Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa

I crack an egg and the moon comes out

Reading the poems of Chika Sagawa reminds me in places of looking at the paintings of Hasegawa Rinjiro, finely translated by Sawako Nakayasu their narration has a certain stillness to them, perhaps this is the stillness of the moment of the observations they contain, and as they unfurl we have a sense that the barrier between the interpretation of the wider world with that of it's translation to the inner being evaporates within their confines. This collection, as well as including Sagawa's poems also include a number of her short prose pieces, some of these appeared in the magazines that Sagawa contributed to, the collection also includes brief poetry reviews, observations of fellow poets, all of which convey a lucid sense of intimacy and close proximity, reading these reviews provokes the wish to see an anthology of them appear in English, to read on, to expand the picture we have of Japanese modernism. Sagawa was born in rural Hokkaido in 1911 and died in 1936 after succumbing to stomach cancer at the age of just 24, the collection includes diary entries written in hospital whilst she was receiving treatment, the entry for October 23rd sees Sagawa note; was the first time in two weeks I was able to walk down the stairs to get to the X-ray room. Symptoms of her illness and a sense of the outlines of mortality can be felt in many of the preceding poems, notably in the poem Finale.

In her introduction Sawako Nakayasu highlights the importance of Sagawa as a female poet in what was a largely male dominated arena, observing that perhaps the only other comparable poet being Yosano Akiko, Sagawa, who is regarded as Japan's first female modernist poet, was championed by Ito Sei, Kitasono Katue, and eventual Nobel Prize nominee; Junzaburo Nishiwaki. Another notable Japanese name here is Hyyaken Uchida, whom Sagawa mentions reading, perhaps some stylistic similarities can be detected between the two, another is Soseki whom Sagawa observes his passing. Although containing traditional observations of the changing seasons, Sagawa's poems are noted for their inclusion and insertions of modernist descriptions and subtle surreality, subject and object often take turns in coming to the fore. As well as writing poetry, Sagawa herself translated the poetry of James Joyce, Charles Reznikoff and Mina Loy into Japanese. Whilst reading the poem Ancient Flowers with it's young girls collecting the lips of the waves with their fingertips, I'm reminded of Hasegawa's 1975 still life of the antique doll's head laid out on the table next to the sea shell and as our eye moves from object to object, relationships shift and the picture as a whole subtly transforms from the one we first encounter, this can also be felt perhaps in Sagawa's poetry, from line to line, word to word. In the piece On Bucolic Comedies by Edith Sitwell, Sagawa describes the occasion of it's translation into Japanese, (by Tsuneo Kitamura), as a truly wonderful event, much the same and more could be said about this remarkable and valued translation.

Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa at Canarium Books

excerpts at Asymptote 

Hasegawa Rinjiro at Kyuryudo Art Publishing Co Ltd 

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