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The Penguin Book of Haiku

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First Penguin volume
Of best Japanese haiku
Vivid translations
A Japanese poetry form that flourished from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, haiku are defined by their brevity: they are usually only three lines long and a total of seventeen syllables. Most famously, they use natural imagery to make Zen-like observations about reality. However, as this anthology reveals, there’s much more to haiku than cherry blossoms and waning moons: the verse included here is frequently erotic, funny, rude, and mischievous. Adam Kern has travelled throughout Japan to gather the best and most important examples of the genre, and his vivid and engaging translations form the basis of the Penguin Book of Haiku.

For more than sixty-five years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,500 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

544 pages, Paperback

First published March 29, 2016

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Adam L. Kern

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews
Profile Image for Florencia.
649 reviews1,877 followers
April 27, 2022
precisely because
the gods are invisible
they are believed in
me ni mienu / kami nareba koso / shinjirare

autumn wind –
for me there are no gods,
no buddhas
aki kaze ya / ware ni kami nashi / hotoke nashi

The golden ring she wore until the last minute and that I am wearing now hung on a necklace. The tiny Saint Benedict Medals that I am wearing now as a bracelet on my left wrist, even though I am not a Catholic—she was; she had bought one for her and one for me. The fact that I'm wearing these medals might be a sign that there is something more powerful and reassuring than the existence of god. It is the connection I make between those medals—symbols of Catholicism—and the life of someone who loved me unconditionally. Paraphrasing Julian Barnes, I don’t know if there is a god to believe in, but I miss him.
when at last
one longs to be filial
both parents are gone

kōkō no / shitai jibun ni / oya wa nashi

Author unnamed. In Yanagidaru 22 (1788). A deservedly proverbial verse.
Try as one might to live up to the Confucian ideal of respecting one’s parents, one can never fully appreciate something until having experienced it oneself. This poignant message is reinforced through subtle wordplay (sometimes with different graphs): at ‘the time of life’ (jibun) when one ‘oneself’ (jibun) becomes a parent and realizes how challenging it is to raise children, one has a newfound appreciation for one’s own parents, making one ‘desire’ (shitai) being ‘filial’ (kōkō), though it remains an ‘incurable condition’ (kōkō) that by then those parents may ‘not be around’ (nashi) much longer, and sometimes even are already lifeless ‘corpses’ (shitai).

Not long ago, I said that selfless love could only be found in a mother (not all mothers—as we have daily proof, motherhood is not an unmistakable sign of goodness—but in a mother). Perhaps I'm being unfair to the rest of humanity that may have the capacity to love like that. Of course, I don't know the billions of people inhabiting this endangered planet. But, as a mere and often detached observant, it seemed to me that there usually was a tinge of selfishness in how people love. A tinge, a bucket, a cargo ship; it depends. We've been told that love is the opposite of a selfish emotion. There is no good love, bad love, toxic love. It's just love. Intrinsically selfless. Unrealistically defined. There's the love of a mother, the kind of love I felt all my life since its nature is being unique, standing the test of time. My existence, her priority. And then comes the love we feel for others: the romantic, the platonic, the 'I love humanity but not people' type of love. Depending on the person, those other types may have that hint of understandable selfishness, a changing intensity—it is where the sense of uniqueness may start to evanesce. Or not.
tumultuous seas!
stretched out to Sado Isle,
the River of Heaven

araumi ya / sado ni yokotau / amanogawa

Bashō. This acclaimed meditation on emotional turmoil, displacement, isolation and the hope of reunion, however fleeting, invokes the legend of those long-suffering lovers, the celestial stars Weaver Maid (orihime or Vega) and Oxherd Boy (hikoboshi or Altair), who are rejoined only one night each year, on the seventh day of the seventh lunisolar month.
Yet it also invokes the mystique of Sado Island (Sadogashima), notorious as a remote place of exile (located off the coast in the far north-eastern reaches of Japan’s mainland). [...]
The rhythm and sound of the vowels in the first line, ah-ah-oo-eh-ah, conjure up the choppiness and expansiveness of the Sea of Japan, infamous for its violent storms. Playing with the term amanogawa, literally ‘Heaven’s River’, Bashō has the Milky Way span these waters to Sado – except that instead of the grammatical ‘exist sideways’, he strikingly deploys the transitive verb yokotau, ‘be existed sideways’, implying that some force of creation has moved the very heavens.

