An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Translated by Motoko Matsuo & Reiko Nakagawa
Kodansha Shuppan Service Center
1-17-14 Otowa
ISBN 4 87601 546 5

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This page last updated: 11th December 2007.

These 100 tanka by the late Satarô Satô make a beautiful book. Triple text, it has the original Japanese ideograms, the arabic script Japanese version, and the American-English translations, rendered by Matoko Matsuo and Reiko Nakagawa. Add to that some excellent line drawings and one is privileged to find within one's hands a labour of love.

From a life's output of some seven thousand plus, these 100 tanka were largely chosen by the author himself, with some later fine-tuning by his widow, the tanka poet, Shima Satô, who contributes the foreword. Each of the 100 tanka also have annotations by 100 persons chosen by Mrs Satô. (The annotations, remaining in Japanese, are unfortunately lost to monolinguistic Western readers.)

No sooner does one start reading than one is made aware that Satarô Satô is one of those poets who excels at catching and conveying those moments of otherness, when the normal is noticed as unusual.

	There are times 
	when no one 
	passes by 
	on the pavement 
	outside my window. 
Satarô Satô, of course, has his self-doubting, his sad moments:
	It dawns on me, 
	sorry to say, 
	that I have lived 
	a feeble life.
He is at his best, though, when attuned to defiant life:
	Even as 
	the typhoon rages 
	the hen 
	cries out that 
	her egg is laid. 
As well as sympathetic reflection, the shock of recogntion is here:
	tasted sour 
	in due time 
	and I abruptly 
	found myself old. 
And sometimes, sometimes, Satarô Satô is, like all great universal talents, just so right:
	in the dull 
	dim light of the hotel, 
	where I wait 
	like a suitcase.
What shines through every translation, however, on every other page, is Satarô Satô's humility and humanity:
	Feeling no pain 
	in spite of 
	being ill 
	is more or less 
In this review I have had to restrain myself from quoting near every page. I will make a gift to you of one more:
	The air that is taut 
	before dawn 
	this cold morning 
	relaxes at the temple bell's 
For the rest buy the book. While I am fortunate indeed in being able to hold onto my reviewer's copy. Which I am going to return to again and again, in the knowledge that each time there will be other tanka here primed to resonate with whatever my new state of being. It has become another reviewing cliché; but this scrumptious book I will truly treasure. Indeed, on my bookshelves, it will take pride of place next to Lucien Stryk's 'ZEN POETRY'.

reviewer: Sam Smith.