Today is Wednesday, April 11, 2018. It’s the birthday of Japanese poet Misuzu Kaneko. And it’s the birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Strand. Cherene Sherrard’s “Beadwork” is our poem for today. It’s included in Sherrard’s volume, “Vixen,” published by Autumn House Press.

Misuzu Kaneko

After the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan in 2011, companies pulled their advertisements off of TV. To fill the airtime, the Advertising Council of Japan made a public service announcement asking for volunteers.Photo of Misuzu Kaneko.

For the announcement, the council selected Misuzu Kaneko’s (affiliate link) poem, “Are you an echo?”

The ad seemed to cap a decades-long journey for Kaneko from obscurity to one of Japan’s most-beloved poets.

Kaneko was born today in 1903 in a small fishing village in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan. Her widowed mother ran a bookstore, and she made sure that Kaneko received a good education.

It’s while working in her mother’s bookshop that Kaneko began writing poetry at age 20. She submitted four of her poems to some children’s literary magazines. The magazines published all four poems.

Soon, Kaneko’s poetry appeared in magazines. She became a literary star in Japan.

But in 1926, Kaneko married a man who was unfaithful and who mistreated her. He forbade her from writing.

And he gave her gonorrhea. At the time, there was no treatment for the infection. This left Kaneko with debilitating physical pain.

Kaneko decided to divorce her husband in 1930. But Japanese law at the time awarded custody of the couple’s daughter to Kaneko’s husband.

Her body racked with infection and distraught over losing her child, Kaneko committed suicide.

Japan forgot about Kaneko until a six-volume collection of her poems published in 1982. The books were the result of a 16-year effort by poet Setsuo Yazaki to track down the writer of a poem he came across in 1966.

Yazaki’s breakthrough came when he found Kaneko’s surviving younger brother. The brother still had his sister’s notebooks, which contained her poetry.

The publishing of Kaneko’s work made Kaneko famous once more in Japan. Schoolchildren recite her poems. Her face adorns a postage stamp.

And a bilingual book telling Kaneko’s life story, alongside some of her poetry, published in 2016. It’s titled, “Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko.”

Mark Strand

Mark Strand (affiliate link) entered Yale University to study art. But he graduated from the school as a poet.

Photo of Mark Strand.
Mark Strand, poeta” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Casa de América

Strand, born today in 1934 in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, found there was some crossover from his training as an artist to his poetic aspirations.

“That formal commitment to art carried over into poetry so that when I began writing, I wrote in meters and I wrote in rhyme,” Strand said.

Strand is the creator of poetry collections such as “Sleeping with One Eye Open” and “Blizzard of One.” He won a Pulitzer Prize for the latter book in 1999.

And Strand served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1990-1991.

Much of Strand’s poetry is brooding and introspective. For example, in the poem, “Keeping Things Whole,” Strand wrote, “Wherever I am, I am what is missing.”

Along with his original poems, Strand translated works by South American writers. These poems published in the books “18 Poems of the Quechua” and “The Owl’s Insomnia.”

Strand also wrote prose. His 2000 book, “Weather of Words,” contains short essays about writing poetry. And in 1985 he published a collection of short stories titled, “Mr. and Mrs. Baby and Other Stories.”

And Strand produced a few children’s books, including “Hopper,” about the painter Edward Hopper.


“Beadwork”

A fast hand does not make a masterful stitch

In his father’s, the needle pulls up, then down,

to the teeth, snap. The thread sweeps

a thimble full of blue lotus, begins the rosette.

Who taught these men women’s work?

Hands raw from the oyster boats, lips wet

from wild rye. Not your mother. Not she

who never learned to cross-stitch or iron,

who fills pork casings as he gathers the tiniest feathers

& extracts a single, white, pearl from iridescent mayhem,

who fries boudin in cast iron as he chants the long strut

that is St. Joseph’s Night.

– “Beadwork” from Vixen. Copyright 2017 by Cherene Sherrard. Used with permission of the author and Autumn House Press.

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