I haven't been reading much lately. Not literature, I mean. And I haven't been writing reviews for a while. I haven't missed it; I wasn't in the mood to discuss a book and let emotions emerge; they expect confrontation. But I've been busy, yes. I'm on the verge of a life-changing event, and partly, that's what has been keeping me on my feet, moving forward. Someone at work once told me that people should always have projects, especially when we find ourselves, for whatever reason, alone in the world—we should always have a dream to come true. And that the passage of time was not an excuse not to make it happen because a sense of purpose, be it big or small, is vital to us.
I do have projects, dreams, and longings, a few regrets despite knowing how fruitless that is due to our inability to change the past—I have rationalised Bertrand Russel's words ad infinitum, but to have no regrets is a long-term project.
cooling breeze –
the boundless sky filled with
pining voices

suzukaze ya / kokū ni michite / matsu no koe


However, the world feels scarier and more challenging in the eyes of someone holding a new status—that of an orphan. A rite of passage prematurely done. And, just like maternal love, there is a void that will stand the test of time. It is irreplaceable. Profound. Permanent. So vast that it can be explained in three lines. That's the greatness of haiku: it unravels human nature as succinctly as possible. Creation, love, art, nature, lust (from eroticism to pornography), deceit, wealth, cicadas, death. One syllable.¹ Four more. Seven, five.
An hourglass inside a grain of sand.
that gentle breeze
from the slumbering fan –
a mother’s love

utatane no / uchiwa no kaze ga / haha no on

Author unnamed. In Yanagidaru shūi 9 (c.1796–7).

The Penguin Book of Haiku, translated by Adam Kern, is a thoroughly researched collection that includes the most famous, relatively known and undeservedly lesser-known haiku that, as tradition dictates, contain seasonal references, dramatic pauses and a plethora of interpretations. Several poems come with a commentary that sheds some light on the poetic intents or the historical contexts. There are also beautiful illustrations of various poets or moments portrayed in their haiku.
laughing loudly
that the loneliness
might be forgotten

takawarai / shite sabishisa o / wasureru ki


I have many favourites. I can’t get tired of reading the different translations of the same poem. Today, Issa's most quoted haiku spoke volumes. He evoked and shared his sorrow through verses brimming with natural beauty, marked by poignant, relentless repetition. Death becomes something rational until it stops making sense. It brings some solace in the context of a long illness, only to shake us to the core again at the sight of an empty room, a lonely breakfast, a missing word. It makes us wear Saint Benedict Medals when we are not sure if there is something beyond our world, but even so, we feel our loved ones close, beautiful as dew, looking after us.
this world of dew ...
though a world of dew it remains,
still, even so ...

tsuyu no yo wa / tsuyu no yo nagara / sari nagara

Issa. In Oraga haru (Spring of My Life, 1819). A renowned verse on the death of his young daughter. The pointed repetition of nagara, ‘despite’, effectively unravels the meaning of this verse, suggesting the poet’s own unravelling. And the haunting repetition of tsuyu no yo, ‘world of dew’, suggesting that the poet cannot quite grasp the reality that has brought him to this point, begs pondering. Tsuyu, ‘dew’, has two not-unrelated sets of associations: first, an image of freshness, beauty and moisture associated with autumn – though, ironically, his daughter was in the springtime of her life and died on the day of the summer solstice; and second, a venerable symbol of Buddhist impermanence, as with a well-known line from the Diamond Sutra (Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra in Sanskrit; Kongōkyō in Japanese): ‘all conditioned things are like a dream, a phantom, a drop of dew, a lightning flash’. The sari, ‘thus’, in the verse’s final phrase sari nagara, ‘be that as it may’, has homonyms in ‘leaving’ (from saru) and in the desiccated ‘remains’ (also rendered shari) of a cremated corpse. Unpacked, the verse seems to be saying: ‘Intellectually, I understand the truth that this world is as impermanent as dew, but somehow that insight offers no consolation as I grieve over the charred remains of my beautiful-as-dew young daughter, whose death has shaken me to the core.’


