Wednesday, 17 February 2010

America & Other Poems

Looking through this collection for the first time, I came across the poem from the selection from 1973-1982 called 'Vanished Horizon', I read the stanza 'Even if you disappear from the places you belong, nothing will change in this world'. I think that when most people pick up a collection of poetry for the first time they'll experience a moment when the light bulb is switched on, or perhaps all the partitioning doors in a long corridor are suddenly opened, these lines provoked this feeling for me, reading the line for the first time it seemed to express a depressing thought,but it also has a reassuringly human tone to it. I'm not sure if I immediately made it to the end of the poem, these lines seemed to linger in my head as soon as I had read them, they seemed to contain so much, something learned from experience, now passed on in a poem, like a philosophy, advice maybe. I think I skipped next to Shogo Oketani's piece on how he had come to know Ayukawa's poetry.

America and Other Poems, published by Kaya Press in 2008, translated by Shogo Oketani and Leza Lowitz, serves as an all round excellent introduction to Ayukawa's poetry, his life and the age he lived in, the poems are presented in four time periods, starting with poems from 1942, the last poems being from 1982. Accompanying the poems there's a preface from Shogo which provides background information on Ayukawa's influences, mainly the modernist poets Pound and Eliot, 'The Wasteland' by Eliot being translated in Japan in the 1930's, Ayukawa started writing poetry in his teens and joined the poetry group, LUNA, whose members would go on to form the poetry group, Arechi, also publishing a magazine of the same name. A Japanese poet who was a source of inspiration to the members of LUNA was Kitasono Katsue, and Shogo explains how Kitasono's approach to poetry influenced them. Shogo's preface also looks at Ayukawa's position within post war poetry in Japan, and his feelings for America, looking at the title poem from this collection written in 1947. The selection chosen offers both personal poems like 'A Father's Death' as well as poems on other writers 'Solzhenitsyn'(1974) and 'The Inevitable Loser' (1978) - a poem centred around a reading of a short story from Delmore Schwartz.

Ayukawa's poetry is very individualistic in style, rarely do they seem to follow a straight line, they take an unpredictable path, beyond each curve there lies startlingly brilliant descriptive pieces. The early poems show the mark of Ayukawa's sense of loneliness, there seems to be a mute desperation or frustration in them, and a loss at missed opportunities of communication. In a poem from 1955 'If There is a Tomorrow' there's a great dual use of narration, as the winter of 1941 is recalled, the poem begins with the departure of a soldier, and a farewell, five years pass and returning to the town, war worn, the narrator is at a loss as to what the war was for, what did the liberation of defeat bring?. The narrator of the second half offers an answer to the confusions of the former, the poem is a powerful exploration of differing perspectives, where the passing of time and the muting of sound appears to be the only tangible things that we are left with.

Many of the poems are centered around Ayukawa's experience's as a soldier, sent to Sumatra in 1942 he was sent back to Japan in 1944 after contracting malaria. Morikawa Yoshinobu who was also a founding member of Arechi was drafted into the army in 1941, dying on the Burmese front in 1942, Morikawa is lamented in Ayukawa's poetry, appearing in the poems as M. In 'The Last I Heard' from 1976, a reunion of fellow soldiers is described, and the dead are remembered, but 'On a day smelling of rock and sky, of waves sand, and flowers, there was no place to mourn'. The landscape of the earlier poems bring to mind the barren paintings of Matsumoto Shunsuke. 'Soul on the Road' from 1968,a poem about disconnection seems to be the beginning of a more reflective tone which appears more explicit in the later poems of 1973-1982, which 'Vanished Horizon' belongs to.

The collection is completed with an essay from Ayukawa from 1947, explaining his thoughts on writing and poetry, his idea's clinging to the individualistic rather than following whatever the political opinion of the day is. Also Shogo Oketani gives another piece on translating Ayukawa and examines his place in world literature, a place that this collection will hopefully add to.

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