WHITE LETTER POEMS IN TRANSLATION
I would like to write about something special about Saito Fumi – “the queen of modern tanka in Japan,” as she is called by Susumi Takiguchi, the poet and editor. This year, on April 26, it is 8 years since she passed away .The number 8 has a particular significance. It is the figure of the infinite, and I think that the chrysanthemum with 16 petals, the Emperor's emblem, can make a link between the sky and earth.
Unsaid though is a white letter. It is like the names said just in the mind.
In 1997 when Saito Fumi was invited for second time at the Imperial Place, at Utakai Hajime, she was nearly 90 years old. From the episode of February 26, 1926, had passed 70 years. Her father's name, because he had been imprisoned and exiled, was a white letter .Nobody can translate it. When the Emperor said about her father, that he was “a strange man,” she smiled like “an old lady.” In presence of the Emperor, Saito Fumi read this tanka:
in the field
with an abundant figure
limbs embrace the wind
month and days as well *
“It's not easy to translate her poetry,” says Jane Reichhold. It is also hard to understand these tanka. I have read several times the small explanatory fragment between the two translators about one tanka included in the online version (www.ahapoetry/white letter poems.html) of this anthology that contains poems from the first of Fumi's collection – Fish Song (1932 -1940) – to her last book Autumn Blue Sky (1985 -1993).
fish no longer live
in this flowing stream
because of the loneliness
we set afloat the red
of crimson maple leaves **
Hatsue Kawamura gives for the first line of tanka as in this translation, and Jane Reichhold suggested "fish cannot stay.” The other lines of poem were translated the same. "Because of loneliness” is the middle of the poem; I think that it can belong to the first part of poem, but also to the second part of it. The "loneliness” can be the subject for the two parts of poem. It is the loneliness makes the fish to want to be caught.
The poet Michio Nakahara (1951 - ), in the anthology Message from Butterfly (translated into English by James Kirkup and Makoto Tamaki) has this haiku:
One beast, because of
solitude, so easily
caught in a snare
The solitude is hard to endure by a beast, fish, and people. Perhaps, also those fish allowed themselves to be caught, for to escape from the loneliness .This thing means their death, but they preferred the death to the loneliness. This is another example of white letters.
The red maple leaves set in the river are an offering for forgiveness made by the ones who caught the fish. They cannot change the course of the running water, nor the course of the live and death. Another loneliness, another white letter.
Life and death – the great subjects of Saito Fumi's poetry. Her life was full of tragic events. She turned the black of her life into the white of her tanka.
A blind white. A destiny like a blind figurine. And what can a figurine read "with two eye holes "?
Perhaps, the white letters unwritten in this world:
to say good-bye
I must be going along
shut the door
and leave just like that
it can't be done in this world ***
*/**/***/ White Letters Poems by Saito Fumi . Translated into English by Hatsue Kawamura and Jane Reichhold , Copyright © 1998.
WHAT IS AN EPIGRAM?
I was talking with my sister Karen on the phone the other night and she said, "I have this new little short poem, but it's not exactly a haiku."
I said, "Oh yeah? Let's hear it."
Our Lady of Fatima Retreat Center--
The fattest squirrels you've ever seen.
They chase each other slowly through the snow.
"That sounds more like an epigram," I said.
"What is an epigram?" she said
I recited Coleridge's poem, "What Is an Epigram?"
What is an epigram? A dwarfish whole,
Its body brevity, and wit its soul.
She said, "Oh, okay, I think I have a couple more of those."
The next day she sent them to me.
One Night at Tewligan's Tavern
Bleached blonde baby
With your bright white smile
Reality will have to wait a while
One Night Outside of Tewligan's Tavern
Unarmed forces seem to me
To have more varied possibilities.
Yes, those are definitely epigrams.
Basically, an epigram is any very short poem, titled or untitled, rhymed or unrhymed, that is witty, clever or funny. The form goes back quite a ways, taking its name from a Greek word meaning "inscription." It's most famous early practitioner was the Roman poet, Martial (AD 40-104). Here are a couple of his, translated by Rolfe Humphries.
You say, to start with, you have laryngitis;
Stop right there, Maximus, and you'll delight us.
Why don't I send my books to you
When you've asked me so many times?
Good enough reason, Ted; you might
Reciprocate with your own rhymes.
Good old, Martial, hanging out at the Forum in the old days with Maximus and Ted.
As the Coleridge epigram cited above attests, the form became popular with British poets of the 17th through 19th centuries. Here's another by Coleridge
On a Volunteer Singer
Swans sing before they die –'twere no bad thing
Should certain people die before they sing!
