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Richard Gilbert et al. — Touchstone Distinguished Books Award Winner 2019

Richard Gilbert, Ito Yuki, David Ostman, Masahiro Hori, Koun Franz, Tracy Franz, and Kanemitsu Takeyoshi are the recipients of a Touchstone Distinguished Books Award for 2019 for their volume Haiku as Life, A Kaneko Tohta Omnibus (Winchester VA: Red Moon Press, 2019).

Commentary from the Panel:

Kaneko Tohta (1919 — 2018) is a major figure in the haiku world in the twentieth century. The “Introduction” by Richard Gilbert calls him “a literary and cultural pioneer of postwar Japanese haiku poetry.” The authors of this book, known as the Kon Nichi Translation Group, have compiled an English language compendium of his life, his works, and his philosophy. This book is a republication with some revisions and updates of the four volumes originally published by Red Moon Press:

Ikimonofūei: Poetic Composition on Living Things (2011)
The Future of Haiku: An Interview with Kaneko Tohta (2011)
Selected Haiku with Essays and Commentary (1937 – 1960) (2011)
Selected Haiku with Essays and Commentary (1961 – 2012) (2012).

The book includes a detailed chronology of Kaneko’s life, a major lecture by Kaneko given in 2010, an in-depth interview with the poet in that same year, as well as a broad selection of Kaneko’s haiku written over his long life. The haiku are given in Japanese, English, and romaji. They are well researched and carefully and thoroughly annotated; in addition, they are placed in the context of Kaneko’s life experiences: his early childhood in Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture, his deployment during WWII as a Naval Officer on Truk Islands, his search for his personal stance in the post-war shake out of Japanese society, and his return in his later years to his roots in Chichibu.

An example of the informative footnoting:

towards recovery
a ruined ship a human shadow
the winter pine

Kigo: [冬の松] fuyu no matsu, winter pine (a symbol of longevity); Winter

Meter: 5-7-5. Composed 2012.

With reference to the Fukushima disaster: In this context fuyu no matsu refers to the pine tree in Rikuzen, Takada City, Iwate Prefecture. Due to the tsunami, about 70,000 pine trees were destroyed, and only this lone tree survived. It has thus become a symbol of restoration from the disaster; its photographic image continues to be prevalent in Japanese media.

This volume also contains scholarly commentaries and relevant histories written by individual members of the Kon Nichi Translation Group; they help place the work of Kaneko and its influence in the haiku world of the twentieth century. As a socially conscious poet, Kaneko says this about social consciousness: “Social consciousness is a question of stance, taido. Speaking of social consciousness in terms of ideology is dangerous—I despise it.” Kaneko’s stance was to advocate for “gendai (progressive, contemporary) haiku, and . . . to flourish as a human being and artist . . . .” His stance embraced “the raw perception of living beings,” “intellectual wildness,” and “settled wandering.” He discusses these values extensively in his 2010 lecture.

Examples of each of these values might be:

(the raw perception of living beings)
my long-lived mother delivered me as a shit

(intellectual wildness)
never, atomic bomb never —
a crab crawls click, click
over rubble

(settled wandering)
a wild boar
comes eats air
spring mountain path

This self-described “omnibus” is at once of great historical importance, advancing our understanding of the development of Japanese haiku, and an important collection of some of the finest 20th century Japanese haiku in English and modern critical theory.

See the complete list of winners of both Individual Poem Awards and Distinguished Books Awards in the Touchstone Archives.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. I was actually the very first person who ordered this! 🙂
    Excellent book, and gives even more than you can imagine on so many aspects of Japanese haiku, and Kaneko Tohta’s insight into pre and post war Japan etc…
    I am glad I also purchased the individual books quickly. I would urge everyone to buy Haiku as Life, A Kaneko Tohta Omnibus before it might go out of print.
    Alan Summers
    co-founder, Call of the Page

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