To Ogura I have come,
the hill I have looked at
every morning and eve:
enjoying again it’s mountain paths
I once walked as a child
(Yoshihiro Tsuchida from the collection One Hundred Poets on Mount Ogura, One Poem Each)
In a previous post I wrote about the environmental action group P.T.O. (People Together for Mt. Ogura) and the fine conservation work they are doing in rural Sagano, cleaning up Mt. Ogura and preserving it’s forests. Mt. Ogura is of course most famous as the place where Fujiwara Teika compiled the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. But it is also famous for its associations with a number of other poets including Saigyō, who built his first hermitage there and Matsuo Bashō who wrote his Saga Diary there. Despite this long literary history, the Poets’ Mountain has been neglected and abused in recent years: for decades people have been dumping their trash in its forests; JR railways did enormous damage when they built a tunnel through the mountain in the 1980s; and in recent years Pine Wilt disease has taken an enormous toll on efforts at reafforestation. For the last three years or so the volunteers of P.T.O have been gamely battling all these problems, but much still remains to be done. Now it seems a new generation of poets has arisen to help them and come to the aid of this beautiful mountain.
One Hundred Poets on Mount Ogura, One Poem Each is a wonderful collection of contemporary poems, compiled to raise money and awareness for Mount Ogura’s plight. Including both haiku and tanka, the book is a bilingual mix of poems composed in either Japanese or English by men and women whose ages range from seven years old to eighty-nine. Unlike the nobles who composed the poems of the Hyakunin Isshu, these contemporary poets represent a more egalitarian demographic of “university students, housewives, civil servants, businessmen and resident foreigners”. Some are established poets of repute whereas others are local people who were simply asked to write something after visiting the mountain. Each poem is presented in both languages with the language it was composed in at the top of the page.*(see note below) These poems along with the bilingual explanatory notes that accompany them make up a unique and fascinating guide to Ogurayama: its temples, shrines and saints; its landmarks and its poem stones; its oakwoods, evergreens and bamboo groves and the variety of wildlife that inhabit them. Some of the poems describe the mountain’s environmental problems and particularly the problem of junk. David McCullough’s poem on this theme is particularly surreal:
High, high above the river
a broken television
flies into space
And Michael Jamentz’s alliterative poem depicts the perversion of natural beauty:
The Seto brook trickles…
beneath lush green muck drips
Other poems however, are a celebration of P.T.O.’s work. In the following poem for example, 9 year old Shou Isoda, discovers the joy of a job well done:
Having just been cleaned,
the mountain path –
how good it feels!
Yet others simply celebrate the location. Ei Oishi’s poem describes both the mountain’s place in literary history and it’s natural beauty:
At the foot of Mount Ogura
Kyorai‘s gravestone surrounded –
While Nobuyuki Yuasa chooses a prehistoric landmark as the topic of his poem; the 龍爪岩 or Dragon Claw Rocks in Kameyama Park.
Snowflakes coming down…
on the primordial rocks
of Mount Ogura
This poem reminds me of a sumi-e painting, contrasting in simple brushstrokes the delicate snow and the ancient rocks… It’s breathtaking. There are many others like this describing the natural beauty of the mountain. As a supplement to the main text, the editor Stephen Gill (under his poet’s name of Tito) has added a selection from his own “One Poet on Mount Ogura: One Hundred Verses in a Day”. I find this next poem, a simple still life in the forest, especially magical:
In the laurel wood:
Its white moon
These poems call you like an invitation, to go out into nature and feel its energy. There is a long association of poetry and nature in Japanese tradition. This book reclaims that tradition for everyone and shows how both poetry and nature can enhance your life. It is impossible by the end of the book not to be tempted by Stephen Gill’s invitation on behalf of P.T.O. to join them in their work. “Let us be your guide, ” he writes. Having joined in their activities myself I recommend you do, but if you live further afield, this book as both a handsome beginner’s guide and a very fine collection of poetry is well worth the investment.
*Note: If I have one tiny request for the second edition, it be that furigana be given to help read the kanji. It’s nice to be able to hear the Japanese rhythms in your head.
Of related interest:
People Together for Mt. Ogura – The Poets’ Mountain
A Hokku of Yosa Buson
Introducing Keiji Minato
Poetry and Discussion with David Gilbey on Sunday October 24th
Songs and Stories of the Kojiki retold by Yoko Danno