Roadrunner Haiku Journal
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February 2009  Issue IX:1

The Pope Doth Fly

Paul Pfleuger, Jr.


In World Haiku 2005 (Nishida Shoten, Japan), Ban'ya Natsuishi divulges how he uttered the words “flying pope” (soratobu hoo) to himself in a dream and, without perceiving what this meant, he set out in pursuit of what meaning might lie behind this curious expression by working the motif into an ongoing and evolving series of haiku. He suggests that the image of the Pope taking to the air is “quite clear,” while also putting forward the notion that it “may only be a caricature of Christianity.”  The image seems to beg to be interpreted in many ways though, ranging from a set of Judeo-Christian ideals with all the underpinnings of globalization, to a champion or protagonist of modernity, to the allure of flight which also symbolizes thought and imagination. The possibilities are boundless. One tempting vantage point which the poet himself has offered is that of the view from the Papal shoes taking to the air, whereas “we can watch anything that might occur on the Earth.”

Since its conception, the haiku l’enfant terrible has multiplied the figurative possibilities and potential personas tenfold. He has gone on to compose a menagerie of haiku based on the image including Flying Pope: 127 Haiku ( and the expanded Flying Pope: 161 Haiku (Koorosha), both from 2008. Both collections include Japanese and poised English translations by the poet and Jim Kacian. At times, the Flying Pope offers some semblance of a manifestation of the self, as is the case in the following which appear in both editions:

While flying
the Pope reads aloud
haiku without season words

Flying Pope
apologizes to
the thousand-year-old cedar

Carl Jung proposed that there is no single method for interpreting a dream and that each of us is equipped with enough devices to self-interpret what comes to us in our sleep. Only Ban’ya Natsuishi can say how much closer he is to an understanding of the Flying Pope after a hundred something splendid cracks at his muse. Few doors go left unopened, or stones unturned. That is not to say though that Natsuishi’s catharsis excludes readers at all from the experience, as they are invited to participate, unravel, marvel and unwind with him. When entering the poet’s subconscious, readers should be little surprised by abstract and sometimes quirky haiku such as the following:

Flying Pope
visible only to children
and a giraffe

Flying Pope
loves an island
like a red bean

The Flying Pope—
hairy caterpillars and children
making merry

Flying Pope
is he an emphasizing dot
to a telephone pole?

Stream-of-consciousness illustrations by Kuniharu Shimizu in Flying Pope: 161 Haiku  (Koorosha) expressively capture the panorama that Natsuishi portrays, making it the more highly recommended of the two editions, while either gives one access to this world where the Pope doth fly. As personal as these collections may be—digging from the poet’s subconscious innate psychic structures which are often abstruse—he avoids having his haiku come off sounding stuffy, often, instead, displaying a lighthearted or blushing tone. Ban’ya’s humorous side shows particularly in his peculiar homage to Hosai Ozaki:

Flying Pope
even coughs

All punning aside, Natuishi’s mystifying Pope flies in the face of the very idea that haiku should refrain from self-indulgence. It is quite bold in this sense. There is an instantaneity about the ongoing Flying Pope saga that is akin to that of a dream diary kept by the bedside, and it is enticing to linger with the most rousing of his haiku. Take these, for example:

Flying Pope
many times many times
crunches sand

the Pope divides
into several

The Flying Pope
throwing gold coins
down to a wolf

from both Flying Pope collections. Andthese from Flying Pope: 161 Haiku:

A singing voice
from a village of mud
the Pope flies

The Pope flying
in an ukiyo-e
floating on the pond

Flying in the sky
of the vanguard
the Pope so glossy

While these Flying Pope collections may not be the ideal starting point for those new to Natsuishi’s haiku, readers with even the slightest interest in his poetry, as well as avid devotees, should be more than pleased with what they have to offer, and expect to return to them time and again. Both have soul at their heart which transcends the limitations of the ego. The Flying Pope says much about the potential for creating abstract haiku that challenge and at the same time enchant, making these titles significant additions to the haiku canon.


Flying Pope: 127 Haiku by Ban’ya Natsuishi (Allahabad, India:, 2008). ISBN 978-81-8253-106-2. 139 pages. US$20.00.


Flying Pope: 161 Haiku by Ban’ya Natsuishi (Tokyo: Koorosha, 2008). 110 pages. 18.6 x 13 x 1.2 cm. 2,520.00 yen.

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