Last Call – Pandemic of Violence II – Poets Speak

Submissions close on July 30th 

As we hope to emerge from the Covid Pandemic that continues to swirl about us, we are faced with the continuing disregard for human life and dignity in record violence in our cities and towns across the globe. Coupled with sinister wars across the globe; internment camps; forced labor, (slavery), systemic poverty, what was once unspeakable is now considered the norm. We must speak up, this violence is unacceptable and unjustified.

This is our second call for Poets to speak up; call for an end to the violence; restore normalcy; document the atrocities.

Send your submissions to: sahmsguarnieriandreutter@gmail.com Up to four poems in one word doc. include your brief bio in the word doc. and send a photo in jpeg. Submissions are open until July 30th with anticipated publication in October. Please include in the subject line of your email: Pandemic of Violence Submission.

Our previous Pandemic of Violence I – Poets Speak can be read here: https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2021/12/27/pandemic-of-violence-anthology/

232

.

.

Ways to Read the World by Robert Scotellaro

ways

By Charles Rammelkamp

A triptych is an artwork made up of three folding panels. It can display a narrative sequence, show different aspects of a subject, simultaneously, as it were, and it can make a moral statement. Typically, we think of a triptych in terms of painting. Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights is a famous example, displaying paradise and hell in smaller panels alongside the larger middle panel that displays humanity in all its sinful glory, indulgences of the flesh. The genius of Robert Scotellaro’s work here with the flash fiction genre is in using this three-part imagery to do all of the above, and he does it with a humor and compassion that has a reader wiping his (her) eyes. These deeply satisfying stories are riddles and three-act plays all at once.

“From a Hitman’s Sketchy Last Will and Testament Written on a Placemat at The House of Pancakes” is composed of three parts, “P.S.,” “P.P.S.,” and “P.P.P.S.” (Several other stories have the same three part titles, including “SensationalSaints.com,” “The Small End of the Funnel,” “Black Bananas” and “The Penalty of Silence.”) Without even reading the text of the flashes, the reader already has a vivid image of a gangster feverishly scribbling his thoughts in a booth at a diner, maybe on the run from the police or from some mafia bosses he may have double-crossed.

The first part begins, “You’ll find the key to a safe deposit box in the hollowed out copy of the one Agatha Christie novel in my bookcase.” He’s leaving his fortune to his son. In the course of his three fugitive thoughts we see his whole life. He cautions the boy to get rid of any guns he finds, but leaves him his collection of ceramic elephants. (“Notice how all the trunks are facing up. That means good luck.”)

“Okay so everything I did I did and that’s that,” he wraps up in “P.P.P.S.” No doubts, regrets or qualifications, certainly no apologies. “Enjoy the elephants.”

The forty-nine triptychs in Ways to Read the World feature a lightning-strike survivors support group, a prison guard “cowboy rap” band, a rodeo clown, a husband and wife in a horse costume (“Horse’s Ass”), a frustrated preacher’s wife, soldiers in Vietnam, and a plethora of husbands and wives, parents and offspring. Gangsters and hoodlums recur, in East Harlem and elsewhere. The effect is like opening a box of chocolates with four dozen wrapped pieces, each one a surprise.

The stories unfold (think of Bosch’s folding panels!) like a stage drama. Freytag’s Pyramid, devised by 19th century German playwright Gustav Freytag, a paradigm of dramatic structure that outlines seven steps in successful storytelling – exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and denouement – is another way to appreciate what Scotellero has accomplished here in brief strokes.

Take the story “Close as We Get.” A husband and wife enter the stage for the first act, “Moon Dance.” They have a hobby of purchasing abandoned storage lockers, steamer trunks, treasure chests. The wife’s name is Rita; the story is told by the unnamed husband. Act two, “Negative Entropy,” introduces the inciting incident, the rising action: the discovery of an old boat’s log. It is the chronicle of a Ponce de Leon-like search for the fountain of youth! The chronicle is smeared with age. “I think about time, how it travels fast, sandpapers us down.” The third act, “Close As We Get Sometimes,” describes the climax, falling action, resolution and denouement: “I stop reading, can sense how this ends. Like all wild goose chases end. But I want to believe in the quest. It’s all about the quest, isn’t it?”  Resigned, he glances over at Rita, her hair down, so “you might think she was years younger.”

