The Pocket Haiku translated by Sam Hamill is the smallest book on my shelf of haiku books. It’s about the size of a standard pack of playing cards, but a bit thinner. Think: a deck of cards that’s missing the jokers, and a few other random cards, and you’ll have the proportions of this little volume, perfectly.
A small book of small poems.
To be honest The Pocket Haiku is not a favourite book of mine. For one thing it is too small to sit neatly among my other haiku books: something that really shouldn’t annoy me, but it does . . .
. . . and then, the translations in The Pocket Haiku, while fine, are hardly ever my favourite translations of the given haiku. Take this rather nice haiku by Buson:
By flowering pear
and by the lamp of the moon
she reads her letterBuson (trans. Hamill)
The same haiku is translated by R. H. Blyth as:
A pear-tree in bloom:
In the moonlight,
A woman reading a letter.Buson (Blyth)
And in Collected Haiku of Yosa Buson by W. S. Merwin and Takako Lento, it is rendered as:
Pear trees in flower
a woman reads a letter
by moonlightBuson (Merwin & Lento)
Both the Blyth translation, and the Merwin & Lento translation, are simpler than the Hamill translation, and I think more beautiful for that.
To finish, a haiku of my own:
It’s rude to wonder
what’s in her bag –
a little book of haiku.
Haiku, R. H. Blyth, The Hokuseido Press, 1949-52.
The Pocket Haiku, trans. Sam Hamill, Shambala, 2014.
Collected Haiku of Yosa Buson, trans. W. S. Merwin & Takako Lento, Copper Canyon Press, 2013.