Monday, November 21, 2011

Ban'ya Natsuishi / Right Eye in Twilight

Ban’ya Natsuishi

Ban'ya Natsuishi's haiku collection, RIGHT EYE IN TWILIGHT, has English translations by Ban'ya Natsuishi and Jack Galmitz. The haiku are beautifully set out two to a page with English translations below the Japanese originals. The book is divided into six sections: 1. YUGOSLAVIAN SNAKE; 2. HOLIDAYS IN FRANKFURT; 3. FOLLOWING THE MOON; 4. THE RESURRECTION; 5. RIGHT EYE IN TWILIGHT and 6. MY WAY HOME. Line drawings separate each section.
Ban'ya Natsuishi is a prolific poet. A biographical note, a list of his awards, a selection of his main Japanese publications and overseas publications are given at the end of the book.
He has been hampered by illness in his latter years but he manages to overcome the problems and to continue creating poems with the added awareness of a poet who is threatened with loss of vision; hence the title of the book, RIGHT EYE IN TWILIGHT, and the section of poems of the same name.
He has a unique haiku voice and a professorial eye for significant detail and for the mysteries that he finds in daily life. So he composes his haiku clearly, yet with imagination, and flair. Natsuishi doesn't translate the haiku in 5/7/5 form, but with a flexible style that varies from poem to poem, as in the following haiku from the first section, YUGOSLAVIAN SNAKE:
A sick day off from work:
            I receive haiku
            of a Yugoslavian snake

This poem expresses a familiar scene - that of being unwell - yet he is still able to work editing the haiku that have come to him from overseas.
In another poem in this section, the poet refers to his illness
Illness in one eye:
            I'm walking
            like a goldfish

The second section, HOLIDAYS IN FRANKFURT, take the reader to Germany where we see a
Plaza where books were burned . . .
            now only acacia's flowers

Sixty years have passed since the Second World War, but we remember (or are aware) of the burning of books. This striking image reminds us of the futility of war and the necessity for peace in the lives of ordinary people. It also reminds us that we should respect other people and their property.
Another sombre haiku from this section is the following:
Every flower withered -
            Erika now
            on the cloud

We don't know who Erika is, but we are made aware of her passing. The author is probably thinking about the way in which nature dies and is reborn and the brevity of human life which flowers again in the next life. There is pleasure in contemplating this philosophical haiku.
FOLLOWING THE MOON is a section of travel haiku: we follow the poet on his journey from a remembrance of Japan to Trieste, the Adriatic and on to Ljubljana.
            Following the moon
            from the border
            to the mountain church

is an excellent sketch haiku. Its beautiful description of moonlight, border and mountain church is easy to see in the mind's eye. One can imagine the tiny church, bathed in moonlight, sheltering in the mountains. Another descriptive haiku in this section is
A fountain and a bookshop
            behind the church
            in Ljubljana

In the next section, THE RESURRECTION, we are in New York after the destruction of the World Trade Centre:
            New York -
            the terror of dust
            toying with sundown

Here, the alliteration of the 't' in the haiku adds to its value. The words 'terror' and 'toying' are almost opposite words, both used to describe the carnage.
The awareness everyone now has of terrorists is neatly summed up in the following haiku:
            suddenly an evil look turned toward me
            in a train

The meaning is so clear that readers will understand it without effort.
In Section five, RIGHT EYE IN TWILIGHT, we can see the effect illness has on the poet's sight. The new century brings no relief:

            White mud piles up
            in my right eye -
            a new century

This haiku says that the poet can only see "white mud" with his "right eye". Then he tells us it is "a new century": a time when we may expect things to change, where there should be hope of a better future but, unfortunately, the poet has to come to terms with his gradual loss of sight, probably the one sense he values above the others.
Mt. Fuji covered with snow
            a professor will operate
            on a professor

is a more humorous haiku, where two men are equal in a professional capacity, although one is a patient and the other a doctor. Mt. Fuji in the background covered with a blanket of snow symbolises the poet's white and clouded eye.
In MY WAY HOME, the poet is recovering from his operation and thinking about going home.

            On the professor's way home
            a calico cat, a stump
            and amaryllis

This is a lighter haiku to break the solemn mood. The professor can still see and he points out three images for us "a calico cat", "a stump" and "amaryllis". The poet is now starting to recover and is hopefully on a new journey of discovery.
The book ends with the haiku
Within the hospital
            Hawaiian mineral water
            house-dust hovering

In this haiku, the hospital, with all its associated pain, the freshness of mineral water and the atmosphere of dust are clearly felt. The third line, "house-dust hovering" effectively conveys the impression of this moment which the author observes with poignancy and relief.
reviewer: Patricia Prime.

Poem by Ban'ya Natsuishi


THE EMBRACE OF PLANETS is an ambitious book of haiku, not only in the amount contained, but in the translations from Japanese into Romanian by Vasile Moldovan; into English by Jack Galmitz, James Shea, Richard Gilbert, Stephen Henry Gill, Jim Kacian, David G. Lanoue and Ban'ya Natsuishi; into French by Alain Kervern and Ban'ya Natsuishi and into Italian by Giorgio Gazzolo, Luca Toma, and Toni Piccini.
There are 111 haiku inside this tiny pocket sized book. The beauty of a book this small is that it is easily carried about, enabling a quick reading of the book, say on the train or bus, over a few days.
There are some wonderful haiku contained within, but one or two have missed something in being translated or adapted into English. However, notwithstanding, the majority are well written.
Into the sea of Japan
            lightning's tail
            is plunged

            The embrace of planets
            depends often on

            The fever of Genoa
            poetry, soccer
            and ambulances

            The crescent noon
            and the cross align together —
            night in the capital

The entire book is best read as it is divided, in sequences. The writer has organised his material as a type of travelogue, each section representing different countries and cities. In each area, the writer captures the essence of where he is within the small space of the haiku sequences very well, each haiku adds in turn to this overall spirit.
The last sequence of the book catalogues everyday moments distilled from a hospital procedure which sounds like a cataract operation:
During the operation
            many times I saw
            a solar eclipse
and follows the progress of the patient: The first view:
            a singing blue
            in the corner of my eye

THE EMBRACE OF PLANETS repays close reading many times and gives a unique insight into another culture's view of the world. Indeed, it could be described as one person's warm embrace of many cultures.
reviewer: Barbara Smith.


The book is divided into two parts. The first part of the book is called CONCENTRIC CIRCLES. This part presents haiku in Portuguese, English, French, Spanish, and Lithuanian, with one haiku per page. The haiku are contemplative in nature:
Where there was a tree
            near the pure spring —
            the noise of saws

This is a somewhat sad poem, and so is the one below, which turns inwardly:

            Under the scorching sun
            I have forgotten
            how to love myself

The second part of the book is called DREAMS. These poems are reminiscent of the naga uta style. They are indeed dreamlike:
             Run away, run away
            into the mountain behind the house!
            Planes are dropping bombs.
            And I push my way through pines and ferns.
            I climb deep into the mountain.
            From a path, in a squatting position,
            I gaze up at
            the black serpentine belly of a plane.

This is Ban'ya Natsuishi's third book. He was born in Japan and he is a Professor at Meiji University. He was one of the founding members of the World Haiku Association in Slovenia, and is currently the Director of this association. He is a much loved teacher and in 2002 was awarded the Hekigodo Kawahigashi Prize of the 21 Ehime Culture Foundation, which I was honoured to review.

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