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BOOK REVIEWS

  • a question of mortality by Susan Clayton Goldner, reviewed by Lois Rosen

    August 21, 2016

    a question of mortality by Susan Clayton Goldner
    Wellstone Press 2014 $15.00

    Reviewed by Lois Rosen

    cover_a question of moralityI first had the joy of meeting Susan Clayton-Goldner at a novel-writing workshop led by Marjorie Reynolds in Portland, Oregon years ago. Susan shone as an astute critic and author of family-centered mystery novels. She’s published three: Finding a Way Back, Just Another Heartbeat, and Murder at Cape Foulweather. Since childhood, Susan has devoted herself to honing her craft. Besides being an award-winning novelist and popular blogger, she’s an accomplished poet whose work has appeared in literary journals for decades. This year, finally, her heartfelt poems have been gathered into her first poetry collection, a question of mortality, published by Wellstone Press.

    Breaking from convention, all the words in the title on the cover begin with lowercase letters. Perhaps Goldner chose this to symbolize mortality humbling us. A black background frames women in a dark room. Dressed in black with her back to the reader, the central figure seems turned from tragedy, as if Goldner wishes to escape agonizing memories, but forces herself to confront them. Beyond glass, grey sky reveals light breaking through.

    In the poems as in the picture, there is a sense that tragedy has transformative effects. In the poem “An Eternity of Hope,” after a brother’s suicide brings pain like “broken glass,” hope does “simmer.” Her grief never disintegrates, but a daffodil poking up from “frosted earth” symbolizes beauty coming back like flames rekindled.

    Death softens the poet’s heart, makes her more vulnerable, yet more empathetic. For example, in “When My Father Slipped into His Death,” Goldner writes:

    Near the foot of his bed, I expect fear,
    But the face and hands are too familiar.

    In a rush of lost affection, I uncurl
    his fingers, pet a ruffled arch of brow…

    and the years of rage, too hot to touch,
    cool at once into this mourning.

    The words “mourning,” “longing,” and “memory” echo through this book. Fresh images and powerful lines move the reader through profound experiences of love and loss. Regret, loneliness, forgiveness, fury, sadness—the many stages of grief recur. The book pays tribute to complicated, flawed but cherished family members who have died, leaving their survivor bereft yet determined to write these moving, elegiac poems honoring them.

    Many of the poems employ nature and weather to convey inner landscapes.

    But one season bleeds into the next
    And what nurtures can also strip away.
    Soon the wildflowers will
    fold in their perfect petals and disappear
    into the pine-scented earth.
    Only their memory will flicker
    across the quiet face of time.

    …pointing that bullet
    toward the empty hole in yourself.

    In closing, I’ll point out a powerhouse poem: “In My Favorite Easter Memory of Lillian Nell.” She is: “Chanel # 5 and whiskey,” “stiletto heels,” “spider-leg lashes.” I won’t give away the poem’s stunning end. Read it and this whole collection for narrative poetry strikingly passionate, honest and profound.

     

    Reviewer bio: 

    Lois Rosen’s poems and stories have appeared in over a hundred periodicals. Traprock Books published her poetry book Pigeons in 2004. Tebot Bach Publishers published her second collection Nice and Loud in 2015.

  • Avenida Uriburu by Michael Hanner, reviewed by Sara Burant

    June 1, 2016

    Avenida Uriburu by Michael Hanner
    Chandelier Galaxy Books, 2015
    Available on Amazon.com for $6.00 plus s & h

    Avenida Uriburu Reviewed by Sara Burant

    Perhaps not coincidentally I was reading Avenida Uriburu on a train. It was raining steadily. Outside, shapes and colors ran together. I forgot where I was then remembered a jacket I wore as a child. Seeing the jacket that wasn’t there but curiously was, I regained my bearings: reading a book of poems situated in Buenos Aires on a train heading into Oakland, California. “Without images we tend to lose our way,” wrote James Hillman. Avenida Uriburu is a book concerned with images and bearings, with the extent to which one can and cannot orient oneself in territory at once familiar and strange. In lieu of compass and map, poet Michael Hanner both engages the art of noticing and constructs imaginative spaces, inviting gesture, object and persona to inhabit them.

