During in the mid-90’s when I was living alone in Japan and not mentally well, I came upon the free verse poetry of Giniro Natsuo. I don’t recall when or where I came across my first book as they weren’t all that commonplace, but quickly I was hooked. Soon I owned every last edition which included several short story anthologies and eclectic photo collections. Such content suited my melancholy mind.
And then I had a strange revelation. While all along I thought I was reading a dude’s prose, I learned by way of a magazine article that my favorite poet was actually a poetess! My hero turned heroine was featured in “Moe”– a publication that focused primarily on European style arts produced in Japan. So often had Natsuo assumed the view of a young man I never imagined her to be a woman just three years older than myself!
What I admired most about this woman’s poetry was the lack of form which was so not Japanese. Some of her works were even written by hand with mistakes scratched out as if they were published just as they came to her amazing mind. Some collections include simplistic color pencil drawings not at all pretentious; others photos that are not always clear but tastefully blurred as if she took them driving by without adjusting her camera.
Below is a poem I’ve translated to give the non-Japanese speaker a glimpse of Natsuo.
“One from an Angel” From the book “GoGo Heaven no Yuuki” by Giniro Natsuo translated by Bonsai
There came from an angel one
like a fugitive.
The angel came down from an opening in the clouds
arriving on the white sand beach of a peninsula.
Spied from a room window by a young man who had grown tired and had decided to turn off the TV,
(The angel) chuckled.
With this, the moon, the stars and every last star, came tumbling down upon the palms
piercing the sand and leaves.
Even the hair of the young man who had been peering from his window was covered in star dust.
And without thinking the young man opened his heart to the carefree laugh of the angel.
The secrets that had been inside him were then confided,
heart pounding to the seashore and beyond they went running
from the young man
like one fugitive.
What do you think of this?
To be honest, I gave up reading Japanese 16 years ago due to my addiction, but now I realize that reading this poetry is something I miss. It happens to be written in Japanese, but that is a side point. Giniro Natsuo is a genius.
Once I translated an entire Natsuo book and gave it to a student who loved Japanese anime. It took me a month of tedious work which was especially difficult in the beginning. Translating poetry like this is quite challenging because it requires getting into the style and head of the artist. I may throw down a few in future posts if anyone is interested. Japanese ain’t all haiku ya’all!
You can find more about this “bonsai life” in “The Six-Foot Bonsai” available through Amazon and Barnes and Nobel.