TIME OF SKY / CASTLES IN THE AIR by Ayane Kawata, Translated by Sawako Nakayasu
(Litmus Press, Brooklyn, 2010)
Ayane Kawata was a Japanese poet born in China in 1940. Kawata has thus far published nine books of poetry, the majority of them by leading publishers of contemporary Japanese poetry: Shichosha, Shoshi Yamada and Seidosha. The Litmus Press edition presents the first full-length translation of Kawata’s poetry in English, in this case Time of Sky first published in 1969 by Kumo Publishers and Castles in the Air by Shoshi Yamada in 1991.
Time of Sky
I was intrigued by how many of the lines shift from simply unresolved to dream-like, and how such occurs with chilling effect. Many of the lines are like ice fragments:
I discover a newly drowned body amidst the geometric scene welting up in the sky of my eye
Will the lark’s vein blow up
Or will an earful of the distant blue make its way inside
They’re often gorgeous (“Don’t eavesdrop on the egg”, P. 4; or “Breasts that hatch / Like music”, P. 21))—but they feel like beauty behind glass. Indeed, while reading I felt each page should be a glass pane etched with words. Paper seems too soft (a field) for these words, say,
The pebble shoots up blood
The fig tree sings
In the clouds of butter the newborn eyelids have trouble with the glare
A scream inside a fish
A table is a table
The raped orange becomes the blue sky
Castle in the Air
This section offers prose poems from “a dream journal”. They’re surprising—and impressive—in their matter-of-factness. It’s like these dreams are written from a distance, in the morning but, say, after a cup of something has already began the day, rather than from a just-wakened, less grounded state.
For some reason I acquire a horse, but don’t know how to harness it. A rope around its neck would probably be painful. I try to remember how I had seen a horse bridled, but I don’t quite know how to make it bite. I wonder if it will eat grass when it gets hungry. Or if it will be okay if I tie it under a tree and it rains and gets wet. I can’t find a stable anywhere. Then the horse disappears and becomes my younger sister. She lies down upon the bare night grass and tries to sleep. I think she’d get cold like that, but she rolls around as if to say, “I’m fine.”
The straightforwardness doesn’t preclude the, uh, poetic. For instance, this well-chosen sample-writing for the back cover:
I am being chased and so I run, though the problem lies not in the fact that someone is chasing me, but in the posture with which I run away.
But at some point during my read, I actually longed for some, um, warmth, but my search was like the “I” in
A small room lined with tatami mats. The man is wearing glasses and sits cross-legged, watching me dance naked as if shining a light on me. Gradually I grow short of breath and my dancing turns into struggling while the man continues to watch intently.
Ultimately, TIME OF SKY / CASTLES IN THE AIR is like a dictionary. One doesn’t enter this book to inhabit it; one opens the pages to look at what is written. From a sometimes chilling distance. The effect is fine as it seems based on the terms upon which the writings were created; from the Afterword, Nakayasu states
…the state of being estranged or displaced can be seen as the very site of poetry. Kawata…describes much of her life in a nomadic fashion, and sees the act of living and the act of writing both as continuous searches, always in flux and never arriving…
The book is worthwhile reading. There are things to be experienced and learned from its pages. Just have a sweater or warm blanket by your reading chair.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to reviews of her newest book THE THORN ROSARY: Selected Prose Poems & New (1998-2010) over at Litter Magazine and at Tributary. The book's "Afterword" essay by Joi Barrios is also newly-available online at OurOwnVoice. If these reviews get you curious, please note that its publisher Marsh Hawk Press is supporting a fundraiser for Haiti relief by giving a free copy if you order at least $15 worth of booklets through the Hay(na)ku for Haiti fundraiser; as THE THORN ROSARY is priced retail at $19.95, this is one of the best bargains in the poetry world, even as it helps out with a Haiti fundraiser.