    Notitia is the capacity to form true notions of things from the act of attentive noticing. The word notice is related to the words connoisseur, incognito, recognize and gnosis. Each of these words finds resonance in this collection. In many of the poems the speaker is a connoisseur of the sensual, of red wine, chorizo, the scent of jacarandas, color and touch: “Opposites are sewn into your life,/buttons on a dress someone else/must button and unbutton for you./Hold still, they say; and you feel their fingers/moving behind you like butterflies.” Sensual experience is a kind of guide, leading the speaker to glimpse, at times even to inhabit, albeit briefly, the soul of the place.

    Governing these poems is an intelligence which resists drawing conclusions. The poems are far more interested in alchemy, in the buzz and hum produced by the proximity of things. In the poem “La Biela,” for example, the speaker is sitting on or near the terrace of a hotel’s cafe, noting what he sees: “The ancient gum shades/the well-heeled diners and riffraff/sucking eggs and medialunas…” But more than that, he is pairing things, letting them rub against each other, creating a static effect. The poem goes on:

    Before the entry is a fiberglass statue
    of one of the race car drivers
    who patronized the cafe
    a half century ago
    before people began disappearing
    into the windy delta.
    The whiff of dyed red hair, the chameleons,
    the English spaniels sleeping under our feet.

    In just a few lines we receive a sense of the strangeness of the ordinary in Buenos Aires. The kitschy fiberglass statue of a pop-culture icon whom we imagine racing over open spaces makes way for the ghosts of those who disappeared into the windy delta in the last century’s political upheavals.

    The speaker of another poem, “Avenida Ayacucho,” observes a man presumably a member of the Argentine elite: “The tan is flawless./The face has seen everything./The eyes so like a serpent,/impersonal as Switzerland, perhaps they are only cameras.” Implicit is a sense that by cunning, luck or complicity this man survived the terrible years of 1976-83. In Invisible Cities Italo Calvino notes, “The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows…the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.” In these poem we find enactments of Calvino’s observation. The past, including the dead and disappeared, not only hovers over but is woven into Hanner’s Buenos Aires.

    As well, the poems often evoke a sense of precariousness and contingency: “Here in the south of the world/the power fails/in a city where I speak not the language./We could use the strange key the landlord gave us…/The door knob doesn’t move./The elevators are dead./The mountains hem us in.” Syntax inverts. The same chord plays over and over. Stasis and repetition become species of instability. This is not the first world, and the keys the speaker’s been given are not the right ones. Still, the poet recognizes a kind of kinship with the place through possible fictions, possible lives.

    The prose poem The Window postulates a life in a nondescript slab of a building, the poem accompanied by an intriguing photograph of one such building, taken from the ground and angling up, rendering a sense of vertigo. The speaker of this poem lives incognito, resident or traveler, and watches with intense interest the only neighbor he ever sees, entranced by her watering the flowers: “In that entire space the only real color is the red of her impatiens.” Yet in the end this speaker cannot bear the pressure of being recognized, or rejected, and stays away from the window “like the other people who don’t live here.” The city invites and enthralls, and the city withholds. It is itself a kind of tango dance, choreographed by suggestion and nuance, as much by what is not there as by what is.

    Again, Calvino provides perspective: “The traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have.” Hanner deftly manages this tension. A wise traveler, he realizes his knowledge is limited: “Then Yesterday, vain and harsh, humped home,/dark falling, its work of not knowing/complete without knowing.” Gnosis is achieved but it is not an apotheosis of understanding, not revelation. It has to do with being open to sur/reality, experience whose fabric blends memory, history, dream, and the physical world.

