I saw this collection on the shelf at a bookstore and while I didn’t get it at the time, for some reason it gnawed me. I did some googling and read about the book and the author and, somewhat trepidatiously, finally sat down to read it.
Machi Tawara is not Yeats nor Dante nor Milton nor Eliot nor Ashberry – at least not in translation (I know that I am missing a ton of information and shading, not in the least because they are all written in tanka form and Japan’s specialized poetry forms don’t really translate directly to English without losing their form). They’re a little sappy, more than a little youthful, a bit twee, and they should be trite, but, instead, they are delightful. I can see why the book became a bestseller in Japan.
Mostly about falling in love, losing love, being in love (and a bit about being a teacher and living alone), there is nothing groundbreaking about any of it, but as soon as I had finished, I wanted to go back and read it again.
The individual tanka are translated here as three line verses (in Japanese, they would be a single, vertical line). Each one makes for self contained poem, while simultaneously making for a continuous narrative.
From a poetic sequence entitled Hashimoto High School (where the then twenty-something Tawara taught):
Girls in middy blouses
scurry through the streets
as if keeping someone waiting
Writing the character for “youth”
somehow I’m struck
by all those horizontal lines
Besides that first tanka‘s echoes of Pound’s metro station, each tanka works perfectly as a self-contained poem, but also lends itself to a clear, more or less linear sequence.