‘Kusamakura’ Haiku Competition

Each year the City of Kumamoto in Japan conducts an international haiku competition. The contest is named after the celebrated novel, Kusamakura, written by Natsume Soseki (1867-1916).

I was honoured recently to receive a Second Prize award in the 22nd ‘Kusamakura’ International Haiku Competition. Being a poet who seeks to interpret a Japanese genre while writing in English, I was especially pleased to have my work recognised in Japan.

The Judges for this year’s contest were Alan Rosen (Guest Professor at the Memorial Museum of the Fifth High School), Eiichi Chishima (part-time Professor at Meiji Gakuin University) and Morio Nishikawa (Professor Emeritus at Kumamoto University). My thanks go to the Judges, and to the City of Kumamoto for sponsoring the competition.

My entry in the contest was:

picking mulberries –
your lips more blue
than the lizard’s tongue

Details of the competition and results of previous contests are available here. A magazine of the award-winning haiku will also be produced in February 2018.

In 1886, Natsume Soseki took a teaching position at the Fifth High School in Kumamoto(now part of Kumamoto University). Then, in 1887, he met Masaoka Shiki who tutored Soseki in writing haiku and encouraged him to pursue a career in writing.

Soseki’s novel, Kusamakura, was published in 1906. In English, ‘Kusamakura’ translates literally as ‘grass pillow’, but in Japan the expression is understood to signify a journey. Kusamakura follows the narrator on a meandering tour in the mountains while he muses on art, referencing several well-known eastern and western writers and poets including Matsuo Basho, Oscar Wilde and Henrik Ibsen. Soseki describes his book as ‘a haiku-style novel, that lives through beauty’.

Interestingly, Australian translator of Japanese literature, Meredith McKinney, has produced an English version of Kusamakura which was published by Penguin Classics in 2008.

I’m intrigued now to get a copy of McKinney’s translation of Kusamakura and read it for myself.