Saturday, April 7, 2018

CRC Blog Analysis on Sonia Saikaley poetry collection A SAMURAI's PINK HOUSE . . .

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CRC Blog Analysis: 
A Samurai’s Pink House 
by Sonia Saikaley
“The Fate of the Pink House Inhabitants”

       Sonia Saikaley’s second poetry collection, A Samurai’s Pink House, was published on June 15, 2017 by INANNA Publications and Education Inc.; with cover design by Val Fullard.

       Saikaley is also the author of the novel The Lebanese Dishwasher by Quattro Fiction and her first poetry collection Turkish Delight, Montreal Winter by TSAR Publications now known as Mawenzi House Publishers.

Sonia Siakely described her artistic experience of
Writing A Samurai’s Pink House to Cargo Literary Magazine on November 27, 2017:
“In the summer of 2007, I left a secure job and life in Ottawa to teach English in Japan for a year through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme.
 I experienced many things in Japan from eating beef tongue and intestines to wearing a beautiful kimono. I travelled to several different places in Japan and on these journeys I brought my journal, jotting down my experiences as well as writing some poetry, many of which would later become part of A Samurai’s Pink House.
     One of my favourite places in Japan was Matsushima where Matsuo Basho travelled. As I took steps along the pathways and bridges of Matsushima, I imagined Basho walking in these areas. It was quite a beautiful and
magical place with such history and mystery. I went to hot springs, to towns where kokeshi dolls were made, to a castle town with a Samurai’s residence, to shrines and temples. (Above Right:  Woodblock print depicting scenic view of Matsushima.  Attributed to Yoshu Chikanobu 1898).
Across from my apartment building stood this old pink house. Sometimes I’d wake up in the middle of the night and glance out my apartment window, mesmerized by the mystery of that old house, which appeared to be abandoned. However, I could see shadows and I imagined that it once belonged to a Samurai, perhaps a female Samurai, and maybe it was haunted by this powerful spirit. (Above Left:  the pink house photo attributed and granted copyright privilege by Sonia Saikaley)
All these experiences contributed to A Samurai’s Pink House. The poems follow the lives of the famous poet Basho, a young priestess, an apprentice geiko, a cross-dresser kabuki actor and geisha, a female Samurai, and an English-language teacher and explore themes of grief, alienation, acceptance, female identity in a male-dominated culture, and cross-cultural ties. (Above Right:  Sonia Saikaley with her elementary students in the JET Program. Copyright granted by Sonia Saikaley)
This collection also challenges issues of transgender and the role of the female in both Japanese society and society in general. The poems transport readers to another world and time and also provide a convincing psychological insight into Japan’s wondrous culture and how this insight can relate to modern life and our own lives wherever we may live. These poems read like tales that capture the essence of the human heart and reveal a unique perception of modern existence. At times, the poems are fierce and sharply-focused and other times are as soft as the silk of a kimono.
The reader peers into the lives of people rising above traumas relating to gender identity, sexism, grief and loneliness. But underlying these situations, there are threads of hope for healing and happiness.” (Right:  Sonia Saikaley in a Samurai residence.  Copyright granted by Sonia Saikaley)
The result is her second poetry collection A Samurai’s Pink House, which features 108 pages of 89 poems.  For this specific feature the CRC Blog will focus on the female Samurai, an English language teacher, and the famous poet Basho. (Left:  Sonia Saikaley with her Junior High School students in the JET Program. Copyright granted by Sonia Saikaley)
       In “The Obedient” the female samurai has a gift of wielding the sword and this gift makes her brothers and her father proud and view her as a trophy in order to proclaim themselves champions.   Other males feel threatened by this woman’s special gift and one of the men in the second stanza rapes the virgin female Samurai.  As a result she is forced to marry her rapist to rescue her family from dishonor.  (Right:  Ishi-jo wielding a naginata by Utagawd Kuriyoshi.  Public Domain)
In the last stanza of “The Obedient” the female warrior is never able to regain her honor even after doing everything the men in her life and culture expect her to do to.  As a result the men in her family symbolically rape her again by turning their back on her and not even able to look at her due to shame because she is no longer the trophy that enabled them to be champions. (Above Right:   woman at the Shiogama Shrine.  Attributed and copyright granted by Sonia Saikaley)
The rape of the female samurai continues in “Shielded Memories” where she is forced to bear children to the man she hates, forced to give her body away to his children – another form of sexual control the man maintains over her – passing on that aggressive control to her children.  They maintain control over the woman preventing her from expressing her sorrow and frustration.  However, due to the typhoon rains, the woman is finally able to cry freely – the typhoon rains a mask for her real tears. (Above Left: 18th century Japanese Painting).

The female samurai lost in cries
of her own and her children’s
the drip of raindrops sliding down
rooftops and mingling
blade up striking a shield.

