New Year's

Posted on Friday, December 31, 2010, under ,

the first and the last
snowfall in Kyoto:
New Year’s Eve

 A shrine in my street - downtown Kyoto, Dec 31, 2010

despite the flurry
people are milling about –
am I one of them?

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haiku or not haiku, that is a senryu

Posted on Monday, December 27, 2010, under

Syllogism 1: Most Japanese don’t write poems / Most Japanese are not familiar with senryu / Most Japanese don’t write senryu.
Syllogism 2: Most Westerners don’t write poems / Most Western poets are unfamiliar with senryu / A small number of Western poets write senryu.
The above premises are most likely true, therefore the syllogisms are most likely sound. But, an important thing of note - thus Syllogism 3:
A number of Western poets have written haiku one time or the other / A haiku and senryu sometimes overlap, and are not easily differentiated / Therefore, a number of Western poets have unwittingly written a senryu, thinking they were writing a haiku.  

Apparently most poems published as haiku are in fact hybrids of haiku and senryu (about 60%, according to Elizabeth St Jacques). So, what is a Senryu? Here is an extract from Hiroaki Sato’s article ‘A Brief Survey of Senryû by Women’:

The 5–7–5-syllable senryû, like the hokku, derives from the longer verse form of renga. Unlike the hokku, however, which normally deals with natural or seasonal phenomena, the senryû is expected to deal with matters of human and social nature, often in a playful, satirical, or knowing manner. The hokku—called haiku today—carries a seasonal reference; the senryû does not have to.

The distinction between the two genres has been tenuous, however, from early on. In recent years the blurring of the differences has become such that Ônishi Yasuyo has said, “If someone asks me how senryû differ from haiku, I tell the inquirer that the only distinction that can be made is by author’s name”—that is, if the author is known to write haiku, the pieces he or she writes are haiku; if the author is known to write senryû, the pieces she or he writes are senryû. Ônishi herself is sometimes listed as a senryû poet, sometimes as a haiku poet.

Modern senryû, which dates from about the time of the haiku reform efforts of Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902), has taken such divergent perspectives as idealism, proletarianism, social realism, and individualism.

It could be thus argued that themes and concerns expressed by a senryu poem are closer to a Western sensibility, to a Western poem, than those expressed by a haiku. Here are some examples of modern senryu written by women, who in recent history have taken charge of the business of senryu composition in Japan.

I plant a cactus
in my eyes
and give up

Miura Ikuyo (born 1912)

I’ll trust this man
for now I take off
my tabi

Usui Kanojo (born 1925)

I close my eyes
I drop into sex
the bottomless swamp

The whole thing
the whole of it slips in
I slip in

Hayashi Fujio (1926–1959)

The bell insect dies
the bell insect’s food

I like humans
I’m being drunk
with humans

Morinaka Emiko (born 1930)

Suppressing yawns
suppressing myself
I remain wife

Every time I weep
I rise to my feet
like a man

Matsuda Kyômi (born 1942)

In Clothes Doubled
my reproductive organ
dies beautifully

The metaphysical elephant
drinks water
from time to time

Ônishi Yasuyo (born 1949)

The night I meet
my younger brother
I’m a Klimt woman

Running down
the giraffe’s neck
the orgasm

Seino Chisato (born 1948)


If you feel like trying your hand at writing senryu, remember the 5-7-5 syllabic pattern is largely ignored these days, usually shortened for the sake of cadence. Should you however decide to stick to the traditional formula, bear in mind that to the English ear the rhythm is produced by a stress rather than by a syllable. Therefore, feel the stresses while counting the syllables.

This site gives a brief history of senryu. Did you know, for instance, that senryu means ‘river willow’ which was a pen-name of one Karai Hachiemon (1718-1790), a government official in Tokyo. Another extremely detailed and useful introduction to writing both haiku and senryu by Kathi Lippard Cobb – click here.

I fancied sticking my own senryu to photos. A compromising thing to do, I know. Anyway, here we go. Click on images to see a larger version.

The images come from this fabulous post in French dedicated to Maupassant's 'Horla'.

Happy Senryuing!

