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Haiku Classic: Aug. 18, 2019

imo futatsu narande chigau kata-o muku

    two sweet potatoes

    side by side but pointing

    different ways


    Saki Kouno (1983-). From "Selection Haijin Plus. Shinsen 21" (2009).

    In this haiku, the setting is not completely clear. The sweet potatoes are visible to the eye, so they have been removed from the ground, but whether they are lying on the ground after being torn from it, sitting next to each other in a stall or shop, or lying on the kitchen bench is not explicitly stated. Reading between the lines, though, we can infer that they lie on the kitchen bench. "Why?" you may ask. The answer lies in both the omission of any other entity in the poem (for example, "dirt," "leaves," "crate," "basket," etc.) and in the content itself. The poet's focus solely on the sweet potatoes suggests that nothing else of haiku interest impinged on them or emerged as a related element when they were observed. Natural entities occurring within nature are the main topics of haiku, and in these we can find truths rather than facts. So the lack of other entities implies that the sweet potatoes are as far from their natural habitat as possible -- in other words they lie on a cutting board and are about to get sliced up. The fact that the poet found a connection with these sweet potatoes pointing different ways and captured this in a poem suggests that they were projecting themselves and another human onto the scene (their partner, perhaps, rather than a parent, since the potatoes are "side by side" instead of just "together"). They apparently were observing that even though two people can be together, they do not necessarily always have the same goals, dreams and ambitions. This projection makes one imagine the couple, the home they share and also their kitchen, and by doing so sets the scene.

    Selected, translated and commented on by Dhugal J. Lindsay

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