    The book’s final poem is an afterword, mapping the vicinity of Avenida President Jose Evaristo Uriburu. Whereas the rest of the poems seek to orient us psychically and emotionally, this last poem locates us spatially: “Two blocks one way is a shopping mall abutting Recoleta cemetery. Two blocks the other way is Avenida Santa Fe….” Rather than summing up the place, this poem allows us to linger with its familiarity, its laundromats, kindergartens, street vendors and grocery stores. We have been somewhere that seemed often strange, a place that offered pleasures and kept back potent secrets and pain that nonetheless bled from the bandaged wounds, a place “drunk with its own ooze and babel.” Perhaps we can never fully orient ourselves. The best we can do involves noticing and creating brief habitations. Our understanding is necessarily limited. These poems suggest that Buenos Aires is both unique and Everyplace, that what beckons and disturbs the traveler on the road, beckons and disturbs the traveler at home and is the condition of being alive at this, or any, historical moment.

     

    Reviewer bio: 

    Sara Burant is the author of the chapbook Verge. Having temporarily relocated to the Bay Area to pursue an MFA in Poetry at St. Mary’s College, she looks forward to returning to Oregon and its vibrant literary community in 2017.

  • Ocean’s Laughter by Tricia Knoll, reviewed by Carolyn Martin

    April 24, 2016

    Reviewed by Carolyn Martin

    Ocean’s Laughter
    by Tricia Knoll
    Kelsay Books, Aldrich Press
    Hemet, California

    ISBN: 13: 978-0692541852
    2016, $17.00, 102 pages (on Amazon)
    triciaknoll.com
    twitter:@ triciaknollwind

    Ocean's LaughterThose who know and love the Oregon Coast will experience a delightful shock of recognition while reading Tricia Knoll’s Ocean’s Laughter. This rich and varied collection about Manzanita – “an emerald of temperate rain-forest on the Pacific Coast ring of fire”– reveals a poet who has not merely observed nearly every inch of beach, type of sea life, and coastal weather event, but who – as a resident – has experienced them intimately for twenty-five years.

    The result is a virtual guidebook to the history and mystery of a world that is forever changing. In her poems and prose poems, Knoll engages us with stories and myths of “first people” (the Nehalem Tillamook and Clatsop tribes), the “discovery” of the Columbia River by Europeans, the 1700 earthquake and tsunami, and the current concern that “Part of the ocean’s depths are dying.” As she says at the end of her prose poem, “Mise en Scène – Manzanita, Oregon,” “Much comes and goes here.”

    What remains consistent about this striking collection is Knoll’s ability to turn sharp observation into language that is precise, surprising, and musical.

    For example, in the opening poem, “I Came Back Again and Again,” she recounts why she returns to the coast in lines that sing: to “hold a hand, fold a leash … hear my sump pump chuff … tickle sea anemones to squirt at me … bike the bay spit trail when scotch broom blooms.”

    It soon becomes obvious that Knoll is a master of the list poem who revels in transforming piles of ordinary images into monuments celebrating everything from the City of Manzanita’s Lost and Found Department to shopping at a local store. In the latter (“As for Shopping”) we learn we can buy everything from bestsellers to Haitian metal work, from life jackets made for dogs to windsocks. What we cannot find, however, are things like diamond rings, gasoline, labradoodles, and parakeets. Beside all the expected and unexpected items that appear on shelves and all those that would be ludicrous to find, this poem is so much fun to read because Knoll has arranged all seventy-one items she cites in alphabetical order. We browse through her varied lines like shoppers looking for things to relieve the dreariness of rainy days – this area gets 70 to 90 inches per year – or to discover a small treasure we just can’t live without. The poem itself is one of those treasures.

