Sunday, September 11, 2016

To the Lighthouse: A Rhetorical Device, Utamakura (Poetic Place Names)

One of the central features of traditional Japanese poetry is the use of utamakura, a category of poetic words, often involving place names, that "cultivate allusion and intertextuality between individual poems and within the tradition" (for more information, see Edward Kamens, Utamakura, Allusion, and Intertextuality in Traditional Japanese Poetry,  Yale University Press, 19970). The use of utamakura can effectively anchor the poem in a larger communal body of poetic and cultural associations, and thus broaden the significance (thematic, historical, or emotional) of the bare words in the poem. Take the following haiku for example:

a wild sea --
stretching to Sado Isle
the Milky Way


("Sado, an island across the water from Izumozaki (Izumo Point), was known for its long history of political exiles: Emperor Juntoku, Nichiren, Mongaku, Zeami, the mother of Zushio, and others. As a consequence, the island, surrounded here by "wild seas" and standing under the vast Amanogawa (literally, River of Heaven), or Milky Way, comes to embody the feeling of loneliness, both of the exiles at Sado and of the traveler himself. The poem has a majestic, slow-moving rhythm, especially the drawn-out "o" sounds in the middle line (Japanese original, "Sado ni yokotau"), which suggests the vastness and scale of the landscape....," Haruo Shirane, Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho, pp. 242-3).

Comparatively speaking, there are a few places in the English language haiku world that have a core of established poetic associations of the kind found in famous poetic places in Japan. However, since 9/11, there have been more and more poets, American or not, writing about these unspeakable, heinous attacks. One of the most horrific and enduring images was the collapse of The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Below are fine examples of a sociopolitically significant and emotionally changed utamakura ("Twin Towers") used in English language haiku, which are replete with all kinds of meaning for the people living in a post-9/11 world:

twin towers
repeating their absence
day after day

Bill Kenney

Twin Towers
petals in still water
fill my eyes

Michael Rehling

two light beams shining
where there were once twin towers --
my son, my daughter

Jack Galmitz
(Below is excerpted from Poetic Musings: 9/11 Haiku by Jack Galmitz : .... The first two lines delineate the most significant memoryscape in the first decade of the 21st century, where the present encounters the past and both reflect upon each other. In L3, the thematic focus is shifted from the socio-cultural/public to the personal-relational/private. It indicates that redeeming hope of the future begins with the generational basis of remembrance of things past. And the psycho-sociopolitical significance of number two stirs the reader to further ponder past trauma, present reflection, and future hope...)

An Unofficial Story for Oskar

smoke trails a life
from the north tower

Another sleepless night. Winter moonlight on the empty side of her bed. From the bedside table, she picks up A Place of Remembrance: The Official Photo Book of 9/11. She stares at the book for a moment. Tears roll down her face as she rips out some of the pages. With a sigh, she puts the torn-out pages in reverse order. When she flips through them, dozens of people are flying through the windows back into the building.

Chen-ou Liu

(Comment by Cattails Haibun Editor Sonam Chhoki: The power of Chen-ou Liu’s haibun, An Unofficial Story for Oskar lies in its closing sentence: “When she flips through them, dozens of people are flying through the windows back into the building.” It is amazingly evocative image that has echoes of redemption and freedom from the tyranny of time)

No comments:

Post a Comment