April 24, 22

* Later on my blog.
** Notes:
1. Or ‘syllabet’, as the translator prefers to call them: Observing that English syllables are heavier than their Japanese counterparts (onji), Blyth advocated a 2–3–2 accented beat scheme in translation. Granted, the English syllable does not always map directly onto Japanese, which is lighter, more fleet of poetic foot. Like the stride as a unit of measurement, the syllable is variable, ranging from shortish (‘uh’) to prolonged (‘strengths’). Japanese syllabets tend to fall uniformly on the higher, more lightweight side of the scales. And while I follow robin d. gill in using this diminutive term ‘syllabet’ for the Japanese, reserving ‘syllable’ for the English, in my experience the briefer the translation the greater the danger of lapsing into ungrammatical fortune-cookie pithiness. […]
Profile Image for Canon.
569 reviews47 followers
December 17, 2022
Apart from —

- The dour frog on the cover
- The amazing selection of ∼1,000 haiku (everything from sublime existential meditations and exquisite nature imagery to fart jokes and dirty-sexy ditties)
- The unmissable (richly informative and snarky) introduction on the history of haiku

— my favorite thing about this book was learning that the communal composing depicted in Sokka's Haiku Battle is historically accurate.

Profile Image for Paul H. .
797 reviews255 followers
August 4, 2020
Well . . . okay! I'll say this was an unexpected take on the history of haiku. Kern is one of those cultural studies types who somehow made a career out of his manga addiction, i.e., he is a scholar of "transcultural comics in Japan" and has taught some no-doubt-amazingly-academically-rigorous courses such as "Japan Pop!" and "Intro to Comics & Graphic Novels."

So as you might imagine for someone who likely has a waifu pillow or two at home (jk!), Kern is strangely obsessed with anything transgressive or scatological or pornographical in the history of senryu/haiku. Now, to be fair, some senryu are actually pretty transgressive (I remember being quite surprised at a few passages in Blyth's translations), and a few haiku poets (such as Ikkyu) are startlingly pornographical . . . but I'm really not sure why Kern had to go so overboard in that regard? Maybe for a scholarly book, but I don't think that he necessarily took the best approach for a Penguin edition.

Now, with that said, this is still a reasonably strong work. Kern studied under Cranston at Harvard, who is literally the greatest Western scholar of Japanese poetry, and the translations in The Penguin Book of Haiku are pretty good, albeit closer to the spartan style of Cranston or Blyth than the more 'poetic'/creative versions in Carter or Merwin or whoever else. In addition, Kern provides a very generous selection of poems; 1000+ haiku, with most of the best classical haiku. While he overemphasizes ribald poetry, I still think it's reasonably worthwhile to include a fair amount of these haiku, as the average reader would probably not otherwise be made aware of the deep history of 'unrefined' 5-7-5 poems. Finally, Kern's commentary (200+ pages!) is impressive; I've read a great deal of English-language commentary/scholarship in this area, but I learned something new on almost every page.

