Tawara Machi, Salad Anniversary (Sarada Kinenbi, Jap. 1987 translated in English and French)

I don’t often read poetry and I have no clue how to review it, but this collection of tankas was fun to read and very engaging. It’s as odd and accessible as its title. I never before thought that a poem could be described like a salad: fresh and crisp, or that language could be compared with chocolate: “sweet and a little bit bitter, not to be overeaten, and yet so tempting” (in Tawara’s words).

I scoured the web for everything about Tawara Machi and tanka, but it’s still rather scarce to my taste. Here’s what I learnt: in the mid-1980s Tawara Machi was a 20-something high school teacher in Japan when she came by chance upon the traditional poetry form called “tanka”, a rhythmic form based on thirty-one Japanese syllables divided into groups of 5-7-5-7-7, and adapted it to modern life.

Tanka, a 1300 year-old tradition, had become an old-fashioned and stale, but she revived it by using contemporary words and modern images. It’s not like a haiku, because I understand that the original version is only in one line, and there’s so many stanza to form the poem, so there’s something like a story in it, instead of being a seasonal snapshot like the haiku.

Salad Anniversary was an instant hit in Japan with millions of fans, but she was also recognized by “serious” poets with several national prizes. The common thread of this collection is a young woman’s love deceptions, but some poems also speak of her day job as a teacher, of her parents, of travels. In just a few words she paints ordinary events and feelings associated with them, just like eating a particular salad on a particular day can remind you of a lover who left.

Of course, my appreciation of the poem depends a lot of the translation. This French edition by Yves-Marie Allioux was very light and flowing, but the visual form on the page reminded me of the haiku form, so my eye stopped from stanza to stanza instead of moving on. It would be difficult and silly (not to say risky) for me to re-translate from French to English the poems, so I looked for them on the Internet but my own favourites weren’t there, only the most famous ones.

Salad Anniversary Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter:
“This tastes great,” you said and so
the sixth of July–
our salad anniversary

Another attempt taken from Tawara’s website:
“Hey, this tastes great!” you said, and so henceforth July the sixth shall be Salad Day.

Another found through Google in Linguistic creativity in Japanese discourse by Senko K. Maynard
Because you said, “This has a nice taste”, July sixth is our salad anniversary

August Morning Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter:
Always playing this song
you race along the seacoast road–
“Hotel California”

I watch you on your surfboard
poised between blueness
of sky and sea

Beach picnic for two —
thinking of egg sandwiches
never even touched

Morning in August Translated by Jack Stamm:
That’s you.
Deciding that your song
for speeding headlong
along beachside roads must be
Hotel California.

Into the space
between pale blue sea and sky
I stare fixedly
at you coming toward me
riding a surfboard.

Picnic on the sand:
that egg sandwich lying there
just lying there
untouched. Suddenly I find
it’s been worrying me.

[It’s quite wordy but much more visual and less dry than the Carpenter’s translation]

Translated by Quentin S. Crisp
Lunch on a sandy beach.
An egg sandwich left untouched
bothers me somehow.

[Probably my favourite]

Another attempt taken from Tawara’s website:
Blue of sky blueness of sea surfboard riding between : you only in my gaze.

Finishing our lunch on the beach, I notice they’ve gone begging, those egg sandwiches — it begins to bother me.

As you see, results are very different from one single Japanese sentence! I really wish I could read the original, especially as this collection seems to be the only one translated in foreign languages (perhaps because it is so difficult…)

4 thoughts on “Tawara Machi, Salad Anniversary (Sarada Kinenbi, Jap. 1987 translated in English and French)

  1. Pingback: 2009 Favorites « Smithereens

  2. Pingback: Whatever Happened to … Tawara Machi? « findingtimetowrite

  3. Pingback: Back from Holidays with a Treat! | Smithereens

  4. Pingback: Sarada Kinenbi - una raccolta di tanka moderni - K-ble Jungle

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