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This review is taken from PN Review 80, Volume 17 Number 6, July - August 1991.

REFLECTIONS FROM THE EAST A Play of Mirrors, Eight Major Poets of Modern Japan, edited by ôoka Makoto and Thomas Fitzsimmons (Katydid Books) £26.00, £18.95 pb

There is no such thing as a satisfactory anthology. Every one must be partial, selective. The more one knows about a poet, the more frustrated one is when his or her characteristic poems are not included. An anthology works best as a springboard, so that one can then start seeking out the work of poets not encountered before.

Ôoka Makoto and Thomas Fitzsimmons have commissioned a prefatory essay on each poet followed by about thirty pages of text. Selection of course depends on two main factors - the translator's preference and whether the poem will 'go' into English. The result here is a fairly comprehensive account of what eight modern Japanese poets have been achieving.

Tamura Ryûichi was born in 1923 and brought up in the pleasure-quarters of Tokyo. Although in middle age he went to live in the remote countryside near the active volcano Mt Asama, the sense of the city is a vital presence in his work, its complication and its loneliness:

Because you open a door
doesn't mean there has to be a room ...
doesn't mean there's a space
where humans can live and die.

He walks the 'paths of death and sex', giving, in Harbor Marie, a lucidly compassionate picture of a Yokohama prostitute. He writes about drink and aging, about the memories of war and current Japanese philistinism, with wry bitterness and mature humour:


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