Anyway, in short, I would recommend that the reader check out Addiss's The Art of Haiku, Carter's Traditional Japanese Poetry, and Bowers's Classic Tradition of Haiku before diving into Kern's idiosyncratic take on the genre.
Profile Image for তানজীম রহমান.
Author 22 books519 followers
August 7, 2019
I really enjoyed this book. Calling it The Penguin Book of 'Haiku' would not be entirely correct, though. But I guess naming it the The Penguin Book of Renga might not have sold as many copies.
The fascinating introduction to the book says as much. In fact, the introduction warns us against believing in a single definition of Haiku. Haiku as it is commonly known is a modern invention. It's a sort of gentrified reworking of earlier forms of Japanese poetry.
This book focuses on those earlier forms. The poems here are linked verses, works of poets collaborating in a live setting. They are poignant, sexy, dirty, sad and wistful. And the way the imagery shifts from verse to verse calls to mind a painting that changes its subject with each brushstroke. It's hard to describe how beautiful the cumulative effect of reading these poems is. The very way you imagine the world in your head takes on a more vivid, colorful tinge. The extensive glossaries and indexes are also very helpful for anyone who's interested in early Japanese poetry.
Really good book, if you don't judge it by its title.
Profile Image for Ben Gaa.
Author 3 books12 followers
January 12, 2019
I have very mixed feelings about this book. It is, first of all, a monumental achievement for a single scholar/translator. And I love the inclusion of so many colorful haiku that intertwine with the great masters. I also enjoy the linking of poems that riff off each other in both theme and lines which ties into the point of the introduction which is that many of the haiku that we know and love were, apparently, written not by themselves but in the context of renga. And this is where I have some difficulty. It seems to overemphasize the importance of linked verse and paints Shiki, the creator of the term of haiku, as some sort of Western poetic Wannabe. It could just be that it overcorrects a bit. I will be chewing on this for a while. That said, I also find the translations a little flat. They may be linguistically accurate, as the great detailed latter portion of the book goes into, but they miss the mark for me a bit. For example, the most famous haiku by Basho in this book is translated as:

old pond!
a frog plunges into

Perhaps I’ve just read it translated in other ways that I like more.

This rendition of an Issa classic also falls flat to me:

this world of dew…
though a world of few it remains,
still, even so…

I miss the “and yet, and yet” of other translations.

So most of the poems I’ve liked in other books become meh poems while the cruder stuff that is presented here really shines. I adore them.

In summary, this book is complicated. Lots to like and admire but falling flat on some classic pieces that should shine. I will be rereading this book and do recommend it to anyone who is serious about haiku. Just don’t take it as the definitive book on haiku.
Profile Image for Jayaprakash Satyamurthy.
Author 33 books457 followers
May 12, 2020
An excellent survey of the form, showing its variety, from the sketches of nature we are most used to, to sacred, profane, erotic and mischievous themes.
Profile Image for Sarah .
420 reviews15 followers
December 4, 2021
Sadly I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped I would.
it felt flat and dull.
was it the translation?!! probably ...

I enjoyed the introduction and the helping section at the end. They were pretty informative.
Some haikus were hilarious and raunchy ..Found myself laughing quite a lot ... oh add to it the pictures included ... FUN! XD XD

Would I recommend it ?! I don't know maybe give it a try. I think it's worth it.
Profile Image for Nicky Neko.
207 reviews3 followers
November 14, 2020
An amazing collection of haiku, and the introductory essay was so good! Warning: some of them are pretty smutty... 😃
Profile Image for Wendelle.
1,474 reviews12 followers
August 22, 2018
Warning: Do not read this book in public transit lest your neighbors mistake you for some lewd lecher! This book is more explicit, ribald, and X-rated than I expected.... Basho's philosophical reflections on pastoral scenes, this is not.
Profile Image for Mark Ward.
Author 32 books34 followers
May 30, 2019
An interesting book, showing the depth and breadth of haiku. The last book I read was an imperial-arranged book of 100 tanka that was very ethereal and pretty. Large swathes of this are pure filthy, showing a whole other side of haiku that I wasn't aware of - the lowbrow, and unerotic.

Kern's introduction is worth the price of entry alone, deftly explaining the culture, cultural importance and development of haiku. And the haiku selected were well chosen and varied (although perhaps a little too 'dirty sexy haiku' as he calls them - I would've liked more variety; some more emotional haiku, some transcendental haiku.

His notes at the end - in the glance I gave them - don't seem to add much, so I skipped them.

