Ryuichi Tamura


17. Term Paper // Tamura // How to Forget to Remember the Dead    Adam

What a gross link!!! i hope you can just click on it and it will work...


Adam Briggle


How to Forget to Remember the Dead

Ryuichi Tamura


"Mr. Tamura, through your gas mask you see the bombed out, vaporized ruins of your homeland. Can you please describe for us in writing what you are feeling?"

Does the poet owe such a response to his country? Just what exactly is a post World War II Japanese poet, an ex Navy officer, supposed to say? In Mr. Tamura’s poem "Every Morning After Killing Thousands of Angels", he begins with a distanced and bland comment - "all the misery/ all the destruction in the world". But one line can’t describe all of his feelings. So, he joins a group of poets called Arechi (the Wasteland), and they become the poetic voice of a defeated nation. The three Tamura poems sampled here illustrate how post war Japan was being pulled apart by two opposing desires. On the one hand, Tamura voices the need to take responsibility for the war and face up to its sobering consequences. This mirrors the climate of post World War I Germany in their "new sobriety". But on the other hand, Tamura longs to forget about the war and return to the past when the country was powerful and everything seemed right. In this contrasting desire Tamura reflects the ideals of Romanticism.

Tamura’s "The Upright Coffin" is saturated with "the new sobriety" mindset of disillusionment and responsibility , Tamura writes, "Never touch my dead body with those hands of yours." He later says, "I know death on earth./ I know the meaning of death on earth."

This poem is aggressive in its message. Tamura is saying that he knows how bad the world is, how empty and cruel it can be, and mostly he is saying that he won’t be fooled again. There will be no World War III. This is exactly the message of the new sobriety in Germany that led to the Weimar Republic. Bertolt Brecht summed it up best in the title of his poem, "let us not be seduced!". It happened once, but we will never again be duped into another brutal war. Tamura writes, "Let my dead body be placed in an upright coffin/ And let it stand upright." This is a vivid image of how tragedy should remain in the forefront of our minds. If we don’t bury the dead, but instead place them upright, we will never forget.

But this introduces Tamura’s strongest internal tension - the need to remember versus the need to move on. The amputated feeling one gets about poem six in "Every Morning" best illustrates the most impending question, what do we do now? The sixth poem ends with "and/ as far/ as my footprints"… where will he leave footprints next? "The Upright Coffin" says that there is nowhere to turn, "We have no country to live in on this earth./ We have no country worthy of our lives on earth." Also, "Human House" dwells on aimlessness and desperation, "Because you open a door/ doesn’t mean there has to be a room/ a space/ where humans can live and die". "Every Morning" also shows his anarchist leanings, because he only trusts the financial page, "governed/ by the mechanics of…pure speculation". But there is a place to go. It is surreal, it is perhaps imaginary and awful, but it is there. He can go to the bridge.

If Tamura is trying to transcend the horrors of post war Japan, he has given himself two suitable vehicles to use in "Every Morning": bridges and angels. The bridge is his strongest image, it can traverse impassable emotional terrain, it can save him, it can take him…where? Which direction in time does he won’t to go? Of course he wants to move on, press forward, right?

I don’t think so. I think the bridge is heavy with the romantic notion of turning to the past and of a longing for a utopia gone by. Tamura is hinting at the catch phrase of Romanticism: Once upon a time... Tamura is speaking to a boy, perhaps his own child self, and he wants to go to the bridge. He wants to go back, before the defeat, to a more pure and innocent time. Tamura is contradicting his wish in "The Upright Coffin" to remain sober in the consequences of the war. Now he wants to run away and forget it ever happened. Poems two and three in "Every Morning" say this: 2 "That boy’s mornings/ and my mornings -/ how are they different?" 3 "But the boy can see the angel’s faces" The boy is pure and Tamura is tainted. But maybe "The Upright Coffin" could be read with romantic undertones as well, because it is full of lines that are hopeful immediately followed by a line that destroys that hope. "I know what worth is on this earth./ I know how worth is lost on this earth." There have been better times (the first line), but they are gone.