Subject matter of epigrams is not limited or proscribed, but they are often ribald, satirical or cutting. Here's one by Matthew Prior.
A True Maid
No, no, for my virginity,
When I lose that, says Rose, I'll die:
Behind the elms, last night, cried Dick,
Rose, were you not extremely sick?
The term epigram is also used for any witty or cutting remark, the kind Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker were famous for, e. g., the latter's "I'd rather have a free bottle in front of me than a prefrontal lobotomy." If you make a witty comment, feel free to call it an epigram, but my purpose here is to consider the epigram as a poetic form, something that involves at least a minimum of care and craft.
My friend Clyde Klingenberg is a visual artist, a painter. He's also dyslexic, and so not especially a word man. A short form like epigram appeals to him, and every once in a while he comes up with a good one, like:
Welcome to lizard heaven,
where the sun is hot,
the rocks are flat,
and the flies move real slow.
Dog heaven where
Every time a human takes a bite
My writer friend Rob Zoschke says, "Haiku shmaiku. Epigram shmepigram. Just call 'em all short poems." He has a point, but we literary types like to carp and cavil. Helps keep the university English departments in business. Here's one of Rob's short poems. Looks like an epigram to me.
she asked for
cell phone minutes
and cherry Rolaids
and that is just what
her mother bought her
Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, and Robert Frost all wrote a lot of short poems. Some of these I think of as epigrams, others not. It's a matter of the spirit of the poem. Here's one by Hughes.
As the wind
On the Lincoln
As a bottle of likker
On a table
All by itself.
To me that's a little too wistful to be thought of as an epigram, but others might disagree.
Here's another by Hughes.
Cool face of the river
Asked me for a kiss.
That one could almost be a haiku, but I'd call it an epigram. For one thing it has a title, which is often half the fun of an epigram, and is considered all but taboo for haiku.
One more by Hughes:
A wonderful time-the War:
when money rolled in
and blood rolled out
was far away
from here –
Money was near.
Yes, that one is definitely an epigram.
Ogden Nash and Hillaire Belloc are two more poets who wrote lots of humorous verse, including epigrams. Here's one by Nash.
A Word to Husbands
To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you're wrong, admit it;
Whenever you're right, shut up.
Dorothy Parker also wrote some of the poetic type. Here's one of hers I like.
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
What about length? Martial, and Ben Jonson, who also wrote many, inclined to rather lengthy ones at times-twenty lines or more. Nowadays, with our media shortened attention spans, anything over eight seems a bit too long for an epigram. But readers and poets can decide for themselves.
Okay, Karen. Now do you know what an epigram is?
In closing, here's one more by Dorothy Parker:
A Pig's-Eye View of Literature: Oscar Wilde
If with the literate I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.
This article was borrowed from http://www.aceswebworld.com/danielbarth_articles.html where you can go to get more of Barth’s words.
EARTH LANGUAGE NEWS
From: Yoshiko McFarland [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, January 28, 2010 9:56 PM
Subject: Earth Language News-mail [Time to Turn] January, 2010
Thank you very much for your interest and support of EL.
The Turn of this mail title means the change of the relation between Earth Language (EL) and the founder, myself. I'm going to be free from the EL as my duty; and EL is going to be free from me. This is not only for annual greeting and updating; but also I'd like to share my decision with you. Thank you for your time with me.
eyes are watching
[Turn came to me physically]
EL has been raised by much cooperation from many countries. But if only saying about myself, a couple of my characteristics helped this long time devotion. One is of seeking truth and beauty in the universe; and the other is a kind of responsibility for this era. "Even if you were born on Pearl Harbor Day, you are too conceited to feel responsibility alone" young mailers have blamed me. But nothing can happen without the first one. As a person having an experience of a big war in her infancy, it was natural to think about the way to live in peace on earth.
I really enjoyed setting the symbols, learning through the art of nature. But without spreading, EL can't completely do its duty as a communication method. Truthfully, I had forced myself to work for spreading EL as the founder's responsibility. (Below you'll see the update of EL website in 2009.)
But I had to stop it because my optic nerve revolted against too much using. I realized that my custom of computing for hours couldn't be kept for so long.
EL has the potentiality to open communications beyond cultures and physical conditions, with only one symbol-set; and work for all kinds of necessities such as sending messages, phonetics, hand/body signs, Braille, also showing classifications, rationally simplifying, creating logos and personal ciphers, etc. Not so simple as the principle of relativity, but only 91 symbols can express all about the universe, while helping all kinds of communication that can't work between mother tongues; and the system is still simpler than other languages.
