heliosparrow Poetry Journal, an evolution of the Haiku Sanctuary forum.