Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tokyo Songs - 30/30 Poetry Project

Happy Holidays, Friends:
If you are new to my involvement in Tupelo Press's 30/30 Project, click here to learn more about
this "poetry marathon" I've embarked upon to write 30 poems in 30 days (published daily on Tupelo's site) and help raise funds to support a fellow non-profit organization.

I'll be writing about my recent travels to Tokyo and Venice, and interweaving themes connecting one of my favorite composers, Benjamin Britten (who took frequent composing sabbaticals in Venice, and drew profound inspiration from Japanese Theatre). If my courage and pen do not fail me, I will also share some new poems about my mother, whose first Yahrzeit we recently honored (and whose generosity made my Venetian sabbatical possible).

Below, with notes and accompanying photos, is my poem for December 3. I took the pictures while on a recent concert tour of Japan, sponsored by our fabulous friends at Appalachian Dream.

Below the poems and photos are a couple of notes about references within the last series of haiku and tanka.

Lastly, I'll be moving my blog to my new website soon. Check out for more music, poetry, art, and whatever aesthetic miscellany I may be up to.

Edo Songs

Uprooted stump curled
like a dragon’s neck staring
down Fuji’s fierce slope

Dragonfly sentries
of the Japanese garden
Spirit animals

like the giant black
Butterfly watching the five-
story Pagoda

[Your Fairy Queen soul
would summon them to your side
keeping this world safe]

quietly rippling under
Edo’s brilliant sun

carrier of tales and dreams
tell me a secret

whispering Ugetsu’s loves
will she return here

singing the madwoman’s song
O Curlew River
reveal your dragon’s-tooth roots
admit me into your depths


[The verse in brackets was included in earlier series of these haiku.]

*Sumida is one of Tokyo’s most important rivers (gawa). It is the name of a famous Noh play on which Benjamin Britten based his operatic “parable,” Curlew River,
a work he composed in 1964 while on sabbatical in Venice.

The title role (like all female roles in traditional Japanese theatre, and Britten’s first parable) is played in drag. Britten’s partner, Peter Pears, created the leading role of the “madwoman.” Britten’s final opera, Death in Venice, was the crowning role of Pears’ career, and marked the tenor’s belated Metropolitan Opera debut (at 64).

Ugestu is a 1953 film by Kenji Mizoguchi.

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