If he could only cross that bridge back to the hopeful lines, Tamura could relax and not have to reckon his life anymore in accordance to rules that allow for atom bombs and defeat. But Tamura quickly sobers up, the romantic bridge was only an illusion. In "Human House", he refers to his disgust with the escapist bridge mentality, "I’m through with a society/ built only of the past and future/ I want the present tense". He wants to deal with what is here right now. But now is both bright and trivial. It seems to make no sense and have no integrity, "Noon at this end of the bridge/ everything shines/ shirt buttons/ decayed tooth/ an air rifle/ broken sunglass lens". It is stark, bare and brutally banal and disjointed, but the other end of the bridge is worse. "I’ll tell you about the world/ at the far end of the bridge/ the shadow world/ shadows feeding on shadows/ but no blood anywhere" To attempt a transcendence of the situation would lead to a dooming ambiguity, and a hollowness symbolized by the lack of blood. Tamura is stuck. Either he takes the emptiness of running away, or he faces the present that is cruel and senseless.

It must be a crushing paralysis to see your country utterly defeated, to see millions of innocent people die, only to have the rest of the world breathe a sigh of relief. And if nothing else, Tamura’s poems take snapshots of war wreaked Japan for us. In "The Upright Coffin" we see the dead, the exiled, and the unemployed all represented. A perfect microcosm of his world, his wasteland. He also gives subtle, eerie references to the physical effects of atom bombs. The repetition of the word shadow in poem seven recalls the images of the shadows of children at play in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, burned forever into the background and into our retinas. If the bridge does take us back in time, we can never get past these shadows, we can never dismiss them. Also, the image of the horse, who doesn’t rot, but gleams "directly to bone/ pure white bone/ and then to earth." The harsh quickness with which an atom bomb can bring death is mirrored here. There is no time to rot for the dead, but the living have too much time to contemplate those instantaneous deaths.

Tamura is contemplating, but he has not provided an answer. How can he move on? In "Every Morning", the bridge disappears, but a rider-less horse approaches. This is a symbol for the Buddha, a savior who is crossing "the world of light" for him. But the horse dies. Also, in "Human House" he says, "I rise slowly from a table in a bar/ not pulled by a political slogan or religious belief". And in "The Upright Coffin", he writes, "We have no poison that could make us cured." All of these poems conclude with the idea that there is no help. The world is not going to give Tamura and Japan any saviors. No god, or politician, or drug is going to make it feel any better. Tamura realizes he has to get up and move on his own.

In "Human House" Tamura seems ready to take these steps forward. He is sick of "the hallow adjectives", the "paltry adverbs", and the "crushing, suffocating nouns". Of course, the most crushing nouns of all, are those of the names of the dead. Those nouns that push his head down into his nightmare memories. "All I want is a verb", he’s ready to move on. "I’ve got to go out and live", Tamura decides, "after killing/ killing thousands of angels". We now see that the angels are the Japanese casualties of World War II. He needs to rid himself of their dark, soaking presence. Those ghosts cannot speak for the survivors anymore. Tamura and the other poets must write the new story of Japan, their home. He addresses the dead, "My house, of course, isn’t made of your words/ my house is built of my words".

And so, we are left with Mr. Tamura’s deepest contradiction. He needs to at once transcend and remain, move on and contemplate. This tension is a testimony to his poetic breadth as well as the overburdening root of his inspiration. How can one poet demand a verb and then turn around and write these sedentary, suffocating lines, "Let my dead body be hanged in civilization/ Until it rots."? Perhaps Mr. Tamura sees no conflict here, because he is comfortable with a expanded sense of identity. Christopher Drake, Tamura’s translator, explains that the ‘I’ in Tamura’s poems is "a self that always includes at least one non-self." Tamura is then granting himself many selves, in which case it is possible to both stay and go at the same time. One self is going out to live and the other stands upright in a coffin.


Works Cited


Davis, A.R., ed. Kirkup, James, trans. Modern Japanese Poetry. University of Queensland Press. St. Lucia, Queensland. 1978 "The Upright Coffin" p. 180 Kirkup, James, trans.

McClatchy, J.D., ed. The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry. Random House, Inc. New York. 1996 "Every Morning After Killing Thousands of Angels" p. 457 Drake, Christopher, trans. "Human House" p. 462 Drake, Christopher, trans.


