The Tokyo Shimbun published this article about Leah February 3rd, 2014:
Releasing a collection of poems on moving away from nuclear power
Tokyo Shimbun (Newspaper), Feb. 3, 2014
US-based poet, Leah Stenson (65) is currently finalizing preparations for the publication of a book, “Voices from Fukushima: The Messages of Fifty Japanese Poets,” that will introduce, in English translation, the works of poets reflecting on the Fukushima nuclear accident and related issues. Says Stenson, “I want to communicate to Americans the continuing suffering of the people of Fukushima.”
The new collection presents 50 poems selected from “Farewell to Nuclear, Welcome to Renewable Energy: A Collection of Poems by 218 Poets” (Coal Sack Publishing Company, 2012) in the original Japanese and English translation. It is slated to be released before March 11, 2014 [the third anniversary of the disastrous quake that struck northern Japan].
Stenson first came to Japan in 1977; she lived here for 16 years, teaching English at university. She now resides in Portland, Oregon in the Northwest United States. The Hanford nuclear facility, which was used to manufacture plutonium as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II, is located approximately 300 km from Portland. Materials manufactured here were used in the nuclear weapon that was dropped on Nagasaki. This forms part of the background for her activities, which include organizing events in August of each year on the days of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki where participants can hear the experiences of survivors of the attacks (hibakusha).
As Stenson recounts, “I took the Fukushima nuclear accident very personally. I followed the news continuously, riveted as if by a Greek tragedy. It was truly unbelievable.”
As she was considering what kind of action she might take, she learned about the collection of poems 218 Japanese poets mentioned earlier and thought to make an abbreviated version. “Poetry has the power to communicate realities, to move people’s hearts. I knew this from my own experience as someone who writes poetry. I wanted to convey to an American readership the voices of Japanese poets who were directly impacted or involved.” Americans are familiar with such forms as tanka and haiku, but know very little about contemporary Japanese poetry. She was therefore also motivated by the desire to “introduce the rich variety of expression in contemporary Japanese poetry and have this recognized by American readers.”
Stenson traveled to Japan in November of last year to discuss preparations for the book. During her stay, she visited Ryoemachi (confirm pronunciation) within the 20km exclusion zone around the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant. She was shown around the town by the poet Masayuki Nemoto, who’s home is located there. “Even though the homes not been damaged in any way, we hardly saw a sign of human life. It was like a nightmare and almost impossible to take on board as something actually happening. Seeing the natural beauty of Fukushima only deepened my sense of the tragedy.”
The collection includes poems written before the March 11, 2011 earthquake, such as 神隠しされた街, written in 1993 by Taketaro Wakamatsu, who lives in Minami Soma City in Fukushima Prefecture. In it he portrays a town abandoned by its inhabitants after a nuclear power accident. Also, 夏を送る夜に, written in 1987 by Fumiko Suzuki of Chiba Prefecture, is about the people who work in and around nuclear power plants. Mr. Nemoto is now living in Soma City. His poem, My Ryoemachi, concludes with these lines: “Even if I have to crawl to get there/ I need to go home. Even walking with a cane/ I need to go home. Home to my Ryoemachi.”
Stenson has written a preface to the poetry collection, with explanatory essays by Mr. Wakamatsu and Hisao Suzuki, president of Coal Sack Publishing. As Stenson describes the book, “There are poems tinged with black humor, poems of shocking intensity that compare human skin peeling off victims’ bodies to the skin coming off a tomato. There’s a rich variation of expression conveys people’s objections to nuclear power. In the United States there’s been little reporting on Fukushima and there are strong forces promoting nuclear power. Is my hope that people reading this collection of poems will realize that the Fukushima nuclear power accident is not something that can be dismissed using a sterile term like ‘disaster’.”