Sleeping with Bashō

These are not meant to be literal translations, but interpretations, or approximations, of Matsuo Bashō’s haiku. The goal in each case was to capture the essence of the original and add a sparkle of my own. Sometimes I found it necessary to deviate from Bashō’s meaning altogether. And sometimes I modernized an image or an idea. Often, if a haiku stumped me, I’d contemplate it before going to bed, and the answer would be there in the morning when I woke. In this way, I truly was sleeping with Bashō.

In the past, I’d written haiku about 60’s TV shows (“Reruns”) and a whole book based on the first nighttime soap (Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera)—one haiku for each episode, 514 in all. For inspiration, I read as many Bashō poems as I could find, and found most of them rather dull fare. In their attempt to remain faithful to the original, translators fall flat of the mark—the magic eludes them. Here is my response to their efforts:

Haiku for Dummies

A crow settled
on a bare branch—
autumn evening.

Many (or most) translators also ignore the fact that their revered haiku master apparently swung both ways. He once wrote: “There was a time when I was fascinated with the ways of homosexual love.” There is speculation that his relationships with certain traveling companions may have been more than platonic, and a number of his haiku were written for teenage sons of innkeepers and such. It seemed only natural, then, that I bring my own queer sensibility to the work. And since I was sleeping with him, I felt I had Bashō’s blessing.

I began tinkering with Bashō’s haiku just for fun. It proved to be so much fun, I ended up “interpreting,” over the course of five months, all of his 1,012 haiku.

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