Audio

Srikanth Reddy in Conversation with James Shea

May 3, 2022

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

The Poetry Magazine Podcast: Srikanth Reddy in Conversation with James Shea

(MUSIC PLAYING)

James Shea

(READS haiku by Suisatsu)

In the hot grass, an earthworm swims in horse piss

Srikanth Reddy: Welcome to the Poetry Magazine Podcast. I’m guest editor, Srikanth Chicu Reddy. Today I’ll be talking shit—quite literally—with the poet and translator James Shea. James recently co translated with Ikuho Amano, a little-known essay by the Japanese poet Masaoka Shiki, titled “Haiku on Shit.” It’s a surprisingly serious, and maybe even a little deadpan essay about art and reality, beauty and ugliness, and poop and poetry. Here’s one of my favorite haiku from the essay:

(READS haiku)

When you show it some sympathy, the baby sparrow takes a crap on you

That was the great haiku point Issa. Here’s another one by another classic haiku poet, Buson:

(READS haiku)

Fallen red plum blossoms appear to be ablaze on clumps of horse shit

So to begin, I thought we’d start with a little history of the form. The four great poets in the world of haiku are Issa and Buson, who you’ve just heard, and Bashō. And then about 200 years later came Shiki, who wrote the essay, “Haiku on Shit.” Here’s James Shea.

James Shea: Bashō, Buson and Issa are flourishing during the 1600s, 1700s. And they’re actually, technically speaking, writing hokku, not haiku. “Haiku” is a term that was invented by Shiki to reinvigorate the form.

Srikanth Reddy: So during Bashō’s time, they’re writing hokku, which refers the opening lines in a longer sequence.

James Shea: But that first verse was the key verse that got everything going. And often you would invite the most esteemed poet to write that first verse in the group. Maybe you’d have three poets sitting by a stream being inspired by the day, maybe it’s spring. And what would happen is that these esteemed poets would get a good reputation and they’d be hired by more amateur poets come to their haiku party and kick things off and also judge which link would come next.

Srikanth Reddy: The esteemed poet started to practice their hokku in advance, and eventually, hokku becomes an independent form. Because people like Bashō got so good at it. The form could now stand on its own.

James Shea: Bashō is regarded as perhaps maybe the deepest of the haiku poets. His most famous work is The Road to the Far North, which is a diary that combines prose and haiku about his travel on foot around Japan, Buson was a painter. And so his work was known as, tended to be quite painterly. I mean, you could read a poem by Buson and then you could probably draw a pretty good sketch of it. And then Issa was known as more of a comical poet. I mean, he was also quite profound. I mean, his daughter died when she was quite young, and he has a beautiful diary about that, that is also in prose and poetry. But his poems tended to be more colloquial or humorous.

Srikanth Reddy: Over the next few centuries, hokku started to slowly fade out as a form in Japanese culture. And that’s when Shiki stepped in. Here’s the rest of my conversation with James.

James Shea: So from the Tokugawa period, where Bashō and Buson and Issa are flourishing, between then and the emergence of Shiki in the late 1800s, haiku writing becomes kind of stagnant. And Masaoka Shiki, who’s a self-taught haiku poet essentially, decides that he needs to reinvigorate this form and bring it up to the level of literature. Poets are still writing haiku, but they’re recycling vocabulary from the masters. Consequently, haiku wasn’t taken very seriously. Especially as Japan opened up to the West during the Meiji period in the late 1800s. People were impressed by the novel, by drama. And then they would look at haiku and say, well, it doesn’t measure up, especially because haiku poets are still writing about cherry blossoms and cicadas and pine trees, they haven’t moved on. You know, now we’ve got the train. What are we going to do about that? How are we going to work that into our, our poetry? And so Bashō actually, or I’m sorry, Shiki has an essay in the late 1800s. It says that poets can write about trains in their haiku. You just have to do it in an artful way. You just have to combine the train, which isn’t a very poetic or elegant image, with perhaps flowers, a field of flowers, so that it harmonizes and becomes beautiful. And then a couple of years later, he comes out with this essay on haiku on shit, making the same case, that haiku can encompass a broader vocabulary and can handle subject matter that perhaps contemporary writers weren’t really embracing or understanding. 

Srikanth Reddy: So he’s trying to open the haiku to the West, the way that Japan was opening to the West at the time. He’s trying to let trains into haiku. And then later on, he decides he has to let shit into haiku also, which is the other great Western import?

