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  • Writer's pictureRichard Meier

Found in translation

In the past few years, whenever I've been reading a Japanese poem or looking at a Japanese painting, I've had the distinct sense of having found the culture that I could perhaps call home.

A peculiar experience, in and of itself, but perhaps especially so for someone who can boast only a heritage mixed from those decidedly unasiatic nationalities, the Irish and the Swiss.

So, contemplating this simple shelf, for example - how amazing, exhilarating even, to find such a sense of calm, of containment, of coherence despite - because of? - the way that no shelf is the same length as any other, the amount by which each shelf is inset from the upright is never uniform, the asymmetry between the four horizontal shelves and the two uprights.

A sense of calm, of containment, that many Japanese poems seem to achieve of course. Here, for example, is one by a poet I've been reading recently, Ishikawa Takuboku:

In a deserted office at night,


A telephone rang, and it stopped.

My, what concision! And that ‘Wildly’ wildly occupying its own line. Plus the genius addition of ‘and it stopped’ - as good as Edward Thomas’ evocation of the train drawing up unwontedly at Adlestrop. And, incidentally, what a great lockdown poem. All those empty offices, where phones occasionally ring.

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