Poetry Across Continents
Poetry Kanto, a magazine published by The Kanto Poetry Center at Kanto Gakuin University in Yokohama, Japan, boasts the lofty goal of crossing oceans with its poetry collections, in an attempt to bring English language poetry by established poets to Japanese readers, and to provide well-translated English versions of some of the greatest Japanese poets to readers abroad. The magazine’s been bridging such cultural gaps since its debut in 1968, mind a hiatus or two, and this, it’s 26th issue, is no exception to its excellence.
The journal is a pristinely put together print edition, with a vibrant green cover, and an elegant layout. Each poet included gets his/her own section, beginning with a detailed biography and photograph, so every member is in equal spotlight. For translations, the collection provides the original Japanese scripts alongside, which makes for a lovely visual, even for those who cannot read the language.
The collection begins with selected translations of Kurahara Shinjiro, who died in 1965. The six poems included are from his last collection Char. In the title piece, the poet describes char painted on a piece of pottery, saying “When the water is waved by the passing wind,/ the backs of the char gently shine salmon-pink/ and a cloud in the Sung dynasty crosses on the bottom,” capturing an image with beauty and a sense of singularity.
The translations of Ayukawa Nobuo (1920-1988), provide a deep sense of the human experience situated in the natural world, like in “Autumn Thought,” when the poet muses, “Time passes on, someday again/ will I recall being hunted by the sun?” The translations of female poet Kisaka Ryo focus on the wistfulness of modern life. For example, in “Lamp-Lit” she describes her answering machine as “Glowing red like an animal’s eye,/ it tells me instantly—/No calls.”
Opening up the selection of English language poets is Alicia Ostriker, with four hard-hitting poems on life, family, and womanhood, where, in “Heaven,” she admits “my mind is a cervix/I can imagine anything.” J.P Dancing Bear provides a set of five “Gacelas,” each structurally interesting and haunting in their introspection and memory, with questions like “What does the soul know of winter snow?”
Katherine Riegel’s selections are imagistic and original, especially “Hydra,” where each stanza is a numbered sentence in a list describing different heads, like “the head of a girl aflame in a world waiting for combustion.” Bill Wolak’s four pieces each ruminate on romantic entanglement in an honest way, filling the reader with a sense of “the love which multiplies love” (“After”).
The selected works of Ginger Murchison are varied, including a sort of ode to Walt Whitman, and three short, lyrical pieces where the title flows into the first line of the poem to create a singular current. Temple Cone’s poems blur the line between mind and natural world in interesting ways. For example, in “The Only Prayer Death Makes” he describes warblers as “Little Sufi poems, they dance with God in the leaves.”
Judy Halebsky’s highly experimental works use the definitions of Kanji symbols and their variety of meanings as a source for her poems, integrating the symbols into the structure of the pieces themselves. And finally, Yoko Danno, a native Japanese woman who writes English language poetry, has two selections, including a prose poem entitled “A Woman In a Blue Robe,” about a woman in need of prayers “wearing only a blue kimono, which is enough for me to live in.”