Book of the Week: The Penguin Book of Haiku

24 Sep|Adam L. Kern

The Japanese haiku is well known for its brevity and zen-like observations about the world. More surprising, perhaps, are the silly, satirical and sometimes rather crude verses presented in the Penguin Book of Haiku. Editor and translator Adam L. Kern has collected over a thousand examples from the 16th to 19th centuries, proving that there is more to haiku than cherry blossoms and frog ponds. Below we reproduce a selection.

even the shade
of the cherished cherrytree
– Issa

show benevolence
and they’ll crap all over you!
baby sparrows
– Issa

though breathtaking
women’s coiffures are always
sweltery hot
– Taigi

caged bird
glaring with envious eyes
at butterflies!
– Issa

just my luck!
Paradise turns out to be
a real yawner
– Nanboku

this world of ours:
viewing blossoms on the surface
above hell
– Issa

the bride-to-be
at a bookshop, faintly:
‘so that’s how it’s done!’
– Author unnamed

Join Professor Kern for a haiku masterclass at the Marx Memorial Library on 10 October. You’ll discuss the history and structure of haikus and learn to compose your own verses. Book tickets here. The Penguin Book of Haiku, translated by Adam L. Kern is published by Penguin Classics.