Konoshima supported his wife and four children working as a professor
of political economics at Shokumin Gakkou (this school no longer exists)
in Tokyo. He had been sent on an eighteen-month tour of inspection to
scout employment opportunities and living conditions for future graduates
of his college, and was about to embark on a second tour of inspection
when the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 struck Tokyo, laying ruin to
the College's principal benefactor. Plagued with financial uncertainty,
infighting broke out among the school's administrators and staff. At
this time, Konoshima decided to abandon academia, feeling he was inadequate
as a teacher. Disillusionment with school politics played a part in his
decision, but his primary motivation was one of personal philosophy.
Konoshima wanted to become a farmer, to "live off the soil and the
sweat of my brow".
He migrated to California
with his family. To put food on the table and provide a roof for his
family, Konoshima, the college professor,
hired out as a farm
laborer working long hours for low pay under harsh conditions. Through hard
work and perseverance, he and a friend eventually saved enough
money to become co-partners
of a truck farm. Eventually, the farm turned a profit. Life for Konoshima began
to improve. Then Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and all Japanese living on the
American west coast, regardless of citizenship or alien status,
were sent to live in relocation
The war ended; Konoshima
and his family were released from the relocation camp. Having lost
his farm, Konoshima moved to New York where he
and his wife secured
employment as domestic help for the Durlach's, a kind Jewish family who treated
the Konoshimas with dignity, and befriended them. The Konoshima and the Durlach
families remain friends today.
lived a hard life but never forgot how to dream, and lived life earnestly.
And fortunately for the world, he began
to seriously compose
tanka while living in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Konoshima loved
writing poetry. And the world is the better for it.
is a dream---tomorrow an illusion
I think I shall live
this one day in earnest.
You spent six years translating Kisaburo Konoshima's book of tanka,
Hudson. You have no training as a translator, and
Cranston, a highly respected Professor of Japanese Literature at
Harvard University, had this to say about your translation:
poems are very impressive. I could read any number of them. What
dignity! Callner's translations show great skill and feeling. The
simplicity he achieves is enviable." What was the driving force
behind your doing this project?
DC: Professor Cranston was very generous and his praise meant a lot to
me. I began translating Hudson as a gift to Konoshima's relatives (Kisaburo
Konoshima was my grandfather) who do not read Japanese, but I quickly discovered
how accomplished he was as a poet and how enjoyable his work could also
be to people who did not know him personally. Thus I dedicated six years
to translating Hudson to the utmost of my ability. I am actually a writer
of fiction (I have written three novels plus some shorter pieces, and I
am currently on my fourth novel as well as Konoshima's remaining tanka.
My own work is unpublished, so except for Hudson I remain anonymous). I
speak Japanese because I have lived in Japan for twenty-seven years.
What did you do to prepare yourself for the translation of this book
DC: My first task was to be able to read the Japanese. Konoshima was born in
the Meiji era so some of his Japanese is rather antiquated and difficult. A friend
of mine, Sadae Tsuchiya, provided me invaluable help with the proper readings
for the kanji, and I wore out my copies of Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English
Dictionary and Nelson's Japanese-English Character Dictionary.
RW: Obviously, translating the tanka in this book was not an easy endeavor, by
anyone's standards. Tell our readers about the process, warts and all.
DC: I instinctively hide all my warts, but I can tell you some things about the
process. Once I was able to read the Japanese I had to invent a format for translation
into English. I am uncomfortable with the five-line style that maintains the
5-7-5-7-7 Japanese meter, so after attempts with various other structures, all
my own, I arrived at a two-line version that roughly maintains the upper and
lower tanka form (kami no ku shimo no ku) but completely ignores the 5-7-5-7-7
meter. I believe this brings me as close as I can come to the essence of the
original Japanese. Interestingly it did not occur to me to eliminate all punctuation
except for dashes until years after I had begun the translation. One day, I experimented
with removing periods from the end of poems and found that freed me from certain
English grammatical restraints. Another friend, Cynthia King, suggested I also
remove the commas. She was right, and after further tinkering, I settled on the
format you see in Hudson. A few of the poems contain details that would be unintelligible
to someone who did not know Konoshima personally, so I was fortunate to have
lived with him during my youth. My mother and my aunts and uncles also helped
decipher certain points of context and idiosyncrasy. Konoshima's eldest daughter,
Toshiko Nakata, kept a priceless collection of Konoshima photographs, nine of
which were digitally reproduced in Hudson.
