Tuesday, December 10, 2013

[Books, Basho] Long Ago and Far Away and Here and Now

Long Ago and Far Away and Here and Now: As I've been hinting, what's coming next for me writing-wise is very esoteric. Back in 17th century Japan, a great poet named Matsuo Basho went on a journey north from Edo(Tokyo) and documented his travels and punctuated them with poems, what we would call Haiku. The book, entitled The Narrow Road to the Interior, became a huge sensation and has survived through the years as a seminal classic of Japanese literature.

Basho is almost certainly Japan's greatest poet. Most folks who read Narrow Road…, which in the U.S. is probably students and academics, tend to focus on it as a collection of poetry. The problem is that poetry loses nearly everything in translation. Even the shortest poems are deeply dependent on myriad subtleties of language, otherwise, they'd be prose. One could even argue that a working knowledge of Japanese would be insufficient, you would have to be near-native in your understanding of the language. So for me, with no knowledge of Japanese, reading the poetry is not particularly compelling. For exapmle: Basho is famous for writing what is considered one of the most perfect and exemplary Haiku (although this did not appear in Narrow Road...) about the sound a frog makes when jumping in a pond. To read the Haiku and see what I mean about translation look at this page. It contains 30 translations (thousands probably exist) and you can see how different they are, and how none of them truly capture anything that would considered an eternal work of art.

Basho was curmudgeonly character. An aging bachelor at the time he wrote Narrow Road..., in between the poetry he gives hints of uncertainty about the purpose of his journey and clearly has a growing concern with mortality -- remind you of anyone you know? As I read Narrow Road..., I read a travelogue of a man who was riddled with self-doubt, who was unsure of whether he felt compelled to travel to seek answers or escape questions. These are feelings I know intimately.

So in the popular spirit of re-writes of classics, I decided ol' Basho deserved one. The story becomes Basho's Inward Road and I focused on fleshing out Basho fears and emotional turmoil. I added doses of irony and humor, colored some characters, and colloquialized the language. The end result is, I think, something Basho would recognize -- one aging bachelor to another.

So now I am in the process of getting it setup for Kindle. It will be Kindle only unless I come to find there is a massive market for rewritten 17th century Japanese travelogues. It is short, barely novella length, so I'm thinking of a $1.99 price. I still need cover art. And I need to get the formatting right, which I don't remember being as hard as it's turning out to be. So it's not available just yet. If I can get everything sorted, I hope it will be by the end of the year.

Like I said, it's esoteric. But as esoteric as it is, I think it's worth reading. Obviously, it draws on my own feelings, but those cannot be unique, can they? So maybe, just maybe there is a small audience out there. That is the blessing of Kindle. If you are moved to write something, you can just write it and go. If nobody buys it, oh well. You live to fight and write another day. And something good could happen. From small things...

So with any luck, a link and maybe a quote next month.