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Spring 2009, vol 7 no 1
 
 

The Flying Pope
by Ban'ya Natsuishi
A Review by Robert D. Wilson

 

Falling from a waterfall
in the sky
the Pope begins to fly


What can one say about a book of haiku and senryu where every poem mentions Catholicism's Pope penned by a well known Japanese poet who's an adherent of a different faith?

The question I find myself asking, is why did he choose to write about the Pope and not a figure from his own faith? And how familiar is the poet with Catholicism and its Pope?

Why:

His underwear
made with withered leaves
Flying Pope

Instead of:

His underwear
made with withered leaves
Flying Buddha


Perhaps the best way to make sense of this paradox is to quote Adam Donaldson Powell's forward to the English version of The Flying Pope:

While it may be tempting to point out Natsuishi as l'infant terrible of contemporary haiku writing, his impudence is not intended to shock. It is, in fact, this sense of detachment in the author that binds together the childlike, the serious, the sarcastic, the humorous and the reflective—resulting in a splattering of surrealistic images that pose far more questions to the reader than give blatant commentary. Because of the masterfully free flying construction, the reader is just easily won over to the haiku of Ban'ya Natsuishi as he/she might be to adventuresome comic books and animated films.

As an unusual book, reactions will vary. Will it offend Catholics? Why the continuous theme? Is it surrealistic or covertly making statements pro or con regarding various religious and political belief systems? Is it light hearted, sarcastic, a mixture of a poet's cubistic mind? A few of the poems, be they haiku or senryu, are compassionate, though most are not, in that they lack an understanding of the Pope through Catholic eyes.

For a while
the Flying Pope
follows Cinderella


What is Natsuishi's point, or is there a point? Is this a deconstruction of something paired with an opposite in the Zen mode to create a symbiotic message that expounds the temporal, the middle path of poetry? You be the Judge.



Flying Pope
never encounters arabic letters
the Pope flies on


didn't hear
an explosion?
the Flying Pope


The Pope
carrying beneath his arm
a stone pillow


Out of the corridor
of delusions
the Pope takes off for a flight


The flying Pope
are you a messenger
from the moon?


With peacocks
the Flying Pope
enclosed in a cage


The book is mislabeled in that it calls all of the poems therein haiku when many are senryu, lacking kigo, and centered around humanity versus nature. This seems to be the trend today for many, mixing together haiku and senryu into one bowl of soup and labeling it a single genre. The distinctions between the two genres are becoming less and less, which is adding a lot of confusion as to what a haiku is versus a senryu.


While flying
the Pope reads aloud
haiku without season words


A blast from the 1960s? A Daliesque dance through the poet's now?

 


The Flying Pope
by Ban'ya Natsuishi
English translations by Jim Kacian
Koorosha Press
ISBN 978-4-490-20651-7
2008