Reviews for robin d. gill's translation of 1,300 dirty 19-20c senryu in  a book with two names, Octopussy, Dry Kidney & Blue Spots and The Woman Without a Hole. Published by paraverse press, 2007

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Reviews for The Woman Without a Hole   also known as

Octopussy, Dry Liver & Blue Spots  w/ 1300 18-19c senryu




> > Dear Mr. Gill,
> >
> > I normally don't annoy authors, but I simply need to tell you how happy
> your "woman without a hole"-book made me. It's so interesting, funny and
> well-presented, I loved it to bits, and I don't even speak Japanese.
> > (perhaps I should add that I translated (and published, which was kind
> of not easy) Lord Rochester's poetry into German; which makes me, kind of, a
> colleague?)
> >
> > Thank you very much!
> >
> > Christine Wunnicke


The above, coming as an e-mail from a fellow translator delighted me more than any conventional review could.  And the thrill grew when I received a copy of her translation (published by the German equivalent of Penguin Classics) of Rochester, together with the originals of his bawdy poems, as her wording was so lively I could enjoy it despite knowing only a smattering of German. 


A website named kindly called Octopussy, Dry Liver & Blue Spots "the best damn book title this year"  and advised readers to

"Go ahead, say it outloud. Imagine seeing the concert poster that features that triple bill."

After a couple years, I can report that The Woman Without a Hole title is getting far more hits and selling more copies than the Octopussy etc. one. I am glad the latter is appreciated by some for it cost me another Isbn # and set-up fee -- together, maybe $100. more to do.





Excerpts from a letter from poet-editor Jane Reichhold after reading the first 65 pages, with my author-comments bracketed in yellow. The occasional ?? are also mine. Her full review was published in the XXIII (2 June 2008) issue of Aha Poetry's online magazine, LYNX.

Here, let us stick with excerpts from her letter not be found elsewhere:

How sweet of you to make his and her versions of your book! Super idea! Now who and how many will imitate your marvelous solution to finding that one best title that appeals to different readers? God, I am so tempted!!! That alone is reason enough to start a new book!   [Never thought of dual covers as M & F.  It will be interesting to see if it works out that way!]



What you have done for senryu is simply marvelous! You know I have been critical of persons who did not really know about either haiku or senryu applying the terms indiscriminately. Through your examples I feel that the reader can more clearly see if there is a difference and figure out what it is. I felt your statement that haiku are felt and senryu observed is valid, but again both genres cross this boundary mark regularly. \o/ [There is much confusion about what is haiku and senryu and I have tried to set things straight, though much of my argument is hidden in the back of the book so as not to scare off the casual reader. Blyth and Ueda offer much history and analysis of humor in general, but, like all other writers I know of, fail to pick-up on haiku-as-personal and senryu-as-stereotype.]


?? Perhaps part of "my" problem of what constitutes a senryu is the fact that I can accept any of the poems in your book(s) as haiku because for me, sex is religion. For long enough religion has functioned as sex for a segment of the population. But ?? to see sex as the greatest good (God) is for me, perfectly reasonable, and accurate. If all sex stopped tomorrow, in three months we would be suffering from malnutrition. We live from sex, not only that of our parents and children, but from the sex life of bulls, birds, and blossoms that gives us our food. If one has an interest in God or needs something to worship then sex is the most important factor in our lives (it is the creation that touches us most directly) and righteously deserves all the attention and emotion we give it. Because of this, may this book (these books) become best sellers!!! [While it is wrong to make haiku senryu because they are sexy, I do not accept most of the poems in my book as haiku, but I am still pleased with what Jane writes.]


You have done important work in reading all that background material, and for translating the poems with such freedom that your translations are surely the closest anyone could come to the poem without being able to read Japanese. A deep, deep bow in your direction. Not only are you a masterful translator, your ideas, and ability to let your mind take the poem as far as it can go, are simply one-of-a-kind. How lucky we are that you have brought your genius to this field. [Thank you. Now, I am red as a beet. I only wish I were a better translator; but an academic who can write me into a corner has said the same in different words [link], so I must admit that, at times, rhyme and other accidents have helped me rise above myself.  But please see the online Errata and Glosses where I may simultaneously confess and indulge myself in improvements. But, she is right to praise me for my preparation. I wish I could have prepared more, but I did enough that when I read other English translations of dirty senryu, I cannot help finding mistake after mistake in them; and that means my book should be of use even to the academics who quote senryu in books about the popular culture of Edo Japan.]


Also, I wanted you to know how much I admired your calm ability to write about sex. That can be such a mindfield (mine field I meant to write) as you surely know. However, I felt you called a body part by the proper name for each of the circumstances This is proof of how your ability to explore language, and your path, is so close to others' needs and desires of how others also wish to use language. [I am sure Jane will find some of the words chosen less than ideal, as I will when I reread myself, but I am pleased that up to page 90, at least, my varied choice of words – or adopted words, or newly coined words – for the male and female private parts has her approval.]