An interesting collection. 3.5 stars
34 reviews2 followers
June 8, 2022
the overall architecture/ordering was inspiring and original, yet now I have a desire to focus my attentions on the work (and reasoning) of Masaoka Shiki...
Profile Image for Jack K. Boyles.
99 reviews
September 21, 2022
My issue with this, mainly stems from its layout. It gives you the haiku's, which some are great, but then gives you them again with notes... why not do that from the start???
I was surprised to find horny haiku, and a crude wit.
An interesting read, more than poignant.
Profile Image for Daniel Robinson.
12 reviews
October 4, 2022
The Penguin Book of Haiku is an anthology of haiku with a detailed introduction and extensive selection of haiku with accompanying commentary. It would be easy to just think of this book as just another selection of haiku to thumb through, but there is a surprising amount of substance to what the author, Adam Kern, has to offer. Still, it's interesting to see an anthology with this much care being put into the introduction, translation, and commentary to have an average rating lower than four stars. I had already seen the average rating that this book had received and was confounded by it before I had even finished the introduction. And then I reached the haiku selection, and now I think I understand why this book has a slightly "mixed" reception.

There is so much to digest from the introduction, I'd like to go over many of the points that I found to be very interesting and helpful to understanding haiku as a craft. The introduction starts like any other haiku anthology with a short commentary on what haiku is and where it came from, but the second section focuses on Masaoka Shiki and what the author calls Shiki's "invented tradition of haiku." Though the standard of haiku comes from the writings of Bashō back in the 17th century, the concept of the haiku being a standalone form of poetry did not begin until 1894. The Meiji Period in Japan (1852-1912) was a period of modernization because they were opening up to the west, which meant there needed to be reforms to their art. Tsuobochi Shōyō (1859-1935) pushed this idea in his work Essence of the Novel (Shōsetzu Shinzui 1885). Shiki really took to this idea and deemed that not only is literature art that should be revered in the east, but that haiku and tanka (though not the linked-verse form renga) are literature on the same level as other forms of world (or in this case western) literature. Shiki defended this position by stating that hokku (the first stanza of a renga) is proof of historic Japanese writing that focused on individualism like other world writings had. Not everyone believed that the hokku was proof of individual poetic history in Japan, with J. Thomas Rimer warning that reading hokku alone is a good way to misinterpret the intent the work was meant for in context to the original sequence.

The next section of Kern's introduction focuses on the "grand narrative of haiku" where the belief that haiku is the great literary representation of Japan being called into question while also looking at the way the form evolved in the east and certain cultural aspects that were undeniably a deep influence to the form of haiku (like Zen). Kern's next section, titled "The Two Haiku," then brings a whole new perspective on how haiku are considered both by the world and by the originating culture of Japan. The first (pronounced high-coo) is the global (to some degree anglicized) form that does follow the teachings of non-ancient haiku form (late 19th century). The second (pronounced as ha-i-ku and listed as the italicized haiku for the rest of the book) takes its origins more from the practice of haikai no renga that was popular from the Edo Period to the Meiji Period. “Haiku” is explained to be a shorthand for haikai no ku (witty stanza(s)), which is shorthand for haikai no ku no renga (witty stanza(s) of a linked verse sequence). Kern then states that though the origin of haiku and haiku are different, they essentially function the same. He also comments that other "modes" of haiku poetry should not be too disassociated with haiku/haiku at the risk of misinterpreting the unified spirit of each. The different "modes" of haiku explored later in the introduction.

The "Season Word and Cut" section focuses on the the haiku attributes of seasonal reference (kigo) and the use of words that separate the subjects within a haiku through a "cut" (kireji). The author also comments on the 17 syllable form, stating that because the Japanese understanding of syllables is very different from that of other cultures, it would be better to understand haiku as being typically written within 17 "syllabets," though the focus should be more on the brevity of haiku and the common standard is that a haiku can be expressed within "one breath." He also goes into the history of these attributes being applied to haiku as the world understands it along with historic haiku.