17. Term Paper // Tamura // The Just Price   Scott


21. Tamura//Present Tense    Ryan

All I want is a verb/ But I can't find one anywhere.-

In this poem by Tamura, a common theme of inability of action is observed. The desire for a verb, a word that is an action, is immense. Earlier, the voice states that the "Bubble language....hollow adjectives and paltry begging adverbs" are not enough, cannot accurately describe the "Human House" in which he/she lives. The search is futile though, there is no action in this cruel world.


I'm through with a society built only of the past and future/I want the present tense-

Written in a time of natural disasters and imperialism, Tamura was probably sick of the planning and living for the future that was necessary. Tamura seems to be in touch with the truth that the only thing that exists is NOW, and now is the only time to live for. Unfortunately, he is unable to do anything as he is powerless without his verbs, or action.


I want the present tense-

Again, the desire to be happy now is overwhelming. It is interesting that Tamura writes in tenses rather than time itself. Writing in this case is a metaphor for life, but I wonder if it could mean his actual writing. Could this poem be about Tamura's struggle to write at this time? Another theme is possible that his entire culture is unable to write in the present tense because they feel they have nothing in the present.


21. Tamura // Beliefs from within    Joanna

For me, the last stanza of the poem, "Human House", by Ryuichi Tamura were very powerful.

    I rise slowly from a table in a bar
    not pulled by a political slogan or religious belief
    it's hard enough trying to find my eyes
    to see the demolition of the human house
    the dismemberment of my language
                (Tamura, "Human House", Vintage, p. 464)

    Our world is so full of pain and suffering, violence and conflicting ideas that it is easy to be
completely overwhelmed by it all.  It is very difficult to even discover your own beliefs amidst all of this chaos, and even harder to stand by those beliefs alone.   So many people find it easier to adopt the values and beliefs of a group of people such as an organized religion, a political party, or a nonprofit organization than to discover their own individual beliefs.  There is nothing wrong with belonging to these groups, but it would make more sense to join one based on the beliefs and values you have already discovered for yourself and then use the group to challenge and strengthen those beliefs.  When you think about it objectively, it is really an odd concept that we are born into a given religion.  I understand teaching your children to believe in God, but it seems like so many people simply believe all of the teachings of a given religion because it is the one they were raised in, rather than because they have come to believe in those teachings through serious questioning and discussion.  Tamura states that it is “hard enough trying to find my eyes” without being distracted by the beliefs of so many others.  To truly question your own beliefs is an incredible challenge, and one can be distracted from it by the “political slogan and political belief” around them.  Yet despite the challenge, I think that the beliefs that come from within will be the most valuable to a person, and will be able to grow and adapt to stand up to the test of time.


21. Tamura//words eating me    Rachel

Tamura has so many intense, startling images, I have trouble choosing which to write this brief entry on.  His poem "Human House" startles me.  every few lines I find tensions, words pop up that I don't expect that fling me into a new meaning for the line.  Take for example the third line of the poem (p 462)
I guess I'll be back late
I said and left the house
my house is made of words

until you get to the end of the third line, the poem is about a house, or a family, or a man going out, but once we read words suddenly it is the focus of the poem.  The rest of the stanza turns the scene into a poetic one -- where the unexpected is, well, expected.  
a woman lives in the water
hyacinths bloom from her eyeballs
of course she is metaphor herself

when I get to the word metaphor, new meanings open up for me again.  of course, I knew she was a metaphor, but at the same time i picture a woman living in a vase, perhaps she is the water itself, filling the curves of her container.  from here I do not know where Tamura will take me.  he has already prepared me to expect the unexpected, and each line comes as a new exhilerating shock, as if the poetry is dancing around me and I never know where it will show up again:  at my feet, my right shoulder, above my head?
she changes the way words do
she's as free form as a cat

these two lines draw me in fiercely.  I want to be able to change the way words do.  I want to be the cat.  It's interesting he chose the word cat... cat's bring to mind magic, and witches for me... I wonder what they signify in japanese culture.  surely they are not as free form as words... and yet they can symbolize so much, can change meanings depending on the context they are used in.  this poem takes me in and up and down to the ground on all fours --