Friday, August 6, 2010

On the Scented Breeze: Yosano Akiko

"Modest Proposal Chapbook" #21 is just out. It is a selection of the work of Japanese poet Yosano Akiko, entitled On the Scented Breeze, translated by Dennis Maloney and Hide Oshiro. For those unfamiliar with this marvelous poet, here is info from Dennis:

Yosano Akiko (1878-1942) is admired as the greatest woman poet and tanka poet of modern Japan. Akiko infused her poems with an erotic and imaginative passion at a time when traditional poetry had grown lifeless and conventional.

In addition to Midaregami or Tangled Hair, from which this selection of poems is taken, Akiko published over 75 books including over 20 of original poetry, as well as novels, essays, fairy tales, children’s stories, an autobiography, and translations. She was a leader and strong supporter of the women’s rights movement in Japan.

Yosano Akiko transformed tanka poetry, instilling life in what had become a relatively stilted, tired form. Many well known translators have rendered her work, including Kenneth Rexroth, Sanford Goldstein, and Sam Hamill. On the Scented Breeze is a modest selection of 29 of some of her most moving, powerful tanka, translated in a clear precise lyrical manner that heightens this power. Here is a selection of 5 poems from this excellent collection:

Did we part
or a thousand years ago?
Even now I feel
Your hand on my shoulder.

Goodbye my love
For a night at Fuzan spring
I was your wife.
Now until the end of the world
I demand that you forget me.

Spring so short,
In what can we
Find immortality?
I let his hands fondle
My vigorous breasts.

Poet, sing of this night
Alive with lights and
The wine served.
Our beauty pales
next to the peony.

God of fate, echo of my life.
This last world of mine
Please listen to
The notes of my koto
Played with an ax.

As with all "Modest Proposal Chapbooks," On a Scented Breeze is a $3.00, including shipping. If you'd like a copy, details to send along payment may be found here.


This week's Lilliput archive poems, a pair, come from issue #141, January 2005, and are seemingly two sides of that same old coin:

bright red tulips
almost touch his name
spring rain
Joyce Austin Gilbert

May morning ...
sunlight fitting itself
around each blade of grass
Dorothy McLaughlin

blades of grass--
swallows start arriving
so pretty
translated by David G. Lanoue



John Grochalski said...

don...looks like a beautiful $3 should be arriving soon!

Theresa Williams said...

She is marvelous. I just discovered her last year. I was so moved by her work that I added her in a tribute haibun I wrote for Ryokan:

These translations look marvelous!!!

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Jay, the translators did a fine job ... I'll have a copy for you on hand.

Theresa, she really is amazing, definitely a fav of mine in all kind of translations.

Lyle Daggett said...

I love Yosano Akiko's poetry. I first read her poems, upwards of three decades ago, in Rexroth's translations in 100 More Poems from the Japanese.

Akiko was one of those people about whom legends start to grow while they are still alive. According to Rexroth in his bio note about her, among her accomplishments was a subtle and beautiful translation of the thousand-year-old Tale of Genji into modern Japanese; apparently the day before the manuscript was to go to the printer, the 1923 Tokyo earthquake struck, and all existing copies of the manuscript were destroyed. So Akiko set to work and over the next year she translated the entire book again.

In addition to her prodigious writing life, she also along the way raised eleven children. (One source I found once said she gave birth to thirteen.)

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Thanks for the info - I knew she had translated Tale of the Genji but hadn't heard that story. All this and a champion of womens rights too. Amazing poet and human being.