Well, there are a good number of books out now on the poetry of this gentle, eccentric, and talented Zen monk, each with their own particular strengths and weaknesses. So what about this one? First of all, this was clearly a labor of love; the authors have been moved and inspired deeply by Ryokan's art and life, and they hope to share what Ryokan has meant to them with English speakers--this aim informs the book with a warmth and immediacy consonant with Ryokan's own writings. On a more technical note, this book is rare in giving Ryokan's poems in Japanese script AND romanji transcription as well as in English translation--this is highly useful for those who may be somewhat conversant with the Japanese language and/or Literary Chinese but not fluent in the poetic idiom of Ryokan's time. I tend to think bilingual editions are a good idea anyway, especially for poetry, and that goes for this book definitely.
I also liked the presentation of the poems in this book. One section just gives the poems one after the other like usual poetry anthologies, and this is fine and well, but other sections were more creative: one imbedded Ryokan's poems in a biography and general intro, one culled the translator's favorites, and one (particularly interesting to me in giving a glimpse of the social role of poetry in monastic life) demonstrated Ryokan in an extended poetic dialogue with his friend and disciple the nun Teishin. The poems themselves are deceptively simple like so much of Ryokan's work, filled with meditations on nature and his eremitic lifestyle with its little pleasures, frequently rephrasing Buddhist insights in an unpretentious and colloquial voice.
The book does have its drawbacks, too, of course. Duly acknowledging the fact that translating from one's primary language into a second language is highly challenging (especially for poetry, in which so much depends upon rhythm, mood, connotation, and such), still that doesn't change the fact that the resulting translations here are somewhat flat and sometimes awkward. And accounting for "poetic license" in translating, still in a few poems the English seems to veer too far off from the original, or else over-interpret it. Finally, in the first pages there is some disturbing culturally-essentialist talk about how Ryokan reveals "The Japanese Mind" as if the Japanese were homogenous and imbued with one collective cultural identity. I don't think Ryokan would go for this. He'd be the first to admit he's a bit of an oddball (rather than a typical example of a given nationality, say). He seems more interested in revealing his own mind, and this mind of his speaks eloquently through his poetry to all of us with ears to hear, no matter where we may be.
Of course without translation that voice won't carry far, and Kodama and Yanagishima are to be heartily thanked for doing their very best to share their enthusiasm for Ryokan with us. In my case at least, the enthusiasm was decidedly contagious.