 ?? My one and only critique of your book is that it is too heavy to read one-handed. Thank goodness your fonts are large enough that one can continue to read, up to a certain point, even when it is jiggling. Perhaps you should wrap your book in a towel? What a great idea for gift giving. And I will be giving your book as a gift to friends and lovers – of life. ?? What a pillow book! You can open it at any page and be instantly engaged. . .  [While there is a touch of dirty in all erotic, all that is dirty is not erotic, as will become clear from some chapters my kind correspondent has not yet come to. But, I must not be churlish. I am delighted to learn that my translations are good enough to turn on even one reader.]


I knew you needed to hear at least first impressions. I was eager for you to hear all the praise Werner and I have been giving you. He read in "his" copy and came downstairs exclaiming, "Unglaublich! Fantastish! Einmalig! Genius!" [For those who, like the author, do not know German, the first and third word mean "unbelievable" and "impossible."]   one-of-a-kind, the first, the only, \o/ [You, see, I really don't know German!]


The above is okay for web publishing. If you wish to use any of my  letter in ink, please stay with your original strikethrough with the removal of all the ??   ?? materials. I trust your judgment. [I admire Jane's gutsy sanity in a world that is mostly bipolar about sex: prissy+pornographic. Please do not print the part between ?? marks.]


Ad Blankestijn, among other things a certified sake sommelier who read in Chinese languages as well as Japanese at Leiden and has spent decades in Japan, to my surprise, introduced my Paraverse publications  as a whole on May 5th, 2009 at his delightful Japan Navigator site.  He had a few good words for this book, which I put here:

These senryu with their obscure obscenities are very difficult and Gill has again pulled off a terrific feat. From the insatiable sex drive of Empress Shotoku (with her priestly lover Dokyo) to Ono Komachi, the famous poetess who was considered as “holeless” by senryu authors – this is the perfect literary pendant to shunga.


And now for the real fun. Tis of thee I sing. A bad review that beautifully demonstrates  the state of il/literacy in my country (Today is 4 July,2009).

"Lost In Books," or Lost to them?

When I was young I read much and wrote little.  With the temptation of blogging – and, now, twittering – how can any young person refrain from showing off how much they have yet to learn long enough to really read anything?  Such thoughts came to mind when I happened to google across the following review of my book of dirty senryu by someone who professes to be “lost in books” but is actually representative of a generation lost to them.  (I think you can tell which is Rebecca and which is me).

The long title of this book is Octopussy, Dry Kidney, & Blue Spots: Dirty Themes from 18-19c Japanese Poems. It also says "or, senryu compiled, translated & essayed by Robin D. Gill" and "Yet another good book the New York Times Book Review will probably ignore."

“It also says” is an odd way to preface an introduction of the name of the author. If the reviewer read any old books, she might have laughed at the archaic style of the extension of the sub-title and given the page-long title of the 17c book by John Bulwer that is referred to in short as Anthropometamorphosis, or the Artificial Changeling . . . but, has she read anything more than a century old that wasn’t forced on her in school? One wonders. But, from the way she presents the fake “New York Times Book Review,” it would seem she does employ a pre-modern physician of the sort called a barber, for she has obviously been bled so severely that she is devoid of all humour.  If she had her mother wit about her and had read enough Mark Twain she might have, instead, written something like, say,

"Gill took a page from Twain, who advertised his speech with a poster promising FIREWORKS written in huge letters accompanied by a disclaimer in tiny letters to the effect that none such would be there.  “The New York Times Book Review” is written large on a fake publicity-belt – called an obi and common to Japanese books, but rare in English-language  publishing – preceded by “Yet another good book” and followed by “will probably ignore” in tiny letters.  Who can doubt that Twain made it up to all who bought tickets with an interesting talk, but Gill’s book sucks."

Had the twit (she tells us we can follow her twittering) written something like that, I would have downed a bottle of wine and cried.  It would hurt to think that a truly literate person found my book unworthy of even the New York Times, which, any literate person knows, is itself no longer capable of judging what is what.

In my opinion, the NY Times has good reason.

Actually, I did not even send a copy to the NYT.  Unless I know I have the ear of a literate editor or reviewer, one might as well throw a book into a black hole.  I did that once. Hell, if I am stupid enough to do it twice. Don’t get me wrong. It would delight me to help this once great paper become a positive force in English language letters, but they are the ones who screwed up.  They should write me.

The beginning of the book says that by the time you finish it, you will know what octopussy, dry kidney, and blue spots are. But I never found out. It was too boring to continue.

Chapter 7, Dry Kidney, or Semper Paratus, pp 121~  would explain the first, the following chapter, The Heavenly Octopussy & Herring Roe Ceiling, pp.133~ would the second and The Blue Spot Papa Made Proves Mama’s Pretty, pp. 427 ~, the last. If the reviewer had an ounce of curiosity she would have looked.

This enormous clunk of a book is filled with 18-19c Japanese poems, sure. Dirty themes? Sure. A variety of poems? Definitely. Interesting essays explaining the dirty themes behind the poems? 

Uh-oh. Missing.

