The Stone Lantern

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Tomes for Tubs (v.o.a.)

Someone asked me the other day to name my favorite book of haiku. I recall giving a vague answer, saying something about there being so many good books to choose from....

Then yesterday I went for a long bike ride, and in the evening as I was drawing the water for a bath, I decided that I do have a favorite book of haiku, after all. It’s a collection in Japanese of the work of Issa (1763-1827), entitled furo de yomu Issa, with commentary by Kato Sadahiko, published by Shisôsha (1996).

furo de yomu Issa means, basically, “Issa for reading in the bathtub.” And now you see why it is one of my favorites. It’s written on specially coated paper so that it can be read in the bathtub and not be ruined by steam or drops of water. Isn’t that absolutely the most civilized way of reading haiku poetry?!

Why aren’t more books designed for reading in the bathtub? When my children were young they had these thick plastic books that were both waterproof and indestructible. Yet it seems that after the age of five, society restricts our reading environment to dry land. Such a pity!

Well, not quite. It turns out that there are books in English written on water resistant paper, but the only ones I could find on the web were erotica. Is there some reason why poetry is not considered appropriate bathtub reading in the west?

I sat in the tub, easing my tired muscles, and read,

waga to kite asobeya oya no nai suzume

come with me
and let’s play
oh little orphan sparrow!

I strained to hear if birds might be singing from my window. Issa apparently wrote this at the age of six. His mother had died, and he did not yet have a stepmother.

The only problem for me in reading this book in the bathtub is that my electronic Japanese – English dictionary is not waterproof. So when I reach a word I am not quite sure of, I either have to get out of the bathtub and dry myself off to look up a word, or skip the passage. This is quite frustrating, and it reinforces my conviction that someone will have to get around to publishing a waterproof collection of haiku in English (or French).

Your buyer is waiting.


  • Succulent!

    Il me semble que vous avez trouvé là une niche de marché.... en tout cas, je me mets sur la liste d'attente de livres de Haikus qu'on peut lire dans la baignoire !


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:56 PM  

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