James Shea: Well, yes and no, because the haiku that he’s citing in his essay, is from the Tokugawa period. There are haiku in there by Issa, by Buson, by Bashō in the essay. It’s just that he’s reintroducing the sort of strange haiku that, to contemporary haiku poets, who may have forgotten that actually, haiku has the capacity for this kind of vocabulary. His theory of haiku is influenced by Western painting. For example, there’s a friend of his named Nakamura Fusetsu, who was known as a Western style painter. And he had conversations with Shiki about how Western painters would depict a scene as realistically as possible, which is unlike the Chinese and Japanese, in painting tradition, where you would evoke the mountain, but you wouldn’t actually draw it in detail. And so Bashō was taken by this idea and thinks that haiku, in a similar way, can depict reality in a more objective fashion. And that includes some of the sort of unsightly or unpleasant aspects of reality. 

Srikanth Reddy: That makes me, I mean, it makes me think about the opening of forms, right? Like, the haiku is a very small, fixed form, it’s a very finite form, and to allow new material or images or ideas into it, has got to be a lot like thinking about opening your national consciousness to the West or to other ideas. I mean, what you’re saying, in some ways is actually that, Shiki does that with the trains essay, but then with the shit essay, he’s actually opening, he’s saying that haiku has always been open to things that we think don’t belong, right? So it’s, it’s like this Japanese national form that’s, it’s an argument about the openness of a deeply national form. Is that—yeah, does that sound right? 

James Shea: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, you can even go further and say it’s a sort of celebration about the uniqueness of a Japanese form, that, because he says early in the essay that, that you can’t find this subject matter in Chinese poetry or even Western poetry. So he’s, he’s almost carving out this special status for haiku and reminding the reader, “Hey, we have something special, too.”

Srikanth Reddy: The Shiki essay is full of amazing haiku. And some of them have shit in them. Some of them have piss, and others have farts. And it’s like a treasure trove of excremental poetry. (LAUGHING) What are some of your favorites? And can we hear a few and talk about them a little bit?

James Shea: So, one of the haiku that I was sort of happy with the result of the translation was this one by Buson. 

(READS haiku)

A high priest empties his bowels in the withered fields—

This is almost a canonical poem in English haiku translation, because you’ve got Robert Hass translating it, Merwin’s translated—co-translated it—Sam Hamill. But they all tend to make it comedic. And what we went for here is almost a sense of, like, a Zen reading of the poem where the—you’ve got this bare field, wintertime, and this Buddhist priest is emptying his bowels, sort of preparing himself perhaps for enlightenment. I mean, I think it still retains the humor, but it’s, for me, it gives it a little, another perspective, let’s say.

Srikanth Reddy: I feel like he’s also kind of fertilizing the fields, right?

James Shea: Right. Right, right. That’s right. Actually, there’s a lot of shit and piss haiku in the essay in reference to fertilizer. Sometimes it’s not always clear, but many times when it’s in a poem with vegetation or, and so on, it’s actually being used as fertilizer. So that’s a good point.

Srikanth Reddy: Isn’t there a Bashō poem, his, like, death poem or something is about his dream wandering over the withered fields? Is it the same kind of phrase, or? 

James Shea: I think it is yes, the withered. Some people translate it as a “withered moor,” but yes, essentially, the withered fields. Yeah, that’s right. There’s a poem I just like how it sounds in English. It’s by Suisatsu.

(READS haiku)

In the hot grass, an earthworm swims in horse piss

Something about the repetition of the S’s, “earthworms swims,” you get this image of this little creature, just not minding that it’s in horse piss, just sort of enjoying itself on a hot summer day. I mean, I feel like the speaker is uncomfortable, but the earthworm isn’t.

Srikanth Reddy: (LAUGHS) Yeah, I love—that one totally jumped out at me in the essay, even more than the Bashō that you just read, because it’s like really gross. Like, I’m really grossed out by earthworms. I’ve always been extremely weirded out by them when I would, like, see them on my driveway when I was a kid waiting for the school bus. And one wriggling around in piss is just like the most revolting thing I can imagine.

James Shea: (LAUGHS)

Srikanth Reddy: But it really was, it felt like the whole world entering into poetry. And I don’t know what it is about the “hot grass,” too, in the beginning. That it’s like in the hot grass, how does it—can you read it one more time?

James Shea

(READS haiku)

In the hot grass, an earthworm swims in horse piss

You know, yeah, there’s a contrast between the, the uncomfortable heat of the day and the, what I take to be sort of a pleasant swim for the earthworm.