As every haiku-focused book does, Kern then gives a translation of Bashō's famous poem:
old pond!
a frog plunges into
(furuike ya / kawazu tobikomu /mizu no oto)
There is also commentary and perspective offered, including a response verse from Shiki, but I will leave that for the reader to discover. The next section focuses on the orthodox and heterodox schools present as haiku grew in prominence. In this section, the author gives an interesting commentary on how one of the common concepts of senryu known as “the “floating world” is a direct humored reference (if not outright mockery) of the sorrowful “fleeting world” of Buddhism. Verse capping (maekuzuke) is the next subject that the introduction dedicates a section to. A style of "senryu competition" was for a judge to offer a challenge verse of 14 syllabets (maeku) that poets could anonymous submit responses to for a prize if the verse is selected.

Though I didn't realize it at the time, this section titled "Senryu and Other Haiku Modes" sets the tone for what the haiku collection in this book is. Karai Hachiemon (1718-1790) who used the penname "Senryū" is discussed here, but most of the focus is on the author's rejection of the typical categories applied to haiku-like poetry. Senryu is not a catch-all term for seasonless poems focused on human nature. Instead, the author offers six specific "modes" of haiku-like, 17 syllabet forms of poetry that are not directly classified as haiku/haiku:
1. Senryu: overtly comic haiku
2. Bareku: dirty sexy haiku (not just sexual senryu)
3. Maekuzuke: haiku verse capping
4. Zappai: seasonless miscellaneous haiku
5. Hokku: opening stanzas to a sequence (the form that traditionalists follow the most)
6. Hiraku: non-opening stanzas within a sequence (uses similar cuts and seasons to hokku, so can be easily mistaken when no context to the placement within the sequence is given)
The final two sections of this introduction focus on women haiku poets and closing statements respectively. The author names some great women haiku poets that have been historically labeled as the "best woman haiku poets," but the author addresses that having to label these poets with there gender as a modifier is a backhanded compliment. After a few closing comments by Kern in the last section, we are finally done with the introduction and on to the haiku collection.

And now we have finally hit the haiku collection, which is where I believe most readers started to have less positive feelings about this book. Let me start with a few positives on the collection: the translations are wonderful and unique; there is no shortage of poets represented in this book and it is not oversaturated with the works of the four masters (Bashō, Buson, Issa, Shiki); there is helpful commentary offered for virtually every work presented in this collection; and all modes of haiku are represented in this collection.

So what are the negatives? I would say the first issue that may catch a reader off guard is that bareku, the overtly sexual "below the belt" mode of haiku, are featured throughout the collection with no warning or way of identifying what type of poem you are about to read. It's very jarring to go from a classical, seasonal, empathetic haiku into an unapologetic bareku. This is true for the senryu and verse capping works included in the collection, though they tend to be less intrusive. The next issue would be the printed images that the author placed in the haiku collection. Visuals can be very helpful, especially when they have historic reference directly to the haiku offered in the collection or if they are even haiga, but there was not a large variety when it came to the visuals in this collection. There were typically (though not limited to) two kinds of images included in this collection: historic paintings of haiku poets and sexual (if not outright pornographic) paintings historically associated with the bareku included in this book. Frankly, the brevity of any haiku mode does not take away its ability to present an image clearly, so does a sexual image really benefit a bareku the same way that haiga can transform the way that haiku are understood by including an image? At least in this collection, I do not think that the images advanced the works at all.

So could these issues be fixed? If the publisher decides to create an updated edition for The Penguin Book of Haiku, I think that it would benefit the collection to create a form of identifiers that allow us to be prepared for the type of poem we are about to read, rather than just having to rely on our reaction to the poem as a way to identify it. I think it would also help the collection to put the images altogether in its own index with footnotes that indicate the relevant haiku (or haiku mode) that the image is in reference to.

In defense to the structure of the haiku collection as it is now, I believe that the author was being true to his earlier statement that separating all modes of haiku into their own sections confuses the connection that they all have in the same light-spirited form influenced by haikai. It just could have been done better.

The introduction to the book is great. The haiku collection itself is great. The haiku commentary and includes indexes are great. But, the structure of the haiku collection is very imperfect, which I why I think this book has not been well accepted by everyone. Please still read it if you have any interest in haiku.
Profile Image for Geoffrey.
32 reviews
April 11, 2020
If you’re anything like me - you prefer your poetry to describe the burning discharge of STD tainted orgasms brought about by the bilious farts of widowed mother-in-laws to be phrased as sparrows testing dawn’s embrace on high branches. This goes the opposite direction in its descriptions of birds...

