book review: a firefly lights the page

book review by world haiku review 2011.

reviewer susumu takiguchi -managing editor & acting-editor-in-chief of world haiku review – the magazine of the world haiku club

a forthcoming haiku anthology by janak sapkota of nepal due out in january 2012.

tulikärpänen valaisee sivun / a firefly lights the page, haikuja / haiku, by janak sapkota, bi-lingual finnish and english


it is always an especial delight for a haiku editor or someone who has been with haiku for so long to encounter a new poet whose haiku is new or different. i had that intense pleasure in the person of janak sapkota in 2006 when, in the joint haiku competition in smurfit samhain international poetry competition and the world haiku festival in ireland, his haiku won the first prize:

long days of rain –

the gurgle of frogs ripen

my little rice field

i was attending this memorable event which took place in gortahork, co. donegal, ireland from 27 to 29 october 2006. janak was a student in nepal, reading science and technology, and this haiku was originally written in nepali.

five years on, janak is still a student but now he is reading material science for a master’s degree in finland. so, what is this young scientist doing about haiku? well, he is having his third haiku book published in january 2012. it will be a bilingual edition in finnish and english. i have had a chance to look at it in the prepublication stage.

inside the tomb –

it feels safe enough

to whisper a secret

from his haiku capital letters are gone but this one has acquired some kind of a shakespearian tone. anyone who writes a haiku (or any poems for that matter) like this cannot be an ordinary writer. what, then, is his secret, quite apart from the one whispered in the tomb?

full moon –

walking through a forest

why should i fear

plot thickens. janak comes from baglung, mid-western part of nepal. so, is this forest in his birthplace? or, is it much high up in the himalayas? or, is it in finland? if it is a forest in the nordic region it takes on an added existentialist dimension. i have never met janak and therefore do not have the foggiest idea as to whether he is a hamlet, or a søren aabye kierkegaard, or buson yosa. fear, anxiety or despair may or may not be something besetting him.

stroke of luck –

lodged in my wallet

a strand of her hair

soft, our shakespeare is in love! however, this strand of the plot would dismay even sherlock holmes. why and how on earth has her hair ended up stranded in his wallet? plot thickens further and pushes me into entering the world of fantasy.

the swell of her breast

she breathes me

in and out

wow! don giovanni it is. this haiku is as beautiful as mozart’s arias, “là ci darem la mano”, for example. the poem is therefore a mark of triumph for the art as it has vindicated that the genre is capable of the height of the tale of genji or lady chatterley’s lover. this is a masterpiece of erotic haiku.

in the icy night

your footsteps, sadly,

crunch past my door

and, of course, the inevitable! sorrow is a companion of the rapture of love. in japan, shinobu koi (undeclared, or secret, love) has long been the best kind of love, which has had with it plentiful pathos, frustration or urges. the sound of the crunch the lover’s footsteps make against the frosty ground is as sad but beautiful as mozart’s piano concerto no.9 in eb major.

weary of his wife

he hugs the full moon

in the riverbed

oi, what’s going on here? whose wife is she? so, was it an extra-marital affair, or these are separate things and have nothing to do with each other? the power of the author’s imagination is awesome whereas my power of imagination has now been exhausted.

steam of my boiling tea

hides the wintry moon

in the window

and we come to ‘hiding’ again and everything becomes obscure. i am writing this review in the small hours. i have just gone outside to put out the rubbish for tomorrow’s collection. i did not need a torch as the wintry moon was bright enough for me to see what i was doing. so i enjoyed my nocturnal moon viewing but at the cost of getting chilled to the bone. if it had been foggy i would have had to hire a plane and fly above it to enjoy the moon. even if i can see the moon icannot touch it. we may not need tea to survive so long as we have other sources of water-intake. however, what poor quality of life it would be to live without tea!

i pine for my people’s

mountain pastures, in the city

the sun rises behind grey buildings

this haiku was also in his earlier anthology, lights along the road, a collection of haiku co-authored with the american poet suzy conway, bamboo press, kathmandu, 2005. once again, the theme is not what one has but what one has not. it is an interesting theme, shedding light to what is not rather than what is.

an open grave

a bleached bone

glows in the moonlight

the ultimate form of ‘what is not’ is death, the negative side of the same coin as life. there are quite a few good haiku in this book dealing with the subject. it is rather surprising that such a young person as its author should be concerned with death. this haiku reminds one of hamlet taking up yorik’s skull and talking to it. and we haiku poets know of course one of basho’s journeys, the travelogue of which is entitled the records of a weather-exposed skeleton. the next haiku from the 2005 anthology has a resonance to it:

autumn’s fading glow

on the riverbank

a weather beaten skull

the place where death is the main part is battlefields. visiting a battlefield long after the battle was fought always invokes deep emotions, often a mixture of sense of sorrow, anger, loss, poignancy, or the futility of war. also from the 2005 anthology:

on the battle fields

between the bones

grasses grow

why do we not stop fighting each other? we know the answer, and we don’t. conflicts are the order of the day even in supposedly peaceful places such as our haiku community. is this due to human folly and stupidity, or are we excused because all other living things fight each other too?

ploughing the rice field –


squabbling over earthworms

in the end one can get weary of people, the world and life itself, well at least sometimes. what can we do, take a country walk? or, join brazilian carnival? or, try to climb mount everest? even janak seems to fall into this state of affairs:

so bored –

i read my book

again and again

janak’s new anthology certainly makes one think. it has made me set out on an imaginary but pleasurable literary journey. it is worth reading.

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