Fukushima poet Wago gets French award for tweets on 2011 disaster

24 June 2017

Poet Ryoichi Wago living in Fukushima city has received a French literary award for a collection of his poems written on the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear accident. The 48-year-old poet and Tokuma Shoten Publishing Co., which published the collection titled “Shi no Tsubute” (Pebbles of Poetry), has been notified by related concerns by June 23 that the French version of the work was chosen for the foreign-language category of inaugural “Prix de poesie de la revue Nunc” (poetry prize of Nunc magazine). An award ceremony is to take place in France during a literary festival scheduled for July 19-20.

"I hope that this prize will provide an opportunity for my words written since right after the disaster to reach foreign people and help them tell the story about the disaster and about Fukushima from generation to generation," Wago said.

He is the first awardee of the inaugural prize sponsored by Nunc, a cultural magazine launched in 2002. Among reasons for selecting Wago’s work, the magazine cited “his profound and pure poetic language emerging under the tragic circumstances of the nuclear disaster.”

The work is a collection of Twitter feeds begun on March 16, 2011, five days after the devastating quake that led to the nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Its French version was translated by Corinne Atlan, known for her translations of novelist Haruki Murakami books, and published last year.

Interviewed on June 23 by Fukushima-Minpo Co., publisher of the namesake vernacular daily, Wago said he would like Fukushima to be more directly connected to the outside world by people and words.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

-- How do you feel about the honor?

“I have so far read the works of poets like Sakutaro Hagiwara and Chuya Nakahara, who yearned for France. It may be said that Japanese poetry itself has roots in France, blossoming under the country’s influence. I am happy to receive the prize from France, which sounds like a message encouraging me to ‘keep it up’.”

-- Your work for the prize expressed situations immediately after the disaster.

“If French people pick up the book, it means the (post-disaster) years of Fukushima are handed over as they are. Japan reacts to eyes cast from outside. If we send out messages from Fukushima to the rest of the world, I suppose they may come back to Japan in different forms.”

-- What plan do you have about activities hereafter?

“I would like to look for passages connecting the hearts of people by translation and the power of poetry even though we differ in nationality, language, thoughts and politics. I expect to put my energies into the education of young people and children as well.”

Personal profile: A native of Fukushima city, he graduated from Fukushima High School and Fukushima University. Currently working as a high school teacher in Fukushima Prefecture. Awardee of prefectural literary prize, Nakahara Chuya Prize and Doi Bansui Award. His post-disaster thoughts included in three collections: “Shi no Tsubute” (Pebbles of Poetry), “Shi no Mokurei” (Silent Bow of Poetry) and “Shi no Kaiko” (Encounter of Poetry). Has 15 collections published. Writing a series of articles titled “Shi no Dokuhon” (“Reading Book of Poetry”) for the Fukushima Minpo newspaper.

(Translated by Kyodo News)