Wild Grass on the Riverbank

Hiromi Ito, trans. from the Japanese by Jeffrey Angles. Action Books (SPD, dist.), $16 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-0-9898048-4-4
Acclaimed Japanese poet Ito follows up her English-language debut, Killing Kanoko, with a narrative poem in which a horrifying wasteland of personified plants and rotting corpses provides the landscape. In the poem, which is told from the perspective of a girl traveling with her siblings as her mother gives poetry readings (the text of which comes from Ito’s earlier work), the family eventually settles alongside a nightmarish riverbank where the brother’s skin erupts in pus-filled blisters, the children’s stepfather turns into a writhing corpse, and the mother copulates with vines. The book shifts from prose to verse and back, finding a stylized, childlike repetition: “At the roots of the different types of grass/ The corpses were buried/ Lots of corpses were buried/ Corpses of grass and corpses of animals.” The accomplished translation does justice to the original text, which won the Takami June Prize in Japan, and the generous introduction is useful for those unfamiliar with Ito’s unique blend of Japanese and English literary traditions, including her reworking of the medieval story-telling genre sekkyo-bushi and her taxonomic engagement with plants. Bizarrely alluring, the narrative poem reconstitutes femininity, immigration, sex, and nature, with defamiliarization being the first step in an innovative push forward. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/19/2015
Release date: 01/01/2015
Genre: Fiction
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