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Autumn 2008, vol 6 no 3

Cicada Forest: An Anthology of Tanka
by Mariko Kitakubo, translated by Amelia Fielden
A Review by Robert D. Wilson


the heaviness
of that setting sun ---
deep in my head
the sound of thick glass

Reading Mariko Kitakubo's tanka is like taking a journey into the heart and soul of another person . . . the poetry personal, poignant, like a finely layered painting, delicately painted using a minimal amount of black ink; the white space as important to the understanding of her poetry as the words that paint them.

Translating a book of tanka from one language to another is a difficult task. The translation becomes a collaborative effort between poet and translator. Internationally acclaimed translator Amelia Fielden worked with Kitakubo, wanting to retain each poem's meaning coupled with its meter. Together they have given us a body of work that deserves to be read, reread, and studied. It is tanka such as those contained in Cicada Forest that will lure other English language poets into writing tanka, and make tanka a genre the West will fall in love with, especially in a day when people have little time to read poetry and when they do, they want it to jump out of the page like the songs they listen to speeding through "the wonderland amusement park" in a hurry to go somewhere. I agree with Michael McClintock who wrote in the preface to the book:

"Kitakubo is a poet whose voice and sense of the world place her directly within that magnificent literary genealogy that includes Murasaki Shikibu, Ono no Komachi, Ootagaki Rengetsu, Saigyo, Ryokan, and Yosano Akiko."

Kitakubo's poetry isn't dry or detached. She bares her soul, inviting the reader to feel what she feels. She writes with a natural voice that is anything but pretentious. The poet also has a well developed sense of lyricism and meter which gives additional impetus to her tanka.

Mariko Kitakubo is that rare poet, one with the ability to connect with others in a way other poets wish they could, and without an oversized ego. Enter the heart and mind of a truly gifted poet whose time has come.

A sampling of Kitakubo's tanka:

beside a quiet man
sea birds
one after another
dropping from the sky
like sacred messages

let me be
gentle of heart---
I so want
to live embracing
a youthful ocean

the first movement
of his unfinished symphony . . .
was speaking
to the universe

in the kitchen
lowering my voice
I divine the future
with flower petals
dyed red in sweet vinegar

wanting to know
my father's last words,
I lay there . . .
oh for wings

this now is
the same evening glow
as when
I stretched my hands
against my father's larger ones

Wrote Kitakubo in her book,"It is my earnest desire that Cicada Forest will have wide appeal at home and abroad amongst both those who are newly interested in tanka, and those who have already embraced this form whole heartedly."


Cicada Forest: An Anthology of Tanka
by Mariko Kitakubo
translated by Amelia Fielden
Kadokawa Shoten 2008
$15 USD, plus postage
For ordering information:
ISBN 978-4-04-652019-7