Sunday, November 30, 2014

Salad Anniversary - Machi Tawara

Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter.

When this book turned up in my letter box I had no idea what to make of it - except that it was very pretty. It's a translation of an internationally acclaimed, best selling, collection of Japanese poems covering 'the discovery of new love, first heartache and the end of an affair' - which still left me at a bit if a loss, but it would have been rude not to take a look at it and once I started reading I didn't stop until it was finished.

Annoyingly I managed to throw away the press release before I read the book, I have a dim memory that it had some useful information on it. Fortunately there is a useful afterword which expands on anything that would have been in the release. The story of 'Salad Anniversary' is in itself remarkable.

It's 1987 and a young teacher (26) Machi Tawara publishes her first collection of poems in tanka form. Tanka are short poems of 31 syllables, have a tradition that goes back well over a 1000 years, but had (I'm getting all this from Juliet Winters Carpenters afterword) become stale and conventional dealing as they traditionally did in set themes and an out of date, self consciously literary language. Tawara's collection changed all that, she managed to incorporate contemporary language without sacrificing traditional tanka virtues. So much so that the afterword (written in 1989) says 2500000 copies had already been sold and a phenomenon started.

It seems incredible that a collection of poems would have this kind of impact, but it's profoundly encouraging to realise that it can happen. It works because the tone is cooly observational. We can all recognise the family relationships, progress of love affairs, and holiday emotions that Tawara shares, and that moment of recognition is immensely comforting. 

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