The book is less than 500 pages. Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, reprinted cheaply by the New York Review is well over a 1000. I have a 600-pager in Japanese and three 740-pagers in English.  What adjective could she find for them? Humongous?  Why not demand all women diet down to 100 pounds?  People who focus on weight do not appreciate women. And people who focus on length do not appreciate books.  But, seriously, what does the reviewer want? Does she think an essay is a neat explanation pegged to a poem? Does she conflate the essay, an exploratory, open form with the explanatory compositions she wrote in high-school?  The poems are woven into wandering chapter-long essays, some of which achieve closure and some of which don’t.  Life is like that.  They explain too much for readers of Japanese who are conversant in senryû and too little for those who know little about Japanese or English letters.  There is only one chapter in the book that is a bit slow-going, because I used to run track, I made it the ch.2. Moon Duty, Or Until She Falls Off Her Horse is long because I thought some would appreciate the humor Japanese brought to a taboo subject.  If Rebecca got hung up on that, she should have been specific.

The explanations in this book were more droll to me than watching paint dry. It must take some amount of talent in order to turn ancient erotic poems into something so un-fascinating.

Had our young twit writtenabout as droll as watching paint dry” I might think she knew the meaning of the word “droll.”  Unless “more droll than ~” is a new sort of reverse rhetoric – unlikely from a barely literate writer – she must think it means “dull.” And since when has 17-18c (pre-modern or Edo period) literature become “ancient”?  Reader, what do you think?

I did not understand Gill's heavy-handed explanation of what senryu poetry is, only that it is similar to haiku, which I could gather for myself from simply looking at the stanzas.

I have been accused of many things, but never of being “heavy-handed.”  My explanation is short and, on the whole, leaps about.  I think she means that the extremely long first sentence, meant to slow down the reader and put him or her into a cautious frame of mind, infuriated her because she is used to driving fast over the pages to bag as many books as she can (it is called extreme reading nowadays and is just the opposite of the creative reading Emerson urged). Fair is fair, let me adjective her style. The twit when she writes “senryu poetry,” she might as well write “sonnet poetry” or “limerick poetry.” Likewise for “stanzas.”  Who with a discerning mind would call these tiny poems “stanzas?” is, in a word, insensitive.

I think that given the size of this book (nearly 500 pages), some of the less interesting poems could be omitted. I thought there were far too many poems on 'farts' alone. Perhaps it is just me and my ignorance in what the term 'dirty' means, but that wasn't quite what I had in mind. And the whole section titled 'The Sound of Piss' was also a tad much. There were plenty of other poems that were erotic in nature that these could probably go.

The author plans to do a “best of” book some day, but this was the first book to do justice to a large part of a genre and that meant getting it all out there, first.  Reading between the reviewer’s lines, it would seem that she thought “dirty” was synonymous with “erotic” and wanted the book to concentrate on pure eroticism.  To cull or remove the chapters on farts and the sound of making water might make the book sexier, but it would be less representative of Japanese culture.  If she wants pure eros, fine. She can go write her own damn book. 

I also thought it was odd that there were random messages in the book, such as, "My Octopussy Embarrassment, or apologia, in the classic sense of rationalizing something the nincompoops may well object to." Um, what? What would make you put this into the pages? Okay, so someone objects. Deal with it. If this is an attempt at humor, it falls irritatingly flat.

"Deal with it." That is endearing language. The author is dealing with it – why not explain what exactly she refers to before asking “what would make you put this into the pages?”?  I do not know about "random messages" but, yes, an occasional didactic passage is in this book.  Did the twit realize the above was an indirect way to define “apologia” ?  Wait a minute, there are a few asides to acquaintances (Can't a writer have some fun?), but that was not one of them.

I think that the idea that Gill is trying to sell here is a good one, but the execution needs improvement.

What idea am I trying to sell?  Who says it is what she wants to buy?

I would be more likely to buy this book if it were much smaller, say 50-100 pages, with several really good examples of senryu, than a giant book filled with what looks to be all the dirty-themed senryu that can be located. I read several of these, but they were most unfortunately overshadowed by the numerous other poems that were mediocre at best.

If the author knew an editor with a large press, he would love to do an exquisite 100-page book, but a pauper who must make his books “no return” and use POD printing cannot publish such a book.  He must do what his current circumstances permit.  Likewise, he would advise the reviewer to stick to reviewing books she is capable of reading.  And, yes, there are many mediocre poems in the book just as there are many mediocre work in most exhibitions of cultural anthropology.  That is only natural as the book develops themes, as the sub-title says.

Just because it is available to the public, doesn't mean the public needs, or desires, to read it. If you want to introduce us to senryu and help us develop an appreciation for it, then please take care to be more selective of the poems you introduce us to first.

All paraverse books will soon be 100% readable at Googlebooks, so “the public” can make that decision. There are fine general introductions to senryu by R. H. Blyth and Makoto Ueda, so it would be worthless for the author to do the same. Seeing how strong the reviewer’s desire for a small selection of erotic senryu is, however, the author may just put up a few score at Paraverse dot org this Fall.  Though he writes books for an idea-loving literate readership – maybe one in a hundred readers? – he would not mind making more people, such as the reviewer who is lost to his books, happy.


Time to go out and feed the cows. This will have to do for now.

Next time I may mention two academic publications that have cited this book