Sunday, 12 September 2010

Forest of Eyes by Tada Chimako

Forest of Eyes recently published by University of California Press won Jeffrey Angles the Japan-US Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature, awarded from the Donald Keene Center, these poems have been selected from works that span from 1956 through to 2005, some from posthumous collections compiled by Tada's friend and fellow poet Takahashi Mutsuo after Tada's death in 2003, Jeffrey Angles has presented us with a fantastically translated selection, accompanied by an introduction on Tada's life and also detailed explanatory notes illuminating nuances in the translation process that may not be apparent in the finished English texts, and also adding a comprehensive bibliography of both original works of Tada's that appeared in Japan, and also details of previous English translations of her poetry.

Tada's poetry is full of transformations, where acute observations of events and things that appear in the everyday are reshaped, touched by her readings of Chinese and Greek classics they have a mythic quality to them that could be said to border somewhere between surrealism and magical realism. Settling into her married life in Kobe away from the literary scene of Tokyo, there's a slight sense of isolation and loneliness to some of the poems, in the title poem The Town of Mirrors, or Forest of Eyes, (1968), Tada gives us a portrait of a desolate existence tinged with surrealistic imagery, a life which seems to be entwined with the uncontrolled force of nature, This is my town, the town of my eyes, The people planted alongside the walls, Grow tender tendrils of age beneath the ground. Tada's poetry has something of the visionary, but stem from the experiences and places of the everyday, a visit from a mysterious cat is subtlety turned to questioned how we perceive the possible and by turns the impossible, and again in Horrors of the Kitchen, (1980), where the chef performs his ritualistic duties beneath a knife perceived as the dangling sword of Damocles. The selection includes short prose pieces to longer pieces, also including selections from Tada's tanka, appearing in both English and Japanese texts. A prose piece from Tada's collection, Along the Riverbank from 1998 called Chewing on a Eucalyptus Leaf again takes on surrealistic dimensions, where the narrative maps out an existence lived out amongst an Eucalyptus plant. From the same collection is the poem called Labyrinth, which at times brought slightly to mind the world of Kobo Abe perhaps with it's hint at a hospital setting.

Was I in a huge hospital?
As I dissociated the joints of language
I distorted meaning,left and left again
I clung to bandages unfurling through great white margins
Or to spools of string that someone had given me

There are many juxtapositions of myth and folklore to contemplate within this exceptional collection that will continue to enrich after many re-readings.


g dawg said...

Reading this, and indeed, all of your reviews, certainly makes me wish I had a better stocked library near-by. Beautiful.

me. said...

I'd been anticipating reading Forest of eyes for a while,well worth tracking down a copy!.