Learning from Issa

Issa is one of the masters of Japanese haiku, along with Basho and Buson. Here are some of my favorite Issa haiku. They are translated by Sam Hamill and found in The Spring of My Life and Selected Haiku: Kobayashi Issa.

A little shady
spot of grass in summertime–

At the very edge
of the contaminated well
a plum tree blossoms

Entering the gate,
he is simply oblivious,
the wandering frog

If you are kindly
they will shit all over you,
happy young sparrows

O summer snail,
you climb but slowly, slowly
to Fuji’s summit

Pouncing, the kitten
tackles and holds down the leaf–
for the moment

Perhaps his most famous haiku is the one composed after he watched his little daughter die horribly of small pox:

This world of dew
is only the world of dew–
and yet…oh and yet…

Later this month, I will be leading a workshop on haiku at beautiful St. Mary’s Sewanee. Whether you are a novice or an expert write of haiku, I think this workshop will be valuable. The first half we will think in more general terms about haiku, with plenty of time to write some. The second half we will learn how to write like Issa. The source for that second half is taken from Issa scholar, David G. Lanoue’s book, Write Like Issa: a haiku how-to. Below is a link to the program by which you may sign up.

As always, feel free to share this blog with anyone you think might enjoy it.


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