Saturday, 31 July 2010

62 Sonnets + 36

Published by Shueisha Bunko,who also published Tanikawa's Two Billion Light Years of Solitude, 62 Sonnets + 36 is a dual text edition of Shuntaro Tanikawa's 1953 collection of poems, translated again by William I.Elliott and Kazuo Kawamura. In the afterword by the author he mentions his disbelief that poems he wrote half a century ago are still being read. 62 Sonnets is in three parts, and this edition comes with an additional 36 poems. As the translators point out in their preface these sonnets are not to be confused with that of Petrarca or indeed that of Shakespeare but here represent Shuntaro Tanikawa's love of life, an aspect that is to be found throughout his poems. The poem 'Expanse' shows another of his poem's subjects, that of solitude, and in this collection the word 'absence' crops up a few times, but I think it's also used in a way that eludes to feelings of solitude, but in Expanse the poem explores aloneness, 'surrounded by things indifferent to me' and also the subtle influence of the presence of time and that of it's end,'Subtle gestures, though, are soon forgotten. In the expanse of which no one is aware, time dies'.

Shuntaro Tanikawa's poems explore perception and things perceived, from a mountain, a cup, time's progress, and many aspects from nature. One of my favourite poems here is one which hasn't a title really but has the number he used in his notebook to mark it by, the number 58, perception lies at the centre of this poem, and is used as an observation about human nature,'Scenic panoramas stop people in their tracks, making them conscious of enormous distances surrounding them', then later in the poem 'Yet people contain inside themselves a distance.That is why they go on yearning', concluding 'In the end people are just places violated by distances. No longer observed, people then become scenery'. Tanikawa's poetry is informed from perspectives of solitude, although some of the poems here are addressed to an unnamed woman, but largely they concern the self, abandoned in time observing the elements and their effects.Time also appears as a broken line, but also something that is also continually regenerating itself, so many of his poems have the feeling of first awakenings to experiences and observations, which have kept these poems immune from ageing. 'Homecoming', a poem that comes to us from a universal perspective, Tanikawa's narrative seems to come from a lost astronaut, contrasting an unexplored planet with that of his own familiar planet, the narrator also has something of the exile about him, from it's opening lines, 'This was an alien land, Opening the side door of this wretched earth,' contemplating his stranded scenario though he reflects on himself, 'I no longer aspire after other planets. I will live on this planet with more pleasure than in eternity'. The parallel between the familiar terrain and the alien world is extenuated again at the end, when he hints at the possibility of parallel existences, 'There maybe an unexpected homecoming from this familiar alien land - a homecoming without me about which i know nothing', this line fantastically conveys the multi-layeredness of existence, and of how the exiled are usually the hidden. Identity is something that many of his poems seek to confirm, in 'The Necessity of Greeting', this poem again begins somewhere out in the nebulae and the vacuum,and concludes with the need of greeting people by posing the question 'Could I really be a human being?', knowledge of the extra-terrestial (and unknowing) is observed in 'to confirm the real heat of the sun by treading on the earth'.

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