Japanese culture is beautiful and complex, and its poetry is practically nothing compared to the western idea of the subject. Haikus are a personal love of mine, and the process of poetry writing and the whole ceremony with ink and drawing the characters is riveting. However I’ve never read a book of translated Japanese poetry, so “Salad Anniversary” felt like a perfect introduction to the subject.
I had one strong conviction after finishing this book: Japanese doesn’t translate well into English. This was obvious from the structure of all the poems, as in some places the stanzas would be four lines instead of the usual three, whereas in Japanese the writing would be vertical (from what I vaguely remember of Japanese poetry, at least), so the form would complement the words. Besides the structure itself however I found that some places throughout the poems lost their impact in the process of translation. This book is difficult to review because of the technical aspect of the writing, which can probably be overlooked by people who are looking specifically only the meaning of the words without focusing too much on the structure or the flow of the writing.
Which brings me to another conclusion I made: Japanese poetry truly isn’t for everyone, and Tawara was a little too much for me. After reading classical and contemporary western poetry, the simplicity and repetitive nature of Tawara’s poems began to wear me down a tad. I think it’s due to the difference in cultural mentality, and really depends on the reader, their patience and understanding with the topic as well as the flexibility they have with approaching it. From my simple, initial reaction, I can say I didn’t particularly like this poetry collection. It had some good images here and there, but I struggled with the flow of it, a problem that I think is due to the structure of poetry in Japanese vs English. Another factor is my lack of familiarity with the tanka, which has definitely jaded my ability to appreciate the writing.
I’m torn with the verdict for this one so I’ll say that it’s my own fault as a reader for not being able to appreciate the collection properly. I wasn’t gripped by the subject matter, the approach, or the presentation. It was only brief moments of serenity and calm imagery that kept me floating through the poems and providing some colour to an otherwise not particularly gripping collection.