Srikanth Reddy: (LAUGHS)

James Shea: And actually, just as a sidebar, but a lot of haiku sort of operate by either juxtaposition of two contrasting images, or an amplification of two similar images, where you have a base image and then you superimpose it with an image that sort of amplifies that first image. But this, to me, would be maybe something, perhaps it’s a bit of a contrast. 

Srikanth Reddy: I also feel like it, what that poem is really about is about a horse. I feel like the horse has just pissed where the worm was crawling along, and then it ends up having to swim all of a sudden, but it makes this big, giant animal feel present in three lines by looking at what it’s caused in this earthworm’s world.

James Shea: Right. 

Srikanth Reddy: Give me another one.

James Shea: Yeah, I mean, here’s a poem that I think speaks to the Covid lockdowns, perhaps. It’s by Shōzan.

(READS haiku)

Unnoticed, I release an easy fart—staying indoors this winter

Shiki actually praises this haiku as an excellent example of a haiku on farting. There’s something both, like, it’s about an effortless fart, but also, the poem itself feels kind of effortless, very smooth, to my ear.

Srikanth Reddy: That feel, I mean, haiku oftentimes make me feel very lonely. You know, the earthworm or the high priest that you just read both have a kind of solitary kind of feeling. And that one does feel like a lockdown poem. And so, can you read it one more time? I just want to think about it.

James Shea: Sure.

(READS haiku)

Unnoticed, I release an easy fart—staying indoors this winter

You know, “unnoticed.” Is he unnoticed because no one else is around, or that, at that moment, or because he’s just lives alone. It’s a way of saying that he’s solitary all the time.

Srikanth Reddy: And then he even though he’s unnoticed at the time of the fart, he shares that experience in a haiku. 

James Shea: Right. That’s right. For us here today. 

Srikanth Reddy: With eternity.

James Shea: His fart still echoes through time. 

Srikanth Reddy: (LAUGHING) It’s true.

James Shea: There’s another fascinating poem by Onitsura.

(READS haiku)

At an outhouse after a rectal prolapse, I gaze at the loquat tree in bloom—

(READS AGAIN)

At an outhouse after a rectal prolapse, I gaze at the loquat tree in bloom—

Srikanth Reddy: See, I think that one’s just gross.

James Shea: (LAUGHS)

Srikanth Reddy: That one totally grossed me out. Tell me, what’s, what drew you to that, artistically? 

James Shea: So the word, “gaze,” this is a rendering of a word meaning sort of, flower viewing, where like, it’s actually a tradition in Japan, to go with people and have a picnic and go watch the flowers bloom. What’s odd is that he’s having this quote-unquote flower viewing outing at the outhouse by himself. And, (LAUGHING) I don’t know, there’s something about the loquat, the word “loquat” that helps to sort of make that rectal prolapse blossom for me in some way. 

Srikanth Reddy: (LAUGHS)

James Shea: (LAUGHS)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

James Shea: I think one thing to remember about Shiki is that, he died before he turned thiry-five. And he was bedridden for the last few years of his life. He had tuberculosis. And he was obsessed with a haiku. He wrote, by one account, he wrote over 25,000 haiku in his life. In one year, he wrote over 4000 haiku at his peak. Sometimes I think, I mean, he knew he was going to die. And sometimes I think he may have been drawn to the form because it was a way to express himself and deal with his condition in a sort of quick way. I mean, he was able to sort of write haiku about what he saw around him, sometimes just from his bed and looking into a little garden that he had outside his door. But in terms of this movement, or this, these arguments he’s making about haiku, he wanted to elevate haiku to the level of other art forms, other literary art forms, and call it all literature. Because at—before Shiki, people were a haiku poet, they weren’t a poet, or people were a tanka poet, and everything was sort of differentiated. Shiki, along with others, tried to advance a concept of Japanese literature at large. And in order to bring haiku into that category, he wanted to advance the argument that haiku could deal with any subject matter. And so at one point, he says, in another piece of writing, you know, if you want to write about dandelions in your haiku, then write about dandelions. Like, don’t feel confined to the pre-set, or received set of vocabulary. People felt very constricted in terms of the vocabulary of the form. But when you get to Shiki, he’s writing haiku—for example, one innovation of his, in a sense, was that he would write haiku on a series, on a single topic. So he might write about his winter garden, and he’ll write 10 haiku. And with the idea that they would be presented together, or, you know, that one haiku couldn’t capture what he wanted to explore, so he needed a series. Which was, you know, not really so much the practice during the time of Bashō.

