By Amy Uyeki
After the death of her mother, Shizue Harada, Aiko Uyeki made a pledge to herself that she would put together a collection of her mother’s poetry during her own lifetime. Shizue Harada died in 1997 and wrote under the pen name, Sanae, a name given to her by her poetry teacher. Sanae wrote poems in Japanese that were often mistaken for the popular poem form, haiku, but are actually called senryu. (Haiku’s subject matter is spiritual, seasonal, and often deals with nature and man’s relationship to it. Senryu, haiku’s lesser-known cousin, draws from everyday experiences and explores the human condition.)
Shizue Harada came to the United States in the 1920's, following her husband in arranged marriage. She didn’t become Sanae until she had lived a full life, working factory jobs and raising two children.
Aiko Uyeki has compiled her poetry in a collection that captures Sanae’s strong Buddhist faith, her wry humor and simple wisdom, her musings about growing old and her approaching death.
Complementing these poems is the artwork of Amy Uyeki, Sanae’s granddaughter. With word and image, a picture is painted of the life of Shizue Harada, a Meiji era wife whose story mirrors many first-generation Japanese Americans who left familiar shores to seek the American dream.
Much of Sanae’s poetry deals with her advancing years and reflects her honest attitudes about life, her health, and her approaching death:
Waiting for a friend
To tie my shoestrings, he or she –
I don’t really care.
Even after wilting
The first section of poetry in the book has an historical context; Sanae reflects back on her emigration to the United States, the prejudice she encountered and her family’s internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. These poems were in response to her granddaughter’s images. In this case, the poem followed the visual:
Dohra no kane
Chichi to haha
While the ship bell clangs
“Don’t go! Don’t go!” I now board,
Farewell, my parents.
(on life in the internment camps)
Abite sabaku no
Hi ha kureru
Showered by dust storms
I sweep the floor endlessly
Thus each day passes.
Sanae’s poetry has been the subject matter and inspiration for much of the artwork of her granddaughter, Amy Uyeki, throughout the years. In 2010, she and her mother, Aiko, received a grant from ACTA's Living Cultures Grants Program to publish Sanae, Senryu Poet: Her Life in 5-7-5. So Sanae’s simple but poignant voice will be heard long after her death.
Sanae’s poetry book is now available online, but in addition to the book, the Uyekis are holding poetry readings and workshops in Humboldt County and in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area through the rest of this year. Sanae’s poems will be read in both Japanese and English, and a short video of Sanae filmed in 1997 will be shown. The workshop will explore the medium of senryu and will also introduce the art of haiga, or poem painting. Haiga is another historical Japanese art form of combining poetry with a painting that complements the verse. Some traditional haiga will be shared, as well as contemporary images. (Complementing the poetry in Sanae, Senryu Poet are Amy Uyeki’s visual images, and this has become the impetus for the exploration of haiga.)
Nikkei (descendants of Japan) and the Japanese community are encouraged to participate, but the poetry reading and workshop are free and open to all members of the public. Another reading/workshop will be held sometime in the fall at the H.S.U. Multicultural Center in Arcata.
Preserving history and culture as well as understanding Sanae’s life and spirit has been an end product for the Uyekis in this project. They are hoping to share their experiences in cross-generational collaboration with others in their workshops.
The Uyekis have provided a forum online for responses to Sanae, Senryu Poet. They are accepting senryu and haiga submittals; they can be viewed at www.amyuyeki.com. This website also contains information about upcoming readings and workshops.