Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Game of 100 Ghosts - Terry Watada (TSAR Publications)

Today's book of poetry:
The Game of 100 Ghosts, Hyaku Monogatari Kwaidan-kai.  Terry Watada.  TSAR Publications. Toronto, Ontario. 2014.

Official notice:  ANYONE who writes a tribute poem to Laura Nyro is going to get serious consideration here at Today's book of poetry.  We adore her.  We give all our new interns a Laura Nyro CD on their first day.  If they don't love Laura Nyro - we can't use them.

Terry Watada, in this nuaunced poem about his mother, moves close to the pinnacle of the pantheon of Laura Nyro admirers with his lovely poem "By a Chinese Lamp."

By a Chinese Lamp

sang her siren

by a Chinese lamp
mother's room

dragon red   oriental   yellow
and tassels  with
           of light

the   colours, flavour
and smells
      Singapore, Kowloon

[long hair,
                 black pools
of luxurious oil on
the shoulders--
slanted-        inscrutable
      eyes, angled
sharp as knives]

in slitted cheong sams
and evil
fingers with needles
      nails   a 1930s noir
   poster  in art deco style

Chinatown, my Chinatown

so soon  too young
   she was gone
too     soon

      things  she
missed with
such a   short life

her impassioned breathing,
            on a
lover's tongue       children laughing
adulthood.  grand-  children
calling Buchan!
out of love and anticipation

the sauce of
conversation at dinner the loom
of darkness

the coat    of daylight

        the music of Laura

        by a Chinese lamp
i sit on the bed
the    glow of her

and when i die...


Terry Watada's The Game of 100 Ghosts, Hyaku Monogatari Kwaidan-kai, is full of poems that ramble in the most wonderful ways.  It's clear Watada has purpose because he always seems to wrap up these memory journeys with precision.

These "ghost stories" unwind something like those large connect the dot puzzles we used to do as children.  There is nothing random in Watada's adventures, we are gathering points on an invisible grid, Watada will connect the dots for us when he deems it necessary.

Today's book of poetry was touched by Watada's gentle nod to the great Canadian Roy Kiyooka in the poem "Kiyooka airs."

And we were utterly smitten to discover a genuine Tom Waits fan in Watada.  Watada borrows some pace and some vernacular from living legend Waits to dance out a couple of poems where Watada gets to show his chops as a storyteller.

The Vanishing Point

call him James Dean, Brando,
Cool Hand Luke  Bullitt;
just don't call him Michael.

we're driving towards coolsville
with Waits groaning with a
on the Blaupunkt

i see the blonde smile
    the shrine of the

rain    fell
like liquid sun-light

she came from Coolsville
    mythic town of ancient
dreams    but i saw her
her burnished legs
  by a miniskirt

and i fade away as Mike
goes on
his one-arm around June,
his best girl as she smokes listening
to Whitney                    on the radio
his other arm
on the steering wheel of
his dad's Oldsmobile

but then even she evaporates
as the white lines
converge &
towards a lonesome expresslane

and Kowalski smiles
      super soul
   on KOW 980 screams

out the eulogy:

the last American hero
the golden driver of the golden west
ripped apart   the last beautiful free
soul on this planet.

Coolsville is just round the bend
and up the road a bit


the one hundredth
story told   the one hundredth

darkness falls with a thud
               you see?
      you not see?

a ghostly visitation


Watada is searching for Coolsville and he's using a lot of ghost, past, present and future, to do it.  Some of his ghosts aren't dead yet but Watada is undeterred.

For flat-out reading pleasure The Game of 100 Ghosts got my goat.  It was like a Blue Valentine, an unexpected kiss.

A Game of Ghosts

        crept like
  smoke in a forest fire

at sundown
                       the evening
             settled and everyone sat
                         a circle
a circle of candles.

in the brilliant
splintering   demise of
the sun,
           the timid   wax'd flames

      before the story-tellers

and sputtered
            on air, awaiting
the smoke-filled  capsule-
bodies of

tell the first story, tell
the second,
            tell the one-

extinguish  each
candle with each story until
the remnant of    the past
re-  turns
       a last conversation

(precious and true)    takes place

between the mouths of the grieving and sorrowful
         the thoughts of the
     beloved dead     secrets are



Terry Watada

Terry Watada is a Toronto poet, novelist, playwright and essayist, and historian, musician and composer, with numerous publications to his credit. Five of his plays have received mainstage production. He contributes a monthly column to The Bulletin, a national Japanese Canadian community paper. For his writing, music and community volunteerism, he was recently awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. His published works include The Sword, the Medal and the Rosary (manga, 2013); Kuroshio: The Blood of Foxes (novel, 2007), Obon: the Festival of the Dead (poetry, 2006); Ten Thousand Views of Rain (poetry, 2001); A Thousand Homes (poetry, 1995); and The TBC: the Toronto Buddhist Church,1995 – 2010 (2010).

“For Terry, applause and gratitude, because he has held the people in his mind and his heart, and because he gave them back to us.”
—Joy Kogawa, author of Obasan

"A tour de force literary and conceptual achievement, The Game of 100 Ghosts reveals and further illuminates the Japanese Canadian sensibility. Terry Watada's passion, indeed his life's work, is to discover, recreate, and uncover the past lost through the silence of his parents and community. His literary and musical career has helped define what is best in Canadian contemporary culture."
—Anthony B Chan, author of Gold Mountain: The Chinese in the New World

"Terry Watada's 100 Ghosts surprises us with tales and imagery that are both haunting and real… It creates a safe harbour, a beacon of infinite light to gather those shunned shadowy thoughts and guides them safely out of the dark recesses of history and time. "
—Jim Wong-Chu, Co-editor, Strike the Wok: An Anthology of Chinese Canadian Fiction

"In this piercing collection, Watada’s concrete images take readers to places and people familiar yet almost forgotten, to give order and dignity to the mind’s constant struggle for clarity."
—Paul Yee, author of Teach Me to Fly, Skyfighter! and Other Stories

Terry Watada
reads at the Word on the Street Festival
Toronto, September 28, 2008


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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