Srikanth Reddy: Do you think people in Japan was shocked? I mean, the four people in Japan who probably read this essay when it came out, would this have been a shocking thing to have a major haiku poet write an essay about haiku on shit at the time, or?

James Shea: Yeah, it’s a good question, I think—

Srikanth Reddy: What do you imagine?

James Shea: By all accounts Shiki’s most shocking writing was when he attacked by Bashō, and said that Bashō wasn’t as good as we think. He says Bashō only had about 10 masterpieces, and his best poem was probably the, “ancient pond/a frog jumps in/the sound of water.” That that was Bashō’s best work. And that actually, the better poet was Buson. So Shiki definitely had a knack for polemical writing, being an iconoclast. At one point, he writes a book review of a haiku poet and says the poems are so bad it made him want to physically vomit. But when you get to this essay, because the poems are from the past, it probably is not as shocking as we might think, to readers. He does mitigate a bit, he says at one point, you know, I’m not saying you should write about excrement, but I’m just saying, you know, you’re free to do so if you want to. Haiku can handle it.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Srikanth Reddy: Shiki is like a connoisseur of this stuff, right? What do you think draws him personally, as a poet? I mean, you know, we talked a little bit about the cultural project of opening Japan, and modernization and modernity and realism. But he himself was a, you know, he has his own sensibility. And can you tell us a little bit about his life in his times?

James Shea: So he was born in 1867, outside of Tokyo, in a province, where he was sort of away from the cultural center of the country. His father died when he was young, so he didn’t have much money. But he had an uncle in Tokyo who sort of took care of him and helped him get into school. And he was an excellent student. Very smart. He sort of cut his teeth writing Chinese poetry, called kanshi. But he was so obsessed with haiku that, at one point, he failed the annual examination because he just like, didn’t spend enough time studying, even though he was very bright. He eventually withdrew from the university and just devoted himself to reading the entire history of haiku. He wrote a failed novel, a failed novella, and then also at the time started working for a newspaper called Nihon. And that newspaper is where he wrote some of his, started writing some of his polemical arguments about poetry. The paper actually sent him to China during the war between China and Japan. He only lasted about a month in China, he got terribly sick. That’s when the tuberculosis sort of took over. He came back to Japan, convalesced, and eventually sort of came into his full powers with Hototogisu journal, where he published writers he admired and continued with his arguments about haiku and also tanka, trying to reinvigorate the tanka form. Shiki devoted the remaining years of his life to advancing his values about haiku and tanka. And he was actually, at the time, looking for a successor, someone to carry on his arguments after he died. He had a diary called A Six-foot Sickbed, which was referring to where he slept, those final years. So he was writing up until the very end.

Srikanth Reddy: What do you think he would—I mean, in many ways, it sounds like the story of many great poets like John Keats, or others who died young, thinking about the future of how their work would be viewed and worried about it, and, and not knowing what it would look like. You know, Keats’s epitaph is, “here lies one whose name was writ in water.” What do you think Shiki would think about the state of haiku, about the futures of haiku that he hadn’t seen, you know, not only in Japan, but in Western culture?

James Shea: I mean, honestly, I think he would be pretty impressed with the state of haiku today. It’s the world’s most popular verse form. There are haiku writing associations all over the world. The way people regard haiku today, the way they write it, as essentially a kind of picture of the world, a picture of the real scene in front of them, that’s a legacy that goes back to Shiki. Because if you think of poets before Shiki, like Buson, they were very happy to write imaginary haiku about historical figures. Now, that doesn’t mean that Shiki didn’t embellish—he did. But he was dedicated to his principle of shasei, “sketch from life,” a depiction of life. And that’s pretty much what kids do when they write haiku in school, you know, they’re trying to, depict a scene that you could actually end up drawing if you wanted. The fact that Shiki saw haiku as a special part of Japanese culture, I think it would put a smile on his face to know that it is one of the most successful exports of Japan in the last 100 or so years.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Srikanth Reddy: We heard you read some of your faves (LAUGHS) from the Shiki essay. But I’ve got a couple, too. And one of them is the one of the early ones, you know, and Shiki, you know, he’s really interested in scale, like, haiku are small poems. And so the size of the animal shit in the haiku affects how it fits into the haiku. So, really tiny animal shit works well in haiku, but human shit doesn’t because it’s too big or, you know. So, here’s one, but he’s kind of open to horse shit in haiku. Here’s one of my favorites. It’s by Jinkō.