“Little Race Cars” is another example. The narrator’s cousin Peter, with whom he fought as a kid for the little gray race car token when they played Monopoly, has won the lottery! Lucky him! Only, now his wife Cynthia is leaving him because of the bimbos and hangers-on who’ve started flocking to their house looking for backing and handouts. All this happens in the first frame, “Fins.” “Hot Chocolate” develops the complications, the inventors who want his financial backing. “Hot Chocolate Again,” the third and final panel, brings us full circle to the inevitable. Peter could never tell a joke, try as he might, the narrator confides, but he gives his cousin a second chance. When he asks Peter if he has any new jokes, Peter replies, “Yeah, my life,” as he clicks on an enormous TV screen that’s like the emblem of his “success.”  The moral, of course, is implicit. Character equals fate, or something along those lines.

The story “History Lesson” sums it all up. A young woman (“Audience” – the first panel) is visiting her ailing grandmother, pill bottles arranged on her nightstand “like a medicine man’s rattles laid down.” In a burst of candor, the grandmother tells the girl about her risqué  life long ago (“I wore the reddest lipstick”) in the next panel, “Beehive.” Finally, in the third panel, “Snow Cave,” the grandmother winds up – her throat is dry “from spillin’ the beans,” advising her granddaughter to maintain her innocence. “You keep it that way for as long as you can. There’s no hurry, hon. Life will catch up on its own, no matter what. You’ll see.”

Robert Scotellero truly shows us new ways to read the world, backwards, forwards, upside, down, inside out and all at once.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Ways-Read-World-Stories-Triptych/dp/B09TYSFMSS

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Sparring Partners from Mooonstone Press, Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

.

.

Water: A Visual and Scientific History by Jack Challoner

water

By Greg Bem

I don’t tend to read “science” books and I don’t tend to review them either, but I have been fascinated with water and all-things-water-related for years now, in my ongoing visual studies, and I couldn’t pass up Jack Challoner’s recent tome on the subject. Water: A Visual and Scientific History is a volume meant to appeal to anyone intrigued by water and its many contexts, be it the history of water, the history of studying water, the implications of water, the chemistry of water, and the relationship between living things and water (to name but a few of those contexts).

A science/history (or science history) book is overall what this feels like: each section is dense with explorations of concepts, terms, and the work of many scientists. Challoner’s approach to exploring water is literally exploratory: there is hardly a sense of linearity to the flow, despite the book’s six sections (“Water, Water, Every Where”; “Blue Planet”; “H2O”; “Across Three States”; “At Water’s Edge”; and “The Hub of Life”). Instead, reading from one cover to the other cover is following a person as passionate as I am about water trying to bring as much as possible to the reader. There is some form, but otherwise it’s a flood of information.

Where the book and its arc leads is a bit trying, and as I read it (again, from cover to cover) it felt a bit like reading a textbook, but the phenomena of water and phenomenal visual aids make the read compelling and hydrophilic, to say the least. Still, I wouldn’t recommend reading from cover to cover unless you have the passion, drive, and attention that won’t succumb to the walls of text. Instead, the book may serve best as a reference text for your work, or a “coffee table” book that can lend its inspirations in more approachable pools and streams.

The book’s “visual history” is more elusive in Water, and I found, as a poet, that there could be a significant expansion on the cultural elements of water as explored in the book. I appreciated Challoner’s inclusion of famous and not-so-famous lines of scientists, artists, and even poets across the chapters (the book’s first section, “Water, Water, Every Where”, is taken from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Water is held up to a high poetic standard (as, honestly, it should be). And yet much of the book loses this poetic gilt after a few pages into each section.

Challoner does a good job at establishing an understanding of the cultural importance of water (overall) and alluding to the canon’s reliance on the aquatic across the generations and across the globe; however, the deeper dives into how humans interact with water beyond sustenance leaves much to be desired. I could easily see an expansion of this book that includes more significant exposition on the history of our relationship with water and religion and spirituality, art and performance, athletics and sports, astrology, exploration, and even sexuality. The book does contain acutely artistic images, many of which are pulled from open sources or the public domain, but I never felt like Challoner reached the “visual history” that the book proclaims to contain. One exception that resonated with me during my read, and is a highlight of the book as a whole: Blue Planet’s descriptions of Wilson Bentley’s photographs of snow crystals and Ukichiro Nakaya’s creation of snow crystals. This literal form of visual history (more specifically: photographic history) is compelling and supplements the science of the book wonderfully, albeit briefly.

