AMORI, Japan -- The sublime intelligence of Japanese life is traditionally encapsulated in the highly compressed poetry called the haiku, one that doesn't allow for words that are not filled with meaning.
For many here on this U.S. airbase in northern Japan, the economy of poetry and the beauty of the haiku - and poetry in general - is a wonderful relief from the tedium of military-style writing, which tries to achieve economy and clarity by its dry, moniotonous format but rarely, if ever, achieves eloquence or beauty.
Maybe that's why there was such enthusiasm for a night devoted to poetry that celebrated Women's History Month. Women took time from their stressful and jam-packed lives to come together to celebrate the strength and resilience of our gender.
Local women wrote many of the recited poems. Others were favorites by such well-known poetesses as Marge Piercy, Margaret Walker, Joyce Carol Oates, Sylvia Plath, Sharon Olds and Denise Levertov.
This haiku was offered by a Western woman here who clearly appreciates the form:
Leafless trees reach up
Branches encased in snowfalls
- Melissa Belleman
Before the reading, the talk at our table started with the recent actions that First Lady Michelle Obama is taking on for military women and families across the globe. There was much relief and anticipation of healing to come, now that there is an active, smart, caring woman in the White House.
It was fitting that the forst poem read was:
I am a Black Woman
am a black woman
tall as a cypress
beyond all definition still
on me and be
- Mari Evans, 1970
Michelle Obama has been highly visible in observing Women's History Month. People at the poetry reading spoke about her recent attendance at an event honoring women in the military at the Arlington National Cemetery's Memorial Center.
One woman at our table remarked that Obama is being compared to former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt because of their common focus and support of military servicewomen.
Retired Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, president of the Women's Memorial Foundation, attended the Arlington event and reminded Michelle Obama of Eleanor Roosevelt's invitation to servicewomen for tea at the White House.
"All right. You're all invited. That's a great idea!" Michelle replied.
The servicewomen and wives of servicemen are happy that the plight of military families is among the issues that Mrs. Obama will deal with at the highest levels and that she wants to hear from them over tea or at other fora.
The Women's History audience members were happy to see how Mrs. Obama highlighted important female contributions at the memorial ceremony. For example, the work of women from the all-female, all-black postal battalion during WWII was honored at the Arlington event.
These women were tasked with getting the mail moving. They handled thousands of pieces that were addressed to U.S. servicemen but had been stored and forgotten in British and French warehouses. They were recognized for their excellence and their willingness to take on responsibilities beyond the call of duty and while under duress.
Was it a coincidence that the next poem was "Still I Rise"?
Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise…
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.
Out of the huts of history's shame
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
- Maya Angelou
The celebrants discussed other news stories that put the spotlight on Ms. Obama's work this past month. They wondered if her support was instrumental in the possibility of having active duty troops guaranteed a month home for every month deployed. A new bill has been recently reintroduced in the House.
Women complained that there has not been enough time at home to relax, heal from the stress of living and working in a war zone, and reconnect with their families. Many expressed upset that the Republican Administration did not support this bill when it was introduced previously.
Michelle has spoken of her understanding of how the long and repeat tours of duty affect grandparents, parents, spouses, and siblings, some of whom are left to look after the service members children.
She heard from families in the military as she traveled the country during the past two years and knows that "service doesn't end with the person wearing the uniform."
The next poetry offering addressed the confusion and stress of women in military families:
A Poem Off Center
how do poets write
so many poems
my poems get decimated
in the dishes the laundry
my sister is having another crisis
the bed has to be made
there is a blizzard on the way go to the grocery store
did you go to the cleaners
then a fuse blows
a fuse always has to blow
the women soon find themselves
talking either to babies or about them
no matter how careful we are
we end up giving tips
on the latest new improved cleaner
and the lotion that will take the smell away…
it's a little off center
this life we're leading
maybe I shouldn't feel sorry
but the more I understand women
the more I do
- Nikki Giovanni
There was talk about Michelle Obama's first television interview on Good Morning America last Friday. She reiterated her commitment to military families and was visibly upset when told that many are on food stamps. She said it was not right and "that's not what we should be as a nation."
Ms. Obama promised to take that information back to the Administration with the hope that tangible assistance will be offered. She encouraged everyone to reach out to the National Guard and Army Reserve families in their communities who need extra help right now as well.
When I Grow Up
When I grow up
I want the world to
Be peasful and people
to have respect for
each I want things
to be much Different
from Things now.
- Kali Grosvenor, Age 7, 1970
I hope that Kali, who is in her 40's now, is pleased that significant efforts are underway by our new leaders to make the world a more peasful and respectful place.
Copyright 2013 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.