    Not only does Knoll delight in language, but also educates us about life on the coast. For example, we learn: “In winter winds,/umbrellas are useless./Bring a hat in all seasons, pull it down tight.” (“The Way the Wind Blows”) We are warned that “A child’s shovel is not safe/stuck in the sand overnight. Mornings/light up a new beach, handiwork/of the cleaner, scrubber, rearranger/of rootwad benches.” (“Pacific Night Work”) And in the inventive “The Child’s Sea Garden of Verbs,” she offers “a tidepool glossary” that parents and grandparents can “tiptoe through … to conjure in marine gardens repeating names like spells./Verb gifts of watch for sneaker waves and where you step.”

    Interspersed among the poems are letters to government agencies that reinforce Knoll’s concern for the environmental issues. She writes to Oregon’s Governor Kitzhaber, asking him to “Please jumpstart an Oregon State Parks’ study about cars cruising on Oregon beaches.” (“Letter to the Governor of Oregon”)

    The Manzanita City Council gets an earful. For example, she writes, “The City’s recent water bill asked for input to Council on local issues. Here I am. Begging again for driftwood awareness.” (“Letter #32 to the Manzanita City Council about Bonfires on the Beach”)

    And,

    The City Council did a fine job coordinating the Fourth of July parade today …. May I ask the City to require next year that vintage cars in the parade display signs identifying the make of the car and date of manufacture? … . Ask drivers to include exhaust emission numbers and the average mileage per gallon on highway and in-town driving … . You ask equestrians shovel up after their horses. Insist drivers own up to what autos leave in the ocean air. (“Letter #33 to Manzanita City Council”)

    We can only guess at the contents of the first thirty-one letters! Undoubtedly, the Council was relieved to learn in #33 that this would be Knoll’s last letter. She was about to move.

    At the end of Ocean’s Laughter, Knoll leaves us with poems addressing the sale of her home on Beeswax Lane and the bitter-sweetness of leaving it all behind. Anyone who has gone through the process of letting go of a cherished place can identify with the touching lines such as “My dog’s paw print carved in spring mud,/everywhere my fingerprints.” (“My Cottage Garden after The For-Sale- Sign Goes Up”)

    And in “From Blue to Gray,” Knoll remembers:

    Generations of children
    have built dams in the outflow creek
    at the foot of Beeswax Lane.
    I cleaned St. Helens’ ash from the gutters.

    … Paid twice as much for flood insurance
    as annual property taxes.
    Three of the dogs I brought here
    are dead. Mother’s ashes on Neahkahnie … .

    Few local poets are so committed to the art and craft of writing and so passionate about the health of the planet as Tricia Knoll. Ocean’s Laughter exemplifies both. What Sting – the songwriter, lead singer, and bassist for The Police – once said about his own artistic mission can easily define Knoll’s: “All my life I have tried to find the truth and make it beautiful.” Ocean’s Laughter is filled with an abundance of beautiful truths that will touch the hearts and minds of those who know the coast, and will serve as an invitation to visit to those who have yet to explore its rugged richness.

     

    Author bio:

    Tricia Knoll is an Oregon poet whose works appears in numerous journals and anthologies. Her chapbook Urban Wild (Finishing Line Press 2014) explores interactions between humans and wildlife in urban habitat ranging from Lone Fir Cemetery to downtown Portland. Ocean’s Laughter is available from Amazon and local bookstores in Cannon Beach, Manzanita, and Portland. Website: triciaknoll.com

    Reviewer bio:

    Carolyn Martin’s poems and reviews have appeared in publications throughout the US and UK. Her second collection, The Way a Woman Knows, was released by The Poetry Box, Portland, OR in 2015.

  • Every Door Recklessly Ajar by Nancy Flynn, reviewed by Ann Staley

    March 7, 2016

    Reviewed by Ann Staley

    Every Door Recklessly Ajar

    By Nancy Flynn

    Cayuga Lake Books, Ithaca, New York
    ISBN 9781681110356
    2015, 72 pp., $12 (on Amazon)
    Nancy Flynn.com

    every-door-coverNancy Flynn’s slender volume of poems is filled with joy and mystery, grief and remembrance. It is the home of many pleasures, beginning with the zany, And I Will Tell You A Story, about how a tree grew out of a piano. Each of the four sections begins with a lovely quote like this one by Larry Levis:

    And so you put your hand out,
    Palm open,
    And then you feel, or you begin to feel

    The opening poem, Code Talker, is surely meant to be a word puzzle, Say lipstick and mean ghost stripes on the prow, say this and mean that. It is playful with some serious undertones: Say liver and mean none who survive. Do poets always write in code, I wonder. And I think, Yes. Yes we do, for we are translators of moments.

