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Sanki Saitō

1900–1962

Poet and short story writer Sanki Saitō was born Keichoku Saitō on May 15, 1900, in Tsuyama, Japan. In his late teens, he moved to Tokyo, where he enrolled at Aoyama Gakuin University. He soon dropped out, intending to study painting, but then enrolled at Nippon Dental College. In 1925, he graduated from dental school and moved to Singapore.

Three years later, in the midst of an economic downslide and a rise of anti-Japanese sentiment in Singapore, Saitō immigrated back to Japan, where he returned to practicing dentistry at a hospital in Kanda, Tokyo. Saitō began writing haiku, adopting the pen name “Sanki,” meaning “three demons.” He became known for his outspoken, frequently sardonic haiku.

Saitō became a contributor to Kyodai Haiku magazine and in the mid-1930s quit dentistry to focus more on his writing. In 1940, he published his first collection, Flags, but that same year Saitō was imprisoned during a government crackdown on artists thought to be perverting traditional forms or ways of thinking.

Forbidden to write, Saitō removed himself to Kobe, Japan, in 1942 and didn’t pick up writing again until the end of the war, after which he published three more poetry collections: Night Peaches (1948), Today (1952), and Transformations (1962). Accepting a position as chief editor of Haiku, Saitō moved back to Tokyo, where he lived until his death in 1962.

By This Poet

2

from "Three Demons": Sanki Series I

translated by Ryan C. K. Choi

Money

Flesh-
colored spring

                moon,
                flaring
above the graves.


                Hitched

to the North Star, the
pillar of ice grows fat.


Airstrip, yellowing,

                terminates
in the winter

sea.


                Cold seas

Pilot and dog
                frolic
through dead grass

fields
                and
roll around.


                Right eye

                Winter sea

                Angry
about money,
                sweat

                drips
on dirt.

from "Three Demons": Sanki Series I

               Machine
guns
between their brows—

blood flowers bloom.

 

               Child of summer
dawn—

               tracing
horses in the mud.

 

               Midnight

               Skylarks

under storm, ferrying

               bodies one
by one.

 

               Rage

Volcanic
               ash

covered highlands:

               jittery dance
of
the jewel beetle.

 

Sunflower

               petals,
falling on a

black mass
               of

ants.