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Kyōka, Japan's Comic Verse: A Mad in Translation Reader   robin d . gill

Mad Reflection – on what makes good poetry bad and bad poetry good. 23
Mad Logic – to overshoot paradise wearing one pair of straw sandals. 35
Mad Fantasy – from wingless tōfu to Miss Canthus & her champ Pignon. 49
Mad Parody – or, rather, counterpoint, harmony, improvisation, riff, etc. 61
Mad Love – burning hearts floating or sinking in a river or pond of tears. 75
Mad Sex – mostly by Getsudōken, the kyōka poet who made it natural. 95
Mad Scoops & Squibs – reporting the odd and lambasting the bad. 107
Mad Hyperbole – a collar as sharp as a razor and a firebox for a house. 123
Mad Benediction – or charming in both senses of the word. 127
Mad Maledicta – the revenge of the poet on the silverfish of the world. 137
Mad New Year – from calendrical contradiction to butt-whacking. 147
Mad Spring – from the newly verdant soft country to a croaking wake. 159
Mad Summer – from cutting woods to hear cuckoo to self-cooling poems. 169
Mad Autumn – from Milky-Way-as-Amazon to moons-with-menses. 177
Mad Winter – from rolling up w/ Hitomaru to revealing the family jewels. 191
Mad Exchange – chickadee capping & teetotaled drinkers verse vs verse. 201
Mad Chinese – blue camels and bobbing bathers in neat little rectangles. 215
Mad Goodbyes – the death poem, or how to write your own epitaph. 223
Mad Laments – straight trees cut-down and pee paid back with tears. 231
Mad Miscellany – letter play, nostalgia for childhood & ancient wine. 241
Mad Translation – a sample of writing on the art from the 740-pg Monster. 255
Mad Bios – a chunk of the annotated bios in the Monster, with poems. 261
Mad History – sample+summary of the Monster’s Broad & Inadequate one. 271
Acknowledgments 275. Bibliography jp. 277 / en. 279. General Index 285

Index of Poets 291. Index of Poems 294. Paraverse Publicity 297

I. Gill, Robin D.  ギル・ロビン 1951-
2. digest version of Mad In Translation
3. includes original Japanese poems and indices


There is an absolute freedom both in respect of language and choice of subject. The kiōka must be funny, that is all.”  

                                                – William J Aston    History of Japanese Literature  1899

 A kyōka is a 31-mora (short-syllable) comic or otherwise novel poem that may be thought of as the reverse side of the revered classic waka.  The first character, usually translated as mad, “mad-cap” or “comic, when referring to poetry, includes connotations of the insane, playful, errant, free, wild, outrageous and self-deprecatory.

A kyōka is a 31-mora (short-syllable) comic poem that may be thought of as the reverse side of the revered classic waka.  The first character, usually translated as mad, “mad-cap” or “comic, when referring to poetry, includes connotations of the insane, playful, errant, free, wild, outrageous and self-deprecatory.

 In the case of this book, it also refers to the extreme, some might call excessive, liberties taken by your translator, whose excuse is that, because English and Japanese are mutually exotic, there is more re-creation than ferrying – translation literally means “carried across” – going on, anyway.

This Reader is a selection from “Mad in Translation – a thousand years of kyōka, comic Japanese poetry in the classic waka mode,” a 2000-poem, 200-chapter, 740-page monster of a book.   It offers a 300-page double distillation high-proof sample of the poetry and prose, with improved translations, re-considered opinions and additional snake-legs (explanation some scholars may not need).  The scattershot of two-page chapters and notes have been compounded into a score of cannonball-sized thematic chapters with just enough weight to bowl over most specialists yet, hopefully, not bore the amateur and sink a potentially broad-beamed readership

Even readers with no particular interest in Japan – if such odd souls exist – may expect unexpected pleasure from this book if English metaphysical poetry, grooks, hyperlogical nonsense verse, outrageous epigrams, the (im)possibilities and process of translation between exotic tongues, the reason of puns and rhyme, outlandish metaphor, extreme hyperbole and whatnot tickle their fancy.  Read together with The Woman Without a Hole, also by Robin D. Gill, the hitherto overlooked ulterior side of art poetry in Japan may now be thoroughly explored by monolinguals, though bilinguals and students of Japanese will be happy to know all the original Japanese is included. 


It is not possible that the rest of the world will ever realize the importance of Japanese poetry, because of all poetries it is the most completely untranslatable.  

                   The Originality of Japanese Civilization   Arthur Waley,  1929

 The great translator Arthur Waley once lamented that the importance of Japanese poetry, of all poetries “the most completely untranslatable,” would never be realized by the rest of the world.  Since then, haiku has not only become known but practiced in much of the world. However, the slightly longer tanka, or short waka, the translation of which is more difficult (because the plot or flow is more important and that is broken-up by the contrary nature of our respectively exotic syntaxes)  has indeed not bloomed outside of Japan,  and the comic side of waka, the kyōka or mad-poem, has not bloomed most of all.  That is important less for the loss of poetry than for the loss of wit and, with it, our awareness of the logical half of the mind of Japan.  Much has been written of Japanese culture as a superpower of the aesthetic, while the intellect has been ignored by literary critics in the West and belittled as artificial, logic-mongering, or Chinese by the same in Japan, because of understandable prejudice against rational argument on the part of the ruling class.  These selections of kyōka, in mad-translation that at times may stray in respect to some details but tries to preserve analogous wit, prove that Japanese had playful, creative – and, in a sense – universal intellects.  It is ridiculous that such things need to be proved, but if one is attentive to stereotype, they do.  The great variety of kyōka are indirectly put down as word-play and parody.  Neither word-play nor parody are as “low” an art as they are often made out to be, for neither are as small as limited as those who do not know kyōka assume they are.  Generally, they work together with the conceptual games that are played by these mad poems and only rarely stand alone.  As conceptual games without the flavor word-play and allusion provide are less entertaining and therefore less effective as poems, the contrast of “real” wit to that of words is, for the most part, false.