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About this poet

Poet and short story writer Sanki Saito was born Keichoku Saito 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, Saito immigrated back to Japan, where he returned to practicing dentistry at a hospital in Kanda, Tokyo. Saito began writing haiku, adopting the pen name “Sanki,” meaning “three demons.” He became known for his outspoken, frequently sardonic haiku.

Saito 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 Saito was imprisoned during a government crackdown on artists thought to be perverting traditional forms or ways of thinking.

Forbidden to write, Saito 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, Saito moved back to Tokyo, where he lived until his death in 1962.

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.

Copyright © 2018 Ryan C. K. Choi. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2018. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2018 Ryan C. K. Choi. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2018. Used with permission of the author.

Sanki Saito

Poet and short story writer Sanki Saito was born Keichoku Saito 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.