(READS haiku)

The young weeds—dismounting my horse in Ueno and it, too, takes a shit

I don’t know what I—I think, I think it’s the “and it, too,” you know, something about the grammar of, you know, not only I but it too, takes a shit, feels like human and companionable with the horse. (LAUGHS)

James Shea: Yeah, I agree that there’s a, there’s a fellowship between the horse and the rider. And the “young weeds,” I mean, we can presume that they’re shitting on the weeds or the weeds are nearby. Not entirely clear, it’s ambiguous.

Srikanth Reddy: Okay, so here’s another favorite of mine. It’s a human shit haiku rather than a horse shit one. So this is a haiku by Tei’i.

(READS haiku)

Peach flowers in bloom—when a boat carrying shit from Uji passes by 

James Shea: Well, you know that Shiki later says that “the haiku about shit-boats are nothing but sheer childishness.”

Srikanth Reddy: I feel like he’s, you know, I feel like there’s something cinematic about the peach flowers in the foreground of the poem. I feel like it’s cinematic, right?

James Shea: Right.

Srikanth Reddy: You see the peach flowers and then in the distance you see this shit boat far away, you know, in the distance. I think Shiki was wrong about that. I beg to differ.

James Shea: (LAUGHS) Perhaps he feels that the contrast of the peach flowers and the shit boat it’s a little too perfect, a little too balanced. You know, it’s also interesting to think about Uji. What, what’s going on with Uji? Is that, is it far away from the where the poet is standing? Is it known for its shit? I don’t know.

Srikanth Reddy: I think he, I think he doesn’t like too much shit, right? Like, it’s like, just, it’s got to be just the right amount of shit for the haiku to contain. And a boat of shit is just too much, right? 

James Shea: Right, right.

Srikanth Reddy: But for me, I see the boat as far off in the distance. So it’s like a kind of a distant reminder of shit passing by.

James Shea: That’s right.

Srikanth Reddy: That’s my response. (LAUGHS) 

James Shea: I think you’ve won me over.

Srikanth Reddy: If only Shiki were here. So, here’s one by Kikaku, who appears more than once in the essay, so we know where his mind’s at.

(READS haiku)

First snowfall of the new year—who the hell pissed here?

James Shea: I love Kikaku’s haiku in this essay and in general. He was a contemporary of Bashō. I mean, it’s, this is one of those poems where you feel like it’s, it doesn’t need anything else. It’s utterly sufficient unto itself. The new year in Japan is like, it’s the big family holiday. And also a new year is supposed to be a time of renewal. And you sort of clean your house and get it ready. That’s another dimension here, it’s not just the snow is marred, but the holiday and the sense of renewal.

Srikanth Reddy: It’s like the sense of temporality. It’s like, the first snowfall of the new year is just fallen, and somebody’s already passed on it, right? It’s like, it only had—the first snowfall of the new year only had like a moment to be that pure, right.

James Shea: Right.

Srikanth Reddy: Okay, so one more. This is an outhouse, haiku. 

(READS haiku by Sekikō)

Unexpectedly, the scent of chrysanthemums rises from the outhouse—

Do chrysanthemums have a scent? I don’t know. I’ve never even, you know, smelled a chrysanthemum, but I feel like—

James Shea: They must have a scent. And the chrysanthemum is the—I think it’s the national flower of Japan or it’s the symbol of the emperor. And not to, not to put you on the wrong side of Shiki, but I think Shiki later says that this, that this haiku isn’t any good.

Srikanth Reddy: I don’t know, man. Yeah, I’m gonna write an essay, essay on “Haiku on Shit” and set him right, but what doesn’t he like that one?

James Shea: Well, he says that—he doesn’t really say why. He says it has a slightly foul odor, which isn’t necessarily bad. But it’s just not, not successful. I mean, it could be just, maybe he thinks the contrast is too one-dimensional. I’m not sure.

Srikanth Reddy: Too easy. Yeah.

James Shea: But I kind of like it. 

Srikanth Reddy: Yeah.

James Shea: I kind of like it.

Srikanth Reddy: Now I’m, now I’m on the fence again. I don’t know, my feelings about, you know, haiku on shit keep changing, but.

James Shea: You know, at one point, he says there are no haiku on dog shit. So that might be an opportunity for you to write your series of dog shit poems.

Srikanth Reddy: (LAUGHS) Right. And he says, at one point in the essay, he says whale shit might be interesting, but no one has ever seen it.

James Shea: That’s right. We can only imagine it.

Srikanth Reddy: So there’s my challenge to you.

