Introducing Natsuishi Ban’ya

Natsuishi Banya has been a presence in Japan’s increasingly complex and interesting haiku world since the early eighties. In a traditional literary climate strapped by convention, Natsuishi has boldly broken away from the standard cultural and artistic expectations of a haikuist and made the haiku a platform for experiment and discovery – which is of course exactly what the haiku should be. But for Natsuishi, this means stretching the form beyond its usual boundaries, often ignoring syllable counts and seasonal words, and refusing to lapse into personal sentimentality as a means of producing what might be viewed by readers as the expected “haiku moment”. If the heart of haiku is surprise, then Natsuishi is indeed surprising. One of his earlier books, Shinkuuritsu (Shichousha, 1986), is splattered with katakana, difficult readings and many unique readings of characters supplied with the use of furigana.

Tokyo ni ikareru hana wa yuki no hana
Flowers angry
In Tokyo
Are snow flowers

The character for “angry” (okoru) is given the optional reading of “ikaru” in furigana, and is placed in an odd form (ikareru), making it possible to hear this also as “flowers going to Tokyo”. Then, the choice of characters for “flower” is “hanayaka”, or “ka”, referring also to China, as well as brilliance and luster. It’s an almost too heavy choice for this kind of image, but Natsuishi’s aim in this book is to push the reader’s perceptions somewhat off kilter. This poem leaves the interpretation open in a way so as to allow for at least three readings that I can think of off hand. It is likely that no two people will understand it in quite the same way. In the same book is another poem, also supplied with furigana for kanji (though obviously only for visual effect in this instance), which supplies the surreal image of…

Kuuchuu no teikoku bochi ni tane maku mono yo
Someone spreading seeds
In the Imperial graveyard
In mid-air

Again, Natsuishi breaks with expectations, and utilizes furigana, punctuation and kanji choices to add to the visual experience in a way not previously done in haiku. In a short statement accompanying selections of his haiku included in a modern anthology, Gendai Haiku New Wave (Rippuu Shobou, 1990), Natsuishi poses the question of how one might structurally dismantle the Japanese language so as to have a closer look, not in the analytical sense, but in the poetic sense. This is what Natsuishi sets out to do.

Natsuishi Banya completed his Masters degree in comparative literature at Tokyo University, which has made him deeply familiar with foreign literature, especially the European avant-garde of this century. He works out of the well-established though lesser known tradition of Modernist experiment in haiku begun by iconoclastic writers such as Tomisawa Kakio in early Showa, and continued by figures such as Takayanagi Shigenobu during the post-war period. Natsuishi reveals his theories and his analysis of this history in his book of essays Haiku no Poetikku (Seichisha, 1983).

Literary politics being what it is, Natsuishi has often had a tough time dealing with Japan’s haiku societies, but recently he has risen above the fray and become instrumental in establishing a new, eclectic Modern Haiku Association through his magazine Ginyu, published in a quarterly, bilingual edition. He also helped to present an International Contemporary Haiku Symposium in Tokyo this year, attended by haikuists from England, France and Germany. Some of these same writers from the international community are also regular contributors to the magazine. Through his current activities Natsuishi attempts to make haiku an important presence on the international stage as a “modern short poem”, not necessarily limited by traditional Japanese imagery. A book of his has been published in English translation through Red Moon Press entitled A Future Waterfall: 100 Haiku, and he plans on publishing an anthology of modern haiku in English translation next year.

Suisi miete pari ni sannin yatto sorou
The comet visible:
In Paris the three
Finally together
(from A Future Waterfall, translation by Hiroaki Sato)

Editor: Natsuishi Banya
3-16-11 Tsuruse-Nishi, Fujimi, Saitama, Japan 354-0026
Tel-Fax: 0492-52-9823
(The magazine has lots of interesting modern haikuists, including foreigners and some excellent women haikuists).

Modern Haiku Association
Chairman: Tohta Kaneko
Dai-Ni Kairaku Bldg. 7 F
6-5-4 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-Ku, Tokyo 101-0021

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