waiting for Christmas, Japanese style

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Sometimes reading a new book is like meeting a new friend. Chika Sagawa was born over a century ago, and this new volume of her writing is slim, but it was enough to seal the friendship for me.

It may have helped that Sagawa is from Hokkaido, the snowy northern island of Japan, where a good friend and a family member of mine were also born. And she was young, only 24 when she died of stomach cancer; extracts from her hospital diary are included in the prose section of her Collected Poems.

There were precious few modernist women poets in Japan before the Second World War, but Sagawa was the first. She moved the transition from traditional haiku and tanka to freer forms, and not everybody liked it – or thought that women could do it.

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Sagawa was part of a European and global movement, in conversation with her colleagues, peppering her work with multilingual words and literary references.

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Nature is a powerful force for her, but far from a friendly one.

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Seasons and colours make a strong impression on Sagawa, who is a razor-sharp observer, and details leap out off the page. Here, she is, waiting for Christmas.

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Sawako Nakayasu says herself that there were a myriad of possibilities for translating each poem, but she made the right choices. The book won the both the US PEN Award for Poetry in Translation and NTA Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize this year. While you’re waiting for Christmas, go to Canarium Books and get yourself a copy. I’ll be reading mine again and again.

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Posted in books, poetry, translation

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