However, these unprecedented amounts of functions actually impress people as "complexity," and become the neck of popularization. I've been afflicted with the problem for several years. By floods of information and images, people on earth are now speeding up to be too busy and flee from complexity. In fact, I'm not the exception...
[Dadaism and EL]
Relating to this dilemma, recently an Italian student of graphic design in London, Matteo Pelo sent me his thesis titled "Alphabet of Images." It gives a lot of space to EL as a representation of constructed universal languages to bring the ideal future, including the article interviewing with me. The point of his thesis is something like this:
The movement of Dadaism has denied and broken readymade rules, structures and common sense, since WW1. Dada has also broken the value of traditional languages and grammars with their structures. On the other hand, reacting to big destruction by world wars, seeking an ideal society, Esperanto and Earth Language were born. However these languages have their steady structures, so they can't survive nor take over the world; they can't invite a peaceful world in the flowing of Dada. Everyone wants to be free from structures and wants to express themselves in their own style. Now only Isotype, which is just pictograms without any grammar, has revived being used as icons. That is because Isotype doesn't have any structures, ideal direction or will.
(I put this thesis as a PDF-file in the EL site after getting his permission. In case you'd like to read more, please download it from the English contents page. Although there are some mistakes in the introduction about me, I uploaded it as it was.)
Indeed, I started EL imagining a rounder global society in the future and structured EL to be able to hold the new world. However, as Matteo says, calling for people to join in developing EL for the purpose to bring about an ideal society might be unnatural in the sequence. People today are living in their separate ways. EL is just a communication method. Just like personal computers have spread, everyone could feel freer to use and enjoy EL more if it's without any purposeful direction. I might work with too much effort for particular things... Thanks Matteo, I learned it.
However, I do not totally agree with your thesis. I have passed through Dadaism before getting the EL inspiration. EL has the clear structure, but it holds some sense of Dada in its structure.
In nature, things are eventually going to chaos. But living creatures get their new lives in their body with each structure. After big destruction in nature, evolved new structures could be born. After the difficulty to carry on the world with local culture based languages, people must try new thoughts with the natural and global base. EL has an evolved structure with multi-method. Humans are able to appreciate beauty of structures; and this nature would not change, I think.
The structure of EL symbols has a spacious feeling, holding endlessly buried images, and has the nature to involve the user's whole body senses. Also it encourages new ways of thought as if showing the relations of the user's stimulated neurons visibly out of the brain. It helps to get new ideas. The people, who remembered their primary body feelings through Dada, Jazz or modern arts, would awake in the wonder of the EL structure with the overlay system, and enjoy breaking down and connecting images. They might not learn EL or the same new kind of structure to bring up an ideal world; but they would enjoy playing with the EL crystal ball to see and to feel symbols freely connecting and breaking images.
Of course if some people would seek their ideal society, EL can help them. Now the hungriest people for it must be minorities in endangered cultures or with physical problems such as deafness or blindness. If they really get together to realize the world with EL or that kind of method, the world could be a very different place. Also EL was structured by a collage of old wisdom that was abandoned in the past. So it can be told that EL also holds essences of Dadaism in its structure, can't it?
By the way, some Americans, whom I met in the last year, similarly said that the communication method in the future would not be a language, and it would be telepathy. I wonder if humans could suddenly change into something like Elves, Maybe sending an EL symbol might be possible; I'd like to experiment with it.
a bunch of reminiscent strings
are released to the sky
From this spring, my stronghold will move to Washington state. Since last summer, I have been busy preparing for the move.
In that time, I found a bunch of old letters in the back of my shelf. Airmail letters asking me to stop the prodigality like EL and to return to batik art, and much older precious memorial letters that I brought from Japan in 1987. In my batik era, I used to get encouraging letters from a lot of people; and many of them were written by brush and ink or with some painting. How warm they are comparing to emails! Time has changed a lot in the past quarter century, I threw away boxes of pencil-drafts of earlier EL ideas, because the lines too faded to read. But brush and ink letters look fresh even after thirty years.
Among them, there was a beautiful hand written letter from Mr. Kato Yoshinari, who was the author of the modern language "Izumo-no-kuni Hudoki" (a local topography with legends and products: originally written in the 8th century) with annotations. I recall him when seeing him the first and the last time, as if it was yesterday. Sitting straight on his deathbed, he joined his palms together and looked at my eyes. He said, "I've wanted to connect ancient Izumo people's spirits with the future world; but now I'm going to pass away, only leaving the guide of this ancient book. I believe you can do what I wanted. I'd like to entrust it to you." Tears spilled over and over from both of his eyes.
