Some years ago, while reading the Kokinshu for the first time, I was struck by a thought that many of the love poems read like I Saw You ads in the local alternative weekly newspaper. In the Kokinshu, seasons follow arcs—there is the first hint of green with herbs breaking through snow, then the kaleidoscope of flowers, seventy poems about cherry blossoms, then summer comes a we listen to the nightingale for a season. Love and grief also follow arcs—with love, there’s a giddy first hint, then getting to know all about one another, and finally, breaking up. In the beginning of the love section, a poet might glimpse a beauty across the fields of Kasuga and become instantly entranced.
An I Saw You ad, in case you have never heard of one, is a record of a missed opportunity. You might have a conversation with a gorgeous stranger in the frozen food aisle at the grocery and go home kicking yourself for not having asked for a name or a phone number or a date. Or you might make eye contact at a stoplight and want something more. All you would have to do is phone the alternative paper (here call the Alibi) and place an ad with some details about your moment.
I am teaching a freshman humanities course (a “legacy course”) that in part follows the influence of ancient Japanese (the Kokinshu and Basho) and Chinese (Han Shan) poetry on the Beat Generation (Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac) and our contemporary world. The “legacy courses” strive to provide students with knowledge of works and ideas from earlier cultures that have played and continue to play significant roles in understanding the contemporary culture in which we live.
So, my class is also looking at questions such as why does Albuquerque have an annual haiku contest, Japanese botanical gardens, a Zen meditation center, an Asian grocery store, a bunch of anime lovers and martial arts enthusiasts, etc.
In my attempt to bridge the ancient text with our lives, I thought I would bring in some I Saw Ad clippings, have the students write waka (a poem with a 5-7-5-7-7) using the information in the ads, then compare our poems with the those of the ancients. Here are some examples:
Girl at Casino (8/11/14)
I saw you on Monday at Santa Ana Star Casino, near the back area by “The Stage” around 1:30–2:30pm. You were wearing glasses and with a woman I assume was your mother. I was walking up to a machine when we made eye contact for a split second before I looked away … I wanted to talk to you but wasn’t thinking. You are beautiful and I can’t stop thinking about you! If you see this please respond; maybe we can go out to a casino or have dinner sometime and get to know each other :)
Spinning slots at the
Santa Ana Casino
you must be lucky
trying to win money
and winning my heart as well