Visual history aside, Water is full of exceptional moments of discovery, and having the information in one text feels generous and significant for scientists and artists. A Wikipedia rabbit hole may eventually lead to much of the same information, but Challoner has pleasantly and consistently designed a reading experience that will quickly expose the readers to countless terms and concepts (and inspirations) across a mere 200 pages. Of my many discoveries during the read, I learned about pancake ice (sea ice that bump together have raised edges) (page 62), that some of the molecules in my coffee may be the same that were “shed as tears by William Shakespeare” (page 46), that water vapor on Earth is always mixed with other gases and cannot exist here in its pure state (page 104), and that a glass of water is heterogenous (it contains a structure and is not ubiquitous (page 121). These facts feel like a collection of trivia at first, but for those of us writing through water, thinking about its properties and interactions, this text demystifies and alleviates the unknown.

As we move toward water scarcity, water wars (and other conflicts), and an ongoing critical approach to improving our relationship to water (globally), I cannot help but think this book arrived at the perfect time. Why take this amazing, miraculous substance for granted? Why not learn more about it? Challoner has offered a fantastic opportunity, and I cannot recommend it more to artists, writers, and people of the everyday to improve their own relationship to and thinking around water.

You can find the book here: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/water-2

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at www.gregbem.com

Central Air by George Bilgere

central air

By Lynette G. Esposito

Lynn Powell, author of Season of the Second, comments that Central Air will startle you with its power.  Haunting dispatches from Berlin, droll poems about late fatherhood, cheeky marital love lyrics, searing elegies, and laments for a country ‘growing stranger, less recognizable, more lonely every day….  I found this to be true of George Bilgere’s Central Air in the sixty-nine pages of poetry published by the University of Pittsburg Press in their Pitt Poetry Series.

For example, the poem, Fourth of July on page thirteen, is a one-stanza, twenty-five-line verse thatopens with a visual of the country’s birthday celebration causing the reader not to look up at the fireworks but to look at individuals rushing to the hospital after something went wrong.
.
Across the nation the newly nine-
fingered people the eight- and seven- and six-
(but rarely five – five is rare) fingered people are hurrying to the ER.
.
Bilgere has them coming from a wide variety of places: from the dark parks, backyard barbecues from the neighbor’s garage as if to metaphorically include everyone.  The wife is white faced, the kids are quiet and the fingers are wrapped because something didn’t go off right. He sets a time and place with clear observation how a celebration can go wrong but this poem is not about just showing what happened.  His last lines clarify the commentary.
.
the tiny treacherous bomb
that failed to go off, that refused
to commemorate the birth
of the great republic that stands,
one nation under God, with liberty
and justice, etc.  Then changed
its mind,
.
This highly skilled poem presents a picture of celebrants and country that twists itself into a patriotic pretzel with consequences. On page thirty-five, Bilgere reveals his dry sense of humor in his poem Mystery of Jerky. He sets the scene at a gas station in Nebraska and lauds the Plains Indians with cutting the heart out of a buffalo and eating it raw in the belief they would gain the courage and strength from the animal. He is eating jerky and ponders:
.
Why I or anyone would eat this is not clear.
.
He concludes this four-stanza poem, not of what happened to the Indians, but suggestion of what happened when one eats a tube of jerky in a Nebraskan gas station.
.
But as I stand here
in the air-conditioned gas station,
chewing on the tube of what might
once have been meat, I can assure you
that is not what is happening.
.
His ability to set time and place and reference an historical event then connect them to a smile is amazing. His last poem reveals a tender awaking.  Ripeness on page sixty-eight and sixty-nine is a one stanza poem of thirty-five lines that uses the power of imagery.  The poem opens with:
.
This summer a big hawk,
hulking and sullen has come
to live in our neighborhood
like a god in exile.
.
He relates his own life journey to the hawk with his own twists and wrong turns.  He uses natural, pleasant imagery of the pleasure he is feeling sitting in a lawn chair drinking a glass of wine.  He finishes the poem with:
.
…It all seems
gathered here in ripeness
of clouds flashing like salmons
streaming down to the west
above the laughter of my boys,
my wife singing.
.
It is as if Bilgere has reached a pinnacle and comprehends the value of it, The imagery works well on multi levels.The broad range of subjects and keen observations make this a book well worth reading. 

.

The book is available here: https://upittpress.org/books/9780822966890/

 

Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.