At that period, I was walking around ancient Izumo land with his book as my guide, to paint the ancient spiritual world and to write essays. In the land, many interesting events and things looked like they descended from several thousands of years ago. Such long surviving things must lead us to truth. Why do present people make sacred fire in the Stone Age manner? Why does such a big grass rope have to be made? No living people could answer my questions, but the sky sent me the far ancestral message, "The source of a new life or a new creation comes from TYING different lives or things. The spirit of prosperity is in tying."
Coming through Mr. Kato's wish, I published an ancient Izumo story book, "Kamosu" just before immigrating to the US. But the message about TYING was never far away from me. The Western and the Eastern cultures are so different. Is there a way to tie them? How can modern people being busy to compete forward listen to the ancient voices? The key to open the future world must be in those tied knots, I imagined. Through this thought, the EL idea flashed on me as the tying-tool.
Now I'd like to leave the EL development to the next generations; and to focus on delving into the tying art, and of course often using EL symbols as just one of the users....I came into this state of mind.
Now I'm typing this little by little in the bottom of a ravine of cardboard boxes for the moving.
[EL website in 2009]
Until April, I worked hard as the followings.
1 EL translation of a part of President Obama's Inaugural Address included country names. (January):
2, The Illustrated Dictionary [Directions, Locations and shapes] (January):
3. Commemorating for the 10th birthday of the EL Poem section, also stimulated by haiku books sent from authors, hoo wrote an extra essay, "Japanese Soil produces Haiku culture and global haiku" (February); got both criticism and sympathy from several countries.
4. As a method to change the global world into sustainable way, renewed the point of EL (March)
5, Being invited, joined in Internet societies in English and in Japanese, started to inform new people about EL making image files for easy understanding. (March):
Perhaps because of too much computing, in April, I got my vision and nerve problems; and had to give up the EL project for Internet societies. Instead, seriously started exercise to cure the optic nerves. Removing glasses for it, I had to stop regular series with graphics in the EL website.
As the result of this vision exercise, I knew for the first time that our vision could be controlled by ourselves. Also I found EL symbols and body signs simply and immediately helped me for focusing on both concentration and relaxation together. This kind of systematical symbol must be widely applicable for medical and psychological treatments, without being concerned with reactions. A language is not only for a way to communicate with others, but first of all, a way to communicate with our own bodies and minds; and to know them deeply, I realized again.
6. new six pages in the EL website to introduce my experimental natural vision improvement way.:
Please feel free to try this to improve your vision and to protect from dry eyes, cataracts and glaucoma.
In the poem section, there were the ecological serials of "Mandala Taught by Forest" intermittently from July, 2002. The house we'll move into is in that forest in Washington state.
I physically worked a lot last fall to prepare to live there, such as carpentry, cleaning the roofs and gutters, making trails, collecting a hill of wet leaves to make a good veggie patch for the future... I discovered how much I love outdoor labor more than sitting in front of my desk,
"Earthworm Meditation" (haiku by hoo, during working in the forest)
a pipe to tie
universe and earth;
the intestine is her brain
she holds pitch dark ease
devouring rotted bodies,
to have earth for new lives
supporting lives on earth,
haiku from earth
washes my brain
of each wet leaf
The forest changes its face every few minutes; showing the origin of lives. The forest's lesson for hoo was started by her teacher, Earthworm.
Occasionally hoo makes haiku like above, but she recently seeks some poetic expression without any words and grammar but with only layers of visual symbols. She had experimented this way in the past, but she wants to do more purely for art using EL, sometimes even mixing with some ancient hieroglyphs, using ink and brush. Also she will try to become symbols with her whole body under the trees. How do others understand and enjoy them? Forgetting about mission duty of EL, she is going to the depth of the symbol world, living in the forests of Washington.
[In your hands]
Yoshiko will keep the EL website as its original place. From now on, EL is in your hands, if you'd like. Using the system and ideas, anyone may freely develop EL for each field; and spread it through his/her own website or you-tube kind of place: e.g. for setting up scholarly names of things in EL, making lists of EL phonetic scripts to show pronunciations of a local language (useful to teach any languages), creations with symbols, or dances with EL body signs, etc. If someone could manage a web 2.0-style discussion place for the EL dictionary, it would be great. I can't do so much to help it, but it would be my pleasure to answer questions.
Thank you for reading all. Best wishes, Yoshiko McFarland: hoo