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Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2000

Book bites

MANGEKYO/KALEIDOSCOPE: Modern Senryu with English Versions, translated by Okada Hideo and Adrian Pinnington, boxed cards, XYLO Co. Ltd., 2000, 3,150 yen (+200 yen postage).

This is a most unusual and attractive publication, consisting of four dozen short poems printed in Japanese on separate cards, with translations and comments on the reverse of each.

Interleaved with the poem-cards are other cards that carry pictures, and the whole, including two brief explanatory pamphlets, comes in a bright vermilion box, lettered festively in gold.

The short poems are "senryu," which are the same length as haiku, but wittier and less bound by restrictive rules. Where haiku deal with nature, senryu deal mainly with human nature.

Since all the authors are contemporary, so too, is the life reflected in their verses: "the moment/ you are born/ you are given a watch"; and "despite all the shoes I've bought/ I'd rather go barefoot/ on this moonlit night."

One thinks of Wordsworth: "The world is too much with us; late and soon,/ getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." The sentiment is the same, but the Japanese writers express it more concretely than the English poet.

The commentaries on the poems tell us a good deal about contemporary Japan, and the poem tell us about human nature anywhere: "another bottle/ might just give me/ that flash of inspiration." In English, there is a set of rhyming epithets that concisely mark the drinker's progress: jocose, verbose, bellicose, lachrymose, comatose. The penultimate stage is neatly captured here.

There is a psychological astuteness to many of the observations, sometimes metaphorically expressed: "string broken/ the kite learns/ what the wind really is." But there is also an element of wry bemusement, even play. Indeed, one of the booklets that accompanies the poems not only explains how senryu are made, but offers hints and exercises, too. The game aspect of this unique collection makes it ideal as a gift for Christmas or New Year.

Available from Xylo Co. Ltd., 4-4-14 Seijo, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 157-0066, (03) 3789-6161, fax (03) 3789-6141, www.xylo.co.jp/

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