James Shea: Challenge accepted.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Srikanth Reddy: Do you think Shiki’s essay is funny and that he meant it to be funny in a kind of deadpan way, the more time you spent with it? I mean, I know it’s actually kind of profoundly philosophical about beauty and ugliness but, but do you think it’s a joke, too?

James Shea: I think it’s like haiku. And that is to say, it’s playful and serious. It’s mischievous and deep. And so I think that the tone of it is emblematic of the form itself. And, you know, we made some choices. We could have said urine, flatulence, excrement, but we went with piss, shit, fart, but everything else we kept at a pretty serious tone. And we didn’t use contractions. We tried to kind of capture what someone might sound like in the 1900s. And so we thought that that was a good way to capture the little dissonance that you feel in the essay. And the, the argument essentially, which is that, that haiku can handle this dissonance, by trying to harmonize it. I think readers were smiling. I think Shiki was smiling to himself when he wrote it. And I think that the readers are smiling as well.

Srikanth Reddy: Smiling on his deathbed, right?

James Shea: Oh, he was bedridden for the last seven years or so of his life. So this falls squarely right in the middle of that period.

Srikanth Reddy: Amazing.

James Shea: You know, in 1899, in the winter, he wrote a haiku about his garden that features a cat shitting. Maybe I’ll just read it.

(READS haiku)

A stray cat is shitting in my winter garden

So again, imagine him on his bed and he can’t get up and he can just look out the window at this little cat shitting in his winter garden.

Srikanth Reddy: That is so unadorned. I mean, I can quote it after just hearing it for the first time. You know, “a stray cat is shitting in my winter garden,” it sounds like a sentence you would email to someone and he made that art. It’s extraordinary. 

James Shea: Yeah, the composure of mind to be able to sit down and write something so spare, under such duress, is remarkable.

Srikanth Reddy: And to call it art, right?

James Shea: Right.

Srikanth Reddy: You know, there’s something kind of conceptual, like, it’s like a urinal on the wall of a museum, but it’s in language. It’s just a shit. It’s a cat leaving its scat as it goes on with its life, and we’re talking about it now.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Srikanth Reddy: Big thanks to James Shea. You can read Shea and Ikuho Amano’s translation of Shiki’s “Haiku on Shit” in the May 2022 issue of Poetry, in print and online. James Shea is the author of The Lost Novel and Star in the Eye, both published by Fence Books. Ikuho Amano is the author of Decadent Literature in Twentieth-Century Japan, published by Palgrave Macmillan. If you’re not yet a subscriber to Poetry magazine, there’s a special rate for podcast listeners. For a limited time, you can get a full year of the magazine for $20. That’s 11 book-length issues for just $20. Visit poetrymagazine.org/podcast offer to subscribe. That’s poetrymagazine.org/podcast offer. This show is produced by Rachel James. The music in this episode came from Resavoir, Alabaster DePlume, John McCowen, Rob Mazurek, and Irreversible Entanglements. Okay, that’s it. Until next time, be well, stay safe. And thanks for listening.

(MUSIC FADES OUT)

This week, Srikanth Reddy talks shit, quite literally, with the poet and translator James Shea. Shea recently co-translated, with Ikuho Amano, a little-known essay by the Japanese poet Masaoka Shiki titled “Haiku on Shit.” It’s a surprisingly serious, if not a little deadpan, essay about art and reality, beauty and ugliness, and poop and poetry. One favorite that’s shared in the episode is this one by Issa: “When you show it some sympathy, the baby sparrow takes a crap on you.” Here’s another favorite, this time by Buson: “Fallen red plum blossoms appear to be ablaze on clumps of horse shit.” To begin, Shea and Reddy take us through the history of haiku, starting with the four great poets of the form: Issa, Buson, Basho, and—200 years later—Shiki, who published the essay “Haiku on Shit” over a century ago.

Appeared in Poetry Magazine This Appears In
More Episodes from The Poetry Magazine Podcast
Showing 1 to 20 of 340 Podcasts
  1. Wednesday, July 27, 2022
  2. Friday, July 15, 2022

    Esther Belin in Conversation with Manny Loley

  3. Friday, June 24, 2022
    Poets
  4. Tuesday, April 19, 2022
  5. Tuesday, February 22, 2022
  6. Tuesday, January 25, 2022
  7. Tuesday, December 28, 2021
  8. Tuesday, November 2, 2021

    Holly Amos in Conversation with Su Cho

    Poets
    1. 1
    2. 2
    3. 3
    4. 4
    5. 5
    6. 6
  1. Next Page