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Some truths only a poet can utter. “Oh, God! / Give me talent / For insult and profanation / To revile You / and my enemies!”

Long, Long Autumn Nights: Selected Poems of Oguma Hideo, 1901-1940, by Hideo Oguma Translated by David G. Goodman.
Center for Japanese Publications, Poetry.

There is nothing haiku-ish or tanka-ish, nothing elegant or traditional, about this Japanese poet. “My song is unrefined, it is not sweet …” Born in Hokkaido when most of it was still wilderness, Hideo Oguma (1901-1940) grew up like his frontier birthplace — brash, raw, crude.

An illegitimate son born into poverty, he had misery enough to fuel his gifts: “‘I don’t want to be in this world!’ / screamed the child of the beast …”

In this collection of poems beautifully translated by David G. Goodman, we watch the poet evolve from unfocused rage (“This hunter is a frustrated hunter, / A hunter without prey”) to focused rage (“I will take the lead in protest / … for those who are silent”), maturing into one of the most determined of the “proletarian poets” of the 1930s: “It is not easy being a knight of freedom, / Living in a perpetual battle / With poverty like this.”

In perpetual battle with the law, too. Poets and writers in his day risked arrest for thought-crime. Many recanted. Oguma didn’t. “History demanded a thorough housecleaning. / I meekly obeyed.”

A pity there’s no room to say more about this marvelous book! One more quote: “If they cut off my hands, I’ll write with my feet. / If they cut off my feet, I’ll write with my mouth. / If they gag my mouth / I’ll sing with the hole in my ass.”

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at http: / /jtimes.jp /essential.

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