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Hyakunin Isshû | One Hundred People, One Poem Each. Trans. Larry Hammer. New Mexico: Cholla Bear Press, 2011.

The Hyakunin isshû is the single most popular poetic anthology in all of Japanese literature: compiled by the noted scholar and critic Fujiwara no Teika in the 12thC, it selects one poem each from a hundred notable poets from nearly six centuries of Japanese verse, starting with the Man'yôshû and ending with Teika's own era. The poems offer a parade of canonical topics, topoi, images and utamakura (poetic phrases) as well as a fascinating catalog of the transformation both in classical Japanese, the language, and in classical Japanese verse from its very beginnings to the end of the classical era itself.

Larry Hammer's self-published translations of these poems makes this much easier by providing not only transliteration of the poems but also the texts in Japanese of the poems themselves, as well as Hammer's translations. The translations themselves are uniformly quite good, frequently roughly metrical and always decent poetry in the target language, which is, I think, important. There are of course many translations where I thought that Hammer zigged where I personally might have zagged, but these are differences of style and opinion, rather than of meaning, and much of it comes down to the fact that classical Japanese is such a dense, allusive medium that it's virtually impossible to replicate the original in any target language, and I certainly think Hammer does as good a job as, if not better than, more well-known assayers.

If all of this sounds interesting, you're in luck! Lulu.com is currently having a site-wide sale, until the end of the month: follow this link to buy One Hundred People, One Poem Each and use code LULUBOOK305 at check-out to save 25% off your order, up to $50 off. There's also an ebook version available, if I'm not mistaken.

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