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Machi Tawara at Ledbury Festival – Sunday 14th July

If you’re heading to the Ledbury Poetry Festival this weekend you have a very rare opportunity to hear a reading by one of Japan’s most celebrated poets.

Machi Tawara‘s first book of poems, Salad Anniversary (1987), combined the classical tanka form with the subject of a modern love affair. It became a sensation, selling over 2.5 million copies; the ‘salad phenomenon’ in Japanese culture was comparable to the ‘bananamania’ that followed the publication of the first novel by Tawara’s contemporary Banana Yoshimoto.

She has since published several more books of tanka, translated classical Japanese poems and stories into modern Japanese, and hosted TV and radio shows bringing tanka to a wide audience.

As editor of Magma 34 I was delighted to feature the first UK publication of Tawara’s poetry in the issue: a selection of translations from Salad Anniversary, and her later collection Pooh’s Nose, about the first months of motherhood.

Tawara-san will be reading with Sinead Morrissey at 2.30pm this Sunday 14th July at Ledbury. Details on the Ledbury website.

Here is a brief selection of Machi Tawara’s tanka published in Magma 34, by kind permission of the poet and the translator, Quentin S. Crisp:

Three tanka from Salad Anniversary (1987).

Lunch on a sandy beach.
An egg sandwich left untouched
bothers me somehow.

“Phone me again,” you say
and put down the receiver.
And I want to phone you again
right now.

A sea that seems to say
all the lies I have told in my life
don’t matter one bit.

Three tanka from Pooh’s Nose (2005)

There is a music to crying.
Again today I carry a newborn baby
like a guitar.

Living is reaching out with one’s hands.
The fingers of an infant
close upon the nose of Pooh Bear.

Rocking, but not moving forward.
Childrearing is this rocking horse-time
that you have given me.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. When Machi Tawara published her first collection of tanka back in 1987 she would have been seen in Japan as a feminist possibly as her tanka had a classic template of 31-on (the three Japanese language systems don’t have syllables) but she used contemporary themes that a young woman could relate to, as they did in the West with Bridget Jones Diary.

    Another book, with definite political and feminine themes is the classic bi-lingual tanka and haiku anthology A Long Rainy Season published by Stone Bridge Press. Female students were gassed by police during the 1960s.

    I’m surprisd that tanka hasn’t taken off in the West, it’s akin to being a half-sonnet in some ways. Thankfully my online classes enjoy both literary haiku and tanka.

    Tanka are one-line poems in Japan, sometimes two lines, whilst in the West they are five lines, this is because there are subtle sections, just as haiku is a one-line vertical line in Japan, with two subtle sections, but one “kire” aka a cut.

    a small death
    the cracked shell
    of a snail
    now this delay
    at the train station

    Alan Summers
    Publication credits:

    Mosaic Anthology (Bath Spa University 2009); Blithe Spirit (British Haiku Society journal vol. 20 no. 4, 2010); Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka Vol. 3 (MET Press 2010) ISBN 978-1-935398-27-1; 140 And Counting (Upper Rubber Boot Books 2011) ISBN 978-1-937794-04-0

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