Typhoon Etiquette, Katrina Naomi
Verve Poetry Press, 2019 £7.50
Feeling like a foreigner
I wasn’t sure I liked this pamphlet at first. The poems seemed to be all about the poet — this clumsy foreigner getting in the way of my view. I wanted to see Japan!
Katrina Naomi was given Arts Council funding for a five-week trip to Japan. There she was, exhausted by jet-lag, assaulted by bemusing sights, blundering over countless social missteps. Through her alienation, the reader feels like the foreigner, too.
The title Typhoon Etiquette makes perfect sense — the poet is deluged with customs she cannot possibly know. For example, in ‘First Tea Ceremony’, she lists what she got wrong:
I hadn’t turned the bowl twice before drinking
hadn’t reached for it with both hands
hadn’t drunk with three practised gulps hadn’t
contemplated the bowl after drinking
In ‘Where Only the Gods May Walk,’ she makes ‘the mistake of walking under the Shintō gate / … yet another false step.’ She goes on to confront all her errors, concluding:
I knew nothing
had almost disappeared
Japan is depicted through many snapshots — the sushi chef washing fish blood from his hands, having to poke a bear in the eye should one cross her path on a hike, umbrellas littering the ground after a storm. Naomi conveys her foreignness with dismay, humour, and bursts of frustration, such as her experience of queuing to get on a bus.
Japan is further represented through some beautifully restrained translations of Japanese poets, which are a welcome inclusion. I would have liked more.
The collection ends with a the wonderfully confident ‘What Arrival Feels Like,’ where the poet is reunited back home with her lover in Penzance. It is her most lyrical in style, giving the perfect contrast to all that’s gone before — a sigh of relief when ‘You hug me as I spill from the journey.’