Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Joy Kogawa, Canadian Japanese prophet-shaman

(Written on July 12, 2013)
It was Joy Kogawa, appearing on George Strombolopolous’s CBC television show who caught my attention with her presence, her attitude and most importantly, her views.
First, her presence. This diminutive elder, a victim of the internment of Japanese by the Canadian government during the Second War, and long-time novelist, poet and celebrated Canadian writer, repeatedly exclaimed how amazed she is about what a wonderful life she has been given, along with an insightful interpretation of the official apology by Prime Minister Mulroney on behalf of the Canadian parliament to all Japanese people who were similarly interned. Kagawa termed this moment a “crossing over” moment, when one stops being a victim and begins a new life. Being a victim, she says, will result in the inflicting of pain on others. When asked by Strombolopolus about her life as a leaf in the wind, she responds by saying that the leaf never left the tree, in spite of the strong winds, especially those raging during the Second War, when bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In pointing out that the ‘christians’ who dropped the bomb in Nagasaki, dropped it on an enclave of the most Christian group in Japan, and the world, she says, is still encased in an attitude of scarity, which requires a strong military because of the fear contained in the attitude. According to Kogawa, in attacking one’s enemies, one will invariably also attack one’s friends, just as the ‘christians did who bombed their fellow christians in Nagasaki.
An alternative would be to move to an attitude of plenty or abundance, making it more feasible to find the “friend” within every enemy and to generate the building of both individual and national “friendships”. Her incarnation of the attitude of abundance and plenty is demonstrated by her recounting of her story about her Vancouver home, which, while driving by, she noticed was for sale. She did a reading in the vacant home, attended by some people from the opera, who began an initiative to collect money to purchase the home and turn it into a refuge for writers which has all come to fruiting. Kogawa is both amazed and grateful for the spontaneous generosity of so many people in bringing this project to life.
Citing her memoir as “the most difficult thing I have ever written,” Kogawa wrapped her metaphoric arms around both her host and her audience with her warmth, her integrity, and her lively and generous spirit. As one who has not been either formally or informally introduced to her writing, except for the occasional poem, her works are not on my list of required reading for the next few months.

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