Chen-ou Liu's Translation Project: First English-Chinese Haiku and Tanka Blog

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Haiku about Takuboku Day

Ishikawa Takuboku (Feb.20, 1886 –Apr. 13, 1912)
the most beloved tanka poet

reading Poems to Eat
What’s the use of poetry?
she asks with big eyes

Published on the World Kigo Database 

Note: Takubok's work and his concept of "poems to eat" had inspired me to try my hand at tanka.

The following is an excerpt from my Simply Haiku interview with Robert D. Wilson, in which I explain my change from writing free verse poetry to tanka and briefly analyze his work.

RDW:  A follow up question, what brought the change from writing free verse poetry to tanka?

CL:  After almost a year of striving to write so-called free verse poetry without much success, I came across a book of tanka poetry, Sad Toy, written by Ishikawa Takuboku and translated by Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda. In the introduction, Takuboku emphasized that

“My mind, which was yearning after some indescribable thing from morning to night, could find an outlet to some extent only by making poems. And I had absolutely nothing except that mind… I want to say this: a very complicated process was needed to turn actual feelings into poetry… Poetry must not be what is usually called poetry. It must be an exact report, an honest diary, of the changes in a man’s emotional life. Accordingly, it must be fragmentary; it must not have organization… Each second is one which never comes back in our life. I hold it dear. I don’t want to let it pass without doing anything for it. To express that moment, tanka, which is short and takes not much time to compose, is most convenient…”

The emotional power, socio-political sensibilities and colloquial language of Takuboku’s tanka, a kind of poetry in the moment and for the moment, appealed to me, and I came to view tanka as a poetic diary that recorded the changes in the emotional life of the poet. I went on to read Carl Sesar’s Takuboku: Poems to Eat, and got a deeper understanding of Takuboku’s conception of a new kind of poetry, “poems to eat:”

“The name means poems made with both feet upon the ground. It means poems written without putting any distance from actual life. They are not delicacies, or dainty dishes, but food indispensable for us in our daily meal. To define poetry in this way may be to pull it down from its established position, but to me it means to make poetry, which has added nothing or detracted nothing from actual life, into something which cannot be dispensed with.”

In some aspects, Takuboku’s view on poetry is similar to that of Dionne Brand: “Poetry is here, just here. Something wrestling with how we live… something honest.” Since encountering Takuboku’s poetry, I started writing tanka as a diary and kept on reading books of or on tanka.  Some of these books opened up a new world for me.

I console myself a little by turning the self at each moment into words and reading them.  
-- Ishikawa Takuboku