Introduction by James Kirkup

I first encountered the unique poetic work of Michael Boiano in the Japanese magazine “The Tanka Journal” which featured his poetry under the pen-name “Aziz.” This is a brave young magazine that specializes in international tanka in both classical and “free” forms. As I am an ardent proponent of the true classical form of tanka in five lines of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7 syllables, I was immediately attracted to Michael and his formal style, that yet sounded natural and musical, in contrast to the mostly shapeless English tanka composed by most of the other foreign (and even some Japanese) writers.

Michael has a deep sense of the absurd in daily life, and some of his encounters with the Japanese are, as I can confirm from personal experiences in Japan, both comic and true; and sad to say, typical of a certain kind of Japanese mentality that is still far from “international” and looks down on foreigners as creatures from another planet. (Fortunately, not all Japanese are like that!) Here is one example of Michael’s acute sensitivity:

Grooming his own yard
with a toothbrush and tweezers,
my next-door neighbour
nonchalantly tosses his
cigarette over my fence.

But all is not bitterness in Michael’s heart and mind. He touches nature, flowers, insects, animals, with a delicately adoring touch:

April’s sweet flowers
slumber yet beneath the earth,
seeming redundant,
the kindness of a stranger
having begun Spring in me.

In this many-colored tapestry of poetic sensibilities, there are some very brilliant, deeply expressive threads of emotion. For this book is really the story of a strange love between the poet and a girl who is often absent, far away in foreign lands or in remote parts of Japan. The mingled happiness and sorrow or loving and parting, of waiting and meeting again, fills this book with almost unendurable longing and regrets, always expressed with heart-felt sincerity and sensitivity:

Apart New Year’s Eve:
me here, her in Italy.
How can I not wonder
whose lips will be seeking hers
as the clock chimes midnight?

Michael is a true tanka poet, in art and in spirit. I find myself returning again and again to all the remembered beauties, visions, and to the ironic cameos of this unusual collection. He now lives in Thailand: but his poems prove that Japan is still his spiritual and literary home.

James Kirkup
Andorra

James Kirkup, who lived from April 23, 1918 to May 10, 2009, wrote this introduction shortly before his death.

 

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