A unique interview with Tokyo poet, Mariko Kitakubo, a passionate poet, a musical artist, and a frequent visitor to the Pasadena area.
Mariko brings us the gift of tanka, this wonderful short form of poetry, originally in the natural rhythms of the Japanese language, from 1400 years ago, to other languages and cultures. She performs, accompanying herself on percussion instruments, with natural dramatic and expressive fervor.
By Kathabela Wilson
A microscope on the poet
The rhythm of your life, your breath, your pulse is tanka, what feelings touched your heart in your childhood that set the stage for your richly emotional poetic life?
on the bubbles
of my life
He looked at me, the father I admired when I was eight years old, and said “will you be alright if I go away?” I wanted to please him. I said “yes”. I was very sad, I could not tell him. Then he disappeared from my life forever. I could not describe it to myself, growing up, but I noticed that but there was a lot of “magma” inside of me… like layers…. for about 30 or 40 years.
like a cloud
vanishing like a ripple
A telescope on the poet
There was a big difference between home and school, which made things complicated for me! At home I was the only child in a big family… after father left in the Japanese style house and cottages on the land we lived on were me, my grandma, my mother, 4 uncles and 4 aunts. I had to be a quiet, polite child. I couldn’t say ”I miss my father.’ Mother was so gentle, quiet and correct. She was a tea ceremony teacher. When we came back from somewhere, she often said and advised me “why did you say that? That was not a good thing for Mr. or Mrs. so and so. So please never say that again.” Her voice so soft and beautiful…. I should be sweet and smiling, I thought. I felt it better for everybody if I was quiet. Then also there was my very special grandma! She hummed the rhythms of “waka” the old form of tanka. She would say “this is my waka for today”… I think this was a beautiful soothing influence of tanka in my life. She was my influence. At school, my life was very different. I had to be a “contemporary child”. I could be very active and expressive, and all this built up a tension inside me, these two ways of being.
Pulse of the poet
How did tanka begin in your own voice?
When my mother died I realized that tanka could help me to lift the seal of the mountaintop of my life. Sitting next to my mother in the hospital, during her last weeks in 2003, I wrote, and wrote, to keep myself whole. Oh, my dearest beautiful so brilliant lady! Yes, My mother gave me The Last Biggest Present as my turning point!! I began a whole new life, thanks to her!
Compass on the poet
What was the life she gave you, how did your life change?
As I said, Tanka helped to lift the seal from the mountaintop of my life! I could express my emotions in tanka, and I made so many wonderful friends worldwide. I began performing in 2005, and now I have done almost 80 performances in the U.S., Canada, Australia, France, and soon in Switzerland. Performance brings me one opportunity after another. I am such a fortunate poet.
At my first performance in Canberra, Australia in 2005, someone in the audience said “How beautiful this is! Like music!” I was reading my Japanese tanka, in the Japanese rhythms. So I realized that I should introduce Japanese original sounds overseas more. Now I perform in Japanese and English, even write some of my tanka directly in English. I hope I can continue performing tanka even someday when I can’t walk… like planting sunflower seeds.
dreaming … around the world
100 years later
While reading below, listen to Mariko reading her tanka with some of her own percussion, with Rick Wilson accompanying her on shakuhachi.
a dead volcano
my silent one…
ready to erupt?
hard lives —
dark summer shadow
血のごときあつき赤なる噴火口 苦しみ喜び そして哀しみ
the mountaintop —
and sorrow of my life
Find out about Mariko Kitakubo’s performances, books, travels and more on her website.
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