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Bedroom poetry beckons

by David Burleigh

EROTIC HAIKU (bilingual), edited and translated by Hiroaki Sato, illustrated by Emi Suzuki. Tokyo: IBC Publishing, 2004, 114 pp., 1200 yen (paper).

Since Eros was the god of love, in the sense of sexual desire, so “erotic,” the dictionary explains, means “arousing or concerned with this.” The cover of this little book is pink, and the front features the arched thighs and bottom of a naked woman. Between the covers are just over a hundred short poems, mostly by American poets, together with translations into Japanese.

“Haiku in English are free, with few constraints,” says the editor and translator in an afterword, so that we know not to expect the customary references to nature. Nevertheless, there are verses that delicately invoke the seasons in a way that proves to be erotic, too:

steamy room
the tulip petals
spread wide

(Pamela Miller Ness)

bumblebee
deeper into the petunia
summer heat

(Yu Chang)

These two brief poems might be placed at one end of a spectrum; at the other end would be the more directly stated ones. The difference is something like that between an Alfred Hitchcock film and a contemporary splatter movie. To my mind, indirectness is more suggestive:

peeling boiled eggs
she daydreams
of a long lost lover

(Brenda Gannam)

On the same page is another daydreaming verse by the same author: “her hand slips down/between her thighs.”

For those who prefer the stickier approach, there are plenty of oozing fluids in these pages, of licking and sucking, of hairs found afterward on pillows or in the soap. Now and again, the act of lovemaking brings something else within the range of our attention:

music fades
as her thighs
press against my ears

(William Simms)

The fact that the poet notices this, however, seems to show that he is not fully concentrating on his task.

Many of the pages carry illustrations, roughly sketched drawings in the manner of graffiti. The following two-line verse, which might be the beginning of a story, is complemented with a full-page illustration:

wearing only candlelight
my buddy’s wife

(Larry Kimmel)

On the opposing page we find a number of curly-lipped and dripping candles, two of them with hair at the bottom in case we miss the symbolism.

The unsophisticated drawing style of the illustrations is one that has been popular in Japan in recent years. It has a naive directness that serves well enough to portray body parts mentioned in the poems. It is improvisatory and playful, as the poems sometimes are. Occasionally the drawings, which are intended to enhance the volume, seem a bit off-key.

This poem offers a gently wistful urban observation:

the nude mannequin
in the dress shop
window . . . looks away

(Cor van den Heuvel)

It is accompanied on the facing page by a drawing of a large sex toy, legs splayed, her genitals toward the reader.

The reader will find sufficient titillation in this collection, and here and there an element of humor too:

bl*w j*b
she kneels
in Prada

(Ai Li)

The erotic quality of oysters and pomegranates is well exploited, but not, oddly, that of chestnut blossoms. Japanese readers, for whom the book is primarily intended, might well sniff out that omission.