       The raped wife is able to regain some of her honorable identity in the poem “Obon Conception” which describes the Japanese Buddhist holiday and festival, which takes place either in July or August depending on the calendar being followed.  During the three days of the festival individuals visit their ancestors’ graves and participate in feasts, bonfires, and dancing. (Above Right:  Participants at the Obon Festival praying for their ancestors souls in Praying A Soul Out of Purgatory attributed to JMW Silver)
The most traditional and holiest of all dances is the Bon-Odori. which originated from the disciple of Buddha Maha Maudgalyayana who discovers that his mother is suffering in the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.   He pleads with Buddha to release his mother from her torment.  Buddhist commands him to offer sacrifices to the Buddhist monks who had just returned from their summer travels.  He obeys Buddha and as a result Buddha’s rescues his mother.  To celebrate, he dances a joy that is now known as Bon Odori Dance.  (Above Left: 18th century painting depicting Mulian also known as Maha saves his mother).
Wikipedia describes this dance with “people lining up in a circle around a high wooden scaffold” and “some dancers proceed clockwise, and some dances proceed counter-clockwise around the yagura.”  The yagura could be described as the tomb, or the grave, or even a whole in the side of a mountain but in today’s tradition it is normally a bandstand.  The dancers then reverse and face the bandstand, move towards it, and then away from it.   The dance could involve people proceeding in a straight line through the town’s streets.   Regardless of how the woman in the poem “Obon Conception” dances we know she is complete and full of honor even if for only those three days. (Above Right:  Bon Odori Dancers at Imazu Primary School in Osaka in August 2004).

Sometimes she felt those samurai days,
the wind grasping her face like her mother
would before she rode battle.

Those days had vanished,
she no longer wore her armour but an apron,
the wind loose at her cheeks, her mother’s
hands a memory as well.

Three days, the memory lived
as she danced with her mother.

In a way A Sumurai’s Pink House is Sonia Saikaley dancing her own version of the Bon Odori Dance, where she dances to a connection with her spiritual ancestor Basho, who shares her own sense of loneliness. (Left:  Sonia Saikaley belly dancing with her students in the JET Program.  Copyright granted by Sonia Saikaley).
There are numerous poems in this collection that describe the loneliness that Saikaley endured during her year in Japan: “The Pink Moonlight;” “Snow Angels;” “Blue Rooftops;” “The Language of Frogs;” and “Hokkaido Hot Springs.” (Right:  A Thousand Trees attributed to and copyright granted by Sonia Saikaley).
In “Pink Moonlight” the speaker of the poem Saikaley is kneeling on a tatami, a Japanese wooden flooring, and converses with Basho under the floating music of the shamisen, a three string traditional Japanese musical instrument.   As the music plays Basho senses her loneliness and her homesickness. (Right:  Ryogo Itabashi's beautiful performance of the shamiser.  Attributed and copyright granted by Pearl Pirie).

He asked about her family,
life in the village:
Did she miss it?

Basho’s concern for the speaker of the poem enables her to rise in a poised stand up position – a position of being accepted and experiencing expectation.  She smiles at Basho. (Left:  Statue of Basho with Sonia Saikaley.  Two photos photoshopped by CRC Blog).

Is that comfortable?  Basho asked.

Basho’s concern for the speaker of the poem makes her loneliness and her homesickness disappear even if momentarily and she experiences a spiritual metamorphosis– she is the geisha for the arts – dancing, music, and poetry. (Right - 18th century painting of a geisha).

Her hands lifted to her cheeks
where moonlight exposed
her white-painted face pink.

Basho’s empathy for the speaker of the poem in “Pink Moonlight” can be traced back to the poem “Grief” where Basho tries to reconnect with his mother, who has been dead for the past four years (Left:  painting of Basho attributed to Hokusaii.  Public Domain).
Basho has a memory of himself and his mother when he was just a boy and both in the family kitchen.  Mother and son flatten the dough with their own bare feet as they laugh their own mother-son
language.  His mother then gives him raw udon to eat.  Instead of a samurai sword as the symbol of their honor for one another it is the Japanese pasta udon that is the symbol of the honor between mother and son. (Right:  Buddhist monk making udon with his feet.) 
Basho, now an adult, remembers his mother in the kitchen, but unlike the dishonored raped samurai, he views his mother’s role in the kitchen as a role of honor, where she, almost like a priestess, gives her child-son his spiritual communion of udon, which he eats with relish.   

I am Basho’s mother, she said proudly
even before his words reached
the nobility and soared into the sky.

       The speaker of the poem, the English language teacher, and Sonia Saikaley are one in the same – and the trinity of this one person experiences spiritual, artistic and emotional catharsis in the poem “Best Fortune” as she climbs her way up to the red Shiogama Shrine, hearing the sound of red copper bells ringing.  After clapping her hands and praying to the sound of the bells she follows the priestess. (Right:  Shiogama Shrine in the springtime.)

White ribbons in her hands,
she ties them to a branch.

Then helps me unfold my fate,
translates:  Best fortune.   

Cargo Literary Magazine Web Page

Val Fullard Web Page

INANNA Publications and Education Inc. Facebook Page

INANNA Publications and Education Inc. Web Page

J.E.T. Program (Japenese Exchange and Teaching) Web Page

The Lebanese Dishwasher

Quattro Fiction Facebook Page

Quattro Fiction Web Page

A Samurai’s Pink House

Sonia Saikaley Facebook Page

Sonia Saikaley Web Page

TSAR Publications Now Known as Mawenzi House Publishers Facebook Page

TSAR Publications Now Known as Mawenzi House Publishers Web Page

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