RW: Your grandfather composed approximately 1500 tanka during his lifetime. And
the majority of them were published in the Japanese poetry magazine Cho-on. That
is impressive. I understand you are currently translating them. How long do you
think it will take? And will you share some of them in the future with our readers,
perhaps in installments?
DC: Yes, I believe Konoshima had poems in every edition of the Japanese poetry
quarterly Cho-On from 1950 to his death in 1984. Hudson has about seven hundred
tanka and I am currently working on the remaining eight hundred or so. The process
of translation is a very slow one for me, but I would love to complete between
five and ten tanka each month and publish them in your magazine.
RW: Why is this book entitled Hudson?
DC: Hudson was Konoshima's title for the original Japanese edition in 1970. Konoshima
loved the Hudson, as you can see from many poems throughout this collection,
and spent hours gazing down on the river from his eighth-floor apartment in Yonkers.
If the small lamp of
self-attachment is extinguished and eyes are
raised moonlight is far
and wide on a snowy Hudson
The Jersey sky a vivid
shine on the Hudson - shine on my window
The entire river forming
a mirror the Hudson
reflects a snowy range
of hills upside down
By morning and by evening
never tiring to gaze on it for twenty years
the Hudson is ultimately my second native home
RW: Your grandfather was a remarkable man.
He left Japan to embark on a life that was physically, emotionally and spiritually
challenging. He was incarcerated in an internment camp, lost his farm and livelihood,
and worked as a domestic. In Japan he had been a professor and college official.
This had to be hard on your grandfather. What was it about your grandfather
that kept his spirits up and instilled in him an indomitable spirit?
DC: I think Konoshima was simply born with an indomitable spirit. That spirit,
along with his sense of humor and a wonderful humility, seem to have rendered
Konoshima immune to any bitterness. In other words, Konoshima was a profoundly
RW: A follow-up question. Why did he turn to tanka, and what inspired him to
write so many? It seemed to be a consuming passion for him.
it was a consuming passion for Konoshima. Konoshima learned to compose
tanka when he was eight or nine years old, and I suspect that
rather than involving
any actual decision to "turn to tanka," poetry was just a natural
part of life.
RW: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers about
your grandfather, Kisaburo Konoshima?
DC: I would, but Konoshima's own poetry tells far more than I could about this
great man, a source of pride for those who knew him and an inspiration for
those who read him.
When I fling a snowball and it bursts against a tree trunk
with a whack my spirits brighten
today I settled - I who in America
plant chrysanthemums while
musing over waka
I stretch out
my right hand to the azure sky high above
and write random verse
with all my might
poetry - taking pleasure in antique porcelain - loving swords
entirely remote from any connection with
practical matters am I
With an urge
inside to shout something out
difficult to grasp - I stand at
the river bank
A moth disoriented
hits against an Indian-summer window
I remember that I too was
my wife who would turn on the light
and for a time admire the
river in lingering dusk
make a life of the soil and sweat I left for America
no ties to the soil I grow old in New
I spread both
arms and stand in the light - O the silhouette cast on the
dances with me a spring evening's caprice
to knock my head on the shelf corner
when I hit it back I hurt
my hand too
At the end
of joy and anger - love and hatred - pleasure and suffering
God is love who gives death
When I reply
- "I don't do anything!"
the cabbie laughs - "That's
a fine position!"
Why not designate
April Fool's a day not to lie?
there should be one day a year
The world has
its ways - one must have pluck - and so on I muse
as I straighten
a crooked picture frame
an apple I wonder about my poetry
though the same variety each
has a distinctive flavor
a spring snow - garden puddles
absorb little snowflakes without
excessive fondness nor enlightenment I wander
in a strange land
I celebrate the seventy-seventh
Unable to sleep
- before I know it
fantasies pictured in the dark turn into dreams
I have the
same physiology as a bug
on occasion I behave like a bug
Callner was born in 1956. His youth
was spent in France, England, Italy, and America. Since
1978 he has lived in Japan. He has written four novels, all
as yet unpublished. He teaches English as an adjunct at Nagano