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Review: Salad Anniversary by Machi Tawara


Paperback, 112 pages
Expected publication: June 9th 2015 by Pushkin Press
Source: Publisher

Tanka: a Japanese poem consisting of five lines, the first and third of which have five syllables and the other seven, making 31 syllables in all and giving a complete picture of an event or mood. (according to Google).

Machi Tawara’s Salad Anniversary is a collection of tanka poems that are crazily popular in Japan. The translator’s note (the translator of this collection is Juliet Winters Carpenter) at the end theorizes on the plausible reasons for this collection’s popularity and mentions that one of the things that distinguishes Tawara’s work from other poets is the language she uses which, unfortunately, the English reading audience are unable to experience. Carpenter also talks about how Tawara uses a mixture of formal Japanese and modern Japanese to create poetry that is wholly contemporary and resonates with its readers.

I appreciate the difficulty that must have accompanied Ms. Carpenter when she was translating this collection. It cannot have been easy or simple to translate the work without sacrificing either the language or the meaning inherent in the verse. I have to be honest here and admit that there were moments when I couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about and then I’d come across a particularly beautiful stanza and glimpse the reason Tawara’s poems speak to the people.

Her words, though simple in translation, have this weight to them, this depth that transcends culture and age to find relevancy. The feelings she expresses with her poetry transcends language and speaks to the human in me. I will share some of my favourite stanzas below and urge you to give her Salad Anniversary a try. It may surprise you.

Skeptical of promises
You don’t even bother
to build your castle away from the waves.


Your disappearing figure,
A little too cool–
it’s always the man
who sets off on a journey.


The flow of the river
whatever I compare it to leaves out
the stones at the bottom.


Red pepper hotness
of the words I failed to say,
bitter in my mouth.


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