    When I read the next poem, Runaway, I immediately wrote my own poem. You might feel the same invitational pull. Prepositions by Nancy Flynn; responses from this reviewer:

    from      Green Acres
    from      a 50’s red brick ranch-house
    from      a pair of mis-matched parents
    to          living in the Pacific Northwest

    The Winter We Lived In The Church & It Snowed Daily & The First Barrel Of Crude Oil Traveled Successfully Through The Trans-Alaska Pipeline is worth reading even after the title!

    At the center of the collection, an eight page poem, Tupelo, A Gospel According To, begins with, The day Elvis died, The Tupelo-Gainsville tornado outbreak, of April 1936 when 233 people died, 700 hurt, but they didn’t count/any body/black and, I can remember/clarity, could see through the drip, my life clipped/ swervy yet two-lane. And don’t you want to write your own?

    Harrisburg, A Gospel According To

    In late-winter, crocus & daffodils.
    in spring, apple blossoms,
    in summer, green grass,
    in autumn, bare branches
    In July, Hurricane Hazel,
    moves inland to Central Pennsylvania.
    Lightening and thunder,
    torrential rain soaks your clothing
    as you run to the safety of the front porch.

    You see how every moment in the present
    connects you directly to the past?

    It’s why we write.

    Section 3 begins with the poem, How To Weather A Day Of 24-7 Media-Drenched Weather Hysteria which contains the book’s title. All I remember is the day of September 11, 2001. Waking to the radio report of a second plane hitting the World Trade Center. Watching people leap from fiery top floor windows. If you were alive then, you remember exact moments from that day—hearing and seeing the news. Because I live on the west coast, it felt as unreal as watching a movie, played over and over again for twelve hours. I joined my friend, stay-at-home mother of two, and we watched together in her living room. I don’t remember eating or drinking anything but coffee. Caffeine lifts the tarnish off silverware and assists your “coming to grips” with the new reality: Terrorism.

    A page or two later, I encountered the poem, Transubstantiation. I recognized the word, but wasn’t sure of its meaning, so I looked it up in my Dictionary of the English Language, page 1507. I’m going to let you look this up yourself.

    The final section contains the poem with the longest title: Complicity, Or Poem Written After Days Sitting Out On Our Explorer Of The Seas Stateroom Balcony & Staring Into That Sea Traversed For Hundreds Of Years By Ships Of The Middle Passage. Why does the poet use such a long title? Marge Piercy told me to make my titles exact and irresistible. After Complicity the rest of the title does jus that.

    This poem is followed by a sonnet, a villanelle, and Cape Disappointment, which concerns itself with a very cold weekend in the 1955 Spartan Manor, at the Sou’wester Lodge & Vintage Travel Trailer Resort in Seaview, WA.

    I have visited Seaview twice in my life and both times it was blustery, cold and gray. There’s a lighthouse, and a US Naval base, still occupied. You can see platoons of soldiers marching, raising the flags, young men who look handsome in their “whites” or their “blues.”

    The volume closes with a prose poem, Mercator Projections,

     This is the map where I live now. Pipedream
     memory, land.

     

    Reviewer bio: Ann Staley’s third collection of poems, Afternoon Sky Harney Desert, will be published in April, 2016.

