the review of "Step into Sky" by John Sandbach
HAPPA-no-KOFU: The Plains of Basho and Sandbach
by Phillip John Usher

from "ANNETNA NEPO NEWSLETTER" NO. 1 (August 2002)



HAPPA-no-KOFU is a volunteer-run online publisher based in Japan. The project started in 1999 with the publication of Japanese versions of texts produced by A SMALL GARLIC PRESS. HAPPA-no-KOFU publishes works in Japanese and English; they also organize a great online anthology known as Fragments featuring original and re-published poetry in both its original language, and in a Japanese translation. The press has a great feel to it. You will find a link to HAPPA-no-KOFU on Annetna Nepo's "links" page.

This year, HAPPA-on-KOFU published Step into Sky, a book by John Sandbach with a facing Japanese translation by Kazue Daikoku. It is a beautifully crafted book bound with the spine on the righthand side. Step into Sky is a collection of English language haiku which offers both a sense of repatriation: foreign haikus being replaced next to a Japanese language version; and a very clear sense too of the specific setting, in this case the Ozark mountains, quartz-crystal caves, and the Kansas prairies, in Missouri, USA. In the haiku tradition, the natural elements are everywhere present: woods, clouds, rivers, crows... The Master of Haiku is, of course, Basho (born circa 1644), named after the banana tree planted outside his hut where apprentice poets would come to seek his advice. Basho, like Sandbach, writes haikus which, when strung together, very lightly carve out the surroundings. Basho wrote:

Waking in the night;
the lamp is low,
the oil freezing.

It has rained enough
to turn the stubble on the field
black.

Winter rain
falls on the cow-shed;
a cock crows.

The leeks
newly washed white,-
how cold it is!

Much of Sandbach's verse is reminiscent of Basho's tone and attention to natural surroundings, for example the evocative lines: "ocean's voice / making moon thirsty". The sense of empty plains and wide expanses, inhabited by quasi-mystical stars and creatures, is expressed through the poet's own breath sounding through each verse. In Sandbach's work there is also something new and exciting afoot, which transports us, with no awkwardness, to a contemporary setting in Missouri. For example:

sewing the torn futon
the evening rain keeps falling

just before rain
building web spider
circling and circling

Nothing denotative ties these verses to the USA any more than to Japan, and yet the sewing and the spider's web seem somehow to evoke an American dwelling, a wooden house with a porch located in a prairie, more than they do Basho's little hut. Interestingly, Ban'ya Natsuishi, the Japanese writer of the introduction, notes that "these haiku [are] spacious and cosmic, unlike so many stereotypical Japanese haiku"; the newness of the collection is perhaps even more striking for native Japanese.
This is a collection well worth reading.

A collection of a similar nature is to investigate Tenement Landscapes by Paul David Mena (translated into Japanese by Kazue Daikoku). This time the setting is New York City and the work is accompanied with a set of explanations for the non-American, defining "Trump Plaza", "Penn Station" and the meaning of "Pennsylvania Station at midnight".

For more on haikus see:

Haiku Gallery
Ginyu - Haiku magazine

*You can read the Japanese version of the text.
*The original text of this page is here.


from their website:
ANNETNA NEPO is a multi-lingual poetry review that publishes poems in any language (ancient, modern, alive, dead, all alphabets). The only thing that counts is quality. AN is a not-for-profit journal founded in 2001 by Phillip John Usher and R. Richard Wojewodzki. AN is published by the not-for-profit Split Throat Press. And for more details, ANNETNA NEPO

PHILLIP JOHN USHER (BA, London; AM, Harvard) considers himself first and foremost a writer, he is currently working towards his PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University (USA). Phillip was born and raised in England, but now splits his time between France and North America. He first discovered his passion for words (his favourite word is "tmesis") and for literature while he was learning his first foreign language, French. For him, a foreign language was necessary to imagine what words could be beyond what he'd observed in his small town. This impulse to read was accompanied by the desire to write, and he strongly believes that reading and writing are two elements of one activity.

He has attended and run writers' workshops in the USA and France, and in 2001-2, he edited the "Dudley Review" with co-editor Nathan Rein, at Harvard University. During this experience, he realized that editing is somewhere between reading and writing, a place he very much likes to inhabit. In his spare time, he likes to attempt learning other languages. He will be spending 2002-3 in Paris, France, conducting research, trying to finish some writing projects, and spreading the good word of Annetna Nepo. Despite his mistrust of translations, he is in the process of finishing a translation of Serge Gainsbourg's "Evguenie Sokolov", an excellent little book about a painter's struggles to paint. He is also working on a book project with Diana Maloyan (Université de Nantes) on how we discover our individual need to read. (He can be contacted at phil@annetnanepo.org).


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