Poet’s Corner || Salad Anniversary by Machi Tawara

I don’t read poetry very much, mostly because I’m intimidated by it. I want to understand it so badly, but I get this feeling that I’m doing it wrong. And I know I’m not alone in doubting myself.

It was liberating to read this essay by Elisa Gabbert, a poet and poetry critic, where she admits that she doesn’t always get poetry. She also declares that when poetry critics complain that a bad poem is just ‘prose chopped into lines,’ they are forgetting something: ‘Poetry is just prose chopped into lines.’ Reading that tripped a switch in my brain. I spend hours a week reading prose without so much as a quiver, so what’s my problem with poetry?

My very smart and talented poet friend Jeevan Narney once visibly gagged when I told him that I was enjoying the poems of Billy Collins. Billy Collins is the poet for the masses, evidenced by his two-time U.S. Poet Laureate title. Yeah, he’s kitschy, but is that really so bad? I can listen to Billy Collins poems while I’m driving, and understand them enough to chuckle, and that’s ME having a GOOD TIME with POETRY.

Japanese poet Machi Tawara had a collection of poetry that went viral in the late 1980’s. It’s sold over 2.5 million copies to-date, inspired TV shows, a film, other poetry collections, etc etc. It’s a huge success. Salad Anniversary, as the English translation is called, recently got a facelift by Pushkin Press, and I requested a review copy of it. Poetry that the masses enjoyed? Must be up my alley. It turns out that my guess was correct: this is a perfect read if you want to enjoy the structure of poetry, would like something that our references our contemporary condition, and is light yet thoughtful.

Tawara writes about the problems of modern love (from an introvert’s perspective, for sure), daily life, family relationships, and self-doubts. Even though she’s Japanese, and didn’t have to deal with eHarmony or Tindr when she was writing it, it’s super easy to nod along, smile ruefully because it’s true, and see yourself in her words.

Ponder this for example. In the midst of longing for her relationship with her lover to have been more matured than it really was, she writes:

thinking of the slender margin
between unreal and real
     “Today only!”
Red blouse in the window, on sale each time I go by

It’s clever, right? And understandable. Here’s to more Poet’s Corner posts in the future!

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