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The Birth of Jesus According to Nancy

Posted on Sunday, December 26, 2010, under

'The Birth of Jesus' film from 'Give Up Yer Aul Sins' series. Bible stories interpreted by various children in their lovely Irish/Dublin accents, recorded for the radio sometime in the 60s. The cartoons were made and synchronised with voices much later, in the early noughties.I like the quirky faces, I like the sepia tone. Enjoy kids and grown-ups. Hope you do not take it too seriously, like some people did on youtube. It PROBABLY didn't happen this way. Or that.

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it's the forget-the-year time! - part 1

Posted on Tuesday, December 21, 2010, under


throws up on the train –
the year forgotten

a struggling smile
oseibo girl
hours on her feet

impulse buy
is the anagram of
pub Elysium

if only
she would bag a boyfriend
before Christmas

year after year
decorations are getting
more realistic

false security:
every shop I step into
plays 'jingle bells'

a small boy in me
throwing snowballs
at my son

by a plastic tree
wrapped up in fleece
moon out of focus

at midnight
trying not to wake them
my classic guitar

The above poems are supposed to be 'senryu', a particular from of Japanese verse, which I will discuss in some detail in one of the upcoming posts. 'Bonenkai' is Japanese ritual of getting drunk at the end of the year, usually done with co-workers, and it's something every adult must do, or else... As far as I can tell most working women don't enjoy it yet obligingly attend as one of those things. Most Japanese men are notoriously 'weak' drinkers and quite a few prone to misbehaving on public transport. 


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democracy in peril

Posted on Friday, December 10, 2010, under

Prince Charles and Camilla caught up in London violence after student fees vote

1/ Charles: Student fees are going up by 200%, I kid you not!
2/ Charles: My darling, your lower lip...I mean your upper lip...
3/ Charles: Look! They just pulled a man out of his wheelchair!
4/ Charles: Did I tell you dear, it costs the Met £50m a year to protect us.

In all the above 
Camilla: (speechless)

Well, if you can think of another 'speech bubble', do post a comment. Here are two more haunting images from the event:

democracy safeguarded...

 ...just about

more pics here:

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quotable - Peter Ustinov

Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2010, under

* Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.

* If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can't be done. 

* On critics: "They search for ages for the wrong word, which, to give them credit, they eventually find."

* By increasing the size of the keyhole, today's playwrights are in danger of doing away with the door.

* The habit of religion is oppressive, an easy way out of thought.

* I believe that the Jews have made a contribution to the human condition out of all proportion to their numbers: I believe them to be an immense people. Not only have they supplied the world with two leaders of the stature of Jesus Christ and Karl Marx, but they have even indulged in the luxury of following neither one nor the other.

* Contrary to general belief, I do not believe that friends are necessarily the people you like best, they are merely the people who got there first.

* Monica Seles: I'd hate to be next door to her on her wedding night

* World government is not only possible, it is inevitable; and when it comes, it will appeal to patriotism in its truest, in its only sense, the patriotism of men who love their national heritages so deeply that they wish to preserve them in safety for the common good.

* Playwrights are like men who have been dining for a month in an Indian restaurant. After eating curry night after night, they deny the existence of asparagus.

* Sex is a conversation carried out by other means. If you get on well out of bed, half the problems of bed are solved.

* To refuse awards is another way of accepting them with more noise than is normal.

* Terrorism is the war of the poor, war the terrorism of the rich – 2003

* Life is unfair but remember it is unfair in your favour.

 Read more:

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The Joys of Ana-gram I

Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2010, under

March 1928: Trying the framework for a 'busby', a tall bearskin hat worn by some British regiments, for size
(Fox Photos/Getty Images)

bear sinks

snake ribs
in bearskin.
Erin basks
in bearskin.
at sea brink
his sins break, bank rises.
bins, rakes.
rakes nib Ben Ben risks a rib
a skier, sir, ask Ben.
                brine asks.
inks a Serb
as Ken’s rib: Ben as Kris
Kris as Ben
kerb as


he planets the planes
by the Naples
past Helen, she planet.
by ten alephs
nth asleep.
nth elapses.
Helen taps Lethe naps
he planets then leaps
nth please,
hIS last pen.
a help sent:

Marxist Elephant (

Well, not 'serious' poetry, but much more fun than saying 'elephants' sixteen times. Yes, yes, why on earth would anyone want to say 'elephants' sixteen times!
If you like anagrams, a good site to visit: 
Sure, it can be a bit overwhelming, what with all the nonsensical words spewed out, nevertheless FUN! A case in point: click on this London Tube anagram map ↓

Lovely jubbly! Found this on 'ms baroque' blog:
(blogger par excellence!).

