Review: Hiroko Falkenstein. War is not Cool at all, Fools!: As I Remember It. Victoria BC: Friesen Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-4602-7047-9
Hiroko Falkenstein's 108 Tanka poems distill the immensities of three periods in history. Horrors of bombardment and escape to countryside survival. Chaos, disappointments, disabilities after war's end. World-changing growth, and finally, escape to a new land and ultimate renewal. Falkenstein's 3,348 syllables expose depths no fifty-thousand word novel can ever express.
Similarly I picture readers reading particular Tanka over and over before turning the page or wiping to the next screen. A Tanka requires three readings by its nature. The first reading grasps the expression as a whole, a second reading rolls the syllables on one's tongue, a third reading puts sound and sense together with a keener sense of the poem as a whole.
Falkenstein subtitles the Tanka collection, "As I Remember It," to remind a reader the experiences of the 108 Tanka actually occurred. The poet opens wounds from 60 year old memories, some that heal slowly. It's important not that she put to rest these matters but that others acknowledge today's victims of wars while political processes struggle not to make more war.
Born during World War II, a girl flees the firebombing of Tokyo to hardscrabble village life. Father returns from the war, starts drinking and fails at numerous enterprises. Mother’s strength keeps their heads above water while the economy booms along without them. Falkenstein closes the collection aboard a trans-Pacific steamer casting off for life in the United States.
Tanka in English normally follow a 5-line, 5-7-5-7-7 structure with aesthetic expectations. In her introduction, the poet remarks about the nature of the English language Tanka,
In Japanese, one has to write in 5-7-5-7-7 letter counts, so it is extremely difficult. In the case of English, I counted syllables. For this reason, I often omit articles, predicates, and I am sometimes forced to use simpler vocabularies to fit the Tanka constraints.
Falkenstein’s adaptations of the Japanese form to the English language reader adds to the interest and uniqueness of War is not Cool at all, Fools! For more on Tanka, follow this link from the Academy of American Poets.
That thirty-one syllables can hold in their confined space a life, or a moment, a thought, a report, a feeling, is a measure of the poet's skill. Falkenstein's skill with English language Tanka connects things of history to moments of empathy with one person’s journey.
Hiroko Falkenstein has been holding back all these years and in this collection lets it out. War Is not Cool at all, Fools! seethes with an undercurrent of rage that these things happen, happened to her, and perhaps worse, that her story is all-too-familiar in today’s world of war-flattened cities and traumatized lives.
Our house, now ashes,
lifetime collections were gone,
money lost its worth.
At the end of wandering,
we found a fishing village.
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Austin Centro Seeks Volunteers For Pachanga
Only a few Tuesdays past, La Bloga shared news of ongoing Flor de Nopal writing workshops at the anonymized ESB-MACC. The alphabet sopa belongs to Austin's Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.
If I were in the neighborhood, I'd make it a point to take up the ESB-MACC gente helping stage their fiestas patrias pachanga.
Visit the Barrientos Centro website for details, or contact Linda Crockett, Media Marketing & Events Coordinator, 512-974-3789, for more information.