- Landscape of Poetry:Ryuichi Tamura
The following essay by Kazuko Shiraishi () originally appeared in Shi no Huukei · Shijin no Shouzou () (Landscape of Poetry: Portraits of the Poets). In 2007, the publisher Shoshi Yamada () released the book, an anthology of work by fifteen wellknown international poets—Shiraishi's lifetime personal friends. In each essay, she introduces the poet's best work, remembering their friendship like a landscape. The book received the sixtieth Yomiuri Literary Award in 2009 ()—the second Yomiuri Award given to Shiraishi. Samuel Grolmes and I translated the poems by Tamura included in the essay.—Y. T.
My encounter with Ryuichi Tamura has been my fate. I wonder what my life would have become if, at the age of seventeen, I had not run across his poem "Reunion." Perhaps fate would have taken me in a different direction.
Tomorrow, no even tonight, the factory in Saijō where I work could get bombed, and I might die in a fireball. Or die by jumping into the sea from a two-hundred-meter-high cliff at the back of the factory, which was the only way to run away from the fire—whichever option I chose, there was nothing but death. Those were the days of my fourteenth year in the town of Matsuyama on Shikoku Island, to which I had been evacuated. The war ended three days before the expected air raid, so I took a deep breath, realizing I had gotten away without dying. I was overwhelmed with a sense of release, believing that from now on my life belongs to me.
The girl students were able to return to school. Among the books I found in the town of Matsuyama which grabbed me were The Flowers of Evil by Baudelaire and The Blue Cat and Barking at the Moon by Sakutaro Hagiwara. I had no appetite for lukewarm lyric poetry.
I returned to Tokyo. I do not have a clear memory of when and where, but I encountered Tamura's "Reunion" in the journal Poetics. For the first time, I met the earth face to face as swirling sand. The poem had a shocking impact on me. Up until then, I had been on the earth, but had never met the earth with such closeness as to have a game of chess with it. [End Page 159]
Admiring the journal that published the great poem which had singularly moved me, I visited the Poetics study group, carrying with me a poem of mine, "Time." Just then Shiro Murano and Koichi Kihara were selecting and commenting on poems. Taking up my poem, Kihara said, "Whose poem is this? It has a weird feeling." And then he asked me, "As for your pen name, what have you decided on?"
At that time, I had no idea that Koichi Kihara was inviting me into Katsue Kitazono's Vou poetry group. At the same time, another group of poets was publishing a magazine called Wasteland (Arechi), named after T. S. Eliot's poem. The two groups shared some ideas, and so the Wasteland poets—Saburo Kuroda, Taro Kitamura, Nobuo Ayukawa, not to mention Ryuichi Tamura and Koichi Kihara—were showing up at the meetings of the Vou group.
The Wasteland poets discussed and uproariously disputed Dos Passos and Faulkner. Then when night came, they parted from the gentlemen of coffee and cake—Katsue Kitazono's Vou poets—and went out to Shinbashi to drink Calvados and vodka, and drank kasutori and bakudan at Narushisu in Shinjuku like fish. I followed them many times out of natural curiosity, even though I was still a high school student.
My introductory remarks have gotten long, but this poem "Reunion" gave me a baptism into modernism, and gave me a chance to encounter and look closely at the early Wasteland group. The group advocated that poetry must have an ideology, social responsibility, and a spirituality, in desolate postwar Japan. (The Wasteland group later parted from Vou and became independent.)
Where did I meet youWhere Where did I meet youmy friend who is a good friend of death my old friendMidday in...