Sunday, April 19, 2015

Salad Anniversary - Machi Tawara (Translation: Juliet Winters Carpenter)

The fact that "Salad Anniversary" sold over two point five million copies in Japan on its initial publication in 1987, would raise the eyebrow of any lover of poetry, add to this that it also created a phenomenon comparable to writers such as Banana Yoshimoto or Haruki Murakami, in the process turning a shy & retiring school teacher into a celebrity, hosting shows both on TV & Radio that promoted poetry. Now write into this tale that it was written in a format (Tanka) that can trace it's roots to the eighth century (Waka) and that it also received critical acclaim, winning 32nd Kadokawa Tanka Prize and the 32nd Modern Japanese Poets Association Award, Got your attention! – Good.

Tanka* (短歌 "short poem") is a genre of classical Japanese poetry,
originally, in the time of the Man'yōshū (latter half of the eighth century AD), the term Tanka was used to distinguish "short poems" from the longer chōka, or long poems (
長歌). In the ninth and tenth centuries the short poem became the dominant form of poetry in Japan, and the originally general word Waka became the standard name for this form. Japanese poet and critic Masaoka Shiki** revived the term Tanka in the early twentieth century for his statement that "waka should be renewed and modernized" with the Man'yōshū (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) as the reference point. After the 2nd world war it fell out of favour again, considered out of date, although this changed during the late 1980s after it was explored and revived by contemporary poets such as Machi Tawara

Jazz concert

The guitarist's mouth,
Half open as he plays –
Jazz, a downpour of sound and rhythm.

The drum beats on, never knowing of the
Staves pounding rhythmically into my flesh

Standing on the amplifier
Where horizontal and
Vertical sound waves converge –

a can of beer
By the end of the musicians second number
I am drenched in notes.

The above is part of a poem with the title Jazz Concert, and that is my dilemma in writing about this book, for example the opening section "August Morning" is a fifty poem sequence and it was this that got her the original attention and that received the 32nd Kadokawa Tanka Prize, also these poems would originally have been written as a single vertical line, three to a page. This means that what appears here on my post, is what I've chosen to place, arbitrarily ending the sequence at a place I've deemed fitting. All I can state is that these poems work as a whole and read like a diary and, like a diary they are full of emotion, the writing comes off the page with an exuberance, a sparkle and an honesty that draws you in, lines like:


Like getting up to leave a hamburger place –
that's how I'll leave
that man

resonate and show how by combining a classical, almost derided format, with modern language and imagery, Machi Tawara woke up a nation to its own poetic history and in the process reinvigorated it. What is also amazing, is the response she received back from her readers. Inspired by her words, by her poetry - they sent her thousands of letters and in these letters were well over 200,000 tanka composed by her fans in acknowledgement to how she had affected them. She went on to choose 1,500, which were published in book form - the oldest contributor was a 91 year old man and the youngest an 11 year old girl.


The Day I left for Tokyo
Mother looked older by all the years of
separation ahead



Machi Tawara, one of Japan's most popular tanka poets is also well known as a critic, author and translator of Japanese classic literature into contemporary Japanese. She was born in Osaka, and raised there and later in Fukui. In 1981, as she entered Waseda University, she began to write tanka under her mentor, the respected poet Yukitsuna Sasaki. After graduating 8Waseda with a BA in Japanese Literature in 1985, Ms. Tawara started teaching at Hashimoto High school in Kanagawa, where she taught Japanese until 1989. 
Juliet Winters Carpenter is an award-winning translator from Japanese. Her translation of Kobo Abe's Secret Rendezvous was awarded the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize, and she has won the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Award's Grand Prize in Fiction. She lives in Kyoto, where she is a professor at the Doshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts.


Pushkin Press

Tawara Machi's Chocolate Box

A n g l o - J a p a n e s e T a n k a S o c i e t y

American Tanka

*Edward Hirsch also writes about the epic in his book A Poet's Glossary (Harcourt, 2014): 
Tanka: Also called uta or waka. The character for ka means "poem." Wa means "Japanese." Therefore, a waka is a Japanese poem. Tan means "short," and so a tanka is a short poem, thirty-one syllables long. It is unrhymed and has units of five, seven, five, seven, and seven syllables, which were traditionally printed as one unbroken line. In English translation, the tanka is customarily divided into a five-line form. The tanka is sometimes separated by the three "upper lines" (kami no ku) and the two "lower ones" (shimo no ku). The upper unit is the origin of the haiku. The brevity of the poem and the turn from the upper to the lower lines, which often signals a shift or expansion of subject matter, is one of the reasons the tanka has been compared to the sonnet. There is a range of words, or engo (verbal associations), that traditionally associate or bridge the sections. Like the sonnet, the tanka is also conducive to sequences, such as the hyakushuuta, which consists of one hundred tankas.

**Haiku is also a term of his invention, used for his revision of standalone hokku, with the same idea.


I received this from the wonderful Pushkin press after seeing it on Netgalley, and as it covered various interests of mine I was keen on reading, researching & writing about it, with the aim of learning more – Which I did, in the process I discovered a new to me writer, and learnt a lot more about a subject I had minimal knowledge of, to which I offer Pushkin Press, my heartfelt thanks.


Bellezza said...

I received this from NetGalley, and while I haven't read it all, I've read a few of the poems. They are wonderful! They are quite accessible, I think, especially for a person such as myself who doesn't always "get" poetry. It was interesting to read all the background information, all the awards and such, which you included in your post.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Bellezza, that's half the fun for me, researching all the background stuff. They are accessible & I think that was one of the reasons they were so successful & inspired others to try.

Brian Joseph said...

Insightful analysis of this verse.

I really like the modern imagery that is included with the classical style.

Machi Tawara seems to be a great poet.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Brian

I think that was one of the reasons it was so successful, that perfect marriage of the ancient & modern. Yes she does seem to be, that and her understanding of the classical format through her translation of older forms of Tanka really seems to come together.

Serena said...

Here's a funny story for you: I had written what I thought to be Cinquain poems some time ago and submitted them to an online magazine. When they accepted them, they informed me that they were actually Tanka! :)

@parridhlantern said...

Totally understandable as American ( modern ) cinquain was inspired by Tanka