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Poetry Kanto - 2005

Poetry Kanto takes its name from the Japanese Kanto plain, but it's hard not to think Canto in the Western sense of the spirited song. This journal, published by an American Baptist-founded university, features four translated Japanese and eight international English-language poets. It refutes the conception that Japan is still the isolated land of the tanka and haiku. Tanikawa Shuntaro, for example, is well regarded for his breadth of knowledge of American pop culture. Yet Kanto also illustrates where the gaps remain. The editors shun "the tyranny of interpretation" and offer a wide range of lyrical styles. Yet the broad umbrage of "Language Poetry," which includes Haryette Mullen and Kanto co-editor Alan Botsford, can be an acquired taste. Mullen's "Resistance is Fertile," which concludes, "When you're / all pooped out, we're just breaking a second wind," is an ode to the regenerative powers of excretion, if it isn't plain sophomoric. What really makes the read jarring at times is the hovering presence of death, a subject to which a society that has survived The Bomb is aptly sensitive. Thus for Tanikawa, the earth has become "a transient wasteland where mortals are dancing." My favorite discovery, I admit, was not any of the featured poets but a poem included in a footnote, "A Phantom Seer" by Tamura Ryuichi, which begins: "A bird falls from the sky / For a single bird shot dead in a deserted place / The field exists // A scream escapes from the window / For a single scream shot dead in a deserted room / The world exists." Such a nugget makes the politics of all the rest feel raw and forced, sometimes too asymmetric, in comparison. Even where disagreeable, Poetry Kanto is involving, a pool adventurous readers will enjoy, though the rest of us would prefer the water were a little more transparent. 

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Review Posted on May 31, 2006
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