.

.

Head-On by Rich Youmans

head

By John Zheng 

Rich Youmans’s Head-On is a fine, hand-sewn collection of 13 well-crafted haibun stories, each presenting an exquisite part strung together like sequences.

The title poem is about a couple driving one evening on the back road to the concert, but “the slow procession of cars” ahead of them “stretches through deepening twilight.” Youmans is good at describing the situation they are trapped in and using the couple’s dialogue as different responses to the slow traffic. While the husband mutters “Oh God,” the wife guesses, “Accident, maybe road work” Then the husband sounds a bit anxious, uttering “An hour at least.” Ironically, on the opposite lane, “white headlights rush them from around the bend—prisoners set free, running wild eyed into the night.” The metaphoric comparison enriches the poetic quality of this haibun. Then the haiku following the first paragraph complements the image of “white headlights” and extends what the husband sees in the side view mirror by juxtaposing the fading and flaring taillights with the steady star in the sky:

taillights fade

and flare . . .

            one steady star

The poet is skillful in using the concrete description to suggest the growth of anxiety. As the headlights behind them accumulate, and the situation becomes a stain on the whole wonderful day spent joyfully doing morning chores, watching the Red Sox game, and having a favorite dinner, the husband sounds even more impatient, “This is ridiculous.” Yet, the procession of cars barely crawls, and twilight fades into sparse stars. Forty minutes later, they just round the bend where they notice the accident suggested in the second haiku (“red lights beating / through soft pine—/ his pulse”), followed by a more vivid description of the tragic scene: “a station wagon, its front end nearly gone, its entire windshield burst; glass glitters across the blacktop as if all the stars had dropped. A rear door is open; near it, three white-shirted medics huddle over a sheeted figure.” Yet, the more tragic spot about this head-on is pointed to by the wife—

by the bright flare

a child’s sneaker,

its laces still tied

—which leads to an imagined detail of what has happened to the family in the accident. The couple seems to have a mood switch. The man is no longer concerned about the concert; instead, he keeps his eyes wide open on the road, and even “the insects flicking through the headlight beams” cannot escape his concentration. The wife “no longer hums her favorite Bach. They feel the pain of head-on. There comes a sudden realization of the importance of life, togetherness, and consciousness of each other, as shown in their hand touch.

“Odds” is again a poem about the tragic head-on. The title is proper as it is an odd thing that a small plane made an emergency landing on the highway and hit a minivan. The poem starts and ends with a one-line haiku respectively, each having a star image. In the first one, the star, which means the first morning light, is also the last wish to hold probably for the pilot and the van’s passengers. The second haiku functions like a continuation of the first haibun as if after the concert, while “taking the backroad home,” the man sees a single star that keeps pace or that reminds him to drive carefully. The prose part, however, weaves the persona’s breakfast cooking and his associative thinking of odd things coming to his mind one after another to reveal his psychological activity, thus establishing the conflict between the quiet breakfast time and the more stories of odd deaths flashing back.

The third haibun starts the poem itself with the title, which uses the concluding sentence “you cannot turn.” Since the ending doesn’t have a period, the word “turn” has a double meaning: The driver cannot turn to look at the person who taps on the window at the end of the poem nor can he turn the key in the ignition. Therefore, the ending without a period leaves a question to the reader about what has happened to the driver. In other words, it leaves a space for imagination to fill in, like the technique of empty space used in Chinese painting. Also, this shows how Youmans is good at crafting his title. He must know that a good title not only corresponds to what is presented in prose and haiku but also introduces the reader into the poem with a curious approach.

Stylistically, this poem uses flashbacks to connect the present situation to what happened in the past. The driver, who may be drunken or lost in the painful thought on a rainy night, recalls the woman he fell in love with at first sight when he sees in the rearview mirror “the starblue neon of the bar” where “her moss-green eyes” met his head-on.

Another stylistic technique that distinguishes this poem is that Youmans groups three one-line haiku together to highlight the romance of the two lovers:

      small talk   she turns all the loose change heads up

      shoulder to shoulder   sound of ice settling in her glass

      last call   her perfume and the stars lead you home

Then the vivid description of the time spent together leads to a surprise: another head-on which occurred after a drink one night at the bar: “in a single missed turn, all the lines were crossed and her hand slipped free.” Again, Youmans groups three one-line haiku to highlight the crash:

windshield   through a jagged hole, night rushes in

on your tongue   the taste of iron and her name

after the funeral   all the ceiling cracks lead nowhere

The two kinds of head-on, though the poet does not specify the second, seem to serve as suspense. The romantic head-on keeps the reader interested but leads to an unexpected, tragic head-on. The next characteristic is that Youmans uses no uppercase letters in the title and at the beginning of each sentence. His intention, I guess, is to keep a smooth flow of the story woven with flashbacks.

