Want to get a taste of modern and contemporary Japanese poetry but don’t speak Japanese? Then Poetry Kanto will give you a draught. It includes English translations of Japanese poems by members of the Kanto Poetry Center at Kanto Gakuin University in Yokohama. They have prefaced the works with helpful introductions to the poets’ lives and works. Many of the poems collected here have appeared previously on web sites or in books, and a number of these poems are slated to appear in Japanese Women Poets: An Anthology (M.E. Sharpe, 2007). I have the impression that many of the Japanese poems lost vitality in the translation, and this is the likely nature of translation because, of course, many aspects of poems (sounds, wordplay) cannot be rendered well in another language. What remains then are the images, and if the reader is not stirred by the images, the poem falls flat. Of the translated poems, “Eating the Wind” seemed to be the most successful, partly because the Indonesian terms are included so the sounds are not lost, and because of the difference in meaning of the title phrase in Indonesian and Japanese, as explained by the persona.
This issue also contains original English-language poems, including works by Michael Sowder, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Jennifer Michael Hecht, as well as an excerpt from Concerning the Book That is the Body of the Beloved by Gregory Orr. Of these selections, Fisher-Wirth’s lengthy “Answers She Did Not Give to the Annulment Questionnaire” caught my attention:
Too poor to buy a bed,
we jammed twin beds side by side
but one was higher,
so we slept stairsteps
like drifting-apart rowboats.
Its subject matter, bitter tone, and portrayal of a relationship decaying over time make it a powerful piece; yet, I wonder whether the persona’s faulty understanding of annulment is intentional or reflects that of the poet.