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Myths Past & Future: EXPO '70

Posted on Tuesday, December 07, 2010, under ,

Urashima Taro revisited (see my earlier post MYTHS II): the ancient Japanese myth with a 70's Brazilian touch. 

This commercial was made by Varig airlines to promote flights to the World Exposition EXPO '70, hosted in Osaka in March - September 1970. So, on to EXPO 70.
EXPO 70 hosted 77 countries at its pavilions and had 66 million visitors. Among many interesting exhibits were lunar rocks brought to earth by the Apollo 12 astronauts, the first ever IMAX film, and the two time capsules. The capsules were identical, filled with over 2000 artefacts of modern life as it was in 1970. At present the capsules are buried deep underground adjacent to Osaka castle. The lower capsule is due to be opened 5000 years from now, in 6970 to be precise. The capsule contains a plutonium atomic clock which operates by moving its hand 3mm every 100 years.

a very detailed info on this here:

The USA pavilion at Expo 70 contained some of the coolest, if extravagantly ambitious, projects, such as the invisible air columns (people actually walked right through them without noticing it) which actually supported the exhibition hall roof. The EAT (Experiments in Architecture and Technology) had various floats, fog-contraptions and light frame sculptures, all of which moved around and cut through the plaza, creating a multimedia construct, dubbed in those days 'the expanded cinema', a concept which
...could stimulate the mind with its synaes­thesic effects and restore sensation to bodies dulled by routine... 
At the World’s Fair in Osaka in 1970 E.A.T. teamed up with Pepsi-Cola to produce an experi­mental and interactive environment. EAT turned the experience of visiting the pavilion into one of sensory overload. ‘Visual sounds’ were produced with coloured lasers and electronic music by composer Lowell Cross.
Visitors to the pavilion were able to turn their visit into an interactive experience with audio handsets that could pick up audio signals on loops fixed in the pavilion structure or create three-dimensional images of themselves using a pneumatic hemispheric mirror created by Whitman. The dome of the pavilion was cloaked in a perpetual cloud of artificial fog conceived by Frosty Myers as an allusion to Mount Fuji (much to the frustration of nearby food and souvenir vendors who demanded a fog trap).

Artistic optimism paired with corporate swagger? A cold war paranoia subtext or the liberating effects of the visual/aural play? A subliminal 'blast on the senses' or a pointless sensory exercise? Hmm... maybe bit of everything. Perhaps David Crawley is right when he says that the unhappy marriage between the artistic innovation and corporate interest had no message per se, apart from showing us the roots of our current 'multimedia environment lie in the East-West competition which gripped the world more than 50 years ago.' Perhaps Davis Brody, the architect of the US pavilion at EXPO 70, is right when he notes that
the open, relaxed, sheltered environments created by a climate-controlling, light-transmitting dome might encourage the virtues of small lively towns, which have so conspicuously ceased to exist.

The West German pavilion at EXPO 70 featured the world's first, and so far the only, spherical concert hall 'Kugelauditorium', based on artistic concepts by Karlheinz Stockhausen. With its 3-dimensional sound, its 50 groups of loudspeakers ('the perfect loudspeaker'), and with Stockhausen's five-and-a-half-hour live programs of his music every day over a period of 183 days, 'many visitors felt the spherical auditorium to be an oasis of calm amidst the general hubbub, and after a while it became one of the main attractions of Expo 1970' (Kurtz, Michael, Stockhausen: A Biography, 1992).

                                                              Inside the Kugelauditorium (

Take a look at this bizarre performance from another era, of Stockhausen's 'Helikopter-String Quartet' (1995): the tonal audacity on a reconnaissance mission. Experimentalism verging on self-mockery.