The selection wants to broaden the readers preconceptions of the form, with a number of pieces of a more bawdy nature. This is a commendable approach, which would have left a strong impression with a quarter of the output. The only problem is - of the 1000 haiku presented, over half seem to be dedicated to the seduction of maids & widows / torment of mother-in-laws & other bodily functions. This reinforces Basho as a class act, but whenever it starts to hit its stride with the more thoughtful imagery it is quick to frustrate with another fart joke. An extensive introduction and elaborate notes are impressive, but as it’s unlikely we will see more Haiku compilations out of Penguin beyond singular voices, one can’t help but feel that aspects of this selection were disappointing.
Profile Image for Jason Hanrahan.
Author 5 books2 followers
August 4, 2020
Not quite the evocative zen like poetry of nature I was expecting, but in many places a sometimes shockingly vulgar and smutty collection. I’m certainly no prude but not sure if the translations deliberately chose the most vulgar expressions for sex acts or genitalia or if they truly represent the closest spirit of the original verses. I cannot help but feel this was curated to shock. If was something of a disappointment and not quite what I was looking for.
Profile Image for Stephen Power.
Author 16 books34 followers
September 14, 2020
if you think haiku is just cherry blossoms and cloudy peaks, this collection with disabuse you. there are tons here with social and artistic commentary, levity and sex both graphic and metaphorical. this is poetry isn't afraid to be fun and raunchy as well as affecting.
Profile Image for Sammy.
782 reviews35 followers
July 29, 2018
Well, this is fantastic. Adam L. Kern's new Penguin edition is not definitive but it's certainly glorious. In a lengthy introduction, Kern details the history of the artform and explains the complexities readers will find herein. The old five-seven-five single-stanza natural-world-pondering haiku which we westerners associate with poetry is only the tip of the cultural iceberg.

Kern is at pains to point out the scatological brand of haiku that runs through Japanese history, as well as the long strands of connected verses, often composed in improvisational competitions. On top of this, we realise the deep interconnections between poems, as writers responded to or retorted to existing haiku, as we recognise how a millennium of Japanese culture came to be represented in these sparse-but-densely-symbolic verses.

The introduction is long and at times academic, but well worth it. The anthology itself collects around 1,000 haiku dating up until the end of the 19th century, all translated by Kern, in a style that varies from inventively witty ("watersound" for "plop") to modern slang, especially in the more filthy verses. In the equally long explanatory notes, he provides the original haiku in Romanised Japanese, and helps to clarify the often obscure double- and triple-meanings hidden in the specific word choices. What stands out is the playfulness, and the defeating realisation that we are so far removed from this culture so as to barely understand a 17-syllable poem.

