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Ericson Translates Book of Poetry by Japanese Disaster Survivors

Poetry Chronicles Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown Aftermath

Ericson Translates Book of Poetry by Japanese Disaster Survivors

Colorado College Professor of Japanese Joan Ericson is one of three translators of a book of Japanese poetry written by survivors of and witnesses to the three disasters that struck Japan three years ago.

In March 2011 when Ericson, who specializes in Japanese literature, was on sabbatical in Kyoto, a powerful earthquake hit northeastern Japan, followed by a devastating tsunami and nuclear meltdowns.

Ericson, along with two other specialists of Japanese literature, Laurel Rasplica Rodd of the University of Colorado—Boulder and Amy Heinrich of Columbia University, was asked to translate the tanka, or 31-syllable poems, that began to appear after the disasters in the Asahi newspaper poetry column.  The poems were compiled in a book, “Kawaranai sora nakinagara warainagara” (“The Sky Unchanged:  Tears and Smiles”). Edited by Isao Tsujimoto, the director of the Studio for Cultural Exchange, the book features 75 poems by 55 different poets.

Many of these tanka have been included in exhibits of photos, collages, and calligraphy that were on display in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in 2012 and at Colorado College in 2013, as well as in catalogues of the catastrophic events.

In order to focus on the voices of the poets themselves, the three translators opted for a team approach and a collaborative translation instead of dividing up the poems between them and translating in isolation. “We did that because we wished to focus on the many poets' voices, and not our own,” Ericson said.

“During the process we often consulted the poets and learned how much this project had empowered the mostly amateur poets,” Ericson said. “We learned firsthand how literature and the arts not only provide a means of expression for those who continue to suffer in the aftermath of disasters, but also a way for them to find hope.”

A sampling of the poems:
the full moon
climbs up over
the mountain of rubble
like a silent
requiem

I take comfort in the flowers
of the eggplants
and the cucumbers I raise
here in my refuge
from the nuclear disaster

a lifetime
of being checked over,
the heart’s exposure to radiation
cannot
be measured