Back to Expo '70, which also featured demonstrations of early mobile phones and maglev train technology. Here are some nice commemoration stamps (clickable for bigger images):

You can watch a 9-minute docu-film about the event here:

Funny and rather poignant, those people first in line to rush through the gates, running (literally) toward the vast exhibition grounds. Reminded me of those poor souls last Christmas at Topshop (or was it two years ago?), when everything was so cheap, scrambling for bargains like hungry hyenas (which of course was a far more depressing sight). Back to the EXPO video: just look at those queues with no end in sight. Hours and hours of waiting. But not all is gloom. This footage of EXPO 70, (on about the 4th minute-mark) shows masses in their national hats and costumes, dancing happily together on a vast disco-like-dancefloor (before discos were discovered). I wonder what kind of music they were dancing to. Judging from their bliss-struck faces they would've probably responded to anything rhythmical, or as long as it conformed to that huge banner above their heads: TOWARD BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF EACH OTHER. How bitterly naive that sounds 40 years later in the age of mistrust, scepticism, secrecy, shameless materialism.

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quotable - Assange

Posted on Sunday, December 05, 2010, under

Julian Assange:
The west has fiscalised its basic power relationships through a web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on. In such an environment it is easy for speech to be "free" because a change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic instruments. Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free. In states like China, there is pervasive censorship, because speech still has power and power is scared of it. We should always look at censorship as an economic signal that reveals the potential power of speech in that jurisdiction. The attacks against us by the US point to a great hope, speech powerful enough to break the fiscal blockade.

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The Hut of Fallen Persimmons

Posted on Saturday, December 04, 2010, under ,

The koyo season is drawing to a close. Last Sunday I was in Arashiyama, a famous momijigari spot (scenic area of the leaf colour transmutations) located on the outskirts of Kyoto.

Rakushisha is the cottage of the Genroku poet Mukai Kyorai (1651-1704), located in Saga, Arashiyama. Kyorai was one of the most talented and prominent disciples of the great Matsuo Basho. Basho once spoke of Kyorai as ‘…the governor of the Haiku world in the 33 provinces in Western Japan’. Kyorai was born in Nagasaki and after the death of his father, a medical doctor who served at the Imperial Court, moved to Arashiyama. There he lived in a small hut in Sagano, devoting himself to the martial arts of sword-fighting. After getting acquainted with Basho, however, Kyorai took up writing haiku as his main occupation.

The Rakushisha garden is littered with ‘poem stones’. One of the stones bears a haiku made in the autumn of 1772 by Inoue Juko, a relative of Kyorai:

master of persimmons                                                       Kakinushi ya
treetops are close to                                                           kozue wa chikaki
Stormy Mountain                                                                 Arashiyama

As the story goes, Kyorai had about forty persimmon (in Japanese ‘kaki’) trees in his garden. One autumn day a fruit merchant from Kyoto visited his hut and paid advance money to buy all the kaki fruits from Kyorai. That same night, however, a severe storm swept through the area, so severe that every single kaki fruit was blown off the trees, rattling down the roof of Kyorai’s hut. The next day the merchant came over only to find the persimmons lying crushed on the ground: ‘Holy maloney, never saw anything like it my whole life!’ For his part, Kyorai appeared to have been sort of enlightened by the event, subsequently naming his hut Rakushisha (‘the hut of the fallen persimmons’).

Basho visited Rakushisha three times. On his second visit, in the summer of 1691, he stayed at the house for seventeen days, this sojourn recorded as a diary called ‘Saga Nikki’ (Saga Diary), published in 1753. At around the same time Kyorai and Nozawa Boncho (d. 1714), two of Basho’s disciples, co-edited Sarumino (‘Monkey’s Raincoat’), a selection of the haiku from the hands of many poets. The selection was guided and closely supervised by Basho. The Monkey's Raincoat’ contains some of Basho's own finest and most essential haiku. The title of the anthology comes from one of Basho’s haiku: The year’s first cold rain / even the monkey seems to want / a tiny raincoat.

The hanging straw raincoat at Rakushisha used to indicate to visitors that Kyorai was at home

Near Rakushisha there are a number of bamboo groves, which provided the background for a well-known poem by Basho from the same year:

the cuckoo –
through the dense bamboo grove,
moonlight seeping.

