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On "The Love Poems of Marichiko"

Eliot Weinberger

He translated two anthologies of Chinese and Japanese women poets; edited and translated the contemporary Japanese woman poet Kazuko Shiraishi and—his finest translation—the Sung Dynasty poet Li Ch'ing-chao; and he invented a young Japanese poet named Marichiko, a woman in Kyoto, and wrote her poems in Japanese and English.

The Marichiko poems are particularly extraordinary. The text is chronological: In a series of short poems, the narrator longs for, sometimes meets, dreams of and loses her lover, and then grows old. Although Marichiko is identified as a "contemporary woman," only two artifacts of the modern world (insecticide and pachinko games) appear in the poems; most of the imagery is pastoral and the undressed clothes are traditional. The narrator is defined only in relation to her lover, and of her lover we learn absolutely nothing, including gender. All that exists is passion:

Your tongue thrums and moves
Into me, and I become
Hollow and blaze with
Whirling light, like the inside
Of a vast expanding pearl.

It is America's first Tantric poetry: through passion, the dissolution of the world (within the poem, the identities of the narrator and her lover, and all external circumstances; outside the poem, the identity of Marichiko herself) and the final dissolution of passion itself:

Some day in six inches of
Ashes will be all
That's left of our passionate minds,
Of all the world created
By our love, its origins
And passing away.

The Marichiko poems, together with the Li Ch'ing-chao translations, are master works of remembered passion. Their only equal in American poetry is the late work of H.D., "Hennetic Definition" and "Winter Love"—both writers in their old age, a woman and a man as woman. I see Rexroth's final transformation as a transcendence of the self: As Pound recanted The Cantos and fell into silence; as Zukofsky ended "A" by giving up the authorship of the poem; Rexroth became the other.

from "At the Death of Kenneth Rexroth." Sagetrieb Vol. 2 (1983), No. 1: 50-51.

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