From the Renga Masters to Basho
While the rise of the charmingly simple, brilliantly evocative haiku is often associated with the seventeenth-century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, the form had already flourished for more than four hundred years before Basho even began to write. These early poems, known as hokku, are identical to haiku in syllable count and structure but function differently as a genre. Whereas each haiku is its own constellation of image and meaning, a hokku opens a series of linked, collaborative stanzas in a sequence called renga.
Under the mastery of Basho, hokku first gained its modern independence. His talents contributed to the evolution of the style into the haiku beloved by so many poets around the worldRichard Wright, Jack Kerouac, and Billy Collins being notable devotees. Haiku Before Haiku presents 320 hokku composed between the thirteenth and early eighteenth centuries, from the poems of the courtier Nijo Yoshimoto to those of the genre's first "professional" master, Sogi, and his disciples. It features 20 masterpieces by Basho himself. Steven D. Carter introduces the history of haiku and its aesthetics, classifying these poems according to style and context. His rich commentary and notes on composition and setting illuminate each work, and he provides brief biographies of the poets, the original Japanese text in romanized form, and earlier, classical poems to which some of the hokku allude.
"offers readers a chance to explore the evolution of this form." — Inquiring Minds
"An erudite, beautifully translated, and accessible source on this form of Japanese poetry that deserves more attention from Anglophone readers." — Cheryl Crowley, Journal of Japanese Studies
"A brilliant book. These clear-water poems and their accompanying insightful commentaries enlighten both scholar and poet. Reading them, I am transported back across centuries to repeatedly savor the hokku's capacity to capture and illuminate the ongoing and inevitable fusion of our lives with the natural world." — Penny Harter, coauthor of The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku
"A tour de force. Because they were often written for social occasions, many hokku disappeared like 'blossoms on the wind.' To communicate each poem to its fullest, Carter names the season and provides a short commentary on its poetic and cultural allusions. Enjoy these blossoms that have been gathered in this landmark collection." — Margaret Chula, president, Tanka Society of America
"Haiku Before Haiku brings to the English-speaking audience for the first time selected seventeen-syllable haiku composed by medieval renga poets prior to the appearance of the famed haikai master Matsuo Basho in the late seventeenth century. Steven D. Carter, a noted translator and scholar, has rendered these haiku into English in a way that captures their original power. The introduction and notes allow the reader to grasp the complexity of these short but highly evocative poems." — Haruo Shirane, Columbia University
The Nun Abutsu
Wife of Mitsusada