Tuesday, 23 February 2010

On Knowing Oneself Too Well

Born in Iwate Prefecture, Ishikawa's birth name was Hajime, meaning, 'first one', his father, Ittei, was curate at Joko Temple, situated in Hinoto Village. An early interest in literature and writing brought him attention from major literary figures of the time, and for a while in his late teens he lived in Tokyo, and the poet Tekkan Asano gave him the pen name of Takuboku, translating as 'woodpecker'. At this time attitudes within Japanese poetry were beginning to shift, the poet Masaoka Shiki noting that change was happening all around with the Meiji era, had begun to intiate a change in styles, hokku to haiku, waka to tanka. Along with Tekkan and Akiko Asano, Ishikawa also began to adapt the tanka form. Ishikawa's short life was dogged by poverty, his father was discharged from his position at the temple and the responsibility of providing for the family was passed onto him. He married his childhood sweetheart and shortly after came the birth of their daughter Kyoko, Ishikawa worked as a teacher but was sacked after organizing a student strike, the family poverty stricken were forced to move apart. Working for a time in Hakodate as an editor, he had to move on again after the city suffered from a huge a fire. Although this proved not to affect his output as a writer, surviving on loans and gifts, he wrote up to a thousand poems in a year. His son Shinichi was born when Takuboku was 24, but died shortly after his birth, using the advance from his first book of poems A Handful of Sand to pay for his son's funeral, not long after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and died aged twentysix on April 12, 1912, three months prior to the end of the Meiji era, his mother had also died from the disease a month prior, and a year later his wife also died.

Newly published by Syllabic Press and translated by Tamae K.Prindle, 'On Knowing Oneself Too Well' contains some of Takuboku's most well known poems, 'A Love Song To Myself', the longest poem being 117 three line stanzas of observational pieces reveal the poet's thoughts on himself, where he poses the question to life itself 'Shall I die for such a thing?, Shall I live for such a thing?, An endless controversy', the poem also contains the line that has been chosen as the title of the collection. The poem to me appears like a piece of perfect poetic cinematography, in a film where if you were to press pause at any given moment, you'd come away with a perfect photograph.'The ennui,  After pretending to be somebody, What shall I compare it to?'. In some ways it resembles Akutagawa's 'Life of a Fool', Takuboku notes the exasperation of keeping suicidal feelings in check, the pieces explore desperation, alienation, despondency, where smoking in an empty house, just to feel alone and miserable offers a momentary haven from other people, and a need of escape seems to inform many of the poems, in Smoke (1) a lost childhood is recalled, 'I escaped through a classroom window, And, alone, Went to lie in a ruin', being alone provides the opportunity to reflect, with the envy of a discontented child he looks up at the sky and the birds, in a melancholy poem about time passing and he muses on the children he knew, and the places that life has taken them, time like a stone rolling down a hill. The only thing that Ishikawa finds unfettered solace in is nature, looking at natural scenes, like an evening sky, seem to be the only opportunity to free himself of his vexations.

The collection also includes Ishikawa's 'Sad Toys', a poem composed from his hospital bed, thoughts of his hometown and money concerns are mixed with his distrust of the outside world, 'Fearing my thoughts would be heard, I quickly drew my chest back, From the stethoscope', and observes, 'For the first time in many years, I laughed aloud, At the sight of a fly rubbing it's hands'.

more on Takuboku Ishikawa

To read A Handful of Sand by Takuboku Ishikawa, visit the translations to read online post.


g dawg said...

Dude, this is one righteous review. I can't help but think of a poem by Appolinaire:

My room resembles a cage,
The sun puts his arm through the window
But I who want to smoke and dream
I light my cigarette with the sunlight.
I do not want to work - I want to smoke.

Will said...

Hey, I saw you wrote a comment on an old blog post of mine, so I wanted to say thanks for the comment!

I have very little knowledge of Japanese poetry save for Basho and Man'yoshu kinds of ancient stuff, so this was a very cool article to me! I'll definitely be back.

me. said...

Glad you liked the review,i've only recently started to explore modern/contemporary Japanese poetry,i'm finding it really addictive at the moment!.