M. D. │ When did you first think of writing poetry? Were you inspired by a special occasion or did it come slowly and naturally?
S. O. │ My art was born naturally from a young age. Ever since I have been writing letters, I have been writing poetry. But I did not initially recognize it as poetry nor did I make any special effort to write poetry. When I started to recognize my work as poetry the experience was similar to an imaginary butterfly emerging into my horizon and flying to a familiar scenery. At this moment, the butterfly and the scenery became a necessity to each other. It is like a jigsaw puzzle. Each individual jigsaw puzzle acquires its meaning only when it is juxtaposed to other images. In the same way each word flies directly to the suitable place in my poetry.
M. D. │ Have you attempted to write fiction, drama, or some form of autobiography?
S. O. │ Once I wanted to write fiction stories but I abandoned this idea because I realized I especially enjoyed expressing beauty and music within the context of poetry. I find it easier to recognize expressions of lyrical beauty in poetry in comparison to fiction narratives. I have never thought of writing dramas or an autobiography, as it is too real for me. It was very unusual for me to write about my childhood, as I did for you in 2008.
M. D. │ Is tradition important to you? How does it affect your subject, matter and form? Are you attracted by foreign, i.e.; Western cultures and poetry (you were a student and now you are a guest lecturer of British literature)?
S. O. │ In the face of tradition I feel humbled. Tradition is very important to me. I breathe it in and breathe it out into my poetry. When I confronted Buddhist temples, some poems were born such as: “The Rock Garden” (vol. II), “The Five-Storied Pagoda” (vol. III) and “Yakushiji Temple,” which will be published in vol. V. There was an air of mystery surrounding the presence of the temples and myself. I wanted to respond to their existence by becoming a poem. At that moment I felt the temples and I were on the same plane.
When I think about tradition, the most important poem for me is “The Temple Bell” (vol. IV). This poem as well as “After Winter’s Passage the Bounteous Soil of Sin” (vol. IV) were published in France for the first time. In “The Temple Bell” I express that art is born from rituals and traditions consciously or unconsciously.
Regarding my style of poetry I do not follow the Japanese traditional styles of poetry such as waka and haiku. I would like to add that I am particularly interested in Western style of poetry, as I regard highly foreign cultures especially Western cultures.
The Japanese language is an ideogram, but the Western one is a phonogram. Twenty-six alphabets can be combined to express everything while the Japanese writing system requires three scripts (kanji*, hiragana and katakana). It is magic.
I specialized in English Literature because I am interested in foreign cultures and Western poetry. I have been conducting research on John Keats for some time now. As a poet, I aspire to share Keats’ sensibilities to beauty in relation to fragility and eternity.
M. D. │ What role does the visual and musical elements of your language play in your poetry?
S. O. │ When I look at pictures, I can distinctly hear music. When I listen to music, I can see pictures or sceneries vividly in my heart. The poem, “Sound” (vol. III), will give you a good example of how I combine music and images in my poetry. In this sense, “The Chisel” (vol. III) is also an important poem. I am living in the countryside. I often go mountain walking with my husband. When we walk through nature, I feel, I am hearing conversations between mountains, trees and birds. We human beings are in harmony with them as one of the elements of nature. When I return home, my hands move automatically to recreate what I saw and heard.
M. D. │ What are the main difficulties in translating your poems in foreign, culturally remote languages such as English or French?
S. O. │ The most difficult process of translating poems is to make my poems musical in foreign languages. I always consider the length of each line. Counting meters is necessary too. In my poems, I integrate alliterations, assonances and rhymes. When I am writing poems in Japanese, I am also writing them in English in my heart. My translators listen to my Japanese readings and catch the subtle rhythm of the poems. Then they make each poem follow the original music of the Japanese poems. I especially enjoy taking part in the translation of my poems into English. Particularly when the translated poems are read aloud, I am always moved. I feel supreme bliss when I hear new beautiful sounds in translated poems. It seems to me that translating poems is much more difficult than writing poems. Therefore I am overjoyed when the poems are faithfully translated into foreign languages following scenes, sounds and rhythms.
As for the cultural differences, it is not a serious problem for me. In my world of poetry, all human beings, animals, plants, stars, the moon, the sky and the air have personalities. They share a brotherhood. Sometimes they have quarrels, but almost everyday they co-exist in peace. These elements of nature are “beauty” to me that I cannot help but write. These elements are also very curious and it is as if they visit me asking, “Please write poems about us.”
M. D. │ Does Buddhism (or Shintoism, or any religious, or philosophical, approach) intervene directly or indirectly in your inspiration?
S. O. │ Religion indirectly affects my inspiration. Living creatures are not so strong but they are also not so weak. Religion exists between weaknesses and strengths of human beings. We must live in cruel conflict. The poem, “Bell Tower,” which will be published in vol. V, will reveal the way I perceive life and death. Even though living creatures cannot live long, our existence is changing something in the planet. We have profoundly influenced each other in order to survive.
I wrote a philosophical poem called, “Wings ― Things-Between” (vol. III). In this poem, I associate the word “wings” with the word “release” when soil transforms into a vase. While the soil is in the kiln, meditating under the flames, it is ready to be released. After these two transformations, from soil to a vase and from a vase to “wings,” a vase becomes free from a shape and flies to the space “Between.” The wings have no destination because they are “released completely.”
M. D. │ For you, does being a poet involve being active socially or ethically to awaken public responsibility to the ecological predicament or global civilization we are part of today? (Or “For you, does being a poet involve a prophetic function, for instance by being active ~ .”)
S. O. │ A poet can be active socially or ethically. However, in my case I cannot answer “yes.” My poems are born spontaneously without an ethical tone. In my imaginary world all existences share our planet without imposing their morality or ego onto others. You can read about my love for living creatures in the poems of “Why Are Strawberries Red If Their Seeds Are Black?” (vol. I), “Frogs’ Paradise” (vol. II) and “Woodland Orchestra” (vol. II). Although the impression of these poems seems very far from “public responsibility” or “ecological predicament,” I was very happy when I wrote them, as I praise our potential to appreciate nature and to live in harmony with it.
Mrs. Michèle Duclos is an interviewer. Yamina Laieb – Aoki and Soraya Umewaka are collaborators.
All rights are reserved by Michèle Duclos.