Thursday, March 24, 2011

Japanese Students Illustrate "Malheur before Dawn"

Barbara Schramm writes:

Each year during their January interim I facilitate a three-day workshop with 30-35 Japanese students in the Academy of International Education program based in Osaka, Japan. These students are enrolled at St. Martin’s University and Pierce Community College in Lacy, WA. Students vary in their English speaking proficiency. One of the 5th year students acts as our translator.

In 2010, with encouragement and guidance from Paul Merchant, we worked with four William Stafford poems: “A Ritual To Read To Each Other,” “Ask Me,” “A Valley Like This” and “For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid.” You may review this work on Lewis & Clark College’s William Stafford Archives website (blog of February 25, 2010, under “Information”).

This year we worked with “Malheur Before Dawn” using the following reflection questions: Write about the title, what does it seem to prefigure? How does it work to assist the ideas of the poem? Choose one line from the poem and respond to it: What are your associations with it? What does it remind you of? What question does it ask or answer? Why did you choose this line? Which one word is at the heart or core of this poem? If you had to choose one word to represent the entire poem, which would it be? Explain your choice.

Students work in groups of four, writing individual responses then discussing in their small group followed by full group discussion. The students were asked ahead of time to bring a poem of their own choosing, including a short biography of the poet. We discussed these poems also and compared ideas from their excellent selections to those expressed in “Malheur Before Dawn”. We tied these ideas to Ekhart Tolle’s New Earth, a book they’d been required to read this summer during their annual 30 -day retreat in Hokkaido.

On the third day the students drew a “wood cut” illustrating the one line they’d chosen from “Malheur Before Dawn”. I’d shown them on a large screen Michael Spafford’s wood cuts illustrating Wallace Stevens’ s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, two wood cuts for each of the thirteen stanzas. Particular drawing paper and pens were selected in advance with advice from Art Media.

One of the students, Seijun Kanazawa, translated “Malheur Before Dawn” from English into Japanese. This is a student who is learning English as his second language! Hirotsugu Kawai, Miho Harada and Yosuki Oi, and a group of students from Steilacoom Hall wrote their own responses to “Malheur” in English.

The Directors of the program say that they’re amazed at the language learning that takes place during these three days.

My thanks to Paul Merchant for encouraging this project, Ann Staley for her help with the focused free-write questions, and to Takuya Otani, Director for his endless patience and good humor in coordinating all the details.

The students in this program were:

Shuhei Nagashima, Masato Nishida, Masaaki Hasegawa, Seijun Kanazawa. Takeshi Ono, Takanori Ito, Akira Oishi, Ikue Nomura, Miho Harada, Kyoko Shimozono, Yuma Kanai, Yosuke Oi, Ryota Mizutani, Tetsuya Yonetsu, Eriko Nekomoto, Mayumi Iwata, Takashi Fujii, Yuki Kato, Yasuyuki Shimada, Takuya Hashimoto, Hirofumi Kuroda, Maki Endo, Ayumi Mikuriya, Yuki Otsuki, Kaoru Fujita, Kokoro Iwano, Koshiro Ueda, Takumi Iizuka, Atsuhito Sekiya, Shingo Kojima, Ryoko Wada, Hiroko Momose, Kimiko Hakomori, Hirotsugu Kawai, So Sato, Makoto Yuasa.

Barbara Schramm, MA

Paul Merchant comments:

This project resulted in a remarkable collection of illustrations of "Malheur before Dawn," responding to almost every word of the poem. The poem and illustrations are reproduced here, together with a translation of the poem into Japanese by one of the students.

Here is the poem, “Malheur before Dawn,” by William Stafford. It was first collected in Holding onto the Grass (Honeybrook Press, 1992), and reprinted in Even in Quiet Places (Confluence Press, 1996) and The Way It Is (Graywolf Press, 1998):

Malheur Before Dawn

An owl sound wandered along the road with me.
I didn’t hear it—I breathed it into my ears.

Little ones at first, the stars retired, leaving
polished little circles on the sky for awhile.

Then the sun began to shout from below the horizon.
Throngs of birds campaigned, their music a tent of sound.

From across a pond, out of the mist,
one drake made a V and said its name.

Some vast animal of sound began to rouse
from the reeds and lean outward.

Frogs discovered their national anthem again.
I didn’t know a ditch could hold so much joy.

So magic a time it was that I was both brave and afraid.
Some day like this might save the world.

William Stafford

Here is Seijun Kanazawa's translation of the poem into Japanese:

Ryota Mizutani and Makoto Yuasa illustrated the first two couplets of the poem. Ryota's drawing has a splendid difference in scale between the owl and the listening poet, and Makoto has done something very imaginative in making the night sky a reflection of the dawn sky:

An owl sound wandered along the road with me.
I didn't hear it—I breathed it into my ears.

Little ones at first, the stars retired, leaving
polished little circles on the sky for awhile.

The next couplet was illustrated by fourteen students. First Maki Endo shows the sun's shout against the darkness:

Hirofumi Kuroda and Yuki Kato show two different ways of placing the horizon and of showing the relationship of light to dark:

So Sato (top left) takes a long view, while Ryoko Wada enters the landscape more intimately. Yasayuki Shimada and Yuma Kanai (bottom left and right) explore the sunrise itself in two very different ways:

Three more sunrises, by Masaaki Hasegawa (left), Shuhei Nagashima (center) and Mayumi Iwata (Right) express the whole range from naturalistic to abstract interpretation:

And now the birds have begun to appear, floating on the lake in Masato Nishida's drawing, or, in Hirotsugu Kawai's interpretation, forming patterns in the sky:

Akira Oishi and Kyoko Shimozono show the shout from behind the horizon itself, and Akira also showed the drake making a V and saying his name. Three students illustrated the following three lines:

Throngs of birds campaigned, their music a tent of sound.

From across a pond, out of the mist,
one drake made a V and said his name.

Miho Harada made music out of the flight of the birds, while Eriko Nekomoto placed the birds in musical patterns on a pine tree:

For the next two lines:

Some vast animal of air began to rouse
from the reeds and lean outward.

Hiroko Momose placed herself right in the reeds and imagined the vast animal, a lovely piece of understatement:

Four students enjoyed the next line:

Frogs discovered their national anthem again.

Seijun Kanazawa (top left, who also made the translation into Japanese shown earlier) and Takeshi Ono (top right) combine frogs and music, from a distance and close up through a magnifying glass, while Ikue Nomura (bottom left) and Takanori Ito (bottom right) group the frogs amusingly into singing choirs:

Three students, Shingo Kojima (left), Takuya Hashimoto (center), and Yosuke Oi (right) found ways ranging from peaceful landscape through a pattern of frog's heads to a flamboyant ditch of frogs in a forest to express the word joy in the following line:

I didn't know a ditch could hold so much joy.

William Stafford ends his poem with two ecstatic lines of acceptance and exhilaration:

So magic a time it was that I was both brave and afraid.
Some day like this might save the world.

Both Kokoro Iwano (left) and Ayumi Mikuriya (right) respond with appropriately peaceful landscapes:

These illustrations amaze me with their variety, wit, imagination, and presentational skill.

At a time of great tragedy in Japan, following the devastating earthquakes and tsunami, it is heartening to experience the sensitivity of these young peoples' responses to William Stafford's poem. We can be both brave and afraid, and I like to think that these students show the way to keep alive a creative spirit: "Some day like this might save the world."

Paul Merchant, William Stafford Archivist,
Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon