Book review by Dr Carol Hayes
The Japan Institute was proud to sponsor Alumnus Amelia Fielden by hosting the launch of her latest book of poetry translations, Kawano Yuko & Nagata Kazuhiro / For Instance, Sweetheart published by Ginninderra Press at a book launch held on Friday 3rd November.
every day I laugh, again and again, so that I can leave you my laughing voice and my laughing face
永田和宏 Nagata Kazuhiro
‘idiot,’ you say laughing with your head thrown back – again you laugh, but you are not there in your chair
Riding on the rhythms of the tanka, this book takes us on a journey through the relationship of husband and wife, Kawano Yuko and Nagata Kazuhiro who came to know and love each other through tanka. It begins with their first meeting as university students when she was 21 and he only 20, and carries us through to her death on 12 August 2010, when she was aged only 64 years old. This record of their relationship is recorded in 500 tanka by Yuko and a corresponding 470 tanka by Nagata, and further, more than 100 composed after her death – his tanka elegy to his wife.
In her review of the book, Professor Sonja Arntzen notes;
“Day by day, they observed and concentrated their ever-shifting emotions into five-line capsules. It is not a fairy tale; all sides of love find expression here, including its loneliness, uncertainty and ephemerality even after decades of marriage. This record proves there is no ‘ordinary’ in the everyday of human life, not when it is borne witness to by poets with wide-open, honest hearts."
Amelia Fielden graduated from Honours in Japanese Studies in 1962, and after career as a teacher, researcher and translator, decided on retirement to focus on the translation of Japanese tanka poetry, as well as writing English tanka herself and playing an important role in the international tanka poetry scene.
In her translation work, she has worked with many great poets, Kawamura Hatsue, Tanaka Noriko, Kuriki Kyōko, and Konno Mariko just to name a few, but this new book focuses on Kawano Yuko, drawing on a relationship that began in 1999 and continued until Kawano’s all too early death from cancer in 2010.
Kawano Yuko is famous for her frankness, for the simplicity and clarity of her emotional expression. She doesn’t theorize, or write in a convoluted manner”, her words are rather as she puts it “expressions of my whole visceral and emotional being”. In that same interview Kawano aslo noted, “For me, the best tanka are those which seem to have been created not solely by the thinking mind, but by the poet fully engaging her or his physical body and five senses in the composition of tanka rhythm.”
In his preface to the book, Nagata remembers the young girl he first saw standing by a window at a Tanka Society get-together, he can clearly still picture her in his mind. “I don’t know what kind of hairstyle you’d call it, hanging down her back, with a layer of hair on top of it tied with a ribbon.” This is such a tiny moment in their lives but that image, that moment of spontaneous attraction stayed with him and that, for me, is the true essence of tanka.
Kawano Yuko too, was captured, by just such a moment. We can picture the young man, Nagata, who caught her fancy.
the mysterious lovableness you possess – when you eat bread you look so young
Nor can Nagata forget the heat and the loud drill of cicadas on that last day of this couple’s shared life, a couple who came to know and love each other through tanka. We hope to share some of that love through our reading tonight.
When her cancer came back, she writes
I’ll sow the seeds of lots of morning glories, cosmos too – fair seasons will come and they will flourish
生きてゆく とことんまでを生きいて それから先は君に任せる
I will go on living, live my life right through to the end – after that, it will be up to you what you do
In the final pages of the book, Nagata reminds us that “the deceased can only live in the memories of the living” and with this book, Amelia has succeeded in keeping the work of Kawano Yuko alive.