The following haiku by Basho is inscribed on the poem stone in the western corner of the Rakushisha garden:

summer rains                                                                       samidare ya
trace of a poem card                                                         shikishi hegitaru
torn off the wall                                                                   kabe no ato

This evocative poem also happens to end Basho’s ‘Saga Nikki’ journal. This haiku is widely taught in Japanese schools, and is so well-known that kids and bored housewives (those who ‘possess a poetic spirit’, to quote Basho) can rattle it off in the middle of the night.

In May 1694, Basho visited the Rakushisha for the third and last time. On October 12th Basho died in the house of a flower merchant Hanaya Niemon, in Osaka. He was 51 years old. Mukai Kyorai died in 1704 at the age of 54.

Visitors to Rakushisha have the opportunity to write their own haiku (paper and pencils provided), thus taking part in a sort of telepathic haikai contest with other callers at the hut. During my short visit there several people turned up and handwrote their lines, afterwards putting them away in a designated wooden box. On the annotated piece of paper you write your poem, your age, your home address (in case someone actually liked it and were perhaps to send you a cheque for your effort). The visiting bards were all men in their fifties, or older. Their composing business was done in silence, purposefully, promptly, ceremoniously. So it occurred to me that their haikus had already been made, ‘pre-cooked’ so to speak, and that coming to Rakushisha meant only reheating the meal. The expedient manner of jotting down their haikus actually spoke in favour of my presumption. Well, if that really is the case, it surely smacks of cheating. The whole idea is to write one’s lines on the spot, inspired by the place and its poetic ghosts, and embrace the spontaneity, the here-and-now. Then again, I might’ve been altogether thrown off the track. And what’s more, what if spontaneity has little to do with the principles of haiku composition?

Well, let’s get our teeth into it a bit. Basho himself very much shied away from writing about the theory of haiku:

Western writings on haiku frequently assert that in Basho's view a haiku is what is happening here and now. But Basho wrote no discourse on the principles of haiku and his works contain few traces of theory that we can draw upon to reconstruct his concepts. [None of my] colleagues who are specialists in the literature of Edo Period (1600-1868; Matsuo Basho lived from 1644 to 1694), hava found a clear statement of the "here and now" principle…

…Kagami Shiko was another of Basho's ten most important disciples. A chapter called "Sonentei yo-banashi" in his Fukuro-nikki reports a discussion about haiku by Kyorai in which he stated that haiku are concerned with "what is spontaneous on the spot." Shiko added that Basho praised that statement.


Though he never wrote a treatise on the subject, there is no doubt that Basho conceived some unique ideas about poetry in his later years… [as] he began thinking about poetry in more serious, philosophical terms.
(The Master Haiku Poet Matsuo Basho, by Makoto Ueda)

Indeed it was not Basho, but some of his disciples who best convey the principles and ideas behind the haiku composition. Among the best ‘theoretical’ works was Kyoraisho, written by Mukai Kyorai himself. The book is in fact an assortment of bits and pieces collected from conversations with Basho, which closely reveal Basho’s own views. Here is an excerpt from Kyoraisho, in which Kyorai is explaining the subtleties within the Japanese concept of sabi, or ‘lightness’.

My fellow haiku poet, Nomei asked me : " What is "sabi" ?"
I answered him: ‘ The "sabi" is a nuance of a poem. It is not a superficial loneliness. For example, even an old warrior clad in beautiful armour and an elegant helmet, combats bravely in a battlefield; and even an old man clad in a gold broidered costume, who attends an important party, carries with him the pathetic old age. The "sabi" exists in joyfulness as well as in gloominess.’ I cited one of my haiku as an example.

Two white-haired guards
of cherry blossoms
Two heads getting closer
to converse                             Kyorai

Our master, Bashô said : "You are right. Kyorai. It conveys well the nuance of sabi".

from Kyôrai-shô, on "sabi"

Do I dare imagine Basho’s half-smile here, cheered up by the profundity of his disciple!

In his mature years Basho further developed the concept of sabi.

