The Life and Zen Haiku Poetry of Santoka Taneda

Tuttle. May 2021. 352p. tr. from Japanese by William Scott Wilson. ISBN 9784805316559. $19.95. POETRY
Most Western students of haiku are versed in the form’s “Four Pillars” (Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki), but few are familiar with the work of Santoka Taneda (1882–1940), an itinerant Zen priest, poet, and drunkard whose eccentric life and radically artless free-verse haiku have made him one of Japan’s most beloved literary figures. Accomplished translator Wilson rectifies this lapse with his deft and moving translation of Oyama’s 1984 biography of his onetime friend. Oyama (1899–1994) recounts Santoka’s years of begging, writing, and drinking too much sake, which he painstakingly juxtaposes with over 300 of Santoka’s haiku. In addition to the sympathetic portrait by Oyama (author of many untranslated works on haiku and literature), this volume includes a translation of Santoka’s own “Diary of the One-Grass Hut,” in which the saintly wastrel chronicled a season in one of the ramshackle hermitages scattered along his wayward path. Wilson’s eloquent introduction and afterword and helpful footnotes provide valuable context, and Gary Miller Haskins’s ink-brush drawings in the whimsical haiga style lighten the account of Santoka’s squalid existence, more Bukowski than Basho.
VERDICT One can hardly imagine a more accessible or authentic introduction to a remarkable seeker whose life and art were indistinguishable, nor a more essential addition to any collection of world literature.
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