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Saturday, 17 July - link

my first one hundred dollar book

I first learned about Ikkyu from a cash register book. Hey! A raunchy old time Japanese poet. That sounds fun.

That little book, eight years old at least, is now well thumbed and my favorite pages flapped over. I've read from it, aloud and to myself, carried as a sort of momentary reminder of the sacred as profane.

When I was at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, I was delighted to see that they had an Ikkyu book on their shelves - Ikkyuu and the Crazy Cloud Anthology: A Zen Poet of Medieval Japan Translation - a slender academic publication fashioned from ragged-edged rice paper and packed with expert translations of hundreds of Ikkyu's haiku. Sonja Arntzen not only translated the poems though, she footnoted them. It was a dream - the chance to delve deeper into this inspiring figure and understand his background, his allusions, metaphors, and connections between his works. Plus, she included the original Chinese characters he used to write his poems, and I was able to recognize about one in every one hundred, which felt pretty gratifying.

I checked the volume out of the FCCJ library and carried it with me for the summer of 2002, reading and reciting the poems, and pouring over the notes. I took extensive notes based on my reading. It had last been checked out in 1987 - I thought briefly about appropriating it. But I didn't want to deny someone else the chance to have a great discovery as I did, you know?

When I got back to the States, I began searching online for a copy. Turns out the only copies of the book I could find online were at least $120. Holy smokes! That's a lot to pay for a book. Especially not a book bigger than my chest and filled with pictures.

Still the power of the reading experience stuck with me - the volume so filled with information and insight, alongside Ikkyu's ever-entertaining and provocative lines. And heck, I spend $120 on computer parts or clothes shopping. A memorable important book is worth that price, or maybe a little less. I negotiated with one online seller, got them down to $100, and as soon as I scored a mailing address last month, I ordered my copy.

It arrived this week, and I've brought it with my on my travels. Reading through this book, I find it serves the same functions for me that a Bible might serve for other people. Stories and insight, using good humor to endorse hard work, celebrating the sensual pleasure of living and loving, preaching moderation and failing sometimes. Humanity and insight. I've been thinking of what kind of digital works I can render from the text. And wondering if I could track down Sonja Arntzen for a meeting or interview! Or at least to say thanks.

Posted on 17 July 2004 : 10:42 (TrackBack)
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Justin's Links, by Justin Hall.