Wednesday, January 26, 2011

At 99, Toyo Shibata becomes Japan's best-selling poet

Toyo Shibata (photo by Ho, Reuters/The Guardian)

From today's online edition of The Guardian UK:
Toyo Shibata only started writing when she was 92; now, as she prepares to celebrate her 100th birthday, her poems are finding an eager audience in Japan as it reels from two decades of economic malaise and faces up to an uncertain future.

Shibata's anthology, Kujikenaide [Don't Lose Heart], has sold 1.5 million copies since its publication in late 2009.

... The book has been the most popular title on Japan's keenly watched Oricon chart for the past two weeks, and was among the 10 most popular titles of last year. After recording impressive early sales, the book was taken on by the publisher Asuka Shinsha and reissued, with new artwork, last spring.

The nonagenarian describes her poems, with uplifting titles such as "Everyone's Dreams Are Equal" and "Take It Easy, Don't Try Too Hard," as an expression of gratitude to the people who have cared for her during her twilight years.

"I've lived to this age thanks to support from my family, friends, caregivers and doctors, and am transforming my gratitude into poetry to tell them, 'Thank you, I am really happy,'" Reuters quoted her as saying.

Aside from offering gentle encouragement, Shibata occasionally adopts a confessional tone. In one poem, Secret, she writes: "Although 98, I've fallen in love. I also have dreams. I want to ride on a cloud." The verse is apparently a reference to a doctor who visited her at home.

... a TV documentary about Shibata in December fuelled interest in her work; sales of about 10,000 copies are considered a success for poetry anthologies in Japan.

"When my first poem was published in a newspaper, I was very, very happy," she said. "I sent them another one and that also got published. So I kept on writing."

Shibata is compiling a new anthology, to be released before her 100th birthday, in June.

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