Haiku by Kobayashi Issa
Selected and illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Scholastic Press 2007
Drawing from many translations of haiku from the 18th century Japanese poet, these illustrated little gems celebrate the small moments found in nature. The book is divided into four seasons with each spread dedicated to one or two haiku. Some of the illustrations are straightforward in their representation while others add a delicate layer of mystery or texture to the poem.
One poem in particular captured both the essence of the poem and reinterpreted it in a way I might not have considered were I only reading text.
Calm, indifferentHaving read that what would you imagine for an illustration? A goose and a willow, naturally, but calm in the face of what, indifferent to what goings on?
As if nothing's transpired --
The goose, the willow.
The illustration for the poem takes place in the fall, two children looking out the window at a goose by a small pond near a willow. But the building's only marking is a red and white sign, the symbol of a hospital or an infirmary. What really has transpired here? I could spend whole days imagining scenarios, a whole world of stories opened up by the marriage of word and image.
Karas' illustrations are composed on textured papers and directly onto wood panels that showcase their grain, maintaining their link with nature, celebrating nature in the spirit of haiku. The book shows a great deal of care without feeling precious, simple and sweet without the taint of manufacture. Of course the idea that a slick, commercially produced book appears to have simply created itself is an illusion, just as the simplicity of haiku is an illusion for it contains the ability to startle and focus our attention in a few short syllables.
Indeed, as if nothing has transpired. Yet it has.