woensdag 17 juli 2013

How to live on Planet Earth: Nanao Sakaki

Most people will know about Nanao Sakaki (1923-2008) through Gary Snyder who lived with Sakaki's tribe on the Japanese island of Kyushu in 67/67. From 1969 onwards Sakaki lived in the United States for ten years and published four poetry books. He fought in the second world war and I wonder if behind the seemingly chaotic contours of his life lies an untreated case of post-traumatic stress, ala Robert Graves whose White Goddess is sometimes understood as a kind of sublimated shell shock. The man, in any case, deserves a biography but the publication of his collected poems "How to live on the Planet Earth" (2013, Blackberry books) is even more important. It's a beautiful book with really nice typesetting. I was barely acquainted with his work and am very happy to get the chance to savour it now in it's entirety. 

I haven't digested all of it but the things that immediately strikes me is that there is little 'progress' in his writing throughout his life. Maybe at first he uses slightly more 'poetic' language before becoming ever more sharper, clearer and cleaner. His hallmarks are a disgust with consumer culture and environmental degradation, a proclaiming of the pleasures of a simple life. 
A Big Day

Getting water at the spring

Carrying firewood

Chattering with a neighbor

The sun goes down.

A big day.
Sakaki has a few 'tricks': he lists things, he chants, he calculates, he lives with the weather and the stars. A happy day is when a rare animal shows him/herself. There seems to be little creative development and the work is consistent in tone and content from the first to the last poem. As he gets older he writes more obituaries and their underlying sentiment is one Buddhist acceptation of inevitable suffering. Sakaki wrote down his poetry as it came to him, without doubt and without editing, like a bird singing. Or so it seems. The poems are tribal, he studied the language and literature of the old societies, at times his poems recall forms known from Rothenberg's anthologies of EthnoPoetics. He had a sardonic humour all his own.
Go Walk Mathematics

Suppose you walk 3 kms a day for 40 years.
3 kms x 365 days = 1,095 kms.
forget the 95 kms.
1,000 kms x 40 years = 40,000 kms
40,000 kms = the length of the terrestrial equator
Walking 3 kms a day for 40 years
You complete the circuit of the earth.

Suppose you walk 30 kms a day for 36 years.
30 kms x 365 days = 10,950 kms.
10,950 kms x 36 years = 394,200 kms
This figure goes beyond the average distance
Between the earth & the moon 384,400 kms.
Walking 30 kms a day for 36 years
You reach the moon.
Nanao Sakaki was a man who lived his life according to his own plans. He was not a sophisticate, maybe the universities will hate him. He was primal, a true original and his poetry reflects that. His style looks simple and easy to copy but I don't think you can fake it. It could be that Buddhist tradition has models for such a man, but if I had to compare him to anyone it would have to be William Blake. Cultish, but only long after his death.

Born of a humble & poor family,
Received minimum education,
Learnt how to live by himself at fourteen,
Survived storms, one after another.
Bullets, starvation & concrete wastelands.

A day's fare - a cup of brown rice, vegetables,
Small fish, a little water, & a lot of wind.
Delighted by children and women,
Sharing beads of sweat with farmers,
Fishermen, carpenters & blacksmiths,
Paying no attention to soap, shampoo,
Toilet paper & newspapers.

Now & again
Loves to suck the nectar of honeysuckle,
To flutter with dragonflies & butterflies,
To chatter with winter wrens,
To sing song with coyotes,
To swim with humpback whales,
And to hug a rock in which dinosaurs sleep.

Feels at home in Alaskan glaciers,
Mexican desert, virgin forest of Tanzania,
Valley of Danube, grasslands of Mongolia,
Vulcanoes in Hokkaido & Okinawan coral reeds.

And - one sunny summer morning
He will disappear on foot.
Leaving no shadow behind.

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