Friday, February 01, 2008

January Prize Poem

I’ve chosen the moving poem ‘Hibaku’ by Margaret Beston as the prize-winning poem for January.

The form works very effectively with the subject matter: each couplet contains an image, and each image builds from the previous to create a specific physical scene. The progression of the poem is measured: this isn’t a poem of anger, it’s more Wordsworth’s ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’; a poem of acceptance and moving on. It’s hard to imagine how anyone can really accept and escape from such an event, but the poem, for me, is a testament to the power of the human spirit, and I feel honoured to be in the presence of this ‘voice’.

It’s a very difficult task to write about other people’s tragedies, particularly ones of such huge proportions, like the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Holocaust. But one way of tackling them is to create a specific persona, or voice, to speak of their particular experience, in this case the collective persona of the Hibaku, in the first person plural. That way we avoid self-aggrandisement, or any sense that we’re making someone else’s story ‘our story’.

The poem’s language is consistently very well chosen but I particularly like the image of the ‘butterfly leaves’ in the 4th couplet. It makes me think of ‘the butterfly effect’ (the phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly‘s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear, or prevent a tornado from appearing) and how even small events can have repercussions, that our actions, and even our thoughts, have an effect on other people and our environment. A good poem makes me feel and think, and ‘Hibaku’ does just that.

Many congratulations, Margaret. Your ‘prize’ is in the post. And here's the poem for everyone to enjoy.

Hibaku *

In the precinct of the Kokutaiji Temple
the camphor tree has been uprooted

the fireball has scorched the bark
of phoenix trees, hollowed out their trunks

charred stumps of temple ginkgos
scar the landscape, their

butterfly leaves incinerated
by the apocalyptic blast

no life, no greenery, our city
is a sterile wasteland

then we see the water of the Ota river
running fresh and clear and

beneath scorched earth
green roots spread and grow

sending out defiant shoots
‘bearers of hope’

like the rainbow appearing
when black rain fell

we will lift the phoenix trees
plant them deep among the ashes

spread their seeds of peace
around the world and

in April fragrant Oleander blooms
will fill the acrid air.

Margaret Beston

* ‘Hibaku’ is the name given to survivors of the Hiroshima A-bomb.

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