Poetry Friday: Postcard from Japan

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

 Speaking from my current abode here in Japan, I’d like to introduce a short bilingual book of haiku I discovered recently at my local picture book library.  Haiku no Ehon or A Picture Book of Haiku by Toshio Suzuki (Rin Rin Kikaku, 1993)  is a wonderful book of haiku by well known poets Basho, Buson, Issa, Kyoshi and Kyorai.  The illustrations of the poems are quite stunning — traditional images done in sumi-e ink with some very colorful embellishments.  The book was produced post-humously; Suzuki was suffering with cancer when he worked on the paintings done for this book.  Suzuki belonged to a group of painters who are referred to as ‘juvenile painters.’  Juvenile painting is a kind of illustration done for childrens’ stories and songs.  Suzuki challenged himself as a juvenile painter by trying to illustrate classically known haiku in a way that he felt would be accessible to children.  I think he succeeded admirably!  

And speaking of Japanese poets, fellow PT blog contributor Corinne, sent me this link to a post with video by Sylvia Vardell on her blog, Poetry for Children, about a recent poetry book by Tanikawa Shuntaro whose work I wrote about a while back for Poetry Friday for PaperTigers.  Check it out!

Andromeda is hosting today’s Poetry Friday at A Wrung Sponge – head on over…

Poetry Friday: Grass Sandals

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Although it’s February and feels like winter — at least in my part of the country — February actually  marks the beginning of spring in many East Asian countries.  The Asian calendar is particularly sensitive to changes of season.  When I think of writing about the seasons in poetry, the first form that comes to mind is the haiku and the most famous practitioner of its art, Basho.

Grass Sandals: The Travels of Basho by Dawnine Spivak, illustrated by Demi, is a delightful picture book that captures the essence of the wandering poet for children.   In it, Basho is featured as a character embarking on a journey.  Upon his hat, he writes: “Hat, I will soon show you cherry blossoms” and sets off.    Of course, Basho has his adventures — not of the swash-buckling kind, mind you — and he records them in haiku.  He wades in rivers, sits under ancient trees, sleeps on grass pillows, and swims in the ocean.  This meandering but mindful wandering is presented on each page with images, haikus, and Chinese characters — kanji, as they are known in Japanese — for the most salient natural element presented in the poem.  So in addition to being a good book about a famous historical figure, Grass Sandals teaches a little bit of kanji as well!

Illustrator Demi has drawn wonderful images of the traveling Basho on a background of washi — Japanese paper — to great effect.  (You can see more of Demi’s artwork in the PaperTigers gallery.) The genial nature of the poet is well reflected in his expressions.  Grass Sandals is a good introduction to the poet and the form, and a lovely Asian way of welcoming in a season that might not otherwise feel like spring at all!

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Irene Latham at Live. Love. Explore. – head on over!

Poetry Friday: Poetry and the Seasons

Friday, November 28th, 2008

There’s a lovely haiku by Basho about the first snow where he awaits the event with great anticipation, returning to his hut every time the clouds gather in the sky in early December.  He wants to be ready to write the words down as soon as he experiences the moment.  When the snow first came to our city in mid November, my daughter made me fetch a pair of cross country skis we’d acquired from a friend and set out into the slush with glee.  For the last few years we have had very warm, languorous autumns in my part of Canada, and this has oddly increased our anticipation of the first snow.

The seasons are often written about in poetry of every language.  This past summer, I stumbled on a children’s poetry book at a library cast-off sale.  It is called Seasons and is edited by the master anthologist, Alberto Manguel.  Manguel has selected poetry from all over the world and of different periods and languages that note, in some way, the seasons.  The book is illustrated by Japanese Canadian artist Warabe Aska who has a playful way of engaging the childish imagination with his pictures.  Often embedded in his colorful drawings are hidden pictures of animals or people.   My daughter delights in finding these images and this activity enhances her appreciation of the book’s contents.  For winter, there is this lovely poem by eleventh century Japanese court lady Sei Shonagon:


As though pretending to be blooms

The snowflakes scatter in the winter sky.

Accompanying the text, is Aska’s picture of a popcorn vendor in the park on a snowy day.  Popcorn, blooms — all are lovely metaphors, visual and literary, for snowflakes.  And so did my daughter and I feast our eyes this year on popcorn puffs and garden blooms in the otherwise dreary skies of November.

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted at Lisa’s blog