            

     

  • Reverberations from Fukushima: 50 Japanese Poets Speak Out, reviewed by Ruthy Kanagy

    January 9, 2015

    Review by Ruthy Kanagy

    Reverberations from Fukushima: 50 Japanese Poets Speak Out

    Edited by Leah Stenson and Asao Sarukawa Aroldi

    Inkwater Press (Portland, Oregon)
    ISBN: 9781629010656
    2014, 192pp., $14.95

    3.11.11 is a date forever imprinted on the memories of Japanese and other persons who were in Japan on that fateful day. A massive tsunami launched by a ‘thousand-year’ magnitude 9.0 earthquake inundated 400 miles of Pacific coastline north of Tokyo – about the distance from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It took the lives of 18,000 people and swept away farms, homes, fishing villages and whole cities. In the days following, multiple hydrogen explosions and meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi (No. 1) Nuclear Power Station, 160 miles north of Tokyo, forced the evacuation of 140,000 citizens who had to abandon pets, livestock, farms, and businesses, tearing apart centuries-old ways of life.

    Almost four years later, we in the U.S. hear little about the aftermath of the nuclear accident and on-going policies of government agencies and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) — who built the plant in rural Fukushima to supply power to Tokyo —  in dealing with the contaminated land, sea, air and the daily lives of the ‘nuclear refugees’ who cannot return home.

    This unusual collection of poems fills a gap in our understanding of the human impact of  nuclear power on the people of Fukushima prefecture, on Japanese society, and on all humanity. Here is a rare chance to hear fifty Japanese poets speak to us directly in strong, clear voices, unfiltered by media or government. Originally composed in Japanese, skilled translators have made the poems accessible to English readers.

    The fifty poems originally appeared in a larger Japanese-English edition entitled, Farewell to Nuclear, Welcome to Renewable Energy: A Collection of Poems by 218 Poets, edited by Hisao Suzuki, Jotaro Wakamatsu, et. al. (Tokyo: Coal Sack Publishing Company, 2012).

    The volume opens with a preface by editor Leah Stenson followed by several essays and commentary by Suzuki, Wakamatsu, and others, that inform and give historical context to the poems. Following are excerpts from eight poems in the anthology, which address a range of themes from fear, betrayal, contamination, nature’s bounty, and love of ones home, to the politics of secrecy and the human significance of technological failure.

    In “A Phantom Country of Civilization – From Hiroshima to Fukushima,” Ryu Nishida reveals the repeated mistakes of the country’s leaders and people, who followed in the dark.

    A Phantom Country of Civilization – From Hiroshima to Fukushima
    Swallowed up in a muddy stream,
    though aware of the foolishness of the country’s policies,
    the people of the country chose, without logic, the way of darkness.
    They knew no way other than fighting with bamboo spears
    against heavily-equipped invading forces

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    Didn’t this country come trudging along,
    carrying the darkness of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on its back?
    A myth about the safety of nuclear power plants had been constructed
    and nuclear power plants now jostle each other for space on this island
    country.

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    The last stanza is full of powerful imagery regarding the current situation.
    We stand, powerless and bare-skinned,
    in the scorching sunlight.
    While radioactivity dances wildly in the wind and light,
    no one can see it, or has any way to deal with it.
    we stand, motionless, in the flow of time that passes from life to death.

    Note: From 1962, Japan built 54 nuclear power plants that supplied a third of the country’s energy needs. All were shut down after the meltdowns at the Fukushima plant. There is fierce political, scientific, and social debate over whether and when to restart them. The government announced intentions to restart the first one, the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kyushu, in early 2015.

    Masami Tanizaki, in “Transition of a Myth,” expands the nuclear dialog to the global stage, charging that by ignoring the effects of radiation we have endangered children everywhere.  We have to dig deep under the rubble and “discern the words” of “the ripe fruit hanging on the branches.”

    Transition of a Myth

    Both those who know about Chernobyl
    and those who don’t know about Chernobyl
    are surely now aware of the keen sensitivity
    of the tender organs and bones inside of
    babies and infants, boys and girls…

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    We already knew of
    the wretched spectacle of nuclear testing in the Pacific,
    the madness at Semipalatinsk
    and the Iraqi children hit by depleted uranium rounds.

