I’ve posted a lot about poetry here on From Tokyo to the World. I’ve composed haiku in the past and recently became interested in the whirlwind success of Toyo Shibata, the 99-year-old poetry sensation. My Japanese professor just pointed me in the direction of Machi Tawara [俵万智], who composes tanka. Come to find out she’s from Waseda, my [Japanese] alma mater!
Tanka is a form of waka, which is a type of historical Japanese poetry. Most people know how to form haiku, which is 5-7-5 syllables. Tanka is 5-7-5-7-7, adding a bit more depth to the mix. At any rate, it seems really old-fashioned, and you usually wouldn’t study it unless you were an academic or just really interested.
Machi Tawara has overcome that stereotype by writing tanka that are relevant and appealing to a younger generation. She uses modern words, grammar and themes. I enjoy her work particularly because rather than drawing heavily on natural imagery in her poems, she conjures up an urban backdrop. Appropriately, the body of works that I’m currently reading is called “Capitalism’s Street Corner.” [My translation.]
A certain street corner of capitalism The tissues one accepts and receives when needed
She’s referring to the packs of tissues one receives daily while walking the streets of Tokyo. They are handed out freely by solicitors; each one has advertisements on the packaging. Promotional tissue is one little idiosyncrasy of modern Japan.
The youth sporting an Issei shirt boasts his hometown’s sweet dumplings
This poem shows contrast between the sleek, fashionable city lifestyle and the countryside where many urbanites hail from. The dumplings mentioned are a specific sort of cheap sweet buns wrapped in bamboo leaves — they give a very rustic impression. The shirt, however, is a high-fashion brand article of clothing.
A paper “bill” is traded for a paper “lotto ticket” Walking briskly to Shinjuku West Exit
Back to the capitalist theme, she examines the exchange of one paper for another. Money is paid for a lottery ticket, which is very salaryman-like. Then, as a salaryman would do, the person trots to Shinjuku Station to catch a commuter train home.
On TV a bird dripping with oil is shown Whatever the bird was looking at is not shown
The jury’s out on this one. It’s sad. I guess maybe something about how we don’t really care about the bird, we’re only pretending? Anyway. Your thoughts?