Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was
猪がきて空気を食べる春の峠 a wild boar comes and eats air spring mountain path — Kaneko Tohta, Selected Haiku With Notes and Commentary Part 2:1961-2012. (Translated by the Kon Nichi Translation Group, and Published by Red Moon Press, 2012)
Bob Lucky’s friends cry “Havok”:
Years ago in Kobe a friend’s parents were having problems with wild boars coming down into their garden, with its traditional teahouse, and wreacking havoc. I like the image of the boars eating the air (a Hindi expression for taking a stroll, which has nothing to do with this haiku but still adds to it in some way) because it puts their snouts up into the air rather than down in to the ground, where they tend to root around. In this haiku, in spring, the hunt is on.
Lynne Rees revises:
The translation of poetry has to be one of the most challenging arts. How can someone translate words, syntax, sound, rhythm and connotation from one language to another and be sure of achieving something comparable to the original author’s intention? How does the translator balance commitment to the original text with the necessity of creating poetic effect in the translated one?
I am not a translator. And while my reasonable grasp of French and Spanish might help me produce a passable English translation of a short poem in either of those languages, all other languages are beyond my reach. So it’s the translation of Kaneko Tohta’s haiku that I must respond to.
I appreciate the overall scene the haiku conjures but I’m less satisfied with a close reading: the word choice and syntax.
The second line is staccato: it lacks the more natural rhythm of, say, ‘comes and eats the air’. Although ‘comes and eats’ feels rather prosaic too: is the addition of ‘comes’ adding anything? Would a different verb more effectively communicate the writer’s intention?
And ‘spring mountain path’ feels overly compressed. I appreciate that haiku is a poetry of distillation but, for me, the last line attempts to pack in too much of a seasonal punch and I find myself struggling to ‘imagine’ that mountain path in spring. What’s the weather like? What plants might be there? Is it warm/chilly?
So please forgive me for what I’m about to do, Kaneto Tohta and the Kon Nichi Translation Group.mountain path a wild boar eats the spring air
But now I can taste the air with the wild boar on the side of that mountain. And isn’t that what we all want to do? Enter a poem and be a part of it?
Joseph Salvatore Anverso cites Snyder:
I at times get squeamish when seeing predators tear at their freshly captured prey on National Geographic Wild. However, as Gary Snyder reminds us in his poem “Spel Against Demons,” “aimless executions and slaughterings / are not the work of wolves and eagles // but the work of hysterical sheep”. Thus, predators in the wild take only what is needed. Now enter our wild boar onto the stage of a wild mountain path in spring. Spring is not only about flowers, but renewed power and life. Birth is after all the birthright of all living creatures. Moreover, as a fellow omnivore, the boar feeds on everything, even the air! Breathing air is also the birthright of all creatures, whether gulping it down like a frenzied wild pig, or inhaling softly like a sleeping baby. Namely, the act of tearing at flesh for sustenance is no more violent than breathing. The boar reminds us of our own dependence on food, water, and air; and it reminds us of something rather uncanny, the violence which goes hand in hand with that very dependence.
As this week’s winner, Lynne gets to choose next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.
Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!
quietly we become audience — Hilary Tann Frogpond 27.1