japonisme: 4/26/09 - 5/3/09

02 May 2009

what breaks

listen... you can hear it now....


As when far off
in the middle of the ocean
A breast-shaped curve of wave begins to whiten
And rise above the surface,
then rolling on
Gathers and gathers until
it reaches land
Huge as a mountain and crashes among the rocks
With a prodigious roar, and what was deep
Comes churning up from the bottom in mighty swirls
Of sunken sand and living things and water —

So in the springtime
every race of people
And all the creatures on earth
or in the water,
Wild animals and flocks
and all the birds
In all their painted colors,
all rush to charge
Into the fire that burns them: love moves them all.

Virgil, translated by Robert Pinsky
The Threepenny Review


Today in a meadow beside the sea
I knelt among sea rocket
and lupine
as a deer I’d startled
flipped heels up
and bounded into the spruce grove.
Prebbles cove, the beach of stones
glistening and smooth from the pummel of waves.

And I, who understand pounding,
wanted to walk into the sea, to rock there.

At the far edge of my life
on an island four hundred miles
from home, I lean against
an uncurtained window,
and all my grief
for what is already lost,
for what it may ge too late to find,
jostles up against how much
I continue anyway to love the world.

I am tired of wanting to sleep beyond waking —
tired of the numbing that is no better than death,
But here on the sill,
stones oval as eggs —
blue, gray, black,
a whole row of them —
glow in the afternoon light
and here, across the meadow,
light enfolds even the least
small running creature.

And here. And here. And here.
More light, great sheets of saving light
surge and flash — green, coral, cerulean —
off the turbulent
white-capped waters.

Patricia Fargnoli

from Necessary Light

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

01 May 2009


To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season
(turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season
(turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season
(turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time for peace, I swear its not too late

The Byrds

Words adapted from the Bible,
Book of Ecclesiastes

Music by Pete Seeger

Labels: , , , , , , ,

30 April 2009

utamaro and the love suicides

A vogue arose in Edo Japan -- the love suicide. Of this, the playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725) is both chronicler and -- such was the power of his drama -- instigator. His puppet plays, like Saikaku's stories, were based on actual incidents. The one that inspired his "Love Suicides at Sonezaki" had occurred only a month before the play was first staged in 1703.

The Osaka soy-sauce merchant Tokubei and the courtesan Ohatsu are deeply in love, but it is hopeless; she is under contract to her bordello, and Tokubei lacks the money to ransom her. There is only one solution: death. "Did our promises of love," sobs Ohatsu, "hold only for this world?"

The pair flee in the dead of night to the Sonezaki Forest outside Osaka: "Farewell to this world, and to the night farewell."

"They embrace, flesh to flesh," chants the narrator, "then fall to the ground and weep -- how pitiful they are! Their strings of tears unite like entwining branches . . . a symbol of eternal love. Here the dew of their unhappy lives will at last settle."

Tokubei cuts first Ohatsu's throat, then his own. 1

as fascinated as the kabuki-going public was with the telling of these tragedies, none moreso than utamaro kitagawa, artist, printmaker, and storyteller by woodblock.

for the first time, these stories have been told, along with many more; one reading and these are not images on a page but are reflections of lives lived, and of lives ended.

utamaro revealed, by gina collia-suzuki, explores all of the artist's themes, subjects, and motifs, and does so in such a way as to genuinely, as the title says, reveal.

her voice is clear and certain, and her re-telling of the artist's inspirations are wonderfully interesting and easy to read. we are reading, in this book, her lifetime work, along with that of jack hillier and others; it is carefully researched, and
collia-suzuki brings us full translations of titles, poems, and contents. we also learn where in the yoshiwara (the pleasure district) each woman lived.

above and beyond the topic of suicide are many other bits of information about the lives of these people we see in the prints that we might not want to read. illumination by its nature destroys illusion, and much of what utamaro's prints did was create illusion.

collia-suzuki responds: I confronted the reality and harshness of Utamaro's time a long time ago, when I was just a teenager. I had an interest in history in general, and the entire globe seemed to be equally harsh to me. Prostitutes may not have been under contract for ten years in Western brothels, but for the most part they were no more free to choose a different life, if they wanted to survive, than the women who were enslaved within the Yoshiwara. There was a time, early on, when I questioned the artists' desire to portray these women as princesses in all their finery, considering the reality of the situation, but the artists who depicted them were governed by laws which made it impossible to portray the realities of everyday life -- the authorities didn't approve of social comment... they didn't approve of a lot of things, as is evidenced by Utamaro being censored at the end of his life. I do think it's important for us to present an accurate image of life at the time now though, although I realise that when we do that we risk alienating the audience. I think that if we try to gloss over the hardship, we do a disservice to the women in the prints.

gina on work: when I was researching the Chinese legends behind Utamaro's prints, I was reading up on Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, and Liu Bei and the oath taken in the peach orchard. I started reading the relevant section from Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but then couldn't stop because it was so inter- esting... and we're talking about a book with 120 chapters. I could just keep going off at a tangent and I'd get nothing done if I didn't force myself to get back to whatever I was doing originally.

when I first started researching the pairs of lovers, [learning] that the people actually existed and often met such tragic ends [was surprising]. In particular, it would have to be finding out about Bunshichi... a man who was responsible for some very violent assaults and was executed for them in 1702. It was surprising to discover that, far from being the chivalrous hero he was portrayed to be, he was a very nasty piece of work. Discovering the true stories behind the theatrical adaptations of them really makes you view the prints differently... in some cases more sympathetically, in others quite the opposite.

Labels: , ,

27 April 2009

menagerie, once again




Watching the close forest this afternoon
and the riverland beyond, I delineate
quail down from the dandelion’s shiver
from the blowzy silver of the cobweb
in which both are tangled.

I am skillful
at tracing the white egret
within the white
branches of the dead willow where it roosts
and at separating the
heron’s graceful neck

from the leaning stems of the blue-green
lilies surrounding.

I know how to un- ravel
saw- grass- es knitted to iris leaves knitted
to sweet vernals. I can unwind sunlight
from the switches of the water in the slough
and divide the grey sumac’s hazy hedge
from the hazy grey of the sky, the red vein
of the hibiscus from its red blossom.

All afternoon I part, I isolate,
I untie,
I undo, while all the while
the oak
shadows, easing forward, slowly ensnare me, and the calls of the wood peewees catch
and latch in my gestures,
and the spicebush
swallowtails weave their attachments

into my attitude,
and the damp sedge
fragrances hook and secure,
and the swaying
Spanish mosses loop
my coming sleep,
and I am marsh-shackled,
even as the new stars, showing now
through the night-spaces of the sweet gum
and beech, squeeze into the dark
bone of my breast, take their perfectly
secured stitches up and down. Pull
all of their thousand threads tight
and fasten, fasten.

Pattiann Rogers





Labels: , , , , , , , ,

newer posts older posts