Also, one prominent characteristic of Head-On is the use of one-line haiku. Out of 38 haiku, 25 are one-liners. Some of Youmans’s haiku serve as both preludes and postludes, as in “Odds” and “Long After Eye Surgery, the Blind Woman Daydreams,” some as interludes, as in “you cannot turn” and “Depth Perception,” and the rest of them as interludes and postludes in the traditional way, as in the other 9 haibun.

Another impressive technique is the memorable, metaphoric comparisons. In “Head-On,” “glass glitters across the blacktop as if all the stars had dropped;” in “you cannot turn,” “her eyelids snapped shut, quick as a lizard’s;” in “Finding Bach in the Pine Barrens,” points of light of the house lamps behind trees are fireflies; and in “Dance with Me,” the “shoulder aches like a bad tooth.”

Youmans is an excellent storyteller. His stories, though short in one or four paragraphs, are full of details, concrete descriptions, vivid visual images, surprises with aha moments, and suggestions. In a word, Head-On deserves a reading head-on.

You can find the book here: https://m.facebook.com/redbirdchapbooks/photos/head-on-haibun-stories-by-rich-youmans-is-now-availablein-these-haibun-stories-r/2085064558254634/

John (Jianqing) Zheng’s publications include A Way of Looking, Conversations with Dana Gioia, and African American Haiku: Cultural Visions. He is the editor of the Journal of Ethnic American Literature. His forthcoming poetry collection is titled The Dog Years of Reeducation from Madville Publishing.

The Butterfly Cemetery by Franca Mancinelli Translated by John Taylor

butterfly book

By g emil reutter

John Taylor has once again opened the door to the mind and works of Franca Mancinelli. The use of complex, creative metaphors throughout the collection encompasses the use of forms, of the here and now and the invisible.

We enter An Earthquake Story in a home with two young children playing, using the home as a playground and both are rather tranquil.  Mancinelli then brings us into the quake:

One afternoon, while they were playing in the room between the yellow floor tiles and the sofa, a dark silhouette sounded the alarm, shouting: “The children! The Children are here!” Wearing her black, flowered apron, their grandmother came back to utter these words in a tone that became more shrill, pleading. Following the wake of the call, the two siblings were drawn to the parallele-piped of the hallway, where vast movements were making the air shake and tilting the walls from one side to the other. The children stopped between the panels of a glass door that created a sort of anteroom, from which they could watch. At the other end of the hallway, their father and mother were fighting. Shaken at its foundations, the world was trembling. 

An amazing piece of writing. The peaceful beginning and then suddenly air shake, tilt, shaken foundations, world trembling in the world of the two children. A masterful presentation of the effect of domestic violence on young children.

In the piece, The Little Girl Who Learned to Fly, Mancinelli opens with:

A bird kept alighting on the windowsill and pecking the panes with its beak, brushing the glass with its wings, and then flying off. The rustling and the small beating sounds it made seemed letters of an alphabet to be deciphered. 

Beating sounds as letters of an alphabet to be deciphered is such a fresh image. Later in the piece Mancinelli writes of a beautiful transformation:

The hair bulbs had become bone: small feathers were popping up, like those of a sparrow fallen from its nest. 

And following the transformation:

She stopped to look down at the garden, the house where she had lived, and headed straight for the blue. 

Beats as an alphabet, transition as a sparrow, and then escape.

In Walls, Rubble, bird metaphor reemerges and in Central Station, the train station speaks to her. Mancinelli uses language, extreme metaphor and imagery as a master craftsperson.

The Boy among the Rocks opens with a powerful descriptor that brings the reader directly into the piece:

Near the seaport of Gouvia there is a small beach from which one can see the profile of the island all the way to the city of Corfu; opposite, uninhabited and barren, the mountains on the Greek-Albanian border rise from the blue of the sea, their yellow-ocher dotted with a few scattered woodsy spots. It is a sandy strip covered with dry seaweed to which no tourists come, only a few locals. 

