Cool Melons— Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa

By Publishers Weekly

This superb homage to the 18th-century Japanese haiku master is as elegant and spare as the poet’s form. Gollub’s (The Moon Was at a Fiesta) brief biography introduces Issa’s pertinent haiku and tells the story of Issa’s transformation from a sad child (his stepmother thwarted his gift) to a recognized, talented poet. Japanese artist Stone (Dorobo the Dangerous), who chose the haiku represented here for Gollub’s translation, captures the moment described in each poem with exquisite details, imbued with quiet emotion. For example, for the poem “Climb Mount Fuji,/ Snail, but slowly,/ slowly!” Stone puts readers at a vantage point above a snail traversing a tree branch that appears to lead the way up the great mountain’s slope. The poem and image come at the point in the biography when Issa is just beginning his studies, in the long journey to master poet. The book’s design lends a fluidity to the interlacing elements: within the narrative, a poem appears on each page, coupled with Stone’s expressive visual representation, while the haiku in Japanese calligraphy runs down the outer border. For students of haiku, Gollub explains his deviation from the 17-syllable definition (he chose to adhere closely to Issa’s words) and gives a brief history of haiku. Readers would be hard-pressed to find a more eloquent, concise and inspiring approach to understanding (and writing) this deceptively simple art form.