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Saturday, November 24, 2012

JWC 2012: My Impressions

So I've been threatening for weeks to tell you about the Japan Writers Conference 2012 and here it goes. I was able to attend for the full two days this year, so I'm going to just tell you about the presentations in which I learned something specific.

I went to Australian poet David Gilbey's poetry editing workshop. Since I left Florida over 8 years ago, I haven't been part of a workshopping group, so it was instructive and surprising to listen to feedback on my work. However, what I really learned in this presentation was how to be a better reader. David was generous with the kinds of questions he asked the poets, never assuming that something was done without intending effect, but rather asking for clarification of the intention whenever something "interesting" was done. Furthermore, many of the poets were non-native English speakers writing in English, so when I saw syntactical or grammatical errors, I assumed it was due to that, but David and another participant were always quick to assume that the poet was doing something interesting (which often wasn't the case, but why not make this generous assumption as well as notice if there was a happy accident in play). I'm also quick to find logical inconsistencies in poems, and another participant pointed out that the inconsistency might be saying something about the voice of the poem, rather than the poet, which is something I'm ashamed to say I hadn't considered. So basically, I learned that I need to be a more generous and flexible reader.

As I mentioned previously, I attended two haiku workshops, because I may be doing a class on Japanese poetic forms next year. The first class was on the history of haiku in English, by Philip Rowland, who is one of the editors of a forthcoming haiku anthology Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (Norton). He covered the first known haiku in English by George Ashton in 1877, which followed the single line that is the traditional Japanese form, then he went through the imagists', including Amy Lowell's, fascination with haiku, the form's influence on the Beat poets, up to present day English haiku. I particularly like this haiku shared by Rowland:

     Paul Reps (1959)

The second class was a craft class by Nagoya-based poet and friend Leah Ann Sullivan, in which parameters of haiku in English were discussed, and we had a chance to try our hand at reframing a traditional seasonal (autumn) Japanese haiku with our own imagery. Leah does interesting collaborative work with musicians, pairing their improvisations with her seasonal haiku, and we got to experience that during her workshop. She also does a haiku gingko walk in Nagoya, during which people walk around a course and read haiku (aloud, not printed, I believe) about the season. Leah has a very inclusive original way of working with artists from all genres which I admire.

I also went to Kiyoko Ogawa's presentation on jisei, which are Japanese "swan song" poems, or poems composed before death to be left to family and friends. These can be done at any point in life, and many can be written throughout a single lifetime, but they do tend to be written during old age or times of peril. The form is generally short, 3 to 5 lines or so, and the themes include comforting the bereaved, recalling good times, lamenting on the ephermerality of life, expressing anxiety and/or regret, seeking comfort, musings over acceptance or destiny, longing for salvation, and expressing readiness to die. Here are few translations offered by Ogawa:

Life was something like
the moonlight
barely reflecting
on the water
I scooped in my palms.
            Ki no Tsurayuki (c868-945)

Blossoms shall be blossoms,
people people,
only when they come to know
the right time to fall.
             Hosokawa Gratia  (1563-1600) (This is a women traitor to to the family in power. She later became Christian, and as she was preventd from commiting suicide by her beliefs, she had her servant do the deed.)

Like pleasure
I'm trying to familiar with
what is stealthily coming next to me
in darkness.
              Nakajo Fumiko

We all attempted our own jisei, which was an interesting exercise. I like the one I came up with but it was really addressed to myself, so someday I'd like to write some more with my children in mind.

Jane Joritz-Nakagawa's presentation on ecopoetry was an eye opener for me. I had thought that ecopoetry dealt only with ecological themes, but Jane argued that the category includes any poem discussing human relationships with nature and/or animals, as well as discussions on attitudes of assumed stewardship of humans over nature. Jane further went on to say that any kind of recycling of language or imagery (sampling) is also ecopoetry. Using an abundance of examples from over a thousand years ago till today, Jane showed us that while the term ecopoetry is new, the writing of ecopoems is not. I even realized that I write ecopoetry, and hadn't known it.

Ann Tashi Slater gave a talk on flash fiction, and I asked her what she thought the difference between flash fiction and prose poetry was. This is a question that I've been wondering about for some time, and I had heard on a podcast that flash fiction has a plot, and a discernable beginning, middle and ending, but the flash fiction I've read doesn't necessarily have those, and can be quite indiscernible from prose poetry much of the time. Ann said that she thought both forms were language-driven rather than plot-driven (I hope I'm not misrepresenting her opinion!) and that the difference was in many cases simply what you classified a piece in order to meet the demands of the marketplace you were attempting to place it in. That is, many pieces can be called flash fiction when submitting to the fiction market, and prose poetry when submitting to the poetry market. This seemed to be consistent with what I've observed, but I'd LOVE to have anyone else's opinion on the matter as well. So feel free to comment (on this point as well as any other).

Finally, I went to James Crocker's presentation on the new JALT (Japan Association of Language Teachers) journal, The Font, which will be a literary journal with the theme of language acquisition and teaching. This is a new venue for writers in Japan and out, and those in the teaching (particularly TESOL and TEFL) profession and outside of it as well. I was also surprised to find out that Crocker is married to a colleague of mine!

I went to a few other presentations, but that's enough for today!

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