Sabi urges man to detach himself from worldly involvements; "lightness" makes it possible for him, after attaining that detachment, to return to the mundane world. Man lives amid the mire as a spiritual bystander. He does not escape the grievances of living; standing apart, he just smiles them away. Basho began writing under this principle and advised his students to emulate him…  Characteristic verses in [later] collections reject sentimentalism and take a calm, carefree attitude to the things of daily life. They often exude lighthearted humour.
(The Master Haiku Poet Matsuo Basho, by Makoto Ueda)

So, the spontaneity which Basho praises is rather different from what you and me might consider a spontaneous reaction to the outside stimulus. Writing haiku is, well, a little more than, say, coming across a splendid waterfall and promptly snapping the moment of your temporary exaltation.

The ‘Cipher Journal’ has a good article on Basho, shedding further light on the workings of the haiku creation. Here is the author, Clayton Eshleman:

Bashō is a sterling example of the spiritual poet/scholar. He did his homework on the lore and history concerning the sites and temples he planned to visit on his three long hikes. The narrative drift of his haibun is like a parachute weighted with a haiku body under it. Or to put it another way: it is a pleasure to visit and describe precisely what one has seen ('haibun'); it is more challenging, after, to sense the essence of the seen, to sound it in the tiny crucible of a haiku.

So what is one to make of the haiku principles? Obviously the perception by senses of the here-and-now is an indelible part of haiku. But the essence of the place seems to be even more important, not least because it is harder to achieve. In Basho, this ‘essence’ always is, and should be, subjective (hence subject to a reader’s interpretation), because a poet’s ‘personal untainted perception’ is what enables him to capture the atmosphere, the substance of the thing described. This substance is gradually arrived at, as ‘the colour of a poet’s mind becomes the poem’. It looks to me Basho’s genius lies in his right timing, in his ability to turn the spontaneous, after just enough reflection, or ‘becoming’, into the essence of the thing observed. To submerge yourself within a natural object, you would need perseverance and also time, like listening to a moving river with eyes closed.

A successful haiku is therefore more than just a first-hand observation, even if it comes from an experienced master (although, according to Basho, it is preferable that it does). The famous anecdote in which Basho is having a dream of being let into a shrine on a rainy night only after he has produced a suitable haiku on the spot is quite telling of his ambitions, but in reality it would have most likely produced an average haiku, I think, simply because there would be not enough time for his mind to grow into a poem (unless he already had a 'pre-baked' poem up his sleeve).

The artistic spontaneity of the moment that Basho so praised is in fact a sign of one’s poetic maturity. ‘The Monkey’s Raincoat’, a collection in which the poems are linked by a subtle emotion of sabi rather than by a logical sequence, shows perhaps for the first time that haiku could be considered a unique, and worthy, art form.

Last Sunday, while visiting Kyorai’s hut, I wrote a haiku on the spot:

At Rakushisha
visitors write haiku
below kaki fruits

I am not sure if this would have sneaked me into Kyorai’s hut on a rainy night. The poem sounds too matter-of-fact. Today I've come up with

at Rakushisha
kaki about to drop off –
the ripe haikus

Think I’ll stick to this one.

You can find a selection of Kyorai’s haiku here:
If you are a haiku fan, do yourself a favour and browse other poets on the site.

A great interactive (VR) view of Rakushisha at

                                                                                       Taken on Sunday, November 28th, 2010

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Posted on Tuesday, November 30, 2010, under


‘…yesterday for the first time I couldn’t remember a Bosnian word for a birch tree,
I had to look it up: “breza”… Asija, I don't remember the birch trees.’
– Saša Stanišić, How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone

My father’s father, Branko M.,
a woodcutter, enters the poem,
struck down by a Bosnian birch.
His face hangs on the wall not far
from our family icon St George.
The family allege Branko saved
another mate during the tree-fall
as his axe lay not far from the body
(my old man doesn’t recall
being a pink-skinned baby).

Branko M., my lost relative,
drowned in the turbid Danube.
His motive? His refusal to live.
They found his clothes neatly folded
on the beach pebble stones.
If only his life was as neat
by which my family must’ve meant
he’d hurt himself rather than those
who made his life morose.