Later in the collection we pay a visit with, Living in the Ideal City: Fragments in the Form of Vision. In her vision, Mancinelli leaves little doubt that there is not an Ideal City. The poet tells us:

The darkness beyond the door and a growing fear could have gripped my body and kept me from moving, but it was impossible: my steps continued towards the center while my terror was blooming like a black flower.

And what awaits in the darkness?

A beast looks at you with its hollow eyes, awaits you, pretending to sleep: six large square pupils in a clear mellow sky that tells you not to believe in the darkness, not to be afraid.

And of the life force of the city:

The city keeps changing before your eyes, half revealing figures that it removes without your noticing. You don’t even notice how, after staying here, your gaze has now become different. Behind these lines is a force field. One single point, like the one at which your eyes sometimes inadvertently stare. 

Simply a masterpiece by Franca Mancinelli translated by John Taylor. The collection changes before your eyes, strong metaphor, imagery and while you read it you will not know that you too are transforming for your gaze will now become different.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Butterfly-Cemetery-Selected-Prose-2008-2021/dp/173465354X

g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories and occasional literary criticism. He can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

.

.

.

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

snow

By Ray Greenblatt

Snow Country was written by Yasunari Kawabata in 1934 and translated into English in 1957. It is a story about a passionate affair between a wealthy young man and a geisha in training set in northern Japan. Komako the geisha cannot control her honest feelings, while Shimamura—despite his wife and children in Tokyo—cannot frankly face his deep feelings for her.

I – SCROLL PAINTING

A unique approach by Kawabata in telling this tale is structuring it like a scroll painting. Also, whatever the characters do is emphasized by the use of aspects from Nature. Needless to say, much poetic imagery arises. The author employs short sentences, even fragments, sometimes in short paragraphs to simulate brush strokes; the lack of chapters suggests an unrolling of the scroll itself. Here are some examples:

“ Children of the village were skiing in the fields.

As he started into the part of the village that fronted on the highway, he heard a sound as of quiet rain.

Little icicles glistened daintily along the eaves.” (49)

In many of these passages Shimamura is walking through a landscape of fields, forests and mountains, often covered by feet of snow in winter.

“In front of the cedar grove opposite, dragonflies were bobbing about in countless swarms, like dandelion floss in the wind.

The river seemed to flow from the tips of the cedar branches.

He thought he would never tire of looking at the autumn flowers that spread a blanket of silver up the side of the mountain.” (90)

This was one activity when he was alone where Shimamura could emotionally lose himself in the beauty of nature. Music, as we shall observe, moved him also in that way.

“ Slender autumn grasses grew along the top of an earthen wall. The pale-yellow plumes were at their most graceful, and below each plume narrow leaves spread out in a delicate fountain.

Yoko knelt on a straw mat beside the road, flailing at beans spread out before her in the sunlight.

The beans jumped from their dry pods like little drops of light.” (109)

You can imagine these various parts of the scene placed in a scroll painting that depicts people embedded deeply in Nature.

2 – THE GEISHA AND THE MAN

Komako dominates the novel. She is a very talented young woman: she can sing, dance and play the samisen. Besides being beautiful, she shows intelligence in knowing the history of Japanese theater. Another attribute is her complete honesty and lack of pretension.

Kawabata describes her in so many poetic ways: “In the moonlight the fine geisha like skin took on the luster of a sea shell.” (101) Her hair “glowed like some heavy black stone.” (39) What Shimamura liked best about her physically: “She must be clean to the hollows under her toes.” (18)

Sometimes a Japanese image jars us: “Her skin, suggesting the newness of a freshly peeled onion.” (73) “The bud of her lips opened and closed smoothly, like a beautiful little circle of leeches.” (32) And when she is distressed, “Komako’s face floated up like an old mask.” (168)

She is obviously in love with this man: “The naked heart of a woman calling out to her man.” (34) “Soft and yielding as if she were offering herself up.” (38) “She curled up like a little child, and grabbed at the neck of his kimono with her two fists.” (64) “Then, like a glow that breaks into a flame, the smile became a laugh.” (114) Shimamura saw her in a mystical way: “He was taken with the fancy that the light must pass through Komako.” (54)

However, there is tension between them: “She seemed on edge, like some restless night beast that fears the approach of the morning.” (47) “It was as though a strange, magical wildness had taken her.” (47) She knew how much she was risking: “She folded her arms like a bar over the breast he was asking for.” (35) “She bit at her sleeve as if to fight back the happiness.” (37) “She seemed ill at ease, like a young woman, still childless, who takes a baby up in her arms.” (146)

She gives so much more to him than he can reciprocate:” Like a warm light, Komako poured in on the empty wretchedness that had assailed Shimamura.” (62) “A childlike feeling of security came to him from the warmth of her body.” (146)

“The woman’s existence, her straining to live, came touching him like naked skin.”

