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The answer to this one wasn’t immediately obvious to me, but now, I’m gob-smacked at how I could have missed it earlier. Thanks to my research and my interests, the book I’ve read most often has been Embracing the Firebird: Yosano Akiko & the Rebirth of the Female Voice in Modern Japanese Poetry.

This book has an interesting and rather deceptively innocuous story behind it: I picked it up at a Shirokiya sale when I was in Honolulu during a high school field trip. The cover design greatly appealed to my artistic sensibilities, and the title sounded so splendid, I just had to have it, especially for just a dollar. The design was from a poetry book cover which Yosano Akiko herself designed:

It’s rich in symbolism. The pierced heart of love, consisting of a woman’s face in an art nouveau style cloud of hair, with the arrow causing blood to drip out the bottom, spelling out the name of the book (Tangled Hair, or Midaregami) accompanied with flowers. If ever got a tattoo, this image would play a big inspiration in the design of the tattoo.

The book itself chronicles the life and times of the poet Yosano Akiko, her feminism, her help in founding Seito (Bluestocking magazine) and her importance in introducing female sexuality and eroticism into modern Japanese poetry, something which appeared to have evaporated after the Heian era ended, replaced with the credo of the woman as the “Good wife, wise mother”, never a poet or a sexual being.

This book has proved absolutely invaluable to my understanding of Japanese feminism and women’s poetry, and helped me discover my own poetic, sexual voice. Highly recommended to all interested in feminist history, poetry, and Japanese history.

 

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