Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Summer 2007, vol 5 no 2

Presents of Mind
by Jim Kacian
Translation into Japanese by Richard Gilbert, Masahiro Hori,
Yasuo Higuchi, Takeyoshi Kanemitsu and Yūki Itō
A Review by Robert D. Wilson


Jim Kacian has self-published a bilingual book of his haiku in Japanese and English entitled, Presents of Mind. Says Kacian, "This is the first time that a book of English-language haiku has been translated into Japanese in a serious, scholarly and careful way." A non-bilingual edition was first presented to the English-speaking world in 1996 by Katsura Press.

The author's concept is a good idea for a book of original haiku. Kacian, according to the notes on the book's back cover, "is one of the half-dozen best known practitioners of haiku outside of Japan." He's also the owner of Red Moon Press which is lauded in the "Biography of the poet" (pp. 2-8) as "the largest and most prestigious publisher dedicated to haiku in English, worldwide."

Says an excerpt from the book under the heading "A Note on The Translation":

" . . . [T]hese haiku in part evoke translations of R. H. Blyth, and the early growth of haiku in America, dating back half a century. . . . [The translators] have sought to create haiku which would have power in Japanese, seen from within the existing haiku tradition. In any literature, including Japanese haiku, there are few truly excellent poets in a given era with an oeuvre such as Jim has produced which possesses commanding interest and depth. We hope that the importance and promise of haiku in English from such a talented poet can be experienced from the dual perspectives of our mutual traditions." (pp. xxiv, xxviii)

Let us look at some of the haiku:

from the zendo
no pockets

[Zendo is a Japanese word meaning meditation hall.]

white heron
fills the sky
empties it

winter seclusion
tending all day
the small fire

chopping wood
someone does the same
a moment later

Says Dr. Richard Gilbert in the book's "Critical Introduction", in reference to Kacian:

"There are few haiku poets in English who have developed innovative techniques which elevate the genre and point us toward its future." (p. x)

Do the above haiku place Kacian in the upper echelon of American haiku poets? Are these haiku the epitome of American poetic ingenuity? You be the judge.

The book's format adheres to the Japanese style of back to front versus the English style of front to back. Each poem is translated into Japanese script and rōmaji and stands alone on its respective page, allowing it to take "center stage."

There are some jewels in Kacian's book that truly stand out, such as:

a sunflower
bows its head
the long summer

himawari ya natsu no nagaki ni katamukeri

Sunflowers, when they are full of seed lean over, their stems unable to bear the loads. This occurs at the end of Summer. From a distance, especially at dusk, they look like they are bowing. Kacian sees the flower at the end of its season bowing in reverence, as if, perhaps, to say thanks or to reflect on its past. It is a haiku that doesn't say too much, touching on the unsaid, and allowing room for interpretation inside the reader's own sphere of experience and perception.

winter night ---
the cold white edges
of the bed

fukaki yo no tsumetaku shiroki toko no bashi

Kacian in this haiku makes good use of juxtaposition, contrasting winter night with the cold white edges of a bed. It appears simple but is really quite complex-- resembling a sumi-e painting, where with an economy of strokes the painter creates a painting that says much. Here Kacian touches on the coldness of a winter night made even colder by sleeping alone. It is the unsaid in this poem that makes it resonate.

the cold night
comes out of the stones
all morning

samuki yoru iwa yori izuru asa no yuku

Kacian's haiku here makes good use of yugen (mystery and depth). Can the cold night literally come out of stones in the morning? Not from a purely Western way of viewing life. In reading this haiku I envision a freezing cold night during a long inclement winter, holed up alone in a cabin or small house . . . no companionship from humans or pets, the fauna outside quietly doing what they need to do to survive the season. There is not enough room in a haiku to say all of this, of course. The feelings and thoughts such an experience paints in the human mind are brought to life by Kacian's sumi-e-like artistry, touching on its essence.

The latter three are examples of the haiku I've come to appreciate from Jim Kacian. My only regret is that there are too few of this caliber in Presents of Mind.

Presents of Mind (Dual language edition)
by Jim Kacian
Translated into Japanese by the Kon Nichi
Haiku Circle, Kumamoto University
Red Moon Press (2006)
ISBN 0-893959-59-7