(128)

His problem is that he cannot see her as a real person, only a singular image. “But, drawn to her at that moment, he felt a quiet like the voice of the rain flow over him.” (41) “This sighing for the human skin took on a dreamy quality like the spell of the mountains.” (112) He has made her a part of nature; and he loves the music that she makes.

Komako plays for him: “A chill swept over Shimamura. The goose flesh seemed to rise even to his cheeks. The first notes opened a transparent emptiness deep in his entrails, and in the emptiness the sound of the samisen reverberated. He was startled—or, better, he fell back as under a well-aimed blow. Taken with a feeling almost of reverence, washed by waves of remorse, defenseless, quite deprived of strength.” (71)

3 – SYMBOLIC NATURE

Kawabata’s use of Nature can emphasize the most minute aspects such as a  moth: “The wings fluttered like thin pieces of paper in the autumn wind.” (90) Or grasses: “The kaya spread out silver in the sun, like the autumn sunlight itself pouring over the face of the mountain.” (93)

But in this northern region snow dominates: “The sound of the freezing of snow over the land seemed to roar deep into the earth.” (44)  “From the gray sky, framed by the window, the snow floated toward them in great flakes, like white peonies.” (149) “Little needles of frost like isinglass among the withered chrysanthemums.” (76)

Trees play a large part in the scenery since vast forests still abound here. Branches ” looked like stakes driven into the trunk with their sharp ends out, to make a terrible weapon for some god.” (30)”They came out of the cedar grove, where the quiet seemed to fall in chilly drops.” (119) “The house was old and decayed, like the pitted trunk of a persimmon.” (53)

You can see how the author ties Nature into the life of the people: “The innkeeper had lent him an old Kyoto teakettle, skillfully inlaid in silver with flowers and birds, and from it came the sound of wind in the pines.” (155) “The lines of the mountain and of the roofs on its slopes were floating out of the rain.” (38) “The low, dark houses along the street seemed to be breathing as they floated up in the light of the fire.” (170)

And then his view can become cosmic: “The stillness seemed to be singing quietly.” (30) “The light . . . flickered on and off as if crackling in the cold.” (45) “The moon shone like a blade frozen in blue ice.” (77) “The Milky Way came down just over there, to wrap the night earth in its naked embrace.” (165) A scroll painting would exist in a void if it did not have people and Nature combined.

You can find the book here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/snow-country-yasunari-kawabata/1002419138

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).

Most Read Reviews January to June 2022

232

Based on readership

All the Songs We Sing – Edited by Lenard D. Moore

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/04/01/all-the-songs-we-sing-edited-by-lenard-d-moore/

Contra natura by Rodolfo Hinostroza Translated by Anthony Seidman

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/02/01/contra-natura-by-rodolfo-hinostroza-translated-by-anthony-seidman/

A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, & Publishers edited by Kyle Schlesinger

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/05/01/a-poetics-of-the-press-interviews-with-poets-printers-publishers-edited-by-kyle-schlesinger/

Smoking the Bible by Chris Abani

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/04/01/smoking-the-bible-by-chris-abani/

A Feeling Called Heaven by Joey Yearous-Algozin

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/01/01/a-feeling-called-heaven-by-joey-yearous-algozin/

The Upright Dog by Carl Fuerst

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/06/01/the-upright-dog-by-carl-fuerst/

Anvilhead by Rustin Larson

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/02/01/anvilhead-by-rustin-larson/

Empty Graves: Tales of the Living Dead by Jonathan Maberry

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/01/01/empty-graves-tales-of-the-living-dead-by-jonathan-maberry/

getting away with everything by Vincent Cellucci and Christopher Shipman

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/03/01/getting-away-with-everything-by-vincent-cellucci-and-christopher-shipman/

A Way of Looking by Jianqing Zheng

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2022/01/01/a-way-of-looking-by-jianqing-zheng/

.

.

.