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    Will it turn out to be a myth
    that they can return to the place where they were born?

    We must keep looking at even what is hidden in the rubble,
    We have to discern the words from the silence
    of the ripe fruit hanging on the branches.

    The posture of gaman, or patiently enduring adversity, is a strong culture value in Japan, particularly in rural, traditional communities of the Tohoku (northeast) region, which includes  Fukushima prefecture. In “Give Us Back Everything,” Yasunori Akiyama tell us that, “Those driven from their homes by radioactivity” are being treated “as an unimportant minority.” It is time to “locate the source of the pain” and “cry out loudly” to those in positions of power.

    Give Us Back Everything

    In an abandoned hamlet
    several dozen cows
    tied to cowsheds died, sprawled on the floor,
    leaving tooth-marks on the wooden door frames.
    From their parched hide,
    from their hooves kicking the air
    from the rusty iron beams of the cowshed
    from the dirt of the floor,
    from the dent in the roof,
    from the roots of the grass, trunks of trees, and the air,
    something is silently watching.

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    We must not be patient.
    To be patient is to run away.
    To endure is to look away from reality.
    When it hurts, we should cry out loudly

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    The last stanza is a chorus which “We should say in unison/ to those who hid what they didn’t want us to see”:

    Give us back our cows! Give us back the fodder!
    Give us back our homes, farms, grass and trees!
    Give us back our water, air, insects, fish and birds!
    Give us back our neighbors!
    Give us back peace for the babies not yet born!
    Give us back everything that once was!
    Give us back the future that is yet to come!

    Akiyama’s last two stanzas bring to mind a poem by Sankichi Toge, who endured the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. His “Give Back the Human,” written in 1951, is  engraved on a monument in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park:

    Give back my father, give back my mother;
    Give grandpa back, grandma back;
    Give me my sons and daughters back.
    Give me back myself.
    Give back the human race.
    As long as this life lasts, this life,
    Give back peace
    That will never end. 

    When Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) built the nuclear power plants in Fukushima’s verdant, coastal area to supply energy to metropolitan Tokyo 160 miles away, they convinced many, though not all, local citizens of the economic benefits — construction jobs and employment — using slogans such as, “Clean, Safe Nuclear Power.”

    As a young woman just out of school, Hatsuko Hara was happy to get a job with TEPCO. Her mother warned her, however, that “The things that people do are not perfect./ A nuclear plant is the same as an atomic bomb.”  In her poem she informs the reader of why she terminated her job five months after the nuclear accident. Her message is one of sorrow, betrayal, and a new resolve.

    The Day My Professional Career Ended

    On August 31, 2011,
    my professional career ended.
    I retired from my company.

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    When I entered the company I told my parents,
    Father and Mother,
    Don’t participate in the anti-nuclear movement.
    I am a member of Tokyo Electric Power Company.

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    I felt proud to be working for a company that produces electricity.
    I found my partner
    and bore two children.

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    Now, I am
    a citizen concerned with conserving electricity
    so that we can live without nuclear power.

    In “Swindling of One Million Years,” Keiichiro Fujitani accuses “Those who transplanted the genes of the sun to this planet!/ Those who shoot arrows to the sun from this tower of Babel!” of ignoring the long-term consequences of the use of nuclear power for short-term gain.  Again, nature is a silent witness to the contamination of the environment.

    Swindling of One Million Years

    Healthy fingers and
    dreaming hands
    extend toward the expanding meadow of
    dandelions and lotus

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    For the sake of your prosperity
    of the next several decades,
    haven’t you swindled one million years
    from the Japanese archipelago?”

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    The last stanza echoes the first:

    The winds of prayer
    blow quietly
    through the Japanese archipelago
    from the north and the west
    in our heart, and
    on the wordless field of life
    of nuclear contamination
    where the dandelions and the lotus spread.

