Remarks about this section:
This section will feature contemporary poetry -- and accompanying poetics/essay/ journal writing, when possible -- translated into English from other languages. If you are translating work, please propose your ideas to our on-going translation coordinator: Cole Swenson, <email@example.com>
featuring Poems by Ayane Kawata
Translation and Preface by Malinda Markham
PREFACE by Malina Markham
In Japan, Kawata's work is noted primarily for its stark, vivid depictions of life -- not so much life as lived by a specific person, but more the sense of "living-ness." To the Japanese eye and ear, Kawata's poetry cuts through to the "overwhelming mysteries" that lie beneath everyday activities, and it does so with necessity. Hers are aggressive poems that look frankly at what it means to be a Japanese woman both inside Japan and away. Although she uses traditional natural images such as skylarks and lilies, her work is permeated just as often with elements of the body. Constant images of blood, ovaries, and physical decay, combined with a sensibility that verges on surrealist, undercut the typically quiet, "submissive" exterior that we usually associate with the public persona of Japanese women.
Time of the Sky is comprised wholly of very short poems reminiscent of tanka and haiku. In an interview, Kawata states that when she was writing the book, she chose an abstract title because she couldn't connect language with the concreteness of actual experience. Although she expected never to be able to write longer poems, Kawata expanded into free verse and short prose poems after moving to Italy. Her writing style began to include Western images, especially of art and cityscape, although primary themes of isolation and anger, and images of objects bursting into flame, remained. One of the challenges of translating her shortest poems is expressing the feeling of accretion that arises when reading a whole body of her work. Certain emotions and images occur so frequently that they gain power and connect closely enough that I decided to group three short, numbered poems under one title, chosen by myself. The individual poems and the numbering remain true to her work in Selected Poems, published by Shichosha Publishers in 1994.
Everywhere on the
The sky does not
Doves flutter as
The pure window
The fur, swimming
in the sky,
Egg & Lily
Tumbling down in
despair, mincing the scenery:
Don't call out!
To assault tomorrow:
The woman who drank
a glass window will shudder at dawn.
Where did the birds
At the speed of the
blood's reed crawling far to the brain:
At the hotel entrance
Once, at the seashore,
On August 10th
In the dark sky, a small substance is scattered and arranged into a ring. Like the sides of a walnut, two adjoined things become one. I can make out K.'s head and the head of his wife. Guilt flows to the back of my mind. Still, a feeling of defeat.
Daybreak, is it? In the middle of dawn, I see the lily bud swell. In space, two life-size lily buds-sigh heavily, and swell.
Did the white clouds eddy or boil up? I wonder, and the figure of a large swan emerges, writhing as if in pain. Afterward, a flock crossing the sky one by one becomes the clouds' streaming. One line of transparent thread gleams and is guided along. Still, the downpour, unstained, drifts off.
I lie on my side in a box surrounded by a thin white wall and can see signs of I.'s coming. My desire for I. is not hidden, but soon I will consign it perfectly to my chest.
BIO of poet: Ayane Kawata, a female Japanese poet, was born in China in 1940. She published her first book, Time of the Sky, in 1969 and has published at least seven other books, including Selected Poems, from which these poems have been taken. In the summer of 1969, Kawata traveled to Italy to pursue studies in art and has lived there and throughout Europe ever since. Despite her multi-lingual background, she writes poetry exclusively in Japanese.
BIO of translator: Malinda Markham spent the 1996-97 academic year at Saga University on a fellowship from the Japanese Ministry of Education and hopes to return to Japan in the spring of 2000. This year, her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in the journals Conjunctions, VOLT, American Letters & Commentary, Paris Review, Ohio Review, and Rhizome.
Swenson -- Translation Coordinator
Cole Swenson is a poet and translator of contemporary French poetry. Her translation of Olivier Cadiot's Art Poetic was published this year by Sun & Moon Press. Recent volumes of her own work include Try (University of Iowa Press, 1999) and Noon (Sun & Moon Press, 1997). She currently directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Denver.