Favourite Haiku by Patrick Sweeney

My favourite haiku are fairly well known. Koi Nagata (1900-1997), while considered eccentric and difficult to approach, speaks directly to me.  He believed a poet should “put the eye in the dragon” … now, I don’t  pretend to know what that means, but I like it. He also felt that his work had not ‘attained’ until he was sixty. A consoling thought to this worn-out, white bearded, palooka.

Tadashi Kondo’s translation feels right to this non-scholar. I came across this haiku in a brown and tattered copy of Paper Air Magazine, put out by Singing Horse Press, Gil Ott, editor.

yume no yo ni / negi o tsukurishi / sabishisa yo

how lonely
to have grown scallions
in the world of dreams

The second haiku is by Saito Sanki. One of the New Rising Haiku folks. He was a playboy, and to use the Brooklyn parlance of yore, an all around whack-job. He suffered somewhat for his iconoclastic ways by being thrown into a World War 2 hoosegow (prison). He was dislocated geographically and culturally, which I think gives him a unique vision. I haven’t been able to find any translations that capture the feeling of Sanki’s haiku, so please forgive me for changing ‘doctor’ to ‘sensei’ and altering much else to render the mystery.

kujira jutte / hajmaru koji to / ishi no yakyu

after devouring whale meat
sensei and the orphans
play baseball

The next two haiku come from a couple of ne’er-do-wells … Hosai Ozaki  and Taneda Santoka. I have a soft spot for misfits and not just because I happen to be one of them. It is so very important for haiku poets to go where no one else has gone. Both poets were dipsomaniacs and probably holy, if you believe like I do, that holiness has to do with not just following a set of moral laws, but in the total acceptance of the will of heaven. Hiroaki Sato’s translation of Ozaki is lovely.

oo zora / no ma shi ta / boshi / ka bu ra zu

right under the big sky, I don’t wear a hat

There have been a lot of translations of this Santoka haiku. I love George Evans’ best.

wake itte mo / wake itte mo / aoi yama

going deeper,
still deeper:
only (more) blue mountains

Editor’s note: US-born Patrick Sweeney has been writing haiku for half of his life. He is 60 years old. The last 20 years he has lived in northern Japan, teaching elementary school science. “My Japanese-language skills are extremely poor. I belong to no haiku group. The 11-year-olds I teach have taught me the most about how to see things as they are, i.e. upside down with a smirk.”