Wednesday, August 6, 2008

On "Sad Toys" by Takuboku Ishikawa, translated by Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda ****

Here's the reason I read the Romaji Diary--because Sad Toys was in the same book, and I didn't feel like I could justify just reading the book I was actually curious about, didn't feel like I would be giving Ishikawa full attention if I just read the more appealing work. While the Romaji Diary shows many of Ishikawa's most personal feelings in prose during a time of relative poverty (when was he not poor) but good health, Sad Toys is a collection of poetry put together near the end of his life while he was wasting away in a hospital bed. And Sad Toys is quite amazing.

Start just with the title. Toys--that is poems. For poems really are in many ways a poet's toys. For some who write poetry, poems are word puzzles. You take them apart, put them back to better, try to find the best way for all the words to fit, and there's no end to the process. Now, take a poet like Ishikawa, put him in a hospital at a time when he's becoming increasingly aware of his mortality, and clearly, such toys become sad--sad because that's all there is of his life, sad because he's dwelling on sadness. Many of the poems talk about his hospital stay. Many about his coming death, his desire for death (to relieve himself of pain) and his desire to keep on living. And some poems talk about the change in perspective that comes with such events. In one of my favorites, number 75, Ishikawa talks of reading old love letters. His observation? (All of the poems are typically Japanese, typically short--they're tanka.) So many spelling errors. And how true, really, years down the road, when we're no longer madly in love with someone we're just getting to know, all those little peccadilloes come to the fore. We don't speed through a letter the same way; rather, we say, You know, that woman/man never did spell very well! Such are the observations throughout this little gem.

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