I’d better unbecome Branko.
I crawl from under the tall birch
that killed me. I begin my search
for the saved in my previous lives.
A few links later I am riding
Urashima Taro’s tortured tortoise,
its feet the beautiful hands
of princess Otohime, saved in vain.
I’ll open a gift she bid Taro not to,
the cursed cube of tamatebako.

I’d better unbecome Branko.
I search for Wang Zhi, a carpenter,
a solid birch for his axe handle.
Dead of winter. On a felled branch
two men crouch over a board.
I watch the shade-pitted pieces
appear and disappear, outwitted
by the flickering light of a candle.
When their game’s up, which is never,
and I come to, the axe handle
is my decomposed arm.

Unbecoming Branko won’t do
unless I keep a piece of my cursed name.
I am therefore Bran, son of Febal.
In my birch coracle I set sail
south-southeast from the Irish Sea
via the Channel, the Rhine upstream
into the Prussian blue Danube –
which, before I was made a Serb,
flowed ultramarine.

I’ve reached the Island of Women.
I, a self-made citizen of the Serbian
Tír na nÓg. Lying naked, unseen
from the Singidun turret,
ignored by hunger thirst fears.
I unfold my paper cube tears
before the women lament – your
homecoming, Bran, looks imminent.

Come morning, I am forty-one.
At the fate-prescribed time
the curse is bound to charge.
My name will thus be undone
and, as such, axe-inscribed
on my own struck down birch.

November, 2010

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Posted on Tuesday, November 30, 2010, under

The Voyage of Bran

The Voyage of Bran, a Celtic pre-Christian mythic tale of quest and displacement, would be more familiar to Western audiences. It is believed to have been written down around 700 AD, although it has an earlier oral history. It has been inspiration to several other tales, which are set in a more explicitly Christian context. You can find an abridged text here, or the full text by clicking here (both texts translated by Kuno Meyer).

Postal stamps hailing from the Faroe Islands, which seem to depict the Christian version of the Bran or somesuch myth:

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Posted on Tuesday, November 30, 2010, under

Urashima Taro

‘Urashima Taro’ is based on a well-known Japanese folk tale about an honest fisherman who rescues a tortoise and is thus invited to an underwater castle (Dragon Palace) where he is welcomed by the mysterious Lady Otohime. The story dates back to the 8th century, Nara Period. It has inspired various artists throughout centuries, including painters, film-makers, writers, puppeteers. Here is a selection of works influenced by the Taro legend. 

urashima taro & the princess of dragon palace by hokusai

urashima taro by kuniyoshi

urashima taro by utagawa kunisada

urashima taro by edund dulac (1916)

Then there is this short animation made in 1931!


The tale of Urashima Taro is also reflected in more contemporary works, such as Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. The thematic link as presented by ‘szlogolept’ on his/her blog page:

The point of convergence between the two is the containment of the ageing process, in case of Urashima Taro his passing years are stored in a tamatebako and for Dorian Gray his painting carries the burden of his style and manner of living. But the resemblance ends there. The Picture of Dorian Gray lapses into the eternal struggle between the good and the evil, the devil and the divine, whilst Urashima Taro is a sweetly tragic fantasy where a man gives up immortality and a beautiful and joyous life to answer the call of his filial obligations.

The tragedy being, of course, that he has given up immortality too little too late. 

Yet another link, a very contemporary one indeed: the story of Urashima Taro, recreated with human sized puppets in the style of the Japanese Bunraku, aided by Kamishibai, a form of paper theatre, is currently being performed in the UK, by 'Rouge28 Theatre', a company of international theatre artists based in London! That’s right, CURRENTLY, as we speak (so to speak)! This particular show includes only a single performer plus various dolls and props. If you are lucky to be in England this autumn/winter of 2010, you can find more details on the company and the show, including a video of Urashima Taro, here:
Definitely the darkest version of Urashima Taro. The video is also available on You Tube:

The company is touring England in November and December, with the final show on Saturday 18th December at ‘Rich Mix’ in London. Damn, wish I were there.

Final footnote: the tale of Urashima Taro is told through pictures actually painted on a wall overlooking Lake Saromarko, an inlet southeast of Mombetsu, Hokkaido. Behind lies the Okhotsk Sea. Well, if you ever happen to set foot on the island of Hokkaido...

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