This publication won't be the be-all and end-all of your haiku experience, but it provides the tools to explore further yourself, and is a rip-roaring read along the way.
Profile Image for Marina Klimova.
140 reviews
March 15, 2022
My favorite haiku anthology is still Haiku: An Anthology of Japanese Poems by Stephen Addiss. I don't really agree with this author about the essence of haiku. Sure, there were some naughty haikus back then just as Shakespeare had some naughtiness in his plays and poetry. Still, a haiku anthology doesn't have to include those verses so dominantly. The author. Adam L. Kern, insisted that haiku were contrary to haiku history separated from their original form of linked verses and cleaned up in terms of topic but I think that choosing which verses to read is just a matter of good taste. Sure, haiku aren't the "Zen" poetry they're prescribed as but that shouldn't stop people from reading them this way. What if naively we just want to enjoy the serene images and astute concrete moments present in these poems? I've also read most of the haikus here already and did not need to see some of them at all. EWW! Also, it gave a dirty interpretation of one of my favorite cutesy couple haikus. Like seriously?! Anyway, there were a few surprising ones I enjoyed that I hadn't seen before.
Profile Image for Samantha.
314 reviews7 followers
July 15, 2019
4.5 Stars.
Fantastic collection of Japanese haiku. Though they don't take up the good majority of the book, the back half contains translations and descriptions to help readers better understand what some of the poems may be referencing—helpful with the haiku that drop hints at other works of literature or theatre or historical events. Not all stereotypical "zen" sounding poems. A good number of them joke about sex, drinking, relationships, etc… And some can be quite shockingly vulgar (in the most hilarious way) if you're picking this up only expecting haiku about cherry blossoms or summer storms. Worth the read. I suppose I just wish there were more haiku in here…
Profile Image for Athirah.
137 reviews5 followers
July 2, 2019
It was interesting to read both recent (ish) and ancient poems, to delve a little into the thoughts of the Japanese poets. Some were beautiful, some were hilarious, others were brutal and few were simply random thoughts.
I appreciate the work and effort put into this book; the lengthy introduction and explanations, followed by the translated poems, followed by the poems in Japanese Rom (I think it's called, when another language is spelled out in English letters?) It was very helpful and intriguing indeed.
Profile Image for Iulia.
488 reviews19 followers
October 29, 2022
Great intro on the history of haiku and a nice selection of poems.
Bashō didn't work for me in this particular translation, but Issa was a favourite.

'spring dream...
not becoming unhinged
is what's unbearable.' (Raizan)

'tree to be felled...
the bird unaware
builds its nest.' (Issa)

'the year's first melon
clutched close to a child
fast asleep.' (Issa)

the kite soaring high above
the shanty town.' (Issa)

of either picking or not picking
violets.' (Naojo)

contemplating a seascape
the aged couple.' (Deirei)
Profile Image for Sam.
83 reviews1 follower
January 8, 2022
kind of a disappointment. many of the translations here are sterile and uninteresting. out of the thousand or so in this, some haiku do shine, however. there’s also a lot of raunchy and profane haiku here, which can be amusing.

“cold the wind…
through tattered paper doors,
a godless moon”

“the rentboy
as though heaving a sigh
lets go a fart.”
Profile Image for Răzvan.
Author 26 books54 followers
January 20, 2023
Anybody thinks they know everything on haiku... yet, here it is... Adam L.Kern asks how could Basho, the undisputed "patron saint of haiku", have written a single haiku in his life, since haiku, as we know it, "dates only to circa 1894, two centuries after the man's death in 1694?"
One of those things that once you see them, you cannot unsee... https://youtu.be/PV3zWNcCQnE?t=1359
Profile Image for Ethan Unklesbay.
Author 1 book5 followers
December 29, 2021
It was okay. It felt more like a collection of all the haiku they could find, instead of a curation of the most beautiful poems out there.

Be aware that there are some incredibly sexual haiku, and they seem to have all made their way into this collection.
Profile Image for Kirstie.
55 reviews
February 19, 2020
Why so many raunchy woodcuts? Thats my only criticism. The poems themselves are wonderful which was the purpose of me getting this one.
Profile Image for sofi.
12 reviews2 followers
January 13, 2023
getting the vibe reading haiku isnt fun unless u know japanese and that’s totally ok
Profile Image for Colin Myles.
Author 17 books3 followers
December 23, 2018
a great book of haiku. showing all the various styles, from serious to lampooning. The historical notes are impressive too.
Profile Image for Phi Beta Kappa Authors.
914 reviews255 followers
November 26, 2018
Adam L. Kern
ΦBK, University of Minnesota, 1987
Editor and Translator

From the publisher: A Japanese poetry form that flourished from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, haiku are defined by their brevity: they are usually only three lines long and a total of seventeen syllables. Most famously, they use natural imagery to make Zen-like observations about reality. However, as this anthology reveals, there’s much more to haiku than cherry blossoms and waning moons: the verse included here is frequently erotic, funny, rude, and mischievous. Adam Kern has travelled throughout Japan to gather the best and most important examples of the genre, and his vivid and engaging translations form the basis of the Penguin Book of Haiku.

For more than sixty-five years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,500 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
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