    Last November on a bright, blustery day, I traveled south along the coast of Fukushima prefecture by train and bus as far as Soma. The Soma region is famous for horse-breeding and a 1000-year old festival known as “Soma Nomaoi,” or wild horse chasing. It is also just 30 miles north the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. I had trouble finding a room, as hotels were full of temporary workers hired to decontaminate areas in the “nuclear exclusion zone.” Poet Hiroshi Suzuki calls the clean-up efforts a “disguise” and points out “swindlers” who profit from the disaster and cover-up “the real dirt.”

    Decontamination

    They eliminate the surface soil and wash the walls and roofs.
    That is the disguise called decontamination.
    Where can we flush away things
    that will never become clean
    in twenty thousand years?

    . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Where does the real dirt lie?

    . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    We see swindlers everywhere.
    Only our courage to stand up to them
    can begin to decontaminate the real dirt.

    The final two excerpts are from two poets, both born in Fukushima, who reflect on nature’s bounty and the sorrow of losing their homes and way of life that moved in rhythm to the seasons. In “To My Home,” Setsuko Okubo affirms, “Our prime blessing is brought by the soil..inherited and guarded.” In the first and last stanzas, the repetition of the names of wild plants they used to gather serves as a litany.

    To My Home

    Butterbur sprouts, five-leaf aralia, fatsia sprouts, bracken, and parsley.
    When the mountains are ready
    for the sprouting of plants,
    the rice fields are dug, and the fields are cultivated,
    calves are born,
    horses are pastured,
    and chickens lay eggs.
    It’s a season full of life.
    In the fall
    Ears of rice rustle.
    The smell of rice heralds the harvest.

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    Then, “In a twinkle it vanished../ life-taking radiation —/ contaminated my home”

    We had to slaughter the cows that we had tenderly watched over.
    We abandoned our racehorses that we had raised with the utmost care,
    left our houses, fields, and livestock, and evacuated.
    We drift from shelter to shelter as refugees.

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    Spring has rolled around again.
    Butterbur sprouts, five-leaf aralia, fatsia sprouts, bracken, and parsley.
    They are waiting to be picked
    on the desolate land.

    Chihiro Uozumi movingly paints a picture of the beauty of her home on the coast of Fukushima, and the soul’s longing for what was taken by the nuclear accident — “a scream of excess.”

    The Place Where the Soul Flies

    There was a broad sky.
    There was a deep blue sea.
    A snowy white sand hill spread out, and deep green pinewoods grew thick.
    The place where I was born and raised
    was a quiet coastal town,
    a place where the soul flies.

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    On that day,
    Was it a cry or a scream of excess?

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    That path
    terminated in the sea at Fukushima
    and brutally exploded.

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    The final stanza echos the first:

    There was a broad sky.
    There was a deep blue sea
    My hometown
    is still the place
    to which my soul returns

    Kudos to the editors – Leah Stenson of Portland and Asao Sarukawa Aroldi of Tokyo – for selecting and editing these fifty poems and bringing Reverberations from Fukushima to life. The collection more than meets their goal to “open the eyes of the American public to the dangers inherent in uranium-based nuclear power” and “enhance Americans’ knowledge of contemporary Japanese poetry.”

    Inkwater Press is to be commended for undertaking the publication of this bilingual collection – open the book at the front to read the poems in English, open at the other front to read the poems in Japanese, or at last admire the neat, vertical script! Learn more about Fukushima – the land, the people, the nuclear accident, what’s happening today. http://fukushimaontheglobe.com/

     

    Reviewer Bio: Ruthy Kanagy is the author of “Living Abroad in Japan” (2013, Avalon Travel Publishers). Her poems have appeared in Fault Lines Poetry and Eugene 150th Birthday Celebration Poetry Collection. A native Tokyoite living in Eugene, she is mostly retired